Have you ever wondered what are the saddest movies of all time? Lately, I’ve been confronted with that question via DMs on Twitter–or HIVE now, call me–because of some big screen moments. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever had some nerd tears flowing. More robust tears were taking a nose-dive into the popcorn below if you saw The In-Between.
Regardless of the year, there is always time for Hollywood to turn on the mist fans, dole out the tissue, and fill those rags with gusto. Some movies have sad moments, but others are simply sad. Whether it’s abused kittens, spawning disease, or an innocent person falling into a coma, sometimes the muckety-mucks of the movies go full sadist and enjoy us boohooing!
Most of us have an opinion, but what are the most snot-faced moments in cinematic history? What films had a string of instances, one bombastic gut-wrenching scene, or a theme that lays heavy on the heart? Good thing you asked,
These are the Top 10 Saddest Movies of All Time!
Author’s Memo: In these woke days of cinema, more people can admit they enjoy a compelling rom-com or that they got dew-eyed watching a film with their loved ones. While most critics consider sappy or strenuous movies to be only a genre, most fans know they are more than that. Nonetheless, it’s more than fancy cinematography or skilled direction to make wistful cinema.
In an interesting article on PsychCentral.com, even cerebral coaches believe there is a reason we like those sad movies. It was about a psychological study on Atonement in 2007. If you haven’t seen it, you will know why that film demands a little respect on this Top 10 list.
Psychology touches on “catharsis,” and apparently, sad movies help with that process.
“This release usually lifts a client’s spirits for a little while as the overwhelming emotion diminishes. Energy that was drained by depression can reemerge, at least temporarily.
Often this ‘break’ allows a depressed person to start exploring and healing the underlying issues that caused the depression originally. Grief can be processed more easily too.”
So, there’s that. Ready for some tears to flow? One last thing: Up is not a sad movie, but the first 12 minutes will make you wish Pixar went bankrupt. That is a moment in a movie, cool? Here come the trailers and the pre-eminent list.
HM. Titanic (1997)
Most people who saw the James Cameron quintessential romance trip knew how it would end. The RMS Titanic chipped an iceberg and sank in the freezing North Atlantic Ocean on April 15, 1912, losing more than 1,500 souls. Of course, if Rose (Kate Winslet) had scooched her lovely behind over, the Titanic would have lost one less person. But poor Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) didn’t get room on the door, and down, down, down he went.
And although millions were familiar with how the maiden voyage ended, no one guessed what it would look like. Much less sound like with Celine Dion’s siren song carrying us away in the background. It was a brilliant film that plucked more than heartstrings. It was unexpectedly full of emotion. Yes, Rose. We were flying too, you selfish broad. Would an inch on that piece of wood have killed you?!
10. Ordinary People (1980)
Few films create flood works like Robert Redford‘s directorial debut, Ordinary People, which earned him a Best Picture and Best Director Oscar. This movie features a method acting clinic in the woeful Jarrett family triangle of a bitter, cantankerous mom (Mary Tyler Moore), a happy-hearted and near oblivious dad (Donald Sutherland), and a son riddled with crippling guilt (Timothy Hutton) over the accidental death of his older brother. All three deserved Oscars. You’ll see why, or maybe not. Watching these relationships crater and reconnect will have you squinting and dry-heaving for a minute.
9. Old Yeller (1957)
It’s very possible this was the film that gave Disney Pictures the low-key love affair with death in his heartwarming children-friendly flicks. Everyone loves life on the Texas Ponderosa until we’re faced with that damn rabid wolf! All it took was one bite, and Old Yeller began going all Cujo on us. Then, the mustachioed sadist Walt Disney caused harrowing nightmares for us all.
“There’s no hope for him now, Travis. He’s suffering. You know we’ve got to do it.” Movie watching about pets hasn’t been the same since. And it’s all Captain Mickey Mouse’s fault! Old Yeller took us on a series of misadventures, which were saddening on their own. But then, putting that good puppy “out to pasture” was too much for one person to bear.
8. The Green Mile (1999)
The celestial story of John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) is a struggle with the Adam’s Apple waiting to happen. This guy is supposed to be a pedophile and a murderer. Yet, he seems to be about some other business in prison along the emerald tiling along the path to “Ol’ Sparky.”
Taken on a journey where sinister depths of concern intersect the sublime heights of faith, Head Guard Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) shows us there is always more to life than meets the eye. And speaking of, those will be tears in yours as we go along these saddest movies of all time list.
7. The Notebook (2004)
There is a dynamic reason why when cinephiles begin discussing the saddest movies of all time, this sappy trek to two star-crossed lovers always comes up in conversation. It’s that effin’ dismal.
True story: I had a bet that I would shed a tear over Noah’s (Ryan Gosling) and Allie’s (Rachel McAdams) summer excursion. And then, there’s that twist ending over memories once forgotten. So what if I lost the bet?! You would too. I double-dog dare you to find out. Damn this movie!
6. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Darren Aronofsky must be interested in a Ph.D. in dystopia because this guy knows how to make a depressing or distraught film. It is possible his most upsetting movie is coming next month with the Brendan Fraser renaissance, The Whale. Before that, he gave us Mother! and Black Swan–both “whiskey tango foxtrot” viewing experiences.
Way back in 2000, he directed Requiem for a Dream. This is a twisted tale of serious drug addiction among four people, led by a stirring Jared Leto performance and a surprising Marlon Wayans role. The haunting Clint Mansell score sweeps you up, forcing you into a corner of perpetual sadness. Here is a kick to the nether regions you never saw coming and will not forget.
5. Christine (2006)
One evening in July 1974, Christine Chubbuck, an anchor at Sarasota, Florida’s ABC affiliate WXLT-TV did the unthinkable and altered the course of the evening news forever. In the trailer, you will hear her greeting dwindle to “In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in ‘blood and guts’, and in living color, you are going to see another first —attempted suicide.”
She pulls out a gun and shoots herself in the head on live television. And that is all true!
This indie film is, without question, the most miserable and demoralizing film you have never seen. Fix that because Rebecca Hall is a force of nature in this real-life story of how people can affect the mental health of others. Michael C. Hall plays Christine’s co-anchor George Ryan and is gripping as a friend who simply doesn’t understand the downward spiral of depression she will undoubtedly be driving when it crashes into the ground at full speed.
Millions of Americans struggle with mental health daily, but few understand how crippling it can be. The tragic story of Christine Chubbuck will force you to rethink any stance on depression you have, retool using that very word in your vernacular, and then reconsider any loved one you know.
4. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Easily, this is one of the most longsuffering misnomers in movie history because there is little “happyness” in it. Mr. Congeniality Will Smith gives a stellar performance as Chris Gardner, who became the owner of a brokerage firm and one of the most sought-after public speakers across the country today. However, as the biopic shows, it was a journey of forever to get there.
The film centers around Gardener’s struggle to find and keep a job while raising his son (Will’s IRL son, Jaden Smith) as a homeless man. And, just when you think Gardner’s break is coming, he gets smacked back into a bleak reality that induces stress, worry, and an ocean of tears. Somehow, he refuses to cave and takes back control of life.
And when that happens, all those morose tears are replaced with “happyness” ones. A true emotional roller coaster, but it’s worth a watch if you need a boost of the human spirit.
3. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)
Meet Bruno (Asa Butterfield). He’s an eight-year-old boy that captivates you from his first scene. His dad is an SS commandant at a Nazi concentration camp. One day, Bruno makes his way to a poor man’s barbed wire security fence, where he befriends a Jewish boy, Shumel (Jack Scanlon). The magic of this film is neither boy is aware of the insidious state of affairs surrounding them.
However, what you think would happen, doesn’t happen. The boys grow closer in their friendship, and eventually, the adults learn about it, proving why we can’t have nice things. The twist in the film is the boys’ fate. Trust that you can–and probably will only–see this film once.
There isn’t one scene that feels good for your nerves and vexes your heart. In fact, the movie’s methodical pace and avant-garde storytelling will leave you reading the closing credits in deafening silence. It is a revered script of storytelling, but there are no words to express how this film will leave you. Not one.
2. Pieces of a Woman (2020)
There has not been a more miserable, uncomfortable, and impossible-to-hold-back tears in recent memory than Pieces of a Woman. COVID-19 was dimming, and freedom to get back to theaters was only a few months away. Then Vanessa Kirby stole our hearts, placed them in her trusty blender, hit puree, and gave it back to us with a straw.
Here’s a movie that sets the tone immediately. We are walked into a home birth, serious medical issues, and the premature death of her baby. And that’s how this miserable experience began. If that scene didn’t create some concern for the limits of sadness in this film, well…check your pulse. This experience plants you in the middle of misery, sympathy, and agony.
Bring a big Sam’s Club box of tissue. Director Kornél Mundruczó doesn’t let up. Between an overwhelming Shia LaBeouf acting display and Kirby, who will pierce your soul, this film creates a sense of loss that remains scarred on your heart. You will burn through them all and still need your long sleeves for good measure.
1. Schindler’s List (1993)
If you don’t believe this Steven Spielberg-helmed masterpiece should not top this list of the saddest movies of all time, you may not appreciate the full force of history.
The Holocaust is one of the worst crimes against humanity ever. Yet, somehow, Spielberg places us in the center of Auschwitz with visceral ease. As we are introduced to bigoted genocide, watching the real story of Oskar Schindler (Liam Nesson) rescuing more than 1,000 Polish-Jewish refugees is still a bleak experience no one was prepared to see.
In the early ’90s, Hollywood considered this the benchmark of war-torn time capsules, captivating storytelling, and sheer command of the craft. It still is seen as that. And it was done on purpose. When discussing the noir backdrop, Steven Spielberg said, “The Holocaust was life without light. For me, the symbol of life is color. That’s why a film about the Holocaust has to be in black-and-white.”
Maybe he read that PsychCentral.com article too. Other movies are adaptations from acclaimed books (see No. 3) or horrifying life scenarios (see No. 2), yet this movie is horrifyingly sad because it’s real. Schindler’s List is certainly the pinnacle among the saddest movies of all time because it beautifully and courageously tells the story of one of the saddest moments in human history.
“Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.” Oskar Schindler did just that; this was his grueling and uplifting story.
Since he saw ‘Dune’ in the $1 movie theater as a kid, this guy has been a lover of geek culture. It wasn’t until he became a professional copywriter, ghostwriter, and speechwriter that he began to write about it (a lot).
From the gravitas of the Sith, the genius of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, or the gluttony of today’s comic fan, SPW digs intelligent debate about entertainment. He’s also addicted to listicles, storytelling, useless trivia, and the Oxford comma. And, he prefers his puns intended.