Last Updated: March 22nd
Prepare to have your tears jerked and your heart wrenched. Sad movies take a lot of forms, but this list of good Netflix films to watch hits the big buttons, including some of the best movies about love, star-crossed love, concentration camps, death, and children/dinosaurs in peril.
Regardless of what gets your tear ducts primed and pumping, there is something in this list of must watch streaming sobfests that will get at your heart’s sorrow spot. “Enjoy” the 10 saddest movies on Netflix Instant right now responsibly.
Schindler’s List (1993)
It took decades in the industry for Steven Spielberg to finally earn an Oscar for one of his movies, but his win for Schindler’s List is well deserved. The film focuses on wealthy businessman Oskar Schindler, who spends his fortune and risks his his life to save the lives of 1,100 Jewish men and women after taking in the horrors of WWII and the concentration camps. Between the three hour running time, the cold, unrelenting cruelty of Ralph Fiennes’ portrayal of Amon Goeth, and its realistic style, it’s a bleak film. But there’s hope to be found in the grim black and white images. It’s an important story told movingly by a filmmaker at the height of his powers.
Is there anything sadder than young lovers torn apart before their feelings can truly blossom? Well, besides real issues plaguing the world like war and famine, but come on, star-crossed lovers are still pretty sad. Atonement paints a vivid tale of just that (along with some war as well). After a series of misunderstandings, youthful naiveté, and false accusations drive Robbie (James McAvoy) away from Cecillia (Keira Knightley), 13-year-old Briony spends the rest of her life struggling with her mistakes as the couple longs to be reunited. It’s a tragic story, but one that works beyond the tragedy and sorrow. It won an Oscar for its original score and was nominated for Best Picture, facing off against some tough competition in No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood.
The Land Before Time (1988)
Director Don Bluth helmed a few memorable animated kids’ films during the ’80s, including An American Tail and All Dogs Go To Heaven. But none have proven as enduring as The Land Before Time. Launching a baker’s dozen sequels (the last of which came out in 2016), this charming adventure focuses on a band of young dinosaurs as they try to reach the safe haven of The Great Valley. With its adorable characters and simplistic yet relatable coming-of-age message, it’s reminiscent of familiar tales like Bambi, but Bambi has got nothing on the sadness found in Land Before Time‘s protagonist Littlefoot. Imagine Bambi seeing his mother get killed, having a deathbed conversation with her, and then being haunted by her ghost through the rest of the film, and that’s what Littlefoot has to go through. It’s somber but not overwhelming for a young audience.
The House Of Small Cubes (2008)
This Oscar-winner for Best Animated Short is only 12 minutes long, but that’s all it takes to pull you into its heartbreaking story. An old man’s house gets continuously submerged in ever-rising waters, so instead of moving on, he moves up. As he keeps adding levels, a dropped pipe forces the man to relive his memories as he passes each floor through the depths of his home. The wordless short builds an interesting world very quickly with a unique style of animation. The House Of Small Cubes gives but a few glimpses of this man’s life, but it’s enough to care about him and his life as it unfolds in reverse.
Cinema Paradiso (1988)
This may be one of the best foreign language films ever made. In a war-torn Sicilian village, Salvatore Di Vita (Salvatore Cascio) finds succor in the town’s local movie house. He is befriended by projectionist Alfredo (Philippe Noiret), who teaches him to truly love movies. When the movie house catches fire, Alfredo loses his sight but has his life saved by Salvatore, who becomes the projection operator in Alfredo’s place. The film is a testament to the love of movies, as much as it is to the balm they provide in difficult lives during difficult times.
Sean Penn won his second Oscar for his portrayal of the titular character in Milk, the biopic about San Francisco’s first openly gay elected official. From his early days of civil rights activism in the ’70s to his assassination only a few months after his election, Harvey Milk’s short story is one filled with endless struggle. But the message throughout the film is endlessly hopeful and triumphant. The saddest part, though, is that the fight for LGBTQ rights still wages every day in the U.S. That’s why it’s encouraging to keep the words of leaders like Milk alive today. He didn’t start getting involved in the movement until he was around 40, and he was able to create very real change. It’s never too late to start.
The Road (2009)
Certainly not the first title that comes to mind when looking for “sad movies,” but just try and watch The Road without feeling emotionally fatigued. The Cormac McCarthy adaptation takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but that’s only the backdrop for a gripping relationship between a man and his son. Once the world sorta ends — as not much time is spent on the “why” — the man struggles to keep his son alive amidst murderers, cannibals, and despair. It’s rough. It’s bleak. It’s a terrifying, dying world that sucks you in as you can almost feel the cold and taste the hunger. But it’s the little moments of hope and love in the pair’s lives that makes it all worthwhile. (You can also pretty much disregard the tone, colors, and thrilling nature of the trailer above, as this is a somber, slow tale the pretty much cuts your heart out.)
Fruitvale Station (2013)
If you like Michael B. Jordan (are there people who don’t?) and you can deal with some very serious subject matter, this is a great film. Winner of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for U.S. dramatic film, Fruitvale Station depicts the final day of Oscar Grant III’s life. The 22 year-old Hayward resident was detained by the Bay Area rapid transit (BART) Police at Fruitvale station on January 1, 2009 in Oakland California, where he was shot by an officer. He later died. The film begins with actual bystander footage of the Fruitvale event and then transitions into the dramatized day. Viewers have to confront that each scene marks the last time Grant will do something. It’s viscerally upsetting.
Dead Poets Society (1989)
Peter Weir’s beloved story of repression and rebellion at an elite prep school at the end of the 1950s features one of Robin Williams’ best dramatic performances and features a cast of ascending stars that includes Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, and Josh Charles. Though Weir occasionally lets Williams indulge a little too much, it’s a moving film that’s justifiably endured over the years.
Clocking in at 24 minutes, the Oscar-nominated Extremis really would only work as a short, as its subject matter is almost unbearably heavy. Following terminal patients, their families, and their doctors, the doc zeros in on the decision that many people are forced to make: whether to end a life or keep struggling to hold on. Netflix’s first foray into short documentary, it’s raw insight that can be rough for anyone who has been in similar shoes or spent any time facing dire choices in a hospital.