There are few things as therapeutic as a good cry. You know the kind of cry we're talking about–it’s the Jim-and-Pam-finally-got-together cry or the that’s-so-sad-it’s-beautiful cry, not the I-just-closed-my-finger-in-the-door cry. It’s the kind of cry that you can virtually guarantee when you press play on a tearjerker like Atonement or any of the other movies on this list. So prepare your tear ducts, cancel your plans, and get both the movies and the tears streaming tonight with this list of super sad movies to watch on Netflix. From musicals to animated movies, all of these films will inspire the kind of catharsis that only a good cry (and sometimes, laughter through tears!) can.
This article will be updated periodically to reflect changes to Netflix Streaming.
Charlie St. Cloud
Charlie (Zac Efron) is a high school senior with a sailing scholarship to Stanford and a bright future ahead of him. But soon before leaving for college, he gets into a devastating car wreck while driving his younger brother Sam (Charlie Tahan). Unconscious after the accident, Charlie dreams that he makes a promise to never leave his younger brother. When he wakes, Charlie learns that Sam has died — but after the funeral, he realizes that he and Sam are still able to meet on a plane halfway between the land of the living and the dead.
Five years on, and Charlie has abandoned his plans for Stanford. He spends his days at the cemetery where he works as a groundkeeper, and playing baseball with Sam in the twilight world they can visit together. But when Charlie meets Tess (Amanda Crew) he finds himself drawn closer to the world of the living than he has been in years — and dangerously close to losing Sam once and for all.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
This bittersweet romantic sci-fi film from director Michel Gondry will have you weeping over all your lost loves. When Clementine (Kate Winslet) and Joel (an uncharacteristically restrained Jim Carrey) meet on a commuter train to Montauk, they both feel drawn to each other. Neither of them remembers that they in fact share a very intimate past — after first meeting at a house in Montauk, Joel and Clementine dated for two years, before things ended bitterly. Desperate to get over the relationship, Clementine elected to have her memories of Joel erased under the supervision of Lacuna Inc.. When Joel learned of her decision via mutual friends, he also had the memory-erasing procedure done. Now, the separated pair have come together again, in a strange echo of their first meeting — and as they begin to discover their shared past, they must decide whether trying again is worth the prospect of potential heartbreak.
A classic I'm-crying-but-it-feels-so-good movie, Goodwill Hunting features one of the late Robin Williams' greatest performances ever as Sean, a Boston-area therapist grieving the death of his wife. Matt Damon in his breakout role stars as Will Hunting, a mathematical genius from the wrong side of the tracks who works as a janitor at MIT. When a MIT professor discovers Will's natural aptitude, he manages to get Will a softer sentence after the struggling twenty-year-old assaults a cop: Will is spared jail time, with the understanding that he'll study with the professor and attend sessions with Sean. As Sean and Will work together, Sean finds his grief over his wife slowly healing, and Will develops new hopes for the future — including his romantic relationship with Harvard student Skylar (Minnie Driver).
One of the saddest depictions ever on film of a dysfunctional relationship between two very attractive people, Blue Valentine switches back and forth from the early romance between Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams), and the final days of their longterm relationship. When they first meet, college dropout Dean is a mover, and Cindy is an aspiring doctor dating fellow student Bobby. After several chance meetings, the two start dating and soon fall head-over-heels for each other. When Cindy learns she is pregnant with Bobby's baby, Dean says he wants to raise the baby as his own, and Cindy and Dean marry.
Five years later, the couple live in rural Pennsylvania with their daughter, Frankie. Both Dean and Cindy struggle with the ways their current life differs from the life they had dreamed of. Dean tries to revive some of the intimacy that was once between them, but his desperate attempts at romance only lead to frustration for both of them.
Ultimately, the conflicts between Dean and Cindy will likely be uncomfortably familiar for anyone who has ever endured a breakup (in other words, the vast majority of viewers). Gosling and Williams' incredible performances make this mundane suffering luminous, and cement Blue Valentine as possibly the #1 Sad Relationship Movie out there.
This classic film about mothers, daughters, and powerful female friendships is where the iconic line "laughter through tears is my favorite emotion" comes from — so you know it's bound to be cathartic. In Louisiana, M'Lynn (Sally Fields) Truvy (Dolly Parton) and Annelle (Daryl Hannah) bond over preparations for the wedding of M'Lynn's daughter, Shelby (Julia Roberts). Shelby experiences severe complications from Type 1 diabetes, but is determined to live her life to the fullest regardless of the dangers.
When Shelby makes the decision to have a child despite the associated health risks, the friends come together to support Shelby — and to keep M'Lynn afloat when her daughter makes the ultimate sacrifice. Steel Magnolias is based on the play of the same name, which was inspired by the death of playwright Robert Harling's sister, Susan Harling Robinson. Many of the health professionals pictured in the movie are real-life doctors and nurses who cared for Susan, and Susan and Robert's parents were on set for some of the movie's most gut-wrenching scenes. In other words, making this movie was truly a labor of love — and it shows in the timeless final product. Watch this one with a ton of tissues and your best gal pals.
The English Patient
The English Patient took home 12 Academy Awards in 1997, and it's not hard to see why. 21 years later, this sweeping tearjerker about a badly burned man recollecting a past passionate love affair continues to inspire strong emotion in viewers. Ralph Fiennes plays the titular British patient, who has been severely burned in an accident in the Sahara and is now being cared for by Hana (Juliette Binoche), a Canadian nurse. Set against the backdrop of World War II-era, the movie follows connections made by lost souls staying in the ruins of an Italian monastery. As the patient begins to regain his memories, he tells Hana about the intense, overwhelming affair he had prior to his accident with married woman Katharine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas).
Abbie (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Sam (Michiel Huisman) are childhood sweethearts engaged to be married. But their idyllic romance faces unexpected tragedy when Abbie is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Concerned that Sam — a notoriously awkward dater — won't be able to pick up the pieces after she passes away, Abbie throws herself into trying to find a new partner for him to fall in love with. Predictably, though, Abbie becomes so focused on trying to save Sam from future grief, that she's unable to be present in the time they have left.
Irreplaceable You is a predictable movie that never quite takes off — but if you're looking for a romance that will leave you helplessly sobbing, look no further.
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The House of Small Cubes
This Academy Award-winning animated short packs a powerful punch. When his town is flooded, an unnamed, elderly widower adds additional levels to his humble home in order to stay dry. When he drops his pipe into the watery levels of his house, he must journey into the underwater depths to uncover it. Along the way, he sees visions of his long-ago life with his wife that have been submerged for years.
Atonement is a wartime romance, so you have to figure you’re in for a pretty bittersweet ride. This is a heavy film, so be prepared–Atonement touches on sex crimes, false accusations, war, and lost love. The movie is based on Ian McEwan’s acclaimed novel of the same name, but the film version earned plenty of praise itself: it was nominated for seven Oscars and won one. If there were an Oscar for making people ugly-cry all over their popcorn (and there is not), it would have won that one, too.
The Last Five Years
If you've ever lost a major love, this movie (and the stage musical that inspired it) might wreck you. The Last Five Years follows the five-year relationship between writer Jamie (Jeremy Jordan) and actress Cathy (Anna Kendrick). The story jumps back and forth through separate timelines to follow the history of their marriage from Jamie's point of view and Kathy's, ultimately telling a story of love and loss that for many viewers will be as relatable as it is devastating.
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If you've ever fallen for the right person at the wrong time, Weekend is sure to strike a chord. After a random Friday night hookup, Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New) don't expect to become close. But over the course of a few days, the two quickly develop an intense intimacy, although their newfound connection comes with the knowledge that Glen will be moving to Oregon at the end of the weekend.
Y Tu Mamá También
Teenagers Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna) are best friends despite the class divide between them—Julio comes from a middle class family, while Tenoch's father is a government official. With their girlfriends away in Italy for the summer, the two invite older woman Luisa (Maribel Verdu) to join them on a roadtrip to a secluded beach. Having just learned of her husband's infidelity, Luisa surprises the boys by taking them up on their offer, and the rag-tag group set out on a journey that will be marked by sexual manipulation and revelations of unfaithfulness. Simultaneously erotic and unsettling, the movie takes a heartbreaking look at a woman determined to finally live her life on her own terms, and at the way masculinity can both bond and divide men.
This 2012 Joe Wright adaptation of Russian classic Anna Karenina is a little uneven, but sumptuous and romantic nonetheless. Aristocrat Anna (Keira Knightley) is married to Count Karenin (Jude Law), but when she meets Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) their mutual attraction is as undeniable as it is inadvisable, and the two embark on a dangerous affair that will ultimately end in disaster.
Take This Waltz
Written, directed, and produced by Canadian indie film dynamo Sarah Polley, Take This Waltz stars Michelle Williams as Margot, a young writer married to Lou (Seth Rogen). While flying home from a business trip, Margot meets and instantly has chemistry with Daniel (Luke Kirby). When the two realize that they live close enough to each other to practically be neighbors, they share a mildly flirtatious cab ride from the airport, during which Margot reveals that she is married. Although Margot tries to ignore her attraction to Daniel, their chance meeting will have a ripple effect on her relationship with Lou, and on the family they've built together. A sad, slice-of-life movie that asks uncomfortable questions about marriage, intimacy, and monogamy, Take This Waltz will stay with you long after its final scene.
The Place Beyond the Pines
Another tearjerker from the director behind Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines follows the doomed, toxic romance between Luke (Ryan Gosling) and Romina (Eva Mendes). Luke turns to bank robbing to support Romina and their child, and his decision creates a legacy of pain and frustration that will echo across generations and families.
If you need a good cry, this movie adaptation of the Tony Award-winning musical comes with plenty of beautiful songs to sob your eyes out to. It also has a deeply tragic backstory — Rent creator Jonathan Larson died suddenly at 36 in his New York apartment from an undiagnosed heart condition on the morning of the semi-autobiographical show's first Off Broadway preview performance. The musical's cast, many of whom were Larson's close personal friends, turned that night's show into a memorial to Larson. Rent is, in many ways, a show about people celebrating and mourning the lives of friends and lovers. Set in late 90s New York, it follows a group of young bohemians falling in and out of love and holding tight to each other as they face economic struggles, addiction, and AIDs. Larson's musical legacy is an enduring reminder of the power of embracing today together, and choosing to measure our lives in love.
The Lovely Bones
Although The Lovely Bones ends on an optimistic note, it opens with horrifying events that may be triggering to some viewers. Based on the bestselling 2002 novel of the same name by Alice Sebold, this Peter Jackson-directed movie follows Susie Salmon, a 14-year-old who watches her family and friends from the afterlife after she's brutally murdered by her older male neighbor. As Susie's family tries to come to terms with her death, Susie yearns for vengeance and to fulfill the final wishes she had during life. Although the movie does have a small romantic component, its ultimate focus is on the enduring, graceful love that exists between us and everyone we care for during our life, even after we're gone.
This Civil War-era drama centers on the tortured romance between preacher's daughter Ada (Nicole Kidman) and carpenter Inman (Jude Law). The two strike up a slow courtship in their small North Carolina town of Cold Mountain, but their newfound love is put on hold when Inman leaves to fight on the Confederate side of the Civil War. The movie follows the tragedies both lovers face during their time apart, and chronicles Inman's odyssey home after deserting the army at Ada's request.
Cold Mountain tells a bleakly sensuous tale about romance during wartime, and was highly celebrated at the 2004 Academy Awards. The production value and performances remain compelling 14 years later, although the movie's depiction of race — or, more specifically, its near-total exclusion of black characters in a movie about the Civil War— is increasingly glaring. Cold Mountain may still be worth a watch, but is probably best viewed with some critical distance.
Kate Winslet and Leonaord DiCaprio are reunited in this romantic drama, which tonally could not be more different from the movie that first brought the iconic pairing together. Revolutionary Road makes Titanic look like a lighthearted romp. To their neighbors on Revolutionary Road in suburban Connecticut, April (Winslet) and Frank (DiCaprio) have a marriage that looks idyllic. But privately, they're both deeply dissatisfied with their life and with each other. Believing their life will be better elsewhere, the two plan a move to Paris, setting in motion a series of events that will reveal the deeply dysfunctional nature of their relationships with each other, their children, and their friends.
Featured still from "Blue Valentine" via The Weinstein Company.