15 Best Hard-to-Watch Movies on Netflix

Updated May 24, 2024 • Staff

Whether they're intense, especially emotional, or just so different that you have to keep 110% of your attention on them, these challenging and hard-to-watch movies listed below were made to disrupt your habit of mindless viewing. That makes them the opposite of comfort viewing, compelling us to become more discerning viewers by getting us to see the value in things that might make us feel uncomfortable at first. But these movies aren't just provocative for provocation's sake; highly-rated by critics and audiences alike, they show that challenging our biases and our preconceived notions does pay off in the end.

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15.

Stamped from the Beginning (2023)

There’s no easy way to talk about racism – it’s a nebulous set of ideas that shift and change and manifests in numerous ways that many people can’t even identify as racism because of how prevalent it is. But Dr. Ibram X. Kendi has been able to write down a fairly comprehensive narrative that outlines key historical moments that shaped the world’s concept of race and Blackness, and this narrative is brought to the screen through vivid animations and strategic sequencing by director Roger Ross Williams in new Netflix release Stamped from the Beginning. It’s a provocative, passionate investigation, and it’s one that should be required viewing.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Animation, Documentary
Actor: Alexa Rachelle Jennings, Angela Davis, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, Ibram X. Kendi, Jennifer L. Morgan, Julian Joseph, Rafa Marinho
Director: Roger Ross Williams
Rating: R
Go to Netflix
14.

Mister Organ (2022)

This documentary from journalist David Farrier, New Zealand’s answer to Louis Theroux, plays more like an out-and-out horror movie. But don’t be fooled by the serial killer connotations of its title — the real Mister Organ’s crimes are (mostly) psychological and have no obvious motive, making him quite a bit scarier than your usual screen villain. Described as a “parasite,” “terrorist,” and a “black hole” by the few traumatized victims of his who agree to talk on record about him, Organ is clearly a master at weaving a sticky web around everyone who comes near him — including, as it turns out, Farrier himself, who soon becomes a casualty of his own investigation.   Though the doc never really punctures the nebulous aura of this deeply creepy — and yet somehow deeply dull — character, that’s what makes it such an arresting watch: Farrier takes us along for the ride as he’s sucked into the disorienting orbit of an energy vampire, largely denying us the relief of a clarifying explanation so that we, too, get a taste of the claustrophobia and psychological torture that come with dealing firsthand with someone like Organ.

Our staff rating: 8.1/10
Genre: Documentary
Actor: David Farrier, Michael Organ
Director: David Farrier
Go to Netflix
13.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

This coming-of-age story based on the bestseller by the same name starts fun but veers towards darker territory. It's about a high-schooler who makes two older friends, played perfectly by Ezra Miller and Emma Watson. But as he gets closer to one of them, his anxieties and past trauma come to the surface. The impressive depth to which the makers of The Perks of Being a Wallflower were able to take it is what elevates it to greatness. It's the perfect mix between easy and challenging. If there is ever such a thing, it's this movie.

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Adam Hagenbuch, Brian Balzerini, Chelsea Zhang, Dihlon McManne, Dylan McDermott, Emily Marie Callaway, Emma Watson, Erin Wilhelmi, Ezra Miller, Joan Cusack, Joe Fishel, Johnny Simmons, Jordan Paley, Julia Garner, Kate Walsh, Landon Pigg, Leo Miles Farmerie, Logan Lerman, Mae Whitman, Mark McClain Wilson, Melanie Lynskey, Morgan Wolk, Nicholas Braun, Nina Dobrev, Patrick de Ledebur, Paul Rudd, Reece Thompson, Stacy Chbosky, Stephen Chbosky, Tom Savini, William L. Thomas, Zane Holtz
Director: Stephen Chbosky
Rating: PG-13
Go to Netflix
12.

Still Alice (2015)

Still Alice is a drama about a renowned linguistics professor (Julianne Moore) who slowly begins to lose words and find herself lost in familiar places, leading to an unexpected diagnosis of Early Onset Alzheimer's Disease. Alice’s husband (Alec Baldwin) and three grown children subsequently struggle to maintain balance as her condition deteriorates, even as she steadfastly strives to maintain her self-composure. Interestingly, Alice uses her professional skills in communication to employ innovative ways to maintain her language and memory as well as possible, despite her ongoing decline. It’s a melancholy yet wonderfully touching film that feels thoroughly honest and real every step of the way. Julianne Moore is superb throughout—a role that earned her a well-deserved Best Actress Oscar for her performance.

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Alec Baldwin, Daniel Gerroll, Eha Urbsalu, Erin Darke, Hunter Parrish, Julianne Moore, Kate Bosworth, Kristen Stewart, Maxine Prescott, Orlagh Cassidy, Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Rosa Arredondo, Seth Gilliam, Shane McRae, Stephen Kunken, Victoria Cartagena, Zillah Glory
Director: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
Rating: PG-13
Go to Netflix
11.

Tell Me Who I Am (2019)

This documentary starts with Alex Lewis, who gets into a motorcycle accident and wakes up in the hospital not knowing who he is. He doesn’t remember anything (not even what a bicycle or a TV is, or who his mother or father are), but he remembers his twin brother, Marcus. When Alex gets back into his childhood home, he’s full of questions, and Marcus is full of answers. However, slowly, Marcus realizes his power to reshape Alex’s version of their past. Marcus leaves one important detail from Alex’s life that makes this documentary (as if it wasn’t already) such an insane story. I know I said it’s a sad movie, but it’s also fascinating and, ultimately, humanizing of the brothers’ experience.

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Documentary, Drama, Mystery
Actor: Alex Lewis, Andrew Caley, Evan Milton, Kathleen Rainey, Laura Obiols, Marcus Lewis |, Thomas Mulhurn
Director: Ed Perkins
Rating: TV-MA
Go to Netflix
10.

Leave the World Behind (2023)

The key to what makes this apocalyptic thriller from Mr Robot and Homecoming showrunner Sam Esmail so unnerving is how resolute it is about not taking place in an alternate timeline. Making references to memorable events in recent history and namechecking real brands and cultural touchstones (like Tesla and Friends), Leave the World Behind is uncannily familiar — which, when combined with the film’s meticulous crafting of tension, makes it all the more unsettling.

Though taking place amidst an ambiguous national emergency, the film is largely set in one house — a claustrophobic setting that puts the characters’ self-conceits and prejudices under a microscope and forces them to confront their own impotence in an analog world. If it all sounds a bit “we live in a society,” be assured that Leave the World Behind cleverly manages to avoid the pitfalls of seeming like a bad Black Mirror ripoff by sidestepping expectations and deploying all the atmospheric tools in its arsenal. Withholding key plot and character information to increase our own paranoia means the movie always runs the risk of disappointment when explanations are finally given, but its focus on the human drama and its well-set-up ending ultimately eclipse any niggling frustrations.

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller
Actor: Alexis Rae Forlenza, Charlie Evans, Erica Cho, Ethan Hawke, Farrah Mackenzie, Josh Drennen, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, Mahershala Ali, Myha'la, Myha'la Herrold, Orli Gottesman, Sam Esmail, Vanessa Aspillaga
Director: Sam Esmail
Rating: R
Go to Netflix
9.

Society of the Snow (2023)

Real life tragedies, especially one that's as sensationalized as the Miracle in the Andes, can be tough to depict on screen. On one hand, the film has to keep true to the story but also maintain some form of spectacle to keep people watching. Past depictions of the 1972 crash are preoccupied with the cannibalism portrayed by big name actors, but Society of the Snow takes a different route. The actors are newcomers, the threats to their lives don't require daring action stunts, and the cannibalism is limited to small chunks indistinguishable from animal meat. Instead, the spectacle of Society of the Snow is the human spirit– the vulnerability, the respect, and the generosity they've given each other in order to survive. It’s still an uncomfortable watch, especially since we get to know some of the survivors before the crash, but it’s definitely a transcendent addition to the genre dedicated to the miracle of existence.

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Drama, History
Actor: Agustín Berruti, Agustín Della Corte, Agustín Lain, Agustín Pardella, Alfonsina Carrocio, Andy Pruss, Benjamín Segura, Blas Polidori, Carlos Miguel Páez Rodríguez, Daniel Patricio Antivilio Acuña, Diego Vegezzi, Emanuel Parga, Emanuel Sobré, Enzo Vogrincic, Esteban Bigliardi, Esteban Kukuriczka, Esteban Pico, Facundo Roure, Fede Aznárez, Federico Formento, Felipe González Otaño, Felipe Otaño, Felipe Ramusio, Felipe Ramusio Mora, Fernando Contigiani García, Francisco Bereny, Francisco Burghi, Francisco Romero, Gustavo Zerbino Stajano, Jerónimo Bosia, Juan Caruso, Juandi Eirea Young, Julian Bedino, Lautaro Bakir, Louta, Lucas Mascarena, Luciano Chattón, Mariano Rochman, Matías Recalt, Pablo Tate, Paula Baldini, Rafael Federman, Roberto Suárez, Rocco Posca, Santiago Vaca Narvaja, Simon Hempe, Sofía Lara, Tea Alberti, Tomas Wolf, Toto Rovito, Valentino Alonso, Virgínia Kauffmann
Director: J.A. Bayona
Rating: R
Go to Netflix
8.

The Kings of the World (2022)

The Kings of the World is a surreal coming-of-age movie that follows Rá, Culebro, Sere, Winny, and Nano, street kids who are on their way to claim land that’s rightfully theirs. Their one goal is to finally make a home after living without one for so long, but they’re hindered by the inevitable tragedies that befall kids of their kind: impoverished, alone, and abandoned.

The title is ironic, but it also hints at their state of mind: these boys are unstoppable, rabble-rousers who live like there’s no tomorrow. They tear down private property and invade inns not out of spite, necessarily, but out of a knowledge that whatever they do they’re gonna be put down anyway, so they might as well live without rules.

Tackling powerful themes like land restitution and youth neglect, The Kings of the World is one of the most agonizing movies you'll ever see. It’s also Colombia’s official Best Foreign Language Film entry in the 2022 Academy Awards.

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Adventure, Drama
Actor: Brahian Acevedo, Carlos Andrés Castañeda, Cristian Campaña, Cristian David Duque, Davison Florez
Director: Laura Mora
Rating: TV-MA
Go to Netflix
7.

To Leslie (2022)

To Leslie follows the eponymous Leslie (Andrea Riseborough), a Southern woman who finds herself at the bottom of the barrel after finally using up every penny of her $190k lottery win. Out of work, friends, and family, she drowns herself in alcohol—that is until a kind soul in the form of motel owner Sweeney (Marc Maron) takes her in and gives her a shot.

To Leslie starts off a bit slow, and its premise may seem like it’ll give way to weepiness, but it’s worth sticking by till the end. The film only gets better, especially with the arrival of Maron, whose presence lends the film a much-needed buoyancy. It's also worth noting that unlike many of its kind, To Leslie avoids the poverty porn trap by depicting issues like addiction and indigence with nuance, honesty, and humanity.

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Crime, Drama
Actor: Alan Trong, Alan Wells, Allison Janney, Andre Royo, Andrea Riseborough, Arabella Grant, Blake Robbins, Brandee Steger, Catfish Jean, Chris Coy, Derek Phillips, Drew Youngblood, Jack O'Connor, James Landry Hébert, Jeanette O'Connor, John Gilbert, Juan Carlos Cantu, Lauren Letherer, Mac Brandt, Maggie Carney, Marc Maron, Matt Lauria, Micah Fitzgerald, Owen Teague, Paula Rhodes, Pramod Kumar, Scott Peat, Scott Subiono, Sewell Whitney, Stephanie Wong, Stephen Root, Tom Virtue
Director: Michael Morris
Rating: R
Go to Netflix
6.

American Symphony (2023)

Art is a hobby for most people, but for musician Jon Batiste and writer Suleika Jaouad, art is part and parcel of this thing called life. Of course, it’s part of their work, and it’s how they make a livelihood, but it’s more than that– it’s almost a spiritual ritual they cling to, especially when Jaouad finds out that her leukemia has returned. American Symphony mainly depicts the creation of said orchestral work, but director Matthew Heineman translates the symphony into cinematic form, culminating in a performance played over the intimate moments between Batiste and Jaouad. It’s not just a documentary of a performance, but a documentary about art, about creation despite life’s pains, perhaps to survive life’s pains. It’s a powerful work that makes it easy to believe in art as imperative for life, and vice versa.

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Documentary, Music
Actor: Anna Wintour, Billie Eilish, James Taylor, Jon Batiste, Jonathan Dinklage, Justin Bieber, Lenny Kravitz, Louis Cato, Questlove, Simon Helberg, Stephen Colbert, Stevie Wonder, Suleika Jaouad, Trevor Noah
Director: Matthew Heineman
Rating: PG-13
Go to Netflix

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