20 Most Emotional Movies to Watch on Netflix

20 Most Emotional Movies to Watch on Netflix

June 7, 2024

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Sometimes you just need to feel something, you know? Since the spread of cinema as an art form over 100 years ago, the medium has been used as a way of sharing and expressing emotion to a wide audience. In fact, many movies—especially on popular international platforms like Netflix—capitalize on this by mainly trying to get an emotional response out of you, sometimes bordering on manipulation or exploitation. So for this list, we’ve selected emotional movies on Netflix that may be sad, happy, or infuriating but, more importantly, are guaranteed to leave you feeling fulfilled either way.

11. Paddleton (2019)

best

8.2

Country

United States of America

Director

Alex Lehmann, Alexandre Lehmann

Actors

Alana Carithers, Alexandra Billings, Bjorn Johnson, Carlos A. Salazar

Moods

Character-driven, Depressing, Dramatic

There are three big reasons to watch Paddleton. The first two are Ray Romano and Mark Duplass, who play the two neighbors at the center of the story. And the third is Alexandre Lehmann, the director, who also is responsible for Blue Jay (on Netflix as well).

These two misfit neighbors find themselves together when one of them is diagnosed with cancer. They embark on a trip to the nearest pharmacy (a six-hour drive) which turns into an adventure.

This premise gives Paddleton a lot to play on: it’s a comedy, but it’s also a drama about a fatal disease. It’s a bromance, but it’s about a fragile friendship. All these contradictions make Paddleton a great slice-of-life movie. And again, both actors are amazing. Watching it just for them is worth it.

12. Tell Me Who I Am (2019)

8.2

Country

UK, United Kingdom

Director

Ed Perkins

Actors

Alex Lewis, Andrew Caley, Evan Milton, Kathleen Rainey

Moods

Challenging, Depressing, Discussion-sparking

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.

13. Mars One (2023)

best

8.2

Country

Brazil

Director

Gabriel Martins

Actors

Camilla Damião, Carlos Francisco, Cícero Lucas, Dircinha Macêdo

Moods

Dramatic, Emotional, Heart-warming

Mars One is a tender, wholesome drama that centers on The Martins, a family of four living on the fringes of a major Brazilian city. Their lower-middle-class status puts them in an odd position—they’re settled enough to have big dreams and occasionally lead lavish lives (the mother and the daughter like to party) but they barely have the means to pursue that kind of lifestyle. As a result, they’re always searching and wanting, aiming high but almost always falling flat on the ground.

There is no actual plot in Mars One. Instead, it studies its characters in a leisurely and almost offhand manner. The approach is so naturalistic, you’ll almost forget you’re watching a movie. But it’s still gorgeously shot and staged, Brazil being an inevitably striking background. At once gentle and vibrant, this big-hearted film is a must for those who are suckers for well-made family dramas.

14. Society of the Snow (2023)

best

8.2

Country

Spain, United States of America

Director

J.A. Bayona

Actors

Agustín Berruti, Agustín Della Corte, Agustín Lain, Agustín Pardella

Moods

Challenging, Character-driven, Dark

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.

15. Mike Birbiglia: The Old Man and the Pool (2023)

best

8.1

Country

United States of America

Director

Seth Barrish

Actors

Mike Birbiglia

Moods

Emotional, Funny, Sunday

Many comedians use humor as a way to ease into more serious subject matter, though there always exists a risk that a comedy special can skew too far down the silly or the self-reflective route. Mike Birbiglia has come about as close to the perfect balance as possible, in this recording of his one-man Broadway show at the Vivian Beaumont Theater. Key to this is the fact that Birbiglia tells one very cohesive story throughout these 77 minutes, frequently branching off to other humorous anecdotes but always returning with a pensive self-consciousness to the real possibility of him dying sooner than he’d want.

This filmed version of Birbiglia’s show doesn’t give a full idea of its multimedia qualities (Birbiglia occasionally has words and images projected onto the curved screen behind him, which he also physically interacts with), but the comedian’s sincere style of storytelling more than makes up for the lack of audiovisual tricks we’re permitted to see. And don’t get it confused: this is a very funny stand-up special, whose jokes always come from the most unexpected places—it also just happens to contain some truly moving moments that come out of nowhere, but make total sense alongside all the laughter.

16. The Falls (2021)

best

8.0

Country

Taiwan, United States of America

Director

Chung Mong-hong

Actors

Alyssa Chia, Chen Yi-wen, Chen Yiwen, Gingle Wang

Moods

Dramatic, Emotional, Slow

All the synopses going around the internet won’t fail to let you know that The Falls takes place at the height of the COVID-19 crisis. The film is certainly marketed that way, with commercial posters featuring the leads in ubiquitous face masks, socially distanced from the blurred crowd. 

But interestingly, The Falls is not just a situational, pandemic-era story. More than anything else, it tells the story of Pin-wen and Xiao Jing, mother and daughter who, despite previously living a life of comfort, are now dealt with unfavorable circumstances (exacerbated but not entirely caused by the pandemic). Now, they are forced to navigate life with only each other, and it’s in the isolation they instate from the rest of the world do they forge a genuine and heartwrenching bond any and all family members will immediately recognize and perhaps even sympathize with. 

17. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (2021)

best

8.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Dean Fleischer-Camp

Actors

Andy Richter, Avan Jogia, Blake Hottle, Brian Williams

Moods

Dramatic, Easy, Emotional

There’s a lot of good to be found in the charming, poignant, and endlessly quotable Marcel the Shell With Shoes On. It follows a documentarian named Dean, who has as his subject the one-inch talking shell that is Marcel. Marcel looks after an empty house along with his grandma Connie, and together they run a delightfully intricate system subsisting on electric mixers, tennis balls, and the occasional human hair.

Despite his small size, Marcel unwittingly makes big observations about life and the world around him, often moving Dean (and this writer) close to tears. It’s a simple film with a grand message, with lots to say about the importance of participating in life as opposed to merely observing it. But ultimately this is a movie with a precocious talking shell at the heart of it all, so really, what’s not to like?

18. Frybread Face and Me (2023)

best

8.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Billy Luther

Actors

Charley Hogan, Jeremiah Bitsui, Kahara Hodges, Keir Tallman

Moods

Easy, Emotional, Funny

Frybread Face and Me is a little indie gem: though rough around the edges, it’s full of charm and heart. Drawn from its director’s own childhood experiences, the movie charts a formative moment in the life of Benny, a city boy of Navajo, Hopi, and Laguna Pueblo heritage who’s carted off to his grandmother’s ranch on a Navajo reservation for a summer. It’s suffused with all the specificity of real memories in a way that never distances us from it, only enfolding us closer into its nostalgic embrace. That effect largely comes from the tender bonds between Benny and his cousin Dawn (unsympathetically nicknamed Frybread Face and played by newcomer Charley Hogan), who acts as translator between him and their non-English-speaking grandmother (Sarah H. Natani, also a non-professional actor). Though he’s constantly berated by male family members for not being “masculine” enough, Benny finds unconditional acceptance from his grandmother and misfit camaraderie with Frybread, who also gives the film a dry comedic edge — a welcome touch in a usually saccharine genre. Ultimately, though, it’s the movie’s soft sweetness and intimate depths that are most distinctive: it’s so gently told, and with such genuine feeling behind it, that it’s impossible not to be swept away by its charms.

19. Godzilla Minus One (2023)

best

8.0

Country

Japan

Director

Takashi Yamazaki

Actors

Akio Nakadai, Eisuke Sasai, Etsuji Harada, Gohshuu

Moods

Action-packed, Character-driven, Discussion-sparking

The film starts with an atmosphere of almost peaceful defeat. We see a rather stealthy Godzilla, but it doesn’t last long until we’re back to regular programming with the metal-chewing monster. Time spent without Godzilla is spent on people trying to be heroes, armed with admirable optimism. The many scenes of wreckage turn this into a very human story about shared trauma. Godzilla vs other kaiju is usually an easy sell, but Godzilla vs people is a hard story to root for, just because of how unbalanced it gets. But the film finds a way to make it work—the final battle is epic, packed with a lot of heart and preparation.

20. A Secret Love (2020)

7.9

Country

United States of America

Director

Chris Bolan

Actors

Chris Bolan, Diana Bolan, Jack Xagas, John Byrd

Moods

Emotional, Heart-warming, Inspiring

Even when it necessarily tackles the difficulties that are part and parcel of same-sex love in the 20th century, there’s something pleasant about the way A Secret Love is told. The documentary puts Terry and Pat’s love above all else, so even though we hear about how they had to tear the bottom pages of their letters to avoid getting caught, or how they had to split from close family members after coming out, things never feel too heavy or dire because at the end of the day, they’re still together, their decades-old companionship a beautiful example of how love wins. And aside from giving us an intimate look at this rare win for elderly closeted couples, A Secret Love serves as an insightful portrait of elderly life. Terry and Pat, with their perseverance and unyielding support, make aging look beautiful rather than scary. 

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