The Best Sad Movies on Netflix

Updated September 23, 2023 • Staff

Sometimes we all just need a good cry. Even though an algorithm such as Netflix's is, in theory, designed to keep scratching the itch for entertainment that makes you feel good and satisfied, there's still something cathartic about watching stories that just hurt. The streaming giant's wide range of popular content designed for a broad, international viewership (with the odd selection or two for particularly niche audiences) means that this list we've created offers films that should leave you aching but not miserable—and should inspire a greater sense of empathy that trumps any hopelessness.

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15.

Bheed (2023)

COVID-19 raised concerns about sanitation and cleanliness, but in a society that just banned discrimination against “impure” castes seventy years ago, these concerns feel reminiscent of previous caste prejudice. Writer-director Anubhav Sinha presents this social inequity through Bheed, a black-and-white drama set in a fictional checkpoint as the lockdown restricted travel between different Indian states. As the people in the checkpoint wait for the updated government regulations, tensions rise between the officers and the travelers, as the stuck migrants worry about hunger, thirst, and infection. While it’s definitely a heavy film to watch, this film doesn’t exploit the pandemic as fodder for drama. Instead, Bheed realistically portrays how a crisis like COVID-19 exacerbates existing social inequity.

Our staff rating: 7.7/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Aditya Srivastava, Ashutosh Rana, Bhumi Pednekar, Dia Mirza, Kritika Kamra, Omkar Das Manikpuri, Pankaj Kapur, Rajkummar Rao
Director: Anubhav Sinha
Go to Netflix
14.

Snowpiercer (2014)

Snowpiercer is an under-the-rader post-apocalyptic thriller that offers the grittiness that many times only Asian cinema may achieve. South Korean director Joon-ho Bong forces audiences to forget that Chris Evans was ever a Marvel superhero, as he leads a revolt of his fellow “low-class” citizens against the self-appointed gentry in a train that contains all remaining members of the planet. With immersive environments and a layered script, this film melds together social commentary and moral discourse in a visually arresting and vastly entertaining package.

Our staff rating: 7.9/10
Genre: Action, Drama, Mystery, Science Fiction
Actor: Adnan Haskovic, Alison Pill, Chris Evans, Clark Middleton, Dana Green, Ed Harris, Emma Levie, Ewen Bremner, Go Ah-sung, Griffin Seymour, Jamie Bell, Jim High, John Hurt, Joseph Bertót, Kendrick Roger Ong, Kenny Doughty, Ko A-sung, Ko Asung, Luke Pasqualino, Luna Sophia Bar-Cohen, Magda Weigertová, Marcanthonee Reis, Octavia Spencer, Parry Shen, Paul Lazar, Peter Hallin, Robert Russell, Sean Connor Renwick, Song Kang-ho, Stephen Park, Steve Park, Tilda Swinton, Tomáš Dianiška, Tómas Lemarquis, Tyler John Williams, Vlad Ivanov
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Rating: R
Go to Netflix
13.

A Ghost Story (2017)

Twisted yet deep. Sad yet interesting. Slow yet exhilarating. A Ghost Story is an incredible artistic achievement. With hardly any dialog, and breathtakingly long takes in its first half, it manages to bring you in its own creepy world and not let go until you feel completely lonely. Starring Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck as a loving couple who are hit with a horrible tragedy, the beginning is slow, and it's not a plot driven movie, but if you give it a chance it will blow your mind.

Our staff rating: 7.9/10
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance
Actor: Augustine Frizzell, Barlow Jacobs, Brea Grant, Casey Affleck, David Lowery, Grover Coulson, Kenneisha Thompson, Kesha, Kesha Rose Sebert, Liz Cardenas Franke, Liz Franke, McColm Cephas Jr., Rob Zabrecky, Rooney Mara, Sonia Acevedo, Will Oldham, Yasmina Gutierrez
Director: David Lowery
Rating: R
Go to Netflix
12.

Like Crazy (2011)

See, low budget films do work! Like Crazy schools other romantic films on what they should all be: cute and sweet but also frustrating and nerve-wracking. Felicity Jones is absolutely fantastic here, she stars as a British girl who falls in love with an American, Jacob, while in college. On a whim, she overstays her visa to be with him, and then return to England to face the consequences. The intimacy this film explores really distinguishes it from others and makes for an authentic experience, as it is based on its writer/director's own 8-year long-distance relationship. A great option if you're in the mood for the type of suspense that pulls at your heartstrings.

 

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Drama, Romance
Actor: Alex Kingston, Amanda Carlin, Anton Yelchin, Ben York Jones, Charlie Bewley, Chris Messina, Drake Doremus, Edy Ganem, Felicity Jones, Finola Hughes, Jamie Thomas King, Jennifer Lawrence, Kayla Barr, Oliver Muirhead, Robert Pike Daniel
Director: Drake Doremus
Rating: PG-13
Go to Netflix
11.

We the Animals (2018)

Three half-Puerto-Rican, half-white boys grow up in suburban New York in this personal movie shot on stunning 16mm film.

This movie follows the boys, often literally with the camera behind their backs, as their parents’ relationship goes through turmoil. The kids are often left unattended and have to fend for themselves. The beauty of We the Animals is illustrating how they grow-up swinging between the angry character of their father and the protective nature of their mother.

This is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time, and I think I loved it so much because I was able to relate and feel for the main character (one of the boys). I really hope you will too.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Amelia Campbell, Evan Rosado, Giovanni Pacciarelli, Isaiah Kristian, Josiah Gabriel, Josiah Santiago, Mickey Anthony, Moe Isaac, Raúl Castillo, Sheila Vand, Terry Holland, Tom Malley
Director: Jeremiah Zagar
Rating: R
Go to Netflix
10.

Holy Spider (2022)

As a crime thriller, Holy Spider is taut and terrifying, a modern noir that manages to unnerve despite the familiar moves it employs. The cat and mouse chase between serial killer and investigative reporter, for instance, is a classic tale, but that doesn’t make Holy Spider any less gripping. The film benefits from artful camerawork, considered acting (as the daring journalist Rahimi, Zar Amir Ebrahimi nabbed the Best Actress award at Cannes), and most of all a nuanced take on the situation in Iran. 

Despite having a clear stance against violence and corruption, nothing in Holy Spider is black and white. Contradictions abound, and even when presented with brief moments of justice, we’re left scratching our heads looking for more. Such is the case when the system, and not just an individual, is the true pest. 

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Crime, Drama, Horror, Thriller
Actor: Ariane Naziri, Sara Fazilat, Sina Parvaneh, Zar Amir Ebrahimi
Director: Ali Abbasi
Go to Netflix
9.

Farha (2021)

Based on a true story, Darin J. Sallam’s controversial debut feature Farha is, at heart, a brutal coming-of-age film. Set in 1948, the film is about a girl who gets locked into her family’s storeroom at the start of the Nakba, the Palestinian Catastrophe. Sallam’s choice to limit most of the film’s perspective to that small storeroom is brilliant – in some ways, it echoes the surrounding discussion about the conflict. Most of what the world knows of Palestine is limited due to having to deal with censorship, lost records, and only hearing word-of-mouth stories from ancestors who just barely survived. But what we see is already too horrific to begin with. And what the film knows is the tragedy of losing your home - having to leave childhood, leave your dreams, and leave a vibrant and living culture in order to survive.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Drama, History, War
Actor: Ali Soliman, Ashraf Barhom
Director: Darin J. Sallam
Rating: TV-14
Go to Netflix
8.

Wildlife (2018)

A powerful but quiet movie directed by Paul Dano and based on a novel of the same name by Richard Ford. It stars Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal as a couple who move to a new town with their only child during the 1960s. Their relationship transforms after Gyllenhaal's character loses his job as a butler and chooses to leave for a more dangerous profession, firefighting. This movie is about his wife's response to this event and the implications of both parents' behavior on their kid. There are no twists or turns, exciting action or plot; but Wildlife doesn't need any of that. This moving story about a decaying family unit is portrayed in the sadness that comes with such events. The only joy comes from watching the outstanding (but expected) performances of the cast.

Our staff rating: 8.1/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Bill Camp, Blaine Maye, Carey Mulligan, Darryl Cox, Ed Oxenbould, Ginger Gilmartin, J. Alan Davidson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jay Dee, JR Hatchett, Kaye Brownlee-France, Laurie Cummings, Lexi Anastasia, Michael Gibbons, Mollie Milligan, Paul Dano, Richard L. Olsen, Travis W Bruyer, Zoe Colletti
Director: Paul Dano
Rating: PG-13
Go to Netflix
7.

Paddleton (2019)

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.

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Alana Carithers, Alexandra Billings, Bjorn Johnson, Christine Woods, Dendrie Taylor, Hiroo Minami, Jack McGraw, Jen Sung, Kadeem Hardison, Marguerite Moreau, Mark Duplass, Matt Bush, Ray Romano, Sam Ly, Sierra Fisk, Stephen Oyoung, Yolanda Bolden
Director: Alex Lehmann, Alexandre Lehmann
Rating: TV-MA
Go to Netflix
6.

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 |
Director: Ed Perkins
Rating: TV-MA
Go to Netflix

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