Most of us prefer watching romcoms, movies that are hilarious or inspirational movies which make you want to go out and get things done, or even thrillers which resolve themselves or horror flicks which haunt us for the time they play (and the nights after we’ve watched them!). There are, however, some days when we long to see something sad, melancholy, and downright depressing, either as a form of catharsis, or just to get a sense of depth or because of some unknown, inner need. Here are 20 of the most depressing films for you to choose from, on such days. You can watch them on most streaming sites such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Videos, Hotstar or even YouTube or you could download and watch them via other sites.
Most Depressing Movies That Make you Sad AF.
1. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
An animation movie from Japan’s famous and masterful Studio Ghibli, Grave of the Fireflies is a story about war and is unforgiving on the viewer, breaking our hearts through its story, and letting us know that animation isn’t always for children. Two siblings stranded and orphaned after an American firebombing of Japan towards the end of World War 2 try to survive and find simple pleasure and rays of hope in trying to do so. Keep a box of tissues at hand when watching this, it is sure to make you cry.
2. Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
Starring Tim Robbins (Andy from Shawshank Redemption!), this movie will leave you a confused mess of emotions by the end. Jacob Singer is a Vietnam war veteran who is separated from his ex-wife and living with his girlfriend. One day, he notices that he has increasingly frightening hallucinations. He discovers that friends from his former unit are dealing with the same. His quest to find the cause of this leads him to terrible secrets, even as he is slowly losing his sanity.
3. Seven (1995)
David Fincher’s masterpiece (many of his movies are masterclasses in craft, but still) does not let us escape the bleak environment it is set in even for a moment. Set in a fictitious city in the US, Seven follows Detective Somerset and Detective Mills (played by Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt) as they try to find a crazed, religious serial killer who is murdering people on the basis of the Seven Deadly Sins mentioned in the Bible, in the most horrifying ways. From the beginning to the end, we’re thrown into the dark, grim and gruesome happenings in the city, which itself is reminiscent of an earthly version of Dante’s Hell, with Morgan Freeman’s weary narration telling us of how he still can’t bear the evil in it, even after so many years of service.
4. Life is Beautiful (1997)
Everyone talks about Schindler’s list when bringing up movies about the cruelty of the Nazis and what the Jews and others who were tortured by them had to undergo, but people rarely bring this movie up. Directed by and starred by Roberto Benigni, it tells the story of a family who are trapped in a concentration camp during World War 2, and how the father tries to prevent the child from knowing the horror of the situation they are in by telling him that this is an elaborate game and that everyone, including their torturers, are acting and playing their part. The movie is sad to watch when you’re young but genuinely heartbreaking the older you get.
5. American History X (1998)
Directed by Tony Kaye, this is a thoughtful movie, which, instead of just condemning violence and hatred, seeks to what might cause it, and shows us how destructive and terrible the vicious cycle of hate is. Derek (the brilliant Edward Norton) is a former neo-Nazi who is being released from prison after being sentenced for a brutal murder. He notices that his younger brother Danny (Edward Furlong) intends to go down the same path he did, and tries to prevent it from happening.
6. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Darren Aronofsky’s masterpiece about people longing for and finding happiness, pleasure and belonging in the most destructive ways is haunting. Based on a novel of the same name by Hubert Selby Jr., it captures the characters in their most darkest, naked and desperate moments, even as it follows them in their highs. Harry (Jared Leto), his girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) and his best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) are heroin addicts spiraling downward due to their drug abuse, even as they have big dreams for the future. His mother, Sara, is a plump elderly lady who is set to appear on her favorite game show, but in order to fit into the red dress, she wants to wear for the occasion, chooses a sketchy diet prescribed by a sketchy source. Beware: it can be way too intense for some.
7. 21 Grams (2003)
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s second feature film, 21 Grams is told in a non-linear fashion, interleaving the lives of three people who are connected or become connected due to a certain incident. Sean Penn, Naomi Watts and Benicio del Toro act as the three protagonists. The movie is a poignant tale, showing us what happens in the wake of a death, how people cope with death and dying, and how the past cannot be erased as easily as we wish it to be. Masterfully directed, Inarritu lets the question that inspired the title, hang at the end, in the film’s most poignant and harrowing moments.
8. Oldboy (2003)
Park Chan-wook’s thriller is a revenge tale which leaves you speechless and broken by the end (The Spike Lee remake is just terrible, don’t watch it). Odae-su (played by Choi Min-sik), a drunk, belligerent womanizer finds himself trapped in a hotel room from which he cannot get out, after a night of alcohol-filled antics. He does not know who is holding him prisoner and spends his years training for the day he escapes. One day, he is inexplicably released, given a cell phone, money, and clothes. He then goes on a hunt to find his captor. But what he finds out changes his life irrevocably.
9. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
I have to confess that I have a love-hate relationship with this cult classic. It is really well-made and memorable but also emotionally devastating. It is also one of those movies where Jim Carrey has played a non-comedic role, and what a performance it is! Jim plays Joel Barish, a man who goes to perform a procedure on him himself that will erase the memories he has of his ex-girlfriend, Clementine (Kate Winslet), after learning that she has done the same. But as the procedure goes on, Joel realizes he doesn’t want these memories to go.
10. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Guillermo Del Toro’s dark fantasy/horror film has been called a fairy tale for adults, but even while viewing it, one can’t help but think of it as a young girl’s way of coping with her life. Ofelia and her pregnant mother move to her stepfather Vidal’s house, during the period following the Spanish Civil War. Vidal is a Captain for the fascist regime and tortures and kills resistance fighters and their allies. One night, Ofelia is led to a creature known as a faun, who tells her that she is a princess of the underworld, and will be accepted back to her kingdom and seated along with her royal parents, but only if she successfully completes three tasks. Surrounding the house where she lives and even within it are allies of the resistance. How will this tale turn out?
11. Triangle (2009)
Triangle is a brilliant, underrated and terrifying sci-fi thriller that frequently makes it on lists that depict movies that are mind-benders. Yet, the inherent fatalism in the plot is what makes us unable to look away, even as plot twist after plot twist unravels before our eyes. Terrible weather strikes a group of people out on a happy yachting trip, and decide they cannot go on when they chance upon a huge cruise ship in which they decide to take shelter after they seem to see someone aboard. But things do not turn out well for them once they step on to the ship.
12. I Saw the Devil (2010)
Brimming with blood and brutal violence, this Korean film is a thriller with a difference. We’re shown a murderer (played by Choi Min-sik from Oldboy) killing the fiancée of a special agent. We’re shown the life of the murderer, Kyung-chul and what the murder does to Soo-hyun, the officer. Soo-hyun then decides to track Kyung-chul (who turns out to be a psychopath and rapist) down, and, instead of killing him, begins a torturous game of cat-and-mouse with him. What begins as a quest for revenge turns way more destructive than Soo-hyun could have foreseen. This movie makes us question if the violence, which at the beginning seemed righteous from Soo-hyun’s part, is indeed right, by the end of it, making us ask if the devil we see outside is inside us as well and if revenge really is worth turning into a monster.
13. Blue Valentine (2010)
Definitely not one of those movies you should watch on your early dates with the one you love, Ryan Gosling starrer Blue Valentine is yet another emotional heavyweight. The story shows us the two sides of love: the happy early days, and the days after one is married and living together with the one you love (or is it the one you used to love?). The movie follows a couple who are married and living with their daughter at the beginning of the movie and shows us glimpses from earlier in their love life, from when they met to how they got together, all the while showing the progression and how sour it has turned now.
14. A Serbian Film (2010)
Chances are you’ve heard of this talked about as ‘the movie that is more disgusting than the Human Centipede,’ and I thought the same, categorizing it as ‘trash’ the first time I watched it. On re-watching it, I have to say that it isn’t as bad. It is still vulgar, extreme, and sickening, but also very aware of this fact, and does it in its own stylized manner. In this movie, Milos, a retired porn star living with a wife and young son, is in dire need of money when he is approached by a mysterious man who says that he intends to direct an art film, but told that Milos will have to perform what he asks him to. What follows is a series of vomit-inducing sex acts, each one more degraded than the one before it. Nonetheless, it will leave you horrified and heartbroken by the end. If you manage to finish it, that is.
15. Michael (2011)
This Austrian drama will leave you horrified and be crying. It holds a mirror to the real world, where people we least suspect or people who look normal commit the most heinous crimes that one couldn’t even begin to imagine. A seemingly normal man, who is shown going about his daily activities, without betraying a hint of evil, cruelty or insanity, is committing a dark, terrible and shocking crime: he is a pedophile who is holding a held a boy captive in the basement of his house. This movie could be a bit too much for some to stomach.
16. Melancholia (2011)
Part of Lars von Trier’s “Depression Trilogy”, the movie is an attempt to depict how depression feels and how it affects one’s sense of time. It also happens to be one of the most visually breathtaking films of modern times. The movie takes place over the course of one day, following Justine (played by Kirsten Dunst) on the day of her wedding, and her sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsborough), who is present for it. Their lives and hopes and dreams are turned to dust when they find out that a giant planet, named Melancholia, is about to collide with Earth, causing its destruction. How will they cope with the fact that their life will come to an end soon?
17. The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)
Directed by Derek Cianfrance, and starring Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, this film feels like a Greek or Shakespearian tragedy set in the modern world. A stunt driver attempts to make life better for his son (whom he didn’t know had existed) and the mother of the child, leading to actions that affect future generations. No more spoilers. Beautifully shot, the impact it leaves by the end is devastating.
18. Antichrist (2013)
Another Lars von Trier feature from his Depression trilogy, this one is not for the faint of heart. It has caused multiple walkouts at its screenings because of its unflinching depictions of bodily mutilation by the characters involved. But, if one can sit through that, you will witness an extremely sad tale of a married couple trying to reconcile with the death of their baby due to their negligence, as they were too busy with pleasure, through the only way they apparently can: by going to a cabin in the woods and mutilating each other during sex.
19. Ida (2013)
Pawel Pawlikowski’s gorgeous monochrome feature film is as pleasing to the eyes as it is sad. The year is 1962, and Anna (played brilliantly by Agata Trzebuchowska), an orphan who has lived in a convent for as far as she can remember, is about to take her vows as a nun when she receives a visitor who says she is her aunt. Anna is told she is Jewish, and before she decides to take her vow, decides to travel with her aunt to find out about her past, about her parents who died at the hands of the Nazi, and in the process, learn more about the world, which she has not been in touch with due to her life in the convent. It is a touching character study of the two female leads, and a heart-rending tale.
20. The Tribe | Plemya (2014)
Featuring no dialogue and no music, this Ukranian coming-of-age tale is one that will leave its mark for more than just that fact. A deaf adolescent joins an apparently prestigious boarding school for the deaf. While it looks like a pleasant place, in the beginning, we discover that it is rife with delinquency, with the students engaging in thievery, routine violence, pimping, and prostitution. The protagonist ends up becoming part of the gang and rising through the ranks. The lack of dialogue adds to the punch the film packs, leaving a sense of despair lingering in us even after the film is done.
21. Leviathan | Leviafan (2014)
This Russian movie is one of those that I’ve had the courage to watch only once, for the emotional weight of it is so heavy. And it has no gore, no violence as such to speak of. Yet the toll it can take on you can go down to your soul. It reminds me of the novels of Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy and draws a loose parallel with the biblical story of Job. A short-tempered mechanic, Kolya, lives with his young second wife and teenage son in a coastal town in Russia. However, the town’s crooked mayor has an eye on the plot of land where Kolya’s house stands and will use any means necessary to get it. This is a story of how fate turns almost everything against one man and his helplessness in the face of it.
22. Love (2015)
A polarizing movie from a polarizing director, Gaspar Noe’s Love is explicit, indulgent and uncompromising arthouse masterpiece. It has been criticized for being overly self-indulgent and as being nothing more than a boring, pretentious pornographic piece with no real substance. I will have to take the other stance, and say that Love is a harrowing exploration of love, lust, longing and the consequences of actions made on an impulse, replete with beautiful images. It has been noted as having biographical elements as well. Murphy’s receives a call from his ex-girlfriend’s mother, saying she’s missing, and this causes him to think about the actions that led him to the unhappy life he is now living.
And there you have it! Is this list missing any of your favorite depressing films? Let us know in the comments!