15 Best Depressing Movies On Max (HBO Max)

Staff & contributors

Have you got the tissues ready? Some of the most memorable watches are the ones that tug at our heart strings. Here are the best depressing movies to stream right now.

Many things clash in this beautifully layered, semi-autobiographical film of American director Lulu Wang: cultures, morals, and emotions. The result is a type of comedy that is complex and bittersweet⁠—and based on a true lie: this is the story of a Chinese grandma whose family won't tell her that she is fatally ill. Instead, they organize a fake wedding in China, where everyone gets together to bid a farewell to the unwitting matriarch (played by Zhao Shuzhen). The fake wedding is, in fact, a premature funeral for a person unaware that she is going to die. Played by rapper and comedian Awkwafina, Billi, a New-York-based Chinese-American with a complicated relationship to China, embodies the cultural and moral question at the heart of this story: is it right or wrong not tell grandma? It is thanks to Wang's deft writing and Awkwafina's outstanding performance that The Farewell homes in on answers without ever being melodramatic. Warm, honest, and beautiful.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Aoi Mizuhara, Awkwafina, Chen Han, Diana Lin, Gil Perez-Abraham, Hong Lu, Ines Laimins, Jiang Yongbo, Jim Liu, Lu Hong, Shuzhen Zhao, Tzi Ma, X Mayo, Yang Xuejian, Zhang Jing, Zhao Shuzhen

Director: Lulu Wang

Rating: PG

Based on the Austrian novel, The Piano Teacher is as brilliant and as disturbed as its protagonist. The film follows Erika Kohut (Isabelle Huppert), the repressed masochist in question, and the trainwreck of a relationship that she develops with her student Walter Klemmer (Benoît Magimel). Their dynamic is undeniably toxic. Austrian auteur Michael Haneke frames each scene with clinical detachment, but it is absolutely brutal how the two characters try to assert control over each other, engage in sadomasochism, and repeatedly violate each other’s boundaries. Huppert’s heartrending performance fully commits to the merciless treatment Erika receives. But more tragic is the way Erika’s unusual relationship could’ve freed her, could’ve helped her process her abuse, and instead, reinforces her repression. It’s scary to make yourself vulnerable by admitting your desires, only for them to be used against you.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Anna Sigalevitch, Annemarie Schleinzer, Annie Girardot, Benoit Magimel, Cornelia Köndgen, Dieter Berner, Eva Green, Gabriele Schuchter, Georg Friedrich, Gerti Drassl, Isabelle Huppert, Karoline Zeisler, Klaus Händl, Liliana Nelska, Luz Leskowitz, Martina Resetarits, Michael Schottenberg, Petra Reichel, Philipp Heiss, Rudolf Melichar, Susanne Lothar, Thomas Auner, Thomas Weinhappel, Udo Samel, Vivian Bartsch, William Mang

Director: Michael Haneke

Rating: R

The story of the Von Erich family is excruciatingly sad, but Iron Claw doesn’t dive right into the tragedy. Instead, it takes care to paint a picture of a close-knit family that’s filled with just as much warmth, jealousy, affection, and resentment as the next bunch. Durkin masterfully draws you into their circle so that everything that happens next is sure to cut deep. The choreography, chemistry, color—everything is carefully and beautifully set up, but the casting is what stands out the most. This wouldn’t have worked as well if it weren’t for the inspired move to pair Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson, and Stanley Simons as brothers and partners. On the internet, people have been dubbing The Iron Claw as “Little Women and The Virgin Suicides for men” and it’s not hard to see why. Apart from the sibling bond over glory and growing pains, all these films are also powerful explorations of gender. Iron Claw is a vicious takedown of toxic masculinity, while also being a searing family drama and an incredible showcase for Efron and company.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Aaron Dean Eisenberg, Brian Hite, Cazzey Louis Cereghino, Chad Governale, Chavo Guerrero Jr., Chelsea Edmundson, Christina Michelle Williams, Garrett Hammond, Harris Dickinson, Holt McCallany, Jeremy Allen White, Jim Gleason, Jullian Dulce Vida, Kevin Anton, Kristina Kingston, Lily James, Maura Tierney, Maxwell Friedman, Michael Harney, Michael Papajohn, Mike Dell, Ryan Nemeth, Scott Innes, Stanley Simons, Zac Efron

Director: Sean Durkin

Rating: R

While being known for co-writing the Dogme 95 manifesto, Lars von Trier’s first film after breaks his rules with built sets and music added in post. Still, Breaking the Waves has plenty of von Trier’s thematic preoccupations, challenging the notions between faithfulness and sexuality by positing a married couple who cannot indulge in marital pleasure, due to being paralyzed. While the premise leads to explicit scenes, it’s more harrowing than sexy, really. It’s terribly heartbreaking as Bess does all she can for her marriage, first by praying for her husband’s return, and then following his perverse wish, partly from guilt, but partly from pleasure, even when it goes contrary to her repressive church and community. Breaking the Waves may not be an easy watch, but regardless of what you personally feel about the morality of Bess’ actions, von Trier will nevertheless bring you to empathy.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Adrian Rawlins, David Bateson, Dorte Rømer, Emily Watson, Finlay Welsh, Gavin Mitchell, Jean-Marc Barr, John Wark, Jonathan Hackett, Katrin Cartlidge, Mikkel Gaup, Phil McCall, Robert Robertson, Roef Ragas, Sandra Voe, Stellan Skarsgård, Udo Kier

Director: Lars von Trier

Rating: R

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.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Afomia Hailemeskel, Augustine Frizzell, Barlow Jacobs, Brandi Price, Brea Grant, Carlos Bermudez, Casey Affleck, Chris Gardner, Constance Jones, Dagger Salazar, David Lowery, David Pink, Giovannie Cruz, Grover Coulson, Jonny Mars, Kenneisha Thompson, Kesha, Kesha Rose Sebert, Liz Cardenas, Liz Cardenas Franke, Liz Franke, McColm Cephas Jr., McColm Kona Cephas Jr., Nikita Patel, Rob Zabrecky, Rooney Mara, Sonia Acevedo, Will Oldham, Yasmina Gutierrez

Director: David Lowery

Rating: R

Teenagers forced to grow up quickly and spend their prime years wiling away at garment factories sounds like a grim reality, and it is, but in Youth (Spring), Chinese documentarist Wang Bing captures more than just the inherent tragedy of young labor. Here, they build friendships, find love, discover an affinity for their craft, stand up for themselves against exploitative bosses, and look for ways to have fun. Even if it’s just as simple as eating street food, spending the night at an internet cafe, or finding nice clothes, we’re with them in every way. Though it’s never explicitly political, the documentary makes you think about the conditions that put the kids there in the first place, such as our insatiable need for cheap and trendy clothes, governments turning a blind eye to child labor, and a skewed system that favors these above people’s—especially young people’s—well-being and welfare.

Genre: Documentary

Director: Wang Bing

You may have heard about this 2019 critic-favorite from clips like this one of a kid running to flee the movie theater during a screening. “little billy ran the f**k out the door”, the caption reads.

You will want to do the same. Recovering from losing her sister and her parents in a single incident, a young girl goes on a trip to Sweden to observe a ritual within a bizarre commune that occurs every 90 years. This cult’s idea of death and their traditions intersect with the girl’s grief to create unthinkable monstrosities.

Note: while some readers praise the movie for its depiction of anxiety, I highly recommend against watching Midsommar if you suffer from panic attacks.

Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery

Actor: Agnes Westerlund Rase, Anders Back, Anders Beckman, Anki Larsson, Anna Åström, Anna Berentzen, Archie Madekwe, Ari Aster, Austin R. Grant, Björn Andrésen, Ellora Torchia, Florence Pugh, Frans Cavallin Rosengarten, Gunnel Fred, Hampus Hallberg, Henrik Norlen, Isabelle Grill, Jack Reynor, Julia Ragnarsson, Katarina Weidhagen, Klaudia Csányi, Lars Väringer, Lennart R. Svensson, Levente Puczkó-Smith, Liv Mjönes, Louise Peterhoff, Mats Blomgren, Mihály Kaszás, Rebecka Johnston, Tove Skeidsvoll, Vilhelm Blomgren, Vilmos Kolba, Will Poulter, William Jackson Harper, Zsolt Bojári

Director: Ari Aster

Rating: R

If Katrina Babies seems like a somewhat disjointed account of the myriad responses to Hurricane Katrina and the U.S. government's horrible, anti-poor response to the disaster, director Edward Buckles Jr. uses this structure with much more intent. For once this is a documentary that feels like citizen reporting and not a sanitized report from experts who have little to no real personal stake in the subject. As the film swings from one talking point to the next, you get the sensation of just how much the people of New Orleans are still trying to comprehend; the loose structure brings to this film a sense of helplessness that, for some, just can't be overcome.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Arnould Burks, Calvin Baxter, Cierra Chenier, Damaris Calliet, Quintina Thomas Green

Director: Edward Buckles

Rating: R

Most people aspire to have families, deciding to form their own by marrying, bearing children, and if fertility makes that impossible, adopting one. The Official Story is centered on upper middle class Alicia, who’s already made the idyllic family life, with the last piece completed with her adoption of Gaby, but there are secrets held from her, or rather, there are realities that she chose not to listen to because of the painful implications. Writer-director Luis Puenzo juxtaposes the family secret to the violent ones the Argentine junta government kept from its citizens. It's not a subtle comparison– Puenzo makes it obvious– but it's an effective one, as Alicia has to reckon with the fact that she lies in bed with a stranger, as Argentina has to reckon with the remaining junta members and enablers.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Analia Castro, Andrea Tenuta, Aníbal Morixe, Augusto Larreta, Carlos Weber, Chela Ruíz, Chela Ruiz, Chunchuna Villafañe, Chunchuna Villafane, Fabián Rendo, Guillermo Battaglia, Héctor Alterio, Héctor Alterio, Horacio Erman, Hugo Arana, Jorge Chernov, Jorge Petraglia, Lidia Catalano, María Luisa Robledo, Marcos Woinsky, Maria Luisa Robledo, Norma Aleandro, Oscar Ferrigno Jr., Pablo Rago, Patricio Contreras, Paula Canals, Tony Middleton

Director: Luis Puenzo

Rating: Not Rated, NR

What Lynne Ramsay's Ratcatcher intentionally refuses to give you by way of plot or resolution, it more than makes up for in sharp visuals, a beautifully sparse score, and an unscratchable feeling of restlessness. It's a downer for sure, watching 12-year-old James hounded by guilt as he navigates the mundane bleakness of his everyday life. But in every detail and in every interaction he has in this rundown scheme in Glasgow is a window into the simple joys James wishes he could be enjoying. The more trouble the boy walks into, the more the guitar string tightens, and the more you wish something could finally break the cycle. There's still beauty even in these conditions, Ratcatcher tells us—but it isn't right that anyone should have to live like this.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Jackie Quinn, James Ramsay, John Comerford, Leanne Mullen, Lisa Taylor, Mandy Matthews, Mick Maharg, Molly Innes, Robert Farrell, Rory McCann, Tommy Flanagan

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Featuring real, in-the-moment footage of operations to rescue young queer individuals from the continuing anti-gay purges in the Chechen Republic, Welcome to Chechnya makes for a demanding but essential call to action. There's a genuine sense of fear that pervades the documentary, not just for those being rescued after being forcibly outed, beaten, and trapped by the people around them, but for the filmmakers themselves, whose operations are built on meager resources and desperate, spur-of-the-moment decisions. It's a remarkably courageous film—one that also presents new ways of keeping sensitive subjects safe through the thoughtful use of deepfake technology, keeping their identities hidden while allowing them to freely express themselves.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Ramzan Kadyrov, Vladimir Putin, Zelim Bakaev

Director: David France

There are a few instances that prove the merit of one’s friendship, and one of those instances is a roadtrip. Withnail and I is considered one of the greatest British comedies of all time, but there’s a certain melancholy to it, as two unemployed actors have gone on holiday due to an offer from one of their uncles, though this offer doesn’t come without strings, which the titular “I”, Marwood, whose name is never mentioned, has only found out on the trip. As the holiday goes wrong, with the two making the worst of every new situation, the two share somewhat of a dysfunctional, slightly homoerotic relationship, as Withnail deals with everything in the most drunken, unserious manner, and Marwood anxiously realizes how much he’s outgrown their friendship. The film’s humor may be a tad too dry for those outside the country, but cult favorite Withnail and I still resonates with its endlessly quotable lines, memorable scenes, and its bitter understanding of how life can diverge.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Anthony Wise, Daragh O'Malley, Eddie Tagoe, Irene Sutcliffe, Llewellyn Rees, Michael Elphick, Michael Wardle, Noel Johnson, Paul McGann, Ralph Brown, Richard E. Grant, Richard Griffiths, Robert Oates, Una Brandon-Jones

Director: Bruce Robinson

Rating: R

See, usually, when American violence in media is critiqued, it’s usually through analytic studies or overly exaggerated lectures stirring moral panic. Instead of doing this, however, auteur Michael Haneke decided to surpass the crime genre, playing with the form and emotions in Funny Games. It’s terrifying, not because it immediately delves into the violence, but because it starts off with an ordinary, innocuous visit, that gradually escalates into an unpredictable home invasion where two teenagers inflict needless violence in such a scary yet spectacular way, even involving the viewer into their shenanigans. Ironically, this led to Haneke creating a shot-for-shot American remake of this same story, but Funny Games’ break in form made Haneke a director to remember, as he started to film outside his native Austria after the standout thriller.

Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller

Actor: Arno Frisch, Doris Kunstmann, Frank Giering, Stefan Clapczynski, Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Mühe

Director: Michael Haneke

Rating: R

A residential dispute spirals out of control into full, xenophobia-fueled tragedy in this straightforward and elegantly made film that comes from a now-bygone era of mid-budget dramas for adults. House of Sand and Fog may come off as excessively bleak to viewers today, but it manages to capture a very particular mood of paranoia and distrust common in post-9/11 American cinema. And if nothing else, the film is worth watching for a trio of powerful performances that never resort to overacting: from Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo, English screen legend Ben Kingsley, and an always compelling Jennifer Connelly, who was arguably at the peak of her career in the early 2000s.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aaron Frazier, Aki Aleong, Al Rodrigo, Andre Dubus III, Ashley Edner, Ben Kingsley, Bonita Friedericy, Brian Reed Garvin, Carlos Gómez, Cooper Thornton, Dan Brinkle, David Carrera, Dennison Samaroo, Elton Ahi, Frances Fisher, Frank Gallegos, Izabella St. James, Jennifer Connelly, Joe Howard, Jonathan Ahdout, Joyce Kurtz, Karl Makinen, Ken Kerman, Kia Jam, Kim Dickens, Marco Rodriguez, Mark Chaet, Matthew Waite, Max Jansen Weinstein, Michael Papajohn, Namrata Singh Gujral, Nasser Faris, Navi Rawat, Pamela Shaddock, Ray Abruzzo, Ron Eldard, Scott Kinworthy, Scott N. Stevens, Shani Rigsbee, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Spencer Garrett, Tom Reynolds, Zoran Radanovich

Director: Vadim Perelman

Survivors are often painted in a brave light; they’re applauded for their resilience and toughness, and in the case of school shootings, many of them are also expected to take up arms and fight the good fight. While this is of course laudable, many survivors are simply trying to get by. Unable to process trauma and inexplicable loss, they become withdrawn, depressed, and reckless—not exactly noteworthy traits, but understandable and equally deserving of empathy.

The Fallout shifts the focus on this side of survival by following Vada in the aftermath of a school shooting. Unlike her peers, she fails to cope positively and becomes increasingly self-destructive. But it's through this unsentimental portrayal that The Fallout achieves a frankness and rawness that few films like it have. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Austin Zajur, Christine Horn, Elliott Roca, Jenna Ortega, John Ortiz, Julie Bowen, Lumi Pollack, Maddie Ziegler, Niles Fitch, Shailene Woodley, Will Ropp, Yindra Zayas

Director: Megan Park

Rating: R