42 Best Depressing Movies On Netflix

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

Joshua Oppenheimer's daring feat is a documentary unlike anything ever done. Despite it being one of the most difficult things to watch for any human being (or because of it), The Act of Killing received praise across the board, including an Academy Award nomination. Without Oppenheimer's efforts, you might have never heard of the unspeakable events that happened when, in 1965-66, Suharto overthrew the then-president of Indonesia and a gangster-led death squad killed almost a million people. Did they pay for their crimes? Quite the contrary: said gangsters went on becoming political mainstays in modern-day Indonesia, are still now heralded as heroes, and admit to all these crimes with a smile and not a hint of regret. The gruesome twist of this documentary is that Oppenheimer asks them to re-enact the killings in surreal, sadistic snuff movies inspired by the murderer's favorite action movies. You are forced to stand idly by as they re-create brutal mass murder and joke about raping a 14-year-old. However, somewhere amidst this terrifying farce, the killers, too, have fleeting moments of realization that what they're doing is wrong. If you make it through this in one piece, try watching its more victim-focused follow-up The Look of Silence. Bone-chilling but very powerful stuff.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Adi Zulkadry, Anwar Congo, Haji Anif, Herman Koto, Ibrahim Sinik, Safit Pardede, Syamsul Arifin

Director: Christine Cynn, Joshua Oppenheimer

Rating: Not Rated

In Aftersun, Sophie recalls a holiday she took as an eleven-year-old in the ‘90s with her father. Video recordings help jog her memory, but she’s looking for more than just a blast from the past. Rather, she seems to be seeking answers to fill in the gaps between who she knew as her father and who he really was: an immensely nice but deeply troubled man.

At first, Aftersun looks like a simple but beautiful story about father and daughter bonding over the course of a summer trip. But within minutes, it’s clear that there are layers to Aftersun, emotionally and editorially, that aren’t always explained but nonetheless enrich the movie with profound meaning. Stirring, complex, and surprisingly inventive, it’s not surprising that Aftersun is one of the most beloved films of the past year. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Celia Rowlson-Hall, Frankie Corio, Harry Perdios, Kieran Burton, Paul Mescal, Sally Messham, Sarah Makharine, Sophia Lamanova, Spike Fearn

Director: Charlotte Wells

Rating: R

Difficult but essential viewing, Procession tracks the progress of six men undergoing art therapy—specifically, by creating short filmed scenes to process their trauma from being sexually abused by Catholic priests. The resulting films we get to see are wildly varied in the emotions they express, forming a rich and powerful tapestry of the effects abuse can leave on individuals. And to see these men confront the worst events of their lives through filmmaking begins to feel like validation for filmmaking itself, that it can truly be an art form that changes and saves lives. But even more striking, somehow, is the unbreakable bond that forms among these survivors throughout this entire process, captured with reverence and overflowing compassion by director Robert Greene.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Dan Laurine

Director: Robert Greene

, 2019

In The Sun, a family of four is dealt with tragedy after tragedy, beginning with the younger sun A-ho's sudden incarceration. The mother is sympathetic but the father all but shuns him as he chooses to throw all his affection to A-hao, the older brother, and his med school pursuits instead. Themes of crime, punishment, family, and redemption are then explored in gorgeous frames and mesmerizing colors with director Chung Mong-hong doubling as the film's cinematographer. 

Despite itself, The Sun never falls into cliche melodrama territory. Its heavy themes are undercut by naturalistic acting and poetic shots, resulting in a deeply emotional but balanced film. Rich in meaning and beauty, The Sun will surely stay with you long after your first watch.

 

Genre: Crime, Drama, Family

Actor: Apple Wu, Chang Han, Chen Yi-wen, Chen Yiwen, Chen-Ling Wen, Chien-Ho Wu, Chih-ju Lin, Greg Hsu, Guan-Ting Liu, Han Chang, Huang Hsin-Yao, Ivy Yin, Ko Shu-Chin, Kuan-Ting Liu, Li-Tung Chang, Liao Hui-Jen, Lin Chih-ju, Liu Kuan-ting, Lung Shao-Hua, Ming-Shuai Shih, Samantha Ko, Samantha Shu-Chin Ko, Shao-Huai Chang, Shu-Chin Ko, Shu-qin Ke, Siu Wa Lung, Wang Ko-Yuan, Wen Chen-ling, Wu Chien-ho, Wu Tai-ling, Yi-Wen Chen, Yin Shin

Director: Chung Mong-hong, Mong-Hong Chung

Rating: N/A

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.

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

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.

Genre: Adventure, Drama

Actor: Brahian Acevedo, Carlos Andrés Castañeda, Cristian Campaña, Cristian David Duque, Davison Florez

Director: Laura Mora

Rating: TV-MA

The 400 billion (!) dollar industry of medical devices is director Kirby Dick’s latest fascination (Oscar winner Twist of Faith, Oscar nominated The Invisible War). This is one of those documentaries that will raise your awareness about a topic from 0 to I-should-do-something, as the number of victims and the negative impacts these devices are having are astounding. Of course, just like with any other careless American industries, greed, money, and lobbying are the culprits. This is an important watch that will probably come in very handy when you or a close one needs a medical device.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Angie Firmalino, Kirby Dick

Director: Kirby Dick

Rating: Not Rated, TV-14

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.

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

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.

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

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.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Avery Bagenstos, Bill Camp, Blaine Maye, Carey Mulligan, Darryl Cox, Ed Oxenbould, Ginger Gilmartin, J. Alan Davidson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jay Dee, John Walpole, JR Hatchett, Kaye Brownlee-France, Laurie Cummings, Lexi Anastasia, Marshall Virden, Michael Gibbons, Mollie Milligan, Paul Dano, Richard L. Olsen, Tom Huston Orr, Travis W Bruyer, Zoe Colletti

Director: Paul Dano

Rating: PG-13

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.

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

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.

 

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

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. 

Genre: Crime, Drama, Horror, Thriller

Actor: Alice Rahimi, Arash Ashtiani, Ariane Naziri, Majd Eid, Mehdi Bajestani, Nima Akbarpour, Sara Fazilat, Sina Parvaneh, Zar Amir Ebrahimi

Director: Ali Abbasi

, 2022

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.

Genre: Drama, History, War

Actor: Ali Soliman, Ali Suliman, Ashraf Barhom, Sultan Alkhail

Director: Darin J. Sallam

Rating: TV-14