The Best Sad Movies on Netflix

Updated May 21, 2024 • 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.

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
14.

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: Alice Rahimi, Arash Ashtiani, Ariane Naziri, Majd Eid, Mehdi Bajestani, Nima Akbarpour, Sara Fazilat, Sina Parvaneh, Zar Amir Ebrahimi
Director: Ali Abbasi
Go to Netflix
13.

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, Ali Suliman, Ashraf Barhom, Sultan Alkhail
Director: Darin J. Sallam
Rating: TV-14
Go to Netflix
12.

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: 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
Go to Netflix
11.

99 Homes (2015)

Andrew Garfield is a single father living with his own single mother in their family home. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, they find themselves evicted from their home by a businessman - Michael Shannon in a role as intriguing as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, if not more. Desperate for work, Garfield’s character starts working for the same businessman, ultimately evicting other people. A star-packed, gritty and sobering tale on capitalism and our the lengths to which we’re ready to go to save face - while at the same time risking our most important relationships.

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Albert C. Bates, Andrew Garfield, Ann Mahoney, Carl Palmer, Clancy Brown, Cullen Moss, Cynthia LeBlanc, David Maldonado, Deneen Tyler, Don Brady, Donna DuPlantier, Elton LeBlanc, Garrett Kruithof, Gretchen Koerner, Gus Rhodes, J.D. Evermore, Jayson Warner Smith, Jeff Pope, John L. Armijo, Jonathan Tabler, Joni Bovill, Juan Gaspard, Judd Lormand, Kerry Sims, Laura Dern, Liann Pattison, Luke Sexton, Manu Narayan, Michael Shannon, Michelle DeVito, Nicole Barré, Noah Lomax, Patrick Kearns, Randy Austin, Richard Holden, Robert Larriviere, Tim Guinee, Tom Bui, Wayne Pére, Yvonne Landry
Director: Ramin Bahrani
Go to Netflix
10.

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, Carlos A. Salazar, Christine Woods, Dendrie Taylor, Dylan Matlock, Ever Mainard, 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
9.

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 |, Thomas Mulhurn
Director: Ed Perkins
Rating: TV-MA
Go to Netflix
8.

Society of the Snow (2023)

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.

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
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
Go to Netflix
7.

The Bleeding Edge

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.

Our staff rating: 8.3/10
Genre: Documentary
Actor: Angie Firmalino, Kirby Dick
Director: Kirby Dick
Rating: Not Rated, TV-14
Go to Netflix
6.

The Kings of the World (2022)

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.

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Adventure, Drama
Actor: Brahian Acevedo, Carlos Andrés Castañeda, Cristian Campaña, Cristian David Duque, Davison Florez
Director: Laura Mora
Rating: TV-MA
Go to Netflix

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