Sometimes we turn to movies to be entertained. Other times we put on a movie to help us unleash a cathartic cry. Maybe we’re looking to quell the pains of a breakup, to escape the daily heaviness of the real world for that of a fictional one, or perhaps we just need that private movie-watching outlet to help us release tears that won’t quite come out otherwise. Whatever the reason, there’s something undeniably special about the way movies can make us feel something real and profound in three hours or less.
You came here to find a good movie to give you a good cry, but that can be different for everyone. Are you the type who bawls over a weepy teen love story? Perhaps you’re more susceptible to an uplifting historical film, or a brutal drama that’ll knock you right in the gut. For some, sad stories need to be cut with a strong dose of humor. Whatever gets you sobbing, there’s something on Netflix that’s guaranteed to turn your eyes puffy and get you in your feels.
Mark Duplass and Ray Romano share a moment in Paddleton.
Paddleton may be a movie about cancer — the classic tearjerker subject — but it’s also one of the best. That’s partly because it takes an anti-melodramatic approach to a topic cinema loves to exploit for tears. But it’s also because Paddleton is really about friendship and embracing the moments we have together rather than being consumed by the fear of them ending.
Michael (Mark Duplass) and his neighbor Andy (Ray Romano in a standout dramatic performance) are best friends, and the only people in each other’s lives. That makes it especially difficult for Andy when he learns Michael has decided to end his life through assisted suicide after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. But much like co-writer/director Alex Lehmann’s previous collaboration with Duplass, Blue Jay, Paddleton takes a very naturalistic approach to such dramatic material by focusing on the day-to-day moments of the men’s sweet, platonic relationship. The two spend Michael’s final days watching kung fu movies, playing a sport of their own invention, and taking a road trip. It’s hard to think of a recent film that made me openly cry as hard as Paddleton did, and one that truly earned it through genuine storytelling and heartfelt performances.
2. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
It’s guaranteed that you won’t sit through Morgan Neville’s Mister Rogers documentary with a dry eye. Even if you didn’t grow up with the warm hug that was Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, this loving tribute to the children’s show host will tug at your heart and remind you that there are indeed good, kind-hearted people in this world — or at least there was when Fred Rogers was still around. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? tells the story of the man behind the cardigan sweater, as well as the radical subjects he broached and the groundbreaking statements he made on the small screen. The doc, just like Rogers himself, is a testament to the power of empathy and radical kindness, things we could certainly use a lot more of outside of the movie theater.
3. A Monster Calls
Credit: Apaches Entertainment / Kobal / Shutterstock (7719137l) Lewis MacDougall
Few films have captured the perspective of a child processing depression, loneliness, and anger with as much humanity and imagination as A Monster Calls. J.A. Bayona’s fantasy film centers on 12-year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall), an introverted boy who faces bullies at school while at home his mother (Felicity Jones) undergoes chemo for a grave illness. But one day an enormous tree monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) appears to Conor, offering to tell him three tales, each with the intention of teaching the boy life lessons. Mixing stunning, macabre animation with sincere emotional drama, A Monster Calls manages to tell a moving and mature story about grief, and one that will certainly instigate full-on sobs.
4. All the Bright Places
Credit: Walter Thomson / Netflix
This list wouldn’t be complete without a teary teen romance drama. But fear not, All the Bright Places isn’t another treacly YA flick about terminal illness. Instead, the adaptation of Jennifer Niven’s novel tells a hopeful love story while exploring weighty topics like depression, suicide, grief, and mental illness. Finch (Justice Smith), a quiet loner type, and the popular Violet (Elle Fanning) develop a tender connection as they help each other open up and heal from past traumas — Violet contemplates suicide at the same bridge where her sister died in an accident, and Finch, who struggles with bipolar disorder, comes from an abusive home. All the Bright Places approaches such heavy subjects with maturity, and evades being weepy trauma porn by instead telling an uplifting story about young people coming together to help each other cope. It’s the type of movie that’ll leave you smiling through tears.
5. Pieces of a Woman
Credit: Benjamin Loeb / Netflix
If you’re someone who prefers to be emotionally gobsmacked by a film, Pieces of a Woman will deliver. The Netflix film, from director and writer couple Kornél Mundruczó and Kata Wéber, is based on Wéber’s real-life experience of losing her child during pregnancy. Mundruczó attempts to fully immerse us into just how devastating such an experience would be for a couple with the film’s much-discussed 22-minute single take, a scene that follows Vanessa Kirby’s Martha and her midwife (Molly Parker) during a stressful at-home birth that ends in a miscarriage. It’s no doubt an impressive technical feat that triggers a flood of tears. But the real emotional wallops of Pieces of a Woman come through in Kirby’s performance as Martha, a woman oscillating between silent suffering and explosive outbursts in the months following the loss.
6. A Secret Love
Old people loving each other is enough of a tender thing to get most people in their feels. But two elderly lesbians who’ve kept their relationship a secret for seven decades and are only just beginning to live as an out gay couple? Cue the goddamn waterworks!
Chris Bolan’s documentary, A Secret Love, chronicles the 65-year love story of Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel. Terry was a pro player in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League — the one that inspired A League of Their Own — and met Pat in 1947. Ever since, the two have been inseparable, but the two remained closeted for fear of being disowned or harassed, and nearly everyone in their lives assumed they were simply good friends. Bolan’s heartwarming doc tells the women’s story in their own words and follows them as they spend time with family as an out couple for the first time and decide whether to finally get married. If hearing Pat’s voice crack as she describes what Terry means to her doesn’t get you teary, little else will.
7. The Zookeeper’s Wife
If a historical war drama is your go-to avenue for emotional catharsis but you’re tired of seeing the same stories told again and again, Niki Caro’s The Zookeeper’s Wife will be a welcome discovery. The 2017 film tells the true story of Jan Żabiński and Antonina Żabińska, a Polish couple who used their Warsaw zoo to rescue and hide 300 Jews during World War II. Soon after war breaks out in 1939, Jessica Chastain’s Antonina and her husband, Jan (Johan Heldenbergh), are forced to cooperate with a Nazi zoologist (Daniel Brühl). Little does he know, the couple has begun sneaking in local Polish Jews to live in the tunnels under the zoo. It’s an emotional story about a lesser-known piece of Holocaust history, and while it drifts into sentimentality at times, both Chastain and Brühl’s performances ground the film in sincerity.
8. The Sky Is Pink
The Sky Is Pink is told from the perspective of Aisha, a girl who died young and narrates the story of her parents’ lives from the afterlife. So yeah, it’s pretty sad. This Hindi language film is one of many Indian gems on Netflix and is a sure tearjerker starring Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Farhan Akhtar. — Alexis Nedd, Senior Entertainment Reporter
How to watch: The Sky is Pink is now streaming on Netflix.
9. Stand by Me
Credit: Moviestore / Shutterstock
Childhood friendships are built on inside jokes, a playful dynamic, and even dares. So when a boy asks his pals, “You guys wanna’ go see a dead body?” naturally, his friends band together for a journey that will be full of adventure, junkyard dogs, speeding trains, villainous toughs, a spew-filled local legend, and a soundtrack that is of a time yet timeless. Based on the Stephen King novella The Body, Stand by Me offers a story dark yet heartwarming. Rob Reiner directs an ensemble cast that shines with child stars: Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell. Whether this would be your first trek with the boys of Stand by Me or a revisit, you’ll be glad you made it. — K.P.
How to watch: Stand by Me is now streaming on Netflix.
10. Call Me by Your Name
Credit: Moviestore / Shutterstock
As Mashable’s former TV Editor Laura Prudom puts it: “Call Me by Your Name will make you believe in love again.” The film follows Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer) as they fall in love over the course of a summer in 1983 Italy. From its orchestral soundtrack to its sun-drenched visuals, Call Me by Your Name feels more like a moving painting than it does a film. As it oozes with beautiful melodrama, the film grips your heart and rips it to absolute shreds, with one particular scene (courtesy of Chalamet) bound to linger on your heart long after the credits finish rolling.* — Yasmeen Hamadeh, Entertainment Intern
How to watch: Call Me by Your Name is now streaming on Netflix.
* denotes that this blurb has appeared on a previous Mashable list.
UPDATE: Jan. 8, 2024, 4:46 p.m. EST This list has been updated with the current streaming options.