Sometimes we turn to movies to be entertained. Other times we put on a movie to help us unleash a heavy cathartic cry. Maybe it’s 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 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 cries about 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.
How to watch: paddleton(opens in a new tab) is now streaming on Netflix(opens in a new tab).
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’ Neighborhoodthis 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.
How to watch: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?(opens in a new tab) is now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
3. A Monster Calls
Credit: Photo by 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. JA 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.
How to watch: A Monster Calls(opens in a new tab) is now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
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4. Steel Magnolias
If there’s any movie that’s emblematic of the necessity of laughing through pain, it’s Steel Magnolias. The loss of a loved one is beyond devastating, especially when that loss is as slow and foreseen as it is with Julia Roberts’s Shelby, a young Southern woman whose type 1 diabetes puts her life at risk when she decides to have a baby. But the beauty of Herbert Ross’s tragic dramedy is how it finds comfort and relief in processing grief with comedy. The film bookends each painful blow with warm, infectious humor courtesy of the electric chemistry shared by Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton, Olympia Dukakis, Daryl Hannah, and Roberts. take Field’s iconic breakdown scenea reminder that the way to get through the unimaginable tragedies of life is to have people around you who can break up the anguish with a little laughter and sweetness.
How to watch: Steel Magnolias(opens in a new tab) is now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
5. 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 one another cope. It’s the type of movie that’ll leave you smiling through tears.
How to watch: All the Bright Places(opens in a new tab) is now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
Credit: Merie W Wallace/20th Century Fox/Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock
It’s scientifically impossible to not immediately burst into tears when Titanic hits the two hour and 18 minute mark — shortly after chaos breaks out, Jack watches Rose slowly lower down into the lifeboat, their eyes locked, seemingly saying goodbye forever as James Horner’s melancholic “Unable to Stay, Unwilling to Leave” kicks in on the soundtrack. Tears will now be flowing non-stop for the next hour, whether it’s your first watch or your hundredth. You choose to rewatch Titanic when you want to feel something, when you want to be a cliche romantic, and when you’re in need of a good, long cry because you know James Cameron’s emotional epic will still destroy you 25 years later.
How to watch: Titanic(opens in a new tab) is now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
7. 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.
How to watch: Pieces of a Woman(opens in a new tab) is now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
8. The Pursuit of Happyness
Credit: Zade Rosenthal/Columbia/Kobal/Shutterstock
Hollywood loves a based-on-a-true-story drama about the triumphs of overcoming real-life struggles and the systems against us, and The Pursuit of Happyness is a textbook example. Will Smith, in what remains one of his best performances, portrays Chris Gardner, a salesman who’s trying to land an internship only to be hit with one unfortunate circumstance holding him back after another. Eventually, he and his young son (Jaden Smith) are evicted from their San Francisco home. Though the film may reach saccharine and melodramatic heights, and while it peddles a bootstraps American Dream narrative, The Pursuit of Happyness hits on some sincere emotional moments thanks to Smith’s performance and the touching father-son chemistry. From the memorable scene of Chris and his son sleeping in a BART station restroom to the uplifting finale, The Pursuit of Happyness will certainly have you wiping at your cheeks.
How to watch: The Pursuit of Happyness(opens in a new tab) is now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
9. 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.
How to watch: A Secret Love(opens in a new tab) is now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
10. 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.
How to watch: The Zookeeper’s Wife (opens in a new tab)is now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)