If watching a movie can be compared to taking your emotions for a walk, then sad films give audiences the opportunity for a full-on sprint. Since before Rose said goodbye to Jack or even Bambi lost his mother, tragedy has played a vital role in cinema’s most well-loved stories of every ilk.
For romance, the possibility of heartbreak raises the stakes, pitting lover against lover or, worse still, lovers against time in dazzling depictions of humanity’s enduring quest for acceptance. “Titanic,” “A Star is Born,” “Moonlight,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Brokeback Mountain,” and countless other legendary titles have crafted couples so heart-rendingly believable that their joyous reunions and painful partings have provided powerful parallels to our own.
Epic tales of war and survival position total devastation similarly, dangling all-consuming grief and loss like a narratively juicy carrots motivating the plodding agony of movies from “War Horse” to “Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey.” (Unsurprisingly, most movies are made significantly sadder by the inclusion of animals, with “Charlotte’s Web” as an especially brutal standout.)
On a smaller scale, intimate family tragedies have inspired detailed portraits of society’s failure to adequately support those in pain. “Still Alice,” for example, examines the staggering loneliness of a middled-aged woman succumbing to Alzheimer’s disease. Or take “Pieces of a Woman”: an exquisitely detailed portrait of a young mother grieving the loss of her newborn daughter.
The saddest movies consider life’s myriad beauties from the view of unthinkable suffering. Many of the best among those use surprising bursts of comedy to help their heavier beats land. See dramedies such as “The Farewell,” “Steel Magnolias,” or “Dead Poets Society” for starters.
In honor of “Bambi” celebrating its 80th anniversary in August 2022, here are 40 of the saddest movies ever made. Please note that this is not a list of the 40 definitive saddest films, but instead a curation of melancholy and moody titles that consider a breadth of tragedy types. Selections are listed alphabetically.
Jude Dry, William Earl, David Ehrlich, Steve Greene, Jenna Marotta, Michael Nordine, Chris O’Falt, and Jamie Righetti contributed to this report.