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The Saddest Movies, from ‘Banshees of Inisherin’ to ‘On the Count of Three’

In honor of Martin McDonagh's new film, reuniting "In Bruges" stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, and Luca Guadagnino's "Bones and All" with Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell, IndieWire selects the saddest films.

The 45 Saddest Movies

(Clockwise from bottom left): ‘The Farewell,’ ‘Moonlight,’ ‘Drinking Buddies,’ ‘The Banshees of Inisherin,’ and ‘Melancholia’

Courtesy Everett Collection

If watching a movie can be compared to taking your emotions for a walk, then sad films challenges audiences with 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 security and acceptance. “Titanic,” “A Star is Born,” “Moonlight,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Up,” 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 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.) Inside the vast expanse of the mind, you’ll find epic surrealist tales like Charlie Kaufman’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “I’m Thinking of Ending Things.” 

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. Meanwhile, Jennifer Kent’s “The Babadook” is a horror film looking at the supernatural (read: metaphoric) battle between a widow and the gaping hole left by her late spouse.

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. Joe Swanberg’s “Drinking Buddies” — about two likable best friends for whom the romantic timing isn’t right — sticks out as tragic rom-dramedy.

Here are 48 of the saddest movies ever made. Please note that this is not a list of the 48 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.

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