Six of the Saddest Movies Ever Made

By Matt Prigge
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 26 | Posted Mar. 30, 2010

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Make Way for Tomorrow (1937): When comic director Leo McCarey (Duck Soup) collected his Oscar for directing The Awful Truth, he told the Academy he’d won it for the wrong movie. Made the same year—and newly out on Criterion—this cooly gut-wrenching drama stars Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi as an elderly couple too poor to live together. (The film was made as the introduction of Social Security was still hotly debated.) When their kids can't provide for them, the two are split up, likely forever. But before that, they get one last night on the town together— a lovely reverie before a bittersweet farewell.

Umberto D. (1952): Another great Italian neo-realist weepie from Vittorio De Sica—who had already given the world Shoe-Shine and Bicycle Thieves —this tale finds an old genetleman (Carlo Battisti) so impoverished he seeks to off himself. But not before he finds a stable home for his beloved dog Flike.

Imitation of Life (1959): Tough to single out the saddest entry in Douglas Sirk’s career, but my money goes to his last Hollywood blockbuster, chiefly the half about the black maid (Juanita Moore) whose light-skinned daughter (Susan Kohner) so wishes to pass for white she demands her mother pretend they’re not related. To which Moore agrees, in one of the most sadistically wrenching scenes ever committed to film.

The Ballad of Narayama (1983): In Shohei Imaura’s first Palme d’Or winner, a rural 19th-century Japanese village has a custom: When you reach 70 you travel up to a mountain to proceed to the next life. Translation: You starve to death amongst a sea of human bones.

A Lion in the House (2006): A four-hour documentary about kids with cancer. Jesus.

Old Joy (2006): Two old friends. One (Daniel London) settling down, with a kid on the way. The other (Will Oldham) still “bohemian,” possibly penniless and drug-addicted. They reunite. It’s awkward. They part ways. Probably for good. Such is life.

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Comments 1 - 26 of 26
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1. Steve C. said... on Apr 1, 2010 at 06:56PM

“I maintain that this list should have included the Bob Flanagan doc SICK - seen it enough times that the ending shouldn't get to me, and yet it always does. But I understand using the doc slot for the kids-with-cancer flick because... well yeah. I mean Jesus.

Still... OLD JOY? Maybe it's me, but that film did nothing for me. Even WENDY AND LUCY is sadder in my opinion. Where is EXOTICA. Where.”

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2. Anonymous said... on Apr 2, 2010 at 11:32AM

“The most telling thing about The Ballad of Narayama is that it includes a subplot about dog rape...that's intended to be comic relief. That, my friends, is a sad, sad movie.”

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3. ChristianH said... on Apr 2, 2010 at 12:20PM

“Synecdoche, New York. The credits rolled, and I curled into a ball for maybe ten minutes. Talk about depressing!”

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4. Dave the Rave said... on Apr 2, 2010 at 12:55PM

“Dear Zachary should be on this list”

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5. CK said... on Apr 2, 2010 at 04:39PM

“No mention of The Green Mile? Seriously? Everyone I know who has seen it cried, guys and girls.”

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6. Elong said... on Apr 2, 2010 at 04:44PM

“Dave the Rave, TOTALLY Agree. I was bummed in the begining, but slightly okay because it was a great idea from his Dad's friend. Then I got hit in the gut. Cried like I have never cried before.”

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7. CC said... on Apr 2, 2010 at 04:53PM

“They are missing two great animated movies, Grave of the Fireflies and UP. Ya I know, GotF is anime but it will bring a tear to the eye. And although UP is Pixar movie and meant to be a comedy, not a single person I know that has seen did not cry during the growing old montage and the note at the second half of the Adventure Journal.”

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8. Marco said... on Apr 2, 2010 at 06:20PM

“They forgot "The Fountain" too - which is an uber-tearjerker. Unless of course you're heartless and soulless.”

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9. laura said... on Apr 2, 2010 at 06:31PM

“breaking the waves by lars von trier and the match factory girl by aki kaurismäki..
pass the prozac, please”

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10. Moonbeam said... on Apr 2, 2010 at 07:18PM

“How about "Seven"? Grim, dark, and depressing.

ChristianH: As far as "Synecdoche, New York," I was just depressed for having wasted two hours of my life to that self indulgent, over rated, pretentious jumbled up crappy movie. Normally I love off beat films and Philip Seymour Hoffman's work, but this mess, not so much.”

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11. Knightboat, the crime solving boat said... on Apr 3, 2010 at 06:05AM

“Grave of the Fireflies. End of Evangelion too, if you've seen the series, is a total slap in the face.”

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12. Anonymous said... on Apr 3, 2010 at 03:55PM

“where is My Life as a Dog?”

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13. Anonymous said... on Apr 3, 2010 at 07:13PM

“Grave of the Fireflies. Barefoot Gen. Both about children's experience of Hiroshima/Nagasaki. Saddest thing in the world.”

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14. Weepy said... on Apr 3, 2010 at 07:24PM

“One of the saddest movies I've ever seen is called "Gigot" and was written by and stars Jackie Gleason, and directed by Gene Kelly. It was billed as a comedy, but was certainly not funny- just very.very sad.

"A poignant comedy about a mute who befriends Nicole, the little daughter of a prostitute. Gleason shows his considerable talents as an actor without uttering a sound as he plays the bumbling, kind-hearted janitor, Gigot. Gleason wrote the original story and music for this film."

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15. auditorydamage said... on Apr 4, 2010 at 08:41PM

“Toss in It's My Party - Eric Roberts (no, I'm not kidding) plays a guy with AIDS whose brain starts to fail on him. He decides to end his own life before he's unable to make the choice on his own, but first he holds one last party with all of his friends and family... including his ex-boyfriend, whom he still loves but had a bad breakup with. I started bawling halfway through and didn't stop until after the credits rolled.

Also voting for Dear Zachary - my partner's sister was a year behind the principals in medical school at the time.”

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16. Steve C. said... on Apr 5, 2010 at 12:08PM

“"“Really ? Has anyone even heard let alone seen any of these movies ? Where's Old Yellar or Marley and Me or even Philadelphia (Tom Hanks) ? Try movies people can relate too.”"

Yes. Because we don't want to expand our horizons. Please, I beg of you, regurgitate the same old same old at us. We don't want to know about something unless we're already comfortable with it.”

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17. Dave T said... on Apr 5, 2010 at 02:56PM

“Grave of the Fireflies. Nuff said...”

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18. Jackieeveryoneloves said... on May 16, 2010 at 02:01AM

“I think green mile cuz I just whatched and and bawled. But I am a gril and 13 but the way it touches every one hearts in a way that no other movie will. I love this movie and every time I cry and u have whatched it 37 times no lie.

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19. Pretty Polly said... on Jul 28, 2010 at 08:24PM

I like your selection.
I have seen four of them, and certainly three were on my own "list" of saddest films ever.

But there are many others you should see. For example, a Polish film called "Mr President" (about a boy and his imaginary friend and protector, from the 1970s) ; or the also Polish tV series "The House" (from the 1980s, I think).

Or quite a few Russian (actually, Soviet) films. The plot of "Moscow does not believe in tears" (1981 or thereabouts) is very similar to that of "Imitation of Life", and quite effective, in my opinion.

Also, I think Nanni Moreti's film "My son's room" (from the 1990s) is definitely worth watching, if you like "sad" films.

Speaking of documentaries, there are, of course, many too many to even start naming them. Still, I might mention "The Dragons of Wu Dai Mountain", specifically the segment about a little girl who was sent there by her mother.

The world of cinema is full of gems.
I pity those who will never see them - or even try to do so.”

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20. Anonymous said... on Aug 25, 2010 at 02:35PM


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21. Anonymous said... on Oct 2, 2010 at 05:12AM

“I add Precious to the list. Amazingly touching and sad.”

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22. chuck said... on Jan 21, 2011 at 12:50AM

“Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources. french films that tell the story of a man and his life. for about four hours its a drama, then suddenly all the truth is revealed and how bad everything really is.

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23. Rachel said... on Mar 6, 2011 at 12:43AM

“I also highly recommend a 1998 Dennis Quaid film called Savior, about the atrocities in Bosnia. The kind of bawling it induces is the kind that takes your breath away.”

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24. sarah said... on Jun 25, 2011 at 12:27AM

“ponette... i cried and cried”

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25. the cone master said... on Jul 3, 2011 at 12:30AM

“these movies are all stupid!!!!!

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26. Anonymous said... on Sep 23, 2012 at 07:53PM

“I think Splender in the grass is a classic tear jerker I cry everytime I see it.”


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