Here are some of the most depressing movies of the past two decades

Although the tragic and emotionally devastating films can be difficult for audiences to watch, they nonetheless offer poignant insight and touch the hearts of many. These harrowing stories that move us and make us emotionally uncomfortable are impressive cinematic triumphs, as the characters and their adverse circumstances linger in the minds of viewers indefinitely. Such movies can usually only be viewed once, as witnessing their harrowing stories over and over is more than most can bear. Either way, these thought-provoking and outstanding features come from some of the most renowned and respected directors and performers.

The incredibly moving narratives, endearing film characters, and gripping premise command viewers’ attention and have become some of the most critically acclaimed works in Hollywood history. Whether you need a good cry or just want to escape your own life troubles and witness the troubles of a fictional character instead, there is a vast library of heartbreaking images at your disposal. From the Oscar-winning drama by Lee Daniels Precious to the tragically romantic film by Keira Knightley and James McAvoy Atonement, the cinema does not lack captivating content. These are some of the most depressing films of the past two decades.

8 Atonement


James McAvoy and Keira Knightley sit at the table in Atonement
Universal images

Based on Ian McEwan’s novel of the same name, the period romance film Atonement features a sensational cast including James McAvoy, Keira Knightley and Saoirse Ronan, and tells the harrowing story of an aspiring 13-year-old writer who irrevocably changes the lives of many people when she accuses her older sister’s lover of a disturbing crime that he did not commit. The young couple in love sees their relationship torn apart by the lie told by the jealous little sister, and all three must face the tragic consequences of their actions.

The faithful adaptation was hailed for its brilliant performances, stunning cinematography and visuals, and emotional depth, and won the Academy Award for Best Original Score. The heavy and deeply intense ending offers a dark conclusion to the poignant story, with rolling stone writing, “It’s kind of a miracle. Written, directed and performed to perfection, Atonement sweeps you away on waves of humor, heartbreak and ravishing romance.

7 The boy in the striped pajamas


The boy in the striped pajamas
Miramax Movies

Set during World War II and told from the perspective of eight-year-old Bruno, the 2008 British tragedy The boy in the striped pajamas chronicles a forbidden friendship between the son of a commandant of a German concentration camp and the young Jewish prisoner Shmuel on the other side of the camp fence. The profound and poignant image is based on John Boyne’s novel, and audiences are confronted with the brutality and devastation of war while realizing the harrowing impending doom of the innocent boy.

Lead actors Asa Butterfield and Jack Scanlon delivered performances of a lifetime, with the lonely and surprisingly conflicted circumstances of children ever present throughout the emotionally heavy drama. The young actors went on to earn nominations at the Young Artists Awards and the British Independent Film Awards for their moving and raw performances.

6 Precious


A woman looks out the window on a bus in Precious
Lions Gate

Adapted from the novel To push by author Sapphire, Lee Daniels’ Oscar-winning 2009 drama Precious follows an overweight, abused and illiterate teenager who tries to navigate the streets of Harlem in 1987, while dealing with her second pregnancy by her own father and constant violent abuse from her vicious mother. Stunning Gabourey Sidibe made her screen debut as Claireece ‘Precious’ Jones, having beaten 300 others in nationwide casting calls despite having no prior acting experience ; her debut performance rightfully earned the actress a Best Actress Oscar nomination.

In the often difficult-to-watch drama, Precious is invited to enroll in an alternative school and sees an opportunity to take control of her life, finding guidance and encouragement from her kind new teacher, Mrs. Rain. Sibide told Oprah that she hoped audiences would focus on the film’s message of hope, saying, “Precious, she’s struck by life in so many different ways and so many times, but she doesn’t give in to it.” She keeps rising and she keeps fighting for a better life.

5 Melancholy


The married couple in tuxedos and dresses look up in Melancholia
nordic movie

Known for his confrontational examination of existential, political and social issues, Danish director Lars von Trier directed the 2011 apocalyptic drama film Melancholy, which centers on two sisters who find their already strained relationship challenged by an impending doomsday at the hands of a rogue planet about to collide with Earth. Von Trier came up with the idea for the image during a therapy session for the treatment of his depression and knew from the start that the world would actually end so that the audience wouldn’t be distracted by the suspense of not knowing.

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Moviegoers see the fate of the characters at the start of the drama, with Trier having expressed, “…some things can be exciting precisely because we know what is going to happen, but not how it is going to happen. In Melancholy it’s interesting to see how the characters we follow react when the planet approaches Earth. The apocalyptic film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival where it received acclaim from critics and film experts.

4 Manchester by the sea


Affleck and Williams chat at Manchester by the Sea
Amazon / Roadside Attractions

The critically acclaimed 2016 drama Manchester by the sea features the talented Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler, telling the story of a depressed man who is asked to care for his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies. In the anguished film, Affleck portrays asocial handyman Lee Chandler, a man who is shocked to learn that his brother has left him as his nephew’s legal guardian. Chandler must deal not only with his immense grief over the loss of his older brother, but also with the daunting prospect of raising a teenager on his own. His return to the fishing village he grew up in opens up old wounds and forces the desolate man to once again confront his own tragic past in Manchester.

The intense drama, considered by many to be the best film of 2016, offers a painstaking look at the realities of grief and how it can be nearly impossible to fully recover, starring director Kenneth Lonergan explaining its purpose, “Some people live with their trauma for years. I’m not interested in rubbing the faces of people in pain… But I don’t like this lie that everyone recovers from things so easily. Some people cannot recover at all from something major that has happened to them; why can’t they have a movie too? »

3 Dear Zachary: A letter to a son about his father


Dear Zacharias
Oscilloscope laboratories

Filmmaker and composer Kurt Kuenne wrote, produced, edited and directed the 2008 documentary Dear Zachary: A letter to a son about his father, which depicts the life of his close friend Andrew Bagby, who was murdered after ending his relationship with his ex-girlfriend Shirley Jane Turner; after the woman was arrested for the brutal crime, she announced she was pregnant with Bagby’s child, a boy she named Zachary. What unfolds in the harrowing heartbreak and tribute is hard for viewers to digest, showing what can happen when justice goes tragically wrong.

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Debuting at the critically acclaimed Slamdance Film Festival, Dear Zacharias was praised for its editing and emotional weight; Variety reflects: “The way Kuenne presents the material, with an aggressive style that lingers for less than a second on most shots, it’s impossible not to feel emotionally drained.” The director donated all proceeds from the picture to a scholarship established in the names of Andrew and Zachary Bagby.

2 Rwanda Hotel


Don Cheadle and his family gather at Hotel Rwanda
MGM Distribution Co.

Based on the Rwandan genocide that took place in the spring of 1994, Terry George’s sobering 2004 drama Rwanda Hotel recounts the violent and heinous massacre that claimed the lives of more than 500,000 members of the Tutsi ethnic minority. Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo play hotelier Paul Rusesabagina and his wife Tatiana, whose efforts saved the lives of his family and more than 1,000 refugees by offering them shelter in the besieged Hôtel des Mille Collines.

Director Terry George sought to tell the story of Rusesabagina and share the horrors of the genocide after expressing his thoughts on the lack of international intervention during the crisis, having commented, “It’s simple… African lives are not considered as valuable as the lives of Europeans and Americans.” Rwanda Hotel does exactly what the filmmaker intended, capturing the terrifying realities of genocide and the relentless acts of violence that have become so prevalent around the world.

1 an american crime


Elliott Page trapped in a brick-walled room in An American Crime
Show time

Telling the disturbing true story of Sylvia Likens’ torture and murder by Indianapolis single mother Gertrude Baniszewski, the 2007 crime horror drama an american crime stars Elliot Page and Catherine Keener as Likens and Baniszewski, depicting the teenage girl’s imprisonment and eventual death from malnutrition and her severe injuries. During the production of the shocking image, most of the actors were unaware of Likens’ real murder until they read the script, which was largely based on court transcripts used for the affair.

Keener was initially hesitant to take on the role of murderous mother Baniszewski for the film, but eventually agreed after she couldn’t get the story out of her head; the actress said, “There is a kind of taboo on the subject of child abuse, and I think it should just be out in the open. Secrets don’t help to make it go away, and it has to stop. I just think if we can contribute a little bit to the discussion, so much the better.


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