Movies have a remarkable ability to stir our emotions, taking us on powerful journeys that leave an indelible mark on our hearts and minds. Whether it's anger, love, hope, or despair, this list of movies will send you on an emotional rollercoaster. Here are the top movies that an online community of film lovers said left them emotionally drained.
1. Come and See (1985)
Come and See focuses on the German invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II and how control and “purification” caused the deaths of millions. The director, Elem Klimov, experienced the takeover firsthand and was meticulous when it came to incorporating his memories into this film.
You get to see tons of footage where the actors and actresses are directly facing the camera, which doesn't allow the audience to get a break from the devastation. Even with the iconic church scene, you're forced to endure the gut-wrenching despair of such a monumental atrocity.
2. Marriage Story (2019)
Marriage Story is a powerful depiction of humanity at its best and worst. Throughout the ups and downs of the film, Charlie and Nicole undergo a tumultuous journey of separation and divorce, marked by conflict, resentment, and emotional upheaval.
By the film's end, while their romantic relationship has run its course, they develop a sense of mutual respect, empathy, and shared love for their son. Their relationship evolves into a complex blend of lingering pain, affection, and a shared history that shouldn't be erased, but built upon.
3. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Maggie Fitzgerald is a plucky woman with aspirations of becoming a professional boxer. She turns out to be great at the sport, and Frankie, a distant man who's also her trainer, begins to develop a daughterly affection for her. He even begins calling her “Mo Chuisle,” an Irish name. She frequently asks what it means, but he hides the meaning of it until the film's bitter end. She would go on to be severely injured by a cheap shot in the ring that rendered her a person with quadriplegia.
Maggie asks Frankie to euthanize her so she won't have to live a diminished quality of life. At first, he refused. However, he'd later revisit her in the hospital and reveal that underneath his tough exterior, he'd grown to love her. While secretly euthanizing her, he'd tell her that “Mo Chuisle” meant “My Darling” — what a tear-jerker!
4. The Road (2009)
The protagonists of The Road are a guy and his son, called Man and the Boy in the movie. The two navigate a dystopian world where they encounter moments of hope and despair. They scavenge for food, struggle to stay warm and stumble upon other survivors who may mean to do them harm.
The father begins to succumb to injuries and illnesses that befell him along the journey. And if that's not sad enough, as he's dying, he assures the Boy that he will be okay and that he has to keep going, promising to always be with him. His dad had gone as far as he could and his love for the Boy is poured out through countless heroic efforts, ending with this heartbreaking crescendo.
5. Dancer in the Dark (2000)
Selma is a loving mother who wants to protect her young son from inheriting her hereditary condition of blindness. She decides to save money for him to have surgery, but due to her deteriorating eyesight, her landlord robs her. Eventually, she confronts him, and after an altercation, he accidentally gets shot with his own gun.
Selma gets sentenced to death for this incident, but her friends are able to get the stolen money back and they tell her they can use it to get a lawyer that could set her free. Instead, she refuses and demands the funds be used for her son's surgery. Selma chooses death in exchange for her son's eyesight, a selfless act sown in the hope that he'll have a better life.
6. Bridge to Terabithia (2007)
One individual called this film an emotional punch to the solar plexus. Bridge of Terabithia is a story of children with wild imaginations. The movie addresses cyclical bullying, and the kids form friendships as an indirect consequence of dealing with it.
Jess and Leslie build an incredible bond and they practically make a world for themselves, named Terabithia. Their connection captivates the audience, and suddenly, Leslie dies while swinging from a rope in the imaginary place the two kids built for themselves. Jess is wrecked, wondering what he will do without his best friend.
7. Interstellar (2014)
Cooper is a former NASA pilot turned farmer because of a blight plaguing the earth. Facing imminent planetary extinction, he goes with a group of astronauts that set out on a mission to the stars, searching for a habitable planet. However, it's a tough decision to leave his children—particularly his daughter Murph. This voyage will not be short, and if he succeeds, he'd very likely never see her again due to the theory of relativity and the cosmic forces.
By the end of the mission, Murph is an old woman on her deathbed, and her father looks just as young as when he first left. He's about 70 years younger than his daughter now. They share a brief moment of embrace before she encourages him to go and live his life; she has already lived hers. Talk about a half-happy ending.
8. The Passengers (2016)
The Passengers is a story of love borne out of desperation and loneliness. Jim is on a space voyage to a distant planet, and his hibernation pod opens prematurely. The pod preserves the body and stops aging. The journey will take 120 years, and because he can't return to the pod, he's doomed to live out the rest of his life alone while others aboard the ship continue to sleep.
He decides to open Aurora's pod because he's desperate and selfish. The two would eventually grow to love one another, but Jim always told her she was the victim of the pod malfunctioning like he did. She hates him for a while after discovering the truth, but eventually, she gets the chance to go back into her pod. Aurora chooses to stay with Jim, and they live the rest of their natural lives on the ship, which is still kind of sad in an odd way.
9. The Lovely Bones (2009)
Lovely Bones revolves around the tragic loss of a young girl, Susie Salmon, who was gruesomely murdered. This mystery is about a father's quest to bring the culprit to justice as she attempts to help him from the other side. The film explores the profound grief experienced by her family, friends, and the community.
The story ends in a bittersweet way because the criminal is never found, so her family doesn't get any closure. However, justice is exacted from the other side when a snowflake landing on the perpetrator's shoulder sends him tumbling down a cliff to his death.
10. The Father (2020)
Anthony Hopkins is in rare form in his performance as a patient with dementia, ironically named Anthony. His world is topsy-turvy as he loses time and misappropriates settings and situations, which causes constant disorientation and confusion. A prime example of this is on display during the film's climactic scene.
Anthony goes from forgetting his daughter, his caretaker, and how his home looks, to completely forgetting his own name. Tragically, he is rendered so helpless that he cries out for his mommy. The fear that all of the perplexity creates crushes Anthony, and you're left sobbing right with him because of his unfortunate circumstances. Ugh!
11. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Saving Private Ryan tells the tale of bravery and honor. The film centers on a group of soldiers sent on a mission to find and save Private James Ryan, whose three brothers have been killed in action. This group rallies together to deliver Ryan home, but not without much struggle.
Despite some misgivings among the ranks regarding the mission, the soldiers ultimately honor their obligations by giving their lives to do so. The movie hits home by exploring loss and sacrifice while showcasing war's emotional toll on all parties involved.
12. The Bucket List (2007)
The Bucket List forces you to face your mortality head-on and think about living every moment as if it were your last. Two strangers become unlikely friends as one is an affluent white-collar businessman and the other is a blue-collar businessman. Edward and Carter embark on an adventure to do things they'd never thought to do in their wildest dreams.
During this story, both characters change dramatically. Through their shared experiences, they confront past mistakes, seek forgiveness, and strive to make the most of their remaining time. The emotional weight of grappling with regrets and the desire for redemption adds to the dynamic nature of the film.
13. My Sister's Keeper (2009)
Sara Fitzgerald is a passionate mother determined to help her daughter, Kate, overcome cancer. Kate has been fighting cancer ever since she can remember. Sara even had another daughter, Anna, for the express purpose of being a donor match for her sister. Anna devises a plan to sue her mother for the rights to her own body as she claims she's tired of the ordeal.
However, later in the story, this is revealed to be a ruse set up by Kate and her siblings because Kate is actually ready to die, and her mom was too blinded by her desire to keep her alive to see it. The film climaxes as Sara realizes that her daughter has had enough suffering. Dread, fear, and disbelief rush over her all at once as she embraces her daughter and realizes her baby girl won't be around for much longer. “Pass the tissues!” says one respondent.
14. Good Will Hunting (1998)
This movie delves into the personal struggles of the protagonist, Will Hunting, a brilliant but troubled young man. Will grapples with deep emotional wounds, abandonment issues, and a fear of intimacy, which evoke empathy from the audience.
Sean Maguire is a compassionate and insightful psychologist who forms a unique connection with Will. Through their therapy sessions, Sean helps Will deal with his emotional barriers, confront his past traumas, and ultimately find the courage to embrace his own potential. The two develop a genuine love for one another that helps both characters change for the better. It's so touching!
15. Man on Fire (2004)
John Creasy is a former CIA operative who becomes a bodyguard for a young girl named Pita. As the story unfolds, Creasy develops a deep emotional bond with Pita, and when she is kidnapped, he embarks on a quest for vengeance. During his quest, he's under the impression that Pita is dead until he receives a tip that she's still alive.
After all the havoc and mayhem that Creasy has unleashed on anyone who gets in his way, the leader of the kidnapping plot tells Creasy that he will give the girl to him in exchange for Creasy's life—to which he agrees without a moment's thought. The last scene pictures an emotional Pita running into Creasy's arms, declaring her love for him, and he does the same for her. He then walks into the custody of the criminals and succumbs to his injuries en route to being killed by the hand of the mafia boss.
16. Manchester by the Sea (2004)
Manchester by the Sea is a complicated movie about family, loss, and grief, following Lee (Casey Affleck) who is granted temporary custody of his teenage nephew after his brother dies. But with this new responsibility, he's forced to go back home to Manchester-by-the-Sea, his hometown that haunts him daily.
While it seems like Lee is stubborn about coming home, the truth he doesn't want to face is that his past was the tragic truth that his home burned down, killing his own children due to his negligent behavior. Now back in this town that is so heavy for him, he's forced to figure out what it's like to parent a teenager, something he robbed himself of doing with his own children.
17. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
The idea of being able to escape from your memories that are causing you pain sounds like a good idea in theory, but when actually faced with that option, Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) realizes he doesn't want to forget his memories with his ex, Clementine (Kate Winslet). While she goes through with the procedure to have her memories of the two of them erased, Joel regrets it and tries his best to cling to the fleeting moments he still has with Clementine.
18. The Florida Project (2017)
In a rundown motel just outside the magical gates of Walt Disney World lives Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her mother, struggling to get through life day by day. While other children venture to their city to have magical vacations, the children who live at the hotel are forced to find magic in the mundane, small moments of their lives.
While Moonee's mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite), cares a lot about Moonee, she's young and rebellious, leaving Moonee unguided and without a lot of structure. But as the children live out their summer at the budget hotel, Bobby (William Dafoe) is always keeping an eye out for them, making sure the children are taken care of, even when their parents are absent from their lives.
19. Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
After feeling like he's lost everything due to his alcoholism, screenwriter Ben Sanderson (Nicolas Cage) takes himself to Las Vegas with a plan to drink himself to death. But when he meets Sera (Elisabeth Shue), an adult worker with problems of her own, he starts to form a strange friendship with her. The two lonely, broken people fall in love in the only way they can and decide to spend their remaining time together. But Ben still plans to carry on his destructive path and Sera's life catches up to the pair as they navigate their new lives in Las Vegas.
20. Her (2013)
In a future where artificial intelligence is even more prominent than it is today, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) starts to fall in love with his personal AI assistant that is designed to meet all of his needs. As their relationship develops, it becomes more complex as others realise that Theodore is in love with a person who doesn't exist, and while he seems content in his life, he's losing parts of himself that are now out of touch with reality.
Creshonda Smith is a creative writer that thrives on learning something new everyday and sharing that knowledge in a way that captivates others. She has 15 years of experience as a freelance writer for various companies, but she was previously a Clinical Social Worker, having obtained her Bachelor's and Master's degrees from The Ohio State University. After nearly 10 years in the field, she decided it was time to return to one of her childhood passions—writing that inspires. Creshonda will tackle any topic, but she prefers lifestyle articles centered around Health & Wellness, Parenting & Family Advice, Food + Drinks, Personal Growth, and Traveling. She has four beautiful children and has been married for a decade. Her favorite hobbies include traveling to anywhere there's a beach, reading, writing, and playing UNO! Creshonda has been a contributing writer for Wealth of Geeks since June 2023.