The 18 Most Gut Wrenching Movies Of All Time, From 'Moonlight' To 'Up'

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In times of great sadness, people turn to movies to get their minds off their problems. For example, during the Great Depression, going to the movies played an integral role in boosting morale, leading to the Golden Age of Hollywood, and currently, people turn to films as a release from all the upsetting political news. While movies can be great for lifting people's spirits, they're also also really useful for making you feel really, really sad. Sometimes you just need to allow yourself to feel depressed and have a good cathartic cry, and these are the most gut-wrenching movies to allow you to do so.

To some people, wanting to make oneself cry sounds weird, but really, it's not. Being able to empathize with others is part of what being human is all about, and it's also not healthy to bottle up feelings or brush them away, either. In fact, sometimes it even feels good to induce a release of emotions by watching a movie that is made to upset you so you can allow yourself to explore and understand your own sources of sorrow. Or perhaps the reason is not that deep and it just feels good to cry. That's totally OK, too.

These movies range from sad to heartbreaking, to downright shocking, but they're all great reminders that the human experience isn't just rainbows and sunshine. Watching something that inspires a visceral reaction is always worthwhile.

1'Marley & Me'

Fox 2000/YouTube

Stream Marley & Me here.

When you hear "Owen Wilson" you probably don't think "gut-wrenching," but this is a dog movie, and those are just about the most emotional ones to watch.

2'Stepmom'

Tristar Pictures/YouTube

Stream Stepmom here.

What starts off as a lighthearted rivalry between mother and stepmother quickly becomes heavy when one of them is diagnosed with cancer. You'll never be able to hear the song "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" in the same way again.

3'Moonlight'

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Stream Moonlight here.

This film won Best Picture at the 2017 Academy Awards and for good reason, as it movingly features the immense adversity faced by its protagonist, Chiron.

4'Up'

Pixar/YouTube

Stream Up here.

For a kids' movie, Up is surprisingly sad. There are definitely fun and happy moments, but the emotional impact is much deeper than you might expect.

5'Good Will Hunting'

Miramax/YouTube

Stream Good Will Hunting here.

This movie was gut-wrenching even before Robin Williams' death, and now it's even harder to get through without shedding a few (thousand) tears.

6'Brokeback Mountain'

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Stream Brokeback Mountain here.

If you like your love stories with a side of sorrow and viewed through blurry, tear-filled eyes, then this is the perfect movie for you.

7'Fruitvale Station'

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Stream Fruitvale Station here.

This true story of the Jan. 1, 2009 police killing of Oscar Grant is hard to watch, but that's exactly why it's so important. This film humanizes Grant and highlights the senselessness of his death, and it's a beautiful tribute and call to action.

8'Lion'

The Weinstein Company/YouTube

Stream Lion here.

This film tells the bittersweet tale of a young boy in India who becomes lost and ends up forever questioning what he left behind. It's a perfectly soulful movie, and perfect to watch when you need a good cry.

9'Terms Of Endearment'

Paramount Movies/YouTube

Stream Terms of Endearment here.

Aurora and Emma make up a mother-daughter duo that perfectly captures a dysfunctional, co-dependent relationship that's charged with love. Oh yeah, it gets emotional.

10'Life Is Beautiful'

Miramax/YouTube

Stream Life is Beautiful here.

This film shows the great lengths that a father goes through to uphold his child's innocence during the Holocaust. Even just the description is gut-wrenching, really.

11'Okja'

Netflix/YouTube

Okja is kind of like E.T. but more relevant as it critiques GMOs and animal cruelty while also making you fall in love with Okja and her owner, Mija.  

12'Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey'

Disney/YouTube

Stream Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey here.

This movie is so sweet and pure, and probably the most tear-inducing movie any animal lover could watch. It will make you think twice before leaving your pets behind on the next vacation you take, too.

13'P.S. I Love You'

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Stream P.S. I Love You here.

This movie is the perfect one to watch while heartbroken, because it will take all your sad feelings and magnify them times 10. It's equal parts romance and tragedy, and that's what makes it so good.

14'12 Years A Slave'

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Stream 12 Years A Slave here.

After Solomon Northup is kidnapped and sold into slavery, he and his family spend 12 years struggling and longing for each other. It's one of the saddest yet important films ever made.

15'My Girl'

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Stream My Girl here.

This film may have emotionally scarred you as a child, but it's definitely worth re-watching, especially when you want to cry... a lot.

16'Ordinary People'

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Stream Ordinary People here.

Mary Tyler Moore takes on a serious role in this film about a family grappling with the death of the son after a boating accident. It's jam-packed with feelings as each character handles their sadness differently.  

17'Rabbit Proof Fence'

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Stream Rabbit Proof Fence here.

Like My Girl, this movie is particularly poignant because watching sad things happen to kids amplifies all feelings you have while doing so. Rabbit Proof Fence has a lot of true-life aspects as well, which makes it all the more gut-wrenching.

18'The Act Of Killing'

Final Cut for Real/YouTube

Stream The Act of Killing here.

This film takes the adage that "truth is stranger than fiction" to a new level when truth recreates truth to create perceived fiction. Yes, it's confusing, but it explores some of the darkest crimes a person can commit in an interesting way.

While each of these movies is great individually, it's probably not the best idea to watch them all in a marathon style. You will probably want to follow just one of them up with a lighthearted comedy, so plan accordingly.