These Are Some Of The Most Depressing Movies Of The Last Two Decades

Though tragic and emotionally devastating movies can be hard for audiences to witness, they nonetheless offer poignant insight and touch the heartstrings of many. These harrowing stories that are stirring and render us emotionally uncomfortable are impressive cinematic triumphs, as the characters and their adverse circumstances remain in the minds of viewers indefinitely. Such films can usually only be watched once, as witnessing their distressing tales multiple times is more than most can handle. Regardless, 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 premises demand the attention of viewers, and have gone on to become some of the most critically-acclaimed works in Hollywood history. Whether you’re in need of a good cry or simply wish to escape your own life problems and witness a fictional figure’s issues instead, there is an extensive library of tear-jerking pictures at your disposal. From the Oscar-winning Lee Daniels drama Precious to the tragically romantic Keira Knightley and James McAvoy movie Atonement, the cinema has no short supply of riveting content. These are some of the most depressing movies of the last two decades.

8 Atonement

Universal Pictures

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

The faithful adaptation was heralded for its brilliant performances, stunning cinematography and visuals and emotional depth, and went on to win the Academy Award for Best Original Score. The heavy and deeply intense ending provides a somber conclusion to the harrowing tale, with Rolling stone writing, “It’s some kind of miracle. Written, directed and acted to perfection, Atonement sweeps you up on waves of humor, heartbreak and ravishing romance. ”

7 The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Miramax Films

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

he lead actors Asa Butterfield and Jack Scanlon delivered performances of a lifetime, with the children’s lonely and strikingly conflicting circumstances 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 portrayals.

6 Precious

A woman looks out the window in a bus in Precious

Adapted from the novel Push by the author Sapphire, Lee Daniels’ Oscar-winning 2009 drama Precious follows an overweight, abused and illiterate teen who attempts to navigate the streets of Harlem in 1987, while coping with her second pregnancy by her own father and the violent and constant abuse of her vicious mother. The superb Gabourey Sidibe made her on-screen debut as Claireece “Precious” Jones, having beat out 300 others in nationwide casting calls despite not having any prior acting experience; her premiere performance rightfully nabbed the actress an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.

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 Ms. Rain. Sibide told Oprah that she hoped audiences would focus on the message of hope from the film, saying, “Precious, she gets hit by life so many different ways and so many times, but she does not yield to it. She continues to get up and she continues to struggle for a better life. ”

5 Melancholia

The married couple in tux and gown look up in Melancholia
Nordic Film

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

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Moviegoers are shown at the beginning of the drama the characters’ fates, with Trier having expressed, “… some things may be thrilling precisely because we know what’s going to happen, but not how they will happen. In Melancholia it’s interesting to see how the characters we follow react as the planet approaches Earth. ” The apocalyptic flick premiered at the Cannes Film Festival where it was lauded by critics and film scholars.

4 Manchester by the Sea

Affleck and Williams talk in 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 take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies. In the anguish-ridden film, Affleck portrays the antisocial handyman Lee Chandler, a man who is shocked to learn his brother left him as the legal guardian to his nephew. Chandler must face not only his immense grief over the loss of his older sibling, but also the intimidating prospect of raising a teenager on his own. His return to the fishing village he grew up in opens old wounds and causes the desolate man to once again face his own tragic past in Manchester.

The intense drama, considered by many as the best movie of 2016offers a painstaking look at the realities of grief and how it can be near impossible to fully recover from, with director Kenneth Lonergan explaining his objective, “Some people live with their trauma for years. I’m not interested in rubbing people’s faces in suffering… But I do not like this lie that everybody gets over things that easily. Some people can not get over something major that happened to them at all; why can not they have a movie too? ”

3 Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

Dear Zachary
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 he ended 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 heart-wrenching tear-jerker and tribute is tough for viewers to stomach, which showcases what can happen when justice goes tragically wrong.

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

2 Hotel Rwanda

Don Cheadle and his family huddle together in Hotel Rwanda
MGM Distribution Co.

Based on the Rwandan genocide that took place during the spring of 1994, Terry George’s sobering 2004 drama Hotel Rwanda recounts the violent and abhorrent massacre that claimed the lives of more than 500,000 members of the Tutsi minority ethnic group. Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo portray hotelier Paul Rusesabagina and his wife Tatiana, whose efforts helped save the lives of his family and more than 1,000 refugees by providing them with 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 seen as valuable as the lives of Europeans and Americans.” Hotel Rwanda does just as the filmmaker intended, capturing the terrifyingly chilling realities of genocide and relentless acts of violence that have become so prevalent in the world.

1 An American Crime

Elliott Page trapped in a brick walled room in An American Crime

Recounting the disturbing true story of the torture and murder of Sylvia Likens 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 teenager’s imprisonment and eventual death due to malnourishment and her extensive injuries. During production of the shocking picture, most of the cast were unaware of the real Likens murder until they read the script, which was largely based on the court transcripts used for the case.

Keener was initially hesitant to take on the role of the murderous mother Baniszewski for the film, but ultimately agreed to after she could not get the story out of her head; the actress said, “There’s sort of this taboo about the subject of child abuse, and I think it should just be busted wide open. Secrets aren’t helping make it go away, and it has to stop. I just feel that if we can contribute a little bit of discussion for it, then good. ”


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