When you’re mourning the loss of a loved one, it can be challenging to process your emotions. It may be tempting to hide away from anything sad. And try to just distract yourself with pleasant activities. Sometimes you might want to protect yourself from more sadness.
But curling up with a movie and letting yourself cry can help you release those feelings of sadness and hurt. And choosing a movie that deals with themes of grief and loss may help you process your emotions. Here are some of the best movies on dealing with grief:
1. Steel Magnolias
This comedy-drama came out over thirty years ago, but it still holds up after all this time. The first two-thirds of the movie is full of Southern sass. It revolves around a group of fiercely funny female friends. At times, the comedic elements border on madcap.
But the plot soon takes a tragic turn. That’s when you see how important the people around you are, especially during difficult times.
2. My Girl
Sometimes you form your most intense and devoted friendships at an early age. This coming-of-age tale follows a preteen girl.
You watch as she learns about growing up, experiences her first crush, and loses a friend.
You wouldn’t think a kid’s movie could break your heart. But within the first fifteen minutes of Up, you'll likely be teary-eyed.
The good news is, it can only go up (no pun intended) from there. You follow Carl, a cranky widower as he learns how to start caring and living again.
4. The Sixth Sense
The Sixth Sense is one of many movies dealing with the afterlife, and it would be easy to dismiss it as a thriller. But it’s also a deeply moving meditation on how difficult it is to let go of the people you love. Even after they die.
At first, Stepmom seems like a somewhat typical family melodrama. Two parents navigate a thorny divorce. It’s only made more complicated by the husband moving on with a younger woman. Throw two kids into the mix (one of them an angsty preteen) and prickly family fights ensue. Then, the ex-wife receives a terminal cancer diagnosis.
This movie doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable feelings revolving around betrayal. And it explores how family units change when divorce happens. Ultimately, it also shows the redemptive value of love, forgiveness, and compassion.
Many movies explore the challenges of letting go of a deceased loved one. Ghost follows the ghost of a man who is having a hard time letting go of his still-living wife.
People may find comfort in the film’s message that even when someone dies, the love you shared with them lives on.
7. Terms of Endearment
Mothers and daughters often have deeply complicated relationships. This tearjerker follows a mother and daughter as they clash over the years.
Ultimately, when the daughter becomes terminally ill, they’re able to connect despite their past hurts.
You follow him on his journey through this diagnosis. And become invested not just in him but in the fellow patients he spends time with while undergoing chemotherapy. It explores the reality of living with a cancer diagnosis with humor.
9. Rabbit Hole
There are few things as tragic as losing a small child in an accident. Rabbit Hole shows how the aftermath of a tragedy like this can almost destroy you.
But it also shows how, with time, you can continue to live and even thrive. The sadness may not go away, but it somehow becomes manageable.
10. Field of Dreams
When we lose a parent, it can be difficult to reconcile any regrets we had about our relationships with them.
This classic film uses elements of magical realism to tell an ambitious tale of a father and son reconnecting after death.
11. Dead Poets Society
Being a teenager is challenging. You’re forced to make decisions that will affect your adult life while still being not much older than a child. Dead Poets Society explores what it’s like to lose a friend and lose a teacher.
But it also shows that our reaction to adversity is what shapes us as we continue to grow. This movie features a stunning performance by Robin Williams as the teacher and mentor to the main characters.
You might not expect a movie about fighting to be informative about the grieving process. But Warrior is an illuminating study on how some men use violence to cope with their emotions. Some of them keep that violence inside the ring.
Some let it spill into their real lives. In this film, physical fights serve as a metaphor for the real internal conflict and grief the main characters feel.
13. Bridge to Terabithia
Like My Girl, Bridge to Terabithia is a coming-of-age story. This time, the protagonist is a twelve-year-old boy. He becomes friends with a girl at school, and the two of them build a fantasy world.
It is a place where they can escape from their troubles at school and home. It shows how tender and heartbreaking friendship and loss can be, even at a young age.
14. Inside Out
This animated film is geared towards children, but it’s one that will resonate with adults as well. The film’s main characters are the anthropomorphized emotions of a young girl. The main character is trying to navigate her feelings after a move.
The film itself isn’t overtly about death. But it does reveal that sometimes you must leave parts of your lives behind. And it’s okay to grieve that loss.
Beaches follows the ups and downs of two women who become friends as young children. Over the years they dip in and out of one another’s lives. Sometimes men come between them. Sometimes their divergent career paths keep them apart.
But, their love for one another proves to be their most enduring relationship. Even when one dies, the other’s devotion continues as she takes custody of her late friend’s daughter.
16. The Bucket List
Beaches follows two older men, both facing potentially terminal cancer diagnoses. They realize they both have lists of things they wish they could do before they die. Together, they decide to tackle these so-called bucket lists.
This film is touching but still very humorous. It’s also a great reminder that you have the power to do great things even when others may not think it’s possible.
17. Brian’s Song
Sometimes we form friendships with people who change our entire worldview. Brian's Song is the biographical story of Chicago Bears teammates Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers. The two became unlikely friends during their careers.
And in the 1960s were the first interracial roommates in the history of the NFL. Their friendship didn’t just transform their lives. It inspired a lot of other people to look beyond the color of someone’s skin.
Most of the films on this list are fictional, at least to some extent. Even the semi-biographical ones have been engineered to elicit certain emotions. This film breaks the mold. It’s a documentary that picks up after comedian Tig Notaro’s iconic comedy set at Largo.
Over a year, she lost her mother, endured a terrible breakup, almost died of an infection, and then got diagnosed with cancer. While she endures cancer treatment, she still had a lot of grief to process. This film chronicles her triumphant and bittersweet story.
You can watch Tig on Netflix.
19. The Five People You Meet In Heaven
Author Mitch Albom revolutionized books on grieving with his memoir Tuesdays With Morrie. The success of that book led him to write the novel The Five People You Meet in Heaven was based on.
In it, a maintenance worker dies while saving a young girl. After death, he meets five people who take him through the ups and downs of his own life.
20. P.S. I Love You
In P.S. I Love You, a young widow continues to receive letters from her deceased husband. As she grapples with grief, she eventually realizes she still has to live her life.
The people who love you don’t want you to stay mired in grief. They would want you to move on when you’re ready.
Movies That Help You Cope With the Grieving Process
Grief can be an incredibly isolating experience. Sometimes the only thing that helps pull you out of it is a sense of human connection. When you’re grieving, it’s tempting to avoid sad movies. You might fear that it will make your sadness worse. But watching movies about death can help you begin to heal. It helps you realize that other people have gone through the grieving process.
And that it is possible to manage your grief. That can give you the strength to keep going because it shows you that you can heal, too.
You can check out our picks for the best books on grief if you're looking for more recommendations.