Many directors try to capture the indescribable experience of coping with the death of someone you love. It’s not easy to portray the confusion, sadness and guilt that can come with bereavement, but these 10 movies about grief explore the emotions, conflict and life-changing experiences of saying goodbye to a loved one.
1. Moonlight Mile, 2002
Jake Gyllenhaal takes center stage in a star-studded cast as Joe, who is thrown into grief after the sudden death of his fiancée. Trying to support the grieving parents of his bride-to-be, played by Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon, he soon realizes he can’t be the man everyone wants him to be when a new love enters his life. This is a moving story about grieving people thrown together and trying to make it through, thanks to stellar performances by actors who capture the many emotions of losing someone you love.
2. Truly Madly Deeply, 1990
This heart-warming British drama stars Juliet Stevenson and the late Alan Rickman as love-struck couple Nina and Jamie. Nina is heartbroken after Jamie’s sudden death – until he reappears as a ghost. But things become even more complicated when Nina meets an attractive psychologist called Mark. Often funny and frequently moving, Truly, Madly, Deeply is at heart a film about living with a loved one’s memory and the painful desire to hold on to the past.
3. The Babadook, 2014
Award-winning Australian indie film The Babadook is the only horror movie on this list, although it is not the only scary movie to have grappled with themes of loss and grief. After all, what is more terrifying than losing a loved one? What sets The Babadook apart from other movies of its genre is the artful way it uses metaphor to explore the darker side of grief through the looming, ominous figure of Mr. Babadook.
4. Things We Lost in the Fire, 2007
Halle Berry stars as a grief-stricken widow in this moving drama. After the sudden and violent death of her husband, she seeks out his childhood friend, played by Benicio Del Toro, who has become addicted to heroin. She invites him to stay with her and her two children and an unlikely relationship develops between them. An exploration of the relationships that blossom, break down and transform after bereavement, Things We Lost in the Fire won two BET awards in 2008 for its touching but gritty portrayal of grief and loss.
5. Terms of Endearment, 1983
Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger play mother and daughter Aurora and Emma in this multi award-winning comedy drama. Both hopelessly looking for meaningful romantic relationships, the pair have always struggled to see eye-to-eye, but everything is changed when Emma gets a terminal cancer diagnosis. This classic movie is a moving exploration of family dynamics in the face of bereavement, however messy and dysfunctional they might be.
6. The Bucket List, 2007
Hollywood heavyweights Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman head up this comedy drama about two men with terminal illnesses trying to make the most out of the time they have left. Nicholson plays billionaire Edward Cole, who meets Freeman’s Carter Chambers by chance in hospital. Cole offers to bankroll the adventure of a lifetime for them both, and they set off to discover who they are and what really matters to them. It’s a funny and heart-warming movie about the things that really matter in life.
7. One True Thing, 1998
Based on the real-life experiences of novelist Anna Quindlen, One True Thing stars Renée Zellweger as a magazine journalist who has to put her life on hold to care for her mother, played by Meryl Streep, who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. The movie follows the daughter’s journey of discovery as she begins to reassess her perception of her parents’ marriage and her mother’s courage, in a touching exploration of how death and grief can forever change family relationships.
8. Up, 2009
Well-known as one of the most beautiful and poignant opening sequences in any animated film, the first 10 minutes of Up are heart-breaking by anyone’s definition. Following the childhood friendship and romance of Carl and Ellie, in a few short minutes we see the pain and loneliness of losing a soul mate. Grief remains a theme throughout the movie too, as Carl struggles to overcome his resentment and bitterness to embrace life and all the adventure it offers.
9. Tuesdays with Morrie, 1999
This adaptation of Mitch Albom’s book features Jack Lemmon in his last credited screen role. It’s based on the true story of how author Mitch reconnected with his old college professor, when he learned he was dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Full of wisdom and charm, Lemmon scooped up an Emmy and Screen Actors Guild Award in his role as Morrie Schwartz, cementing this made-for-television drama’s reputation as a critically-acclaimed classic.
10. Reign Over Me, 2007
Comedy goofball Adam Sandler turns his attention to a more serious role in this movie about post-traumatic stress and finding ways to heal. His character, Charlie, is scarred by the trauma of losing his family in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but an unexpected reunion with his college friend, played by Don Cheadle, could prove to be an important turning point for both of them. A movie as much about friendship as it is about the trauma of grief, Reign Over Me is ultimately the story of a man rebuilding his life after tragic loss.