Can a movie be great and at the same time make you never want to watch it again? It seems like some sort of twisted paradox, but there are fantastic movies that are so gut-wrenching, so depressing, that one viewing is more than necessary.
There are many reasons why you would only watch a movie once. They can be disturbing, confusing, or just plain bad, but the next 15 entries on this list are mentally exhausting. These are the films that don’t leave you with warm, fuzzy feelings as you leave the theater. In fact, they do the exact opposite, leaving you in a state of shock and awe with no desire to ever watch it again. Again, we’re not saying that these movies are bad. Quite the opposite, as they make you feel emotions so powerful, so raw, that you may never want to revisit them.
Here are 15 Movies So Depressing You Can Only Watch Them Once.
15. Manchester by the Sea
While critics universally agreed that last year’s Manchester by the Sea was a fantastic film, they also agreed that it’s a huge downer to sit through. In his Oscar winning role, Casey Affleck plays Lee, a depressed handyman who’s haunted by a tragic past event. When his brother dies, he’s forced to become the guardian of his teenage nephew, but wrestles with the idea of living in the town in which all of his pain stems from.
The film is one emotional gut-punch after another as we watch Lee purposely get into bar brawls, push away the people who love him, drink himself into a stupor, and finally realize that there’s no coming back from the dark thoughts that now consume him. While Manchester showcases a range of spectacular acting, that acting makes the audience want to cry their eyes out and thank the heavens that their lives aren’t as depressing as the ones in the movie.
14. Boys Don’t Cry
Based on actual events, Boys Don’t Cry tells the story of Brandon Teena, the new popular guy in a small Nebraskan town. He spends his time hanging out with his friends and charming the local women, who describe Brandon as one of the most sensitive men they’ve ever met. Brandon seems to have a pretty sweet life until his closest friends find out a life altering secret: Brandon Teena was actually born as a woman named Teena Bradon.
In the role that won the actress her first Oscar, Hillary Swank conveys every painful emotion possible throughout the course of Boys Don’t Cry. Though the script is beautifully written, it is Swank’s performance that weighs on the heart of the viewer. Brandon’s identity transforms beyond simply male or female. Swank’s performance is so raw that it is like watching the embodiment of Brandon’s soul on screen, making it that much harder to bear on a second or third time viewing after the heartbreaking finale.
13. The Machinist
Creepy, bleak, and tragic, The Machinist tells the story of Trevor Reznik, an industrial worker that is consumed by fear and paranoia. Unable to sleep and beginning to question his own sanity, Trevor’s life starts to unravel in front of his eyes. The movie becomes increasingly difficult to watch as Trevor destroys anything good in his life, haunted by his guilty conscious. The final act reveals the tragic event that has caused him to go insane, and it’s even more heartbreaking to watch the character’s sad realization of his own terrible crime.
What really keeps The Machinist as a one-watch only type of movie is Trevor’s sickeningly unhealthy physique. Christian Bale is an actor known for going the extra mile for his characters, losing 65 pounds to play the paranoid Trevor in The Machinist. Even more surprising is that after filming wrapped, Bale put on almost 60 pounds of muscle to play the Dark Knight in Batman Begins, which is a much more uplifting affair.
12. The Pianist
Directed by Roman Polanski, The Pianist is such a sad tale that it’s hard to believe it was based on a true story. Wladyslaw Szpilman is a Jewish radio station pianist, one of the most accomplished players in all of Poland, who is forced into the Warsaw Ghetto during the early days of WWII. After being separated from his family during Operation Reinhard, Sladyslaw goes into hiding as a Jewish refugee, struggling to survive the death and destruction that ensues at the Warsaw Ghetto.
Like many movies that depict the horrific events surrounding the holocaust, The Pianist is relentlessly gritty and realistic. We watch as Sladyslaw’s world is torn apart in front of him as his family is taken away to a concentration camp and his life is reduced to a shell of its former glory. Nothing here feels staged. In fact, The Pianist is so blatantly realistic you forget you’re watching a movie at all. Sladyslaw’s pain is so raw, that sitting through the movie a second time might be too heartbreaking to bear.
11. Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire
Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire received nothing but positive feedback when it was released in 2009, racking up six Academy Award nominations including a nom for actress Gabourey Sidibe and a win for actress Mo’Nique. Why wouldn’t you watch an awarded movie like this one more than once? Well, because as uplifting as the movie’s message is, the majority of the runtime is downright soul-crushing.
The film paints in vivid detail the nightmarish life that Precious has to go through in 1987 Harlem. She’s an emotionally scarred teen, subjected to physical, mental and sexual abuse. Her father raped her, resulting in a child that she takes care of in a housing project. She lives with her mother, who also verbally and physically abuses Precious throughout the course of the film. Though the ending provides a somewhat happy conclusion as Precious obtains her GED, the road getting there is so grueling and bleak the viewer may have a hard time sitting through it twice.
10. 21 Grams
Before racking up a number of awards with Birdman and The Revenant, Alejandro G. Iñárritu directed this 2003 crime/drama about a freak accident that brings together three deeply flawed individuals: Paul Rivers (Sean Penn), a mathematician stuck in a loveless marriage; Christina Peck (Naomi Watts), a suburban housewife; and Jack Jordan (Benicio Del Torro), an ex-con trying to change his ways. Together, they are forced to confront certain truths and guilt that afflict each one of them.
Like his other movie, Babel, Iñárritu plays with the timeline of 21 Grams, interweaving separate stories that connect together over the course of the film. Each of the three principle actors is completely believable in their performances, perfectly conveying their pain and gut-wrenching emotion to the audience. The film reveals the bare bones of the human condition when presented with life’s most difficult moments, moments that might be too excruciating to watch on a second go around.
9. The Piano Teacher
Disturbing, depressing, and at times overwhelming, The Piano Teacher leaves you physically drained to the point of exhaustion. Responsible for other bleak cinema experiences like Amour and Funny Games, director Michael Haneke delivers a film that leaves the viewer’s stomach tied in a knot and gasping for air for the majority of the runtime. It’s a completely visceral experience, dealing in unpleasant subject matter such as sado-masochism and highly dysfunctional relationships.
Its lead character, Erika, played so vividly by Isabelle Huppert, has an obsession with violent sexual fantasies, but she still manages to retain the audience’s sympathy thanks to her isolation and Huppert’s heartbreaking performance. Her mental slavery to her mother and her desire to become romantically involved with one her students is a form of mental and physical torture that’s almost without rival to characters in other films. While The Piano Teacher is an intriguing cinema experience, it’s also deeply disturbing enough to make you second guess a second viewing.
Told in reverse chronological order, Irreversible recounts the events over the course of one harrowing night in Paris. Monica Bellucci plays Alex, a woman who is violently raped and beaten by a stranger in an underpass. Afterwards, her boyfriend and ex-lover, Pierre and Marcus, take matters into their own hands as they search for Alex’s assailant. It ends, or rather begins, with the two men brutally killing a man who they believe to be Alex’s attacker.
Many call Irreversible one of the most disturbing movies they’ve ever seen and it’s not hard to see why. The movie has become infamous for Alex’s horrifically brutal rape scene, which director Gaspar Noé chooses to show in a gritty, realistic fashion, showing every detail from the blood on Alex’s face to her attacker’s genitals. It goes on for an absurd amount of time, making the viewer downright uncomfortable in the process. Though the film is astounding on a technical level, its start depiction of violence makes this a one-and-done viewing experience for most.
Happiness may have one of the most misleading titles in movie history. It’s an incredibly tough watch that is dark, traumatic, and anything but happy. Though Todd Solondz’s film is labeled as a satirical comedy, its humor is at times borderline unsettling. Exploring the lives of three sisters and their families, Happiness paints a portrait of the desperate search we all make to find some sort of human connection.
Many of the film’s characters are deeply depraved, including Bill, played by Dylan Baker, who is a pedophile that becomes obsessively attracted with his son’s male classmate. The heavy subject matter and depraved dialog make this a challenging watch for even the most seasoned moviegoer, and the sexual scenes are so uncomfortable that the Sundance Film Festival even refused to play the film for audiences. Happiness leaves the viewer in a state of shock that so few dark comedies ever attempt to pull off.
6. Dancer in the Dark
Director Lars Von Trier is responsible for a number of bleak films throughout his career, but out of all of them, Dancer in the Dark is without a doubt the bleakest. Starring Icelandic singer Bjork, it tells the story of a poor immigrant and her son who journey to America to make a better life for themselves. It soon becomes apparent that forging a better life is easier said than done.
Thanks to a hereditary degenerative disease, Bjork’s character Selma spends most of the film gradually going blind as she breaks her back working in a factory. She lives in a cramped mobile home with her 12-year-old son, who is at risk of also becoming blind. Selma’s situation goes from bad to worse when the money she is saving up for her son’s surgery is stolen by a local Sheriff who betrays her trust. Selma’s downward spiral results in a brutal finale that most likely won’t have you reaching for the repeat button on your television when the credits start rolling.
5. Schindler’s List
There are heaps of depressing movies on this list, but not of them reach into your chest, pull out your heart, and stomp all over it quite like that of Schindler’s List. Chances are you’ve probably sat through Steven Spielberg’s visceral WWII drama at least once, most likely in school, but have been hesitant to watch it ever again.
Based on the novel Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally, the movie tells the story of Oskar Schindler, a pragmatic German businessman who saved the lives of more than a thousand Jewish refugees during the holocaust by hiring them to work in his factories. While the movie conveys the resourcefulness of the human spirit, Spielberg’s realistic portrayals of WWII concentration camps are anything but uplifting.
The movie is filmed in stark black and white, portraying the events as if they are actually happening, and making it all the more frightening when we remember that they really did. We learn about the holocaust in history class in school, but actually seeing it unfold in front of you is an entirely different experience, making Schindler’s List not only one of the most depressing movies ever made, but one of the most important.
4. 12 Years a Slave
Few movies show the appalling nature of slavery as vividly as 12 Years a Slave. Steve McQueen’s visceral film about the life of Solomon Northrup is one of the hardest movies to get through, leaving the viewer emotionally drained by the finale. To watch Northrop go from free man to slave is heartbreaking as he’s torn apart from his family and sold into bondage. He faces cruelty by a malevolent slave owner, who is the personification of evil itself, but somehow retains his humanity during this life changing odyssey.
It’s important to remember when watching 12 Years a Slave that Solon Northrup was a real person who lived through all of the horrific events depicted. It’s absolutely astounding to think that there was a time in history when atrocities like the ones against Northrup actually occurred, and in some places, still occur today. The barbarity of dehumanization, of treating human beings as nothing more than property, is not easy subject matter to film. Many of the scenes are so hard to sit through, including Patsey’s grotesque whipping, that to watch them a second time is almost unbearable.
3. The Passion of the Christ
There are plenty of movies on this list with bloody violence, but The Passion of the Christ may be the bloodiest. When it was released, Mel Gibson’s Christian epic grossed over $600 million during its impressive box office run. It decimated records like highest grossing religious film of all time, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, it’s probably not a movie you’re going to throw on during a rainy Sunday afternoon.
The majority of The Passion of the Christ’s runtime is devoted to watching a man get tortured, which is rather difficult to sit through. The final 12 hours of Jesus Christ’s life is so graphically depicted, that it’s almost impossible to finish the whole ordeal on a full stomach. We watch in horror as Christ is whipped, beaten, and crucified to a wooden cross, and it’s every bit as bloody and excruciating as one might think. The vicious brutality is so uncomfortable, so heart-breaking, that to finish the movie on the first go around is an achievement in and of itself.
2. Hotel Rwanda
During the early 1990s, some of the most heinous crimes in human history took place in the country of Rwanda when a total of one million Tutsi refugees were slaughtered in just three short months. These events are brought to life in 2004’s Hotel Rwanda, which tells the story of Paul Rusesabagina, an ordinary hotel manager who saves thousands of refugees by sheltering them in the hotel he manages.
Given its intense subject matter, Hotel Rwanda is not for the faint of heart. It depicts one of the largest genocides in the history of mankind in which unspeakable actions were carried out against hundreds of thousands of defenseless refugees. In one instance, Paul (Don Cheadle) gets out of his car and trips over an object on the road. As the fog lifts, Paul finds that thousands of dead bodies are sprawled out on the highway that stretches out for miles. It’s just one of many instances of the horrible atrocities that Hotel Rwanda brings to light, and that the viewer might not want to sit through again.
1. Requiem for a Dream
Many of the entries on this list deal with the most horrifying events in human history. Schindler’s List and The Pianist show the atrocities of WWII concentration camps, while 12 Years a Slave deals with the inhumane conditions of slavery. Our number one spot, however, is not about genocide or a global-scale tragedy; it is simply about four Coney Island residents that struggle with their dependency on drugs. The way that director Darren Aronofsky captures that dependency on film makes Requiem for a Dream the most depressing movie that we could think of.
Requiem is just as mesmerizing of a film as it is horrifying. Each character sees their life spiral out of control to the point of no return, whether it is Sara’s dependency on prescribed painkillers or her son Harry’s addiction to heroine. By the end, their dreams of a better life are completely shattered. Sara is hospitalized for her paranoid delusions, Harry ends up having his arm amputated, and his girlfriend Marion is forced into depraved sexual acts for one more hit of smack. Requiem for a Dream intensely captures the way that drugs lead to self-destructive obsession, making it a visual representation of a nightmare that is impossible to forget.
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