Sometimes, life can feel overwhelmingly dark, negative, or empty. It's no surprise that cinema is full of movies about despairing events, depressive states, dreary situations, and what those experiences mean through the lenses of different characters.
The absence of hope can be a powerful emotion that engulfs audiences, largely because everybody knows how painful it can be to feel like there's no light at the end of the tunnel.
Here are our picks for the best movies about depression and hopelessness that tackle these themes well.
8. The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)
Directed by Martin McDonagh
Starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon
Comedy, Drama (1h 54m)
Martin McDonagh's latest film was acclaimed by critics, all of whom have lauded the writing and performances throughout the film.
The Banshees of Inisherin is a comedy on the surface, with Colin Farrell at its heart. However, underneath the veneer of humor lies a dark and twisted tale of hubris and emotional trauma caused by one selfish act.
There's a darkness to the film that's further exposed the more audiences get into it, as the fun melts away to reveal what human beings are capable of doing when put under significant pressure.
In the end, The Banshees of Inisherin is a masterpiece tale of hope bereft, of consequences, and of selfish actions.
7. The Road (2009)
Directed by John Hillcoat
Starring Viggo Mortensen, Charlize Theron, Kodi Smit-McPhee
Drama, Thriller (1h 51m)
The Road is a dreary film that feels like it has nothing but the absence of hope. We watch a man and his son traverse the post-apocalyptic end of the world, doing what they can to stay alive.
As the picture evolves, the events that brought them to where they are unfold in tragic fashion—and there isn't a single moment that fails to build on the core feeling of pure despair.
The cast's performances, led by Viggo Mortensen, make The Road such an engaging and gripping tale. The picture has so few moments of redemption, though, that it can be a difficult watch at the best of times.
6. Manchester By the Sea (2016)
Directed by Kenneth Lonergan
Starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler
Drama (2h 17m)
Manchester By the Sea pulls the audience in with the central mystery surrounding the main character, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck).
As the film unfolds, we learn of Lee's story and why his presence in Manchester is such a difficult thing for him. Even so, Lee comes back to the town after the death of his brother to look after his teenage nephew—and while there, his former life comes back to crush him.
The film gives incredible weight to Lee's story and shows the guilt he carries with him after the tragedy he went through.
So, while Manchester By the Sea has little in the way of hope, it's one that keeps audiences engaged until its final scenes.
5. American History X (1998)
Directed by Tony Kaye
Starring Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Beverly D'Angelo
Crime, Drama (1h 59m)
A movie about prison's impact on a neo-Nazi was never going to inspire a ton of hope in anyone. What's impressive about American History X, however, is how it manages to be even darker than its premise suggests.
Led by Edward Norton at the peak of his acting career, this movie shows the redemption of an American Nazi named Derek who's incarcerated for killing two men after they attempt to burgle his residence.
The story follows his release from prison and how he tries to save his little brother from his former gang.
However, in his attempt, Derek brings fate to his doorstep in a way that he couldn't predict, making the film's ending unpredictably tragic.
4. Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
Directed by Mike Figgis
Starring Nicolas Cage, Elisabeth Shue, Julian Sands
Drama, Romance (1h 51m)
Leaving Las Vegas is the tale of a man who decides to drink himself to death after he loses his job and his wife leaves him. It's the kind of role that was perfect for Nicolas Cage in the 1990s.
Not only did it allow Cage to explore his eccentric style of performance via the drunk scenes, but it also allowed his serious side to shine through as he committed himself to death through his actions.
The film hangs on both Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue, who both turn in career-best work. The end result is a sobering film with no redemption from the horrors of alcoholism and what it does to a person.
3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Directed by Michel Gondry
Starring Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Tom Wilkinson
Drama, Romance, Sci-Fi (1h 48m)
Reliving a relationship that painfully fell apart is never easy—which is why Joel Barish decides to have his memories of Clementine removed from his mind in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
During the procedure, he's forced to dream the best and worst parts of his days with her as those memories are slowly deleted.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of the best movies of the 21st century, with Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet delivering powerful performances in its leading roles.
Charlie Kaufman's script is note-perfect as the overt humor gives way to pain. At its core, this film is a story of not wanting to let go despite having no choice in the matter.
2. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
Directed by Isao Takahata
Starring J. Robert Spencer, Corinne Orr, Amy Jones
Animation, Drama, War (1h 29m)
Set during the Second World War, Grave of the Fireflies is Studio Ghibli's masterpiece among films that weren't made by Hayao Miyazaki.
The film centers on two siblings who try to survive the rampant despair and homelessness of the era, only to eventually live in a cave after finding themselves with nowhere else to go.
Few movies have been as daring, powerful, and bereft of hope as this one, which is somehow made worse by the fact it comes from a studio that so often deals in magic and hope.
If you're expecting a classic Studio Ghibli adventure, this is significantly more brutal than the rest of the studio's oeuvre, but it's an incredible experience that makes it a staggeringly important film.
1. Schindler's List (1993)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley
Biography, Drama, History (3h 15m)
The story of Oskar Schindler and his factory is tragic, but what makes it worse than any other film of its kind is that it's based on real events.
Oskar Schindler was a real person who protected his workers and attempted to save as many Jewish lives as he could during the Holocaust. Because of that, the events around his efforts are more viscerally striking than those of any fictional story.
Schindler's List is a perfect cinematic tale, with Liam Neeson's central performance the key to it all. Through Steven Spielberg's direction, Schindler's List's lack of hope is reason to keep watching—because we know it comes to an end in 1945.
To this day, Schindler's List remains a cinematic classic that's so sad that it can be near-impossible to watch more than once.