Films have the magical ability to capture and distill emotions: love, joy, grief, fear, envy, anger, and so much more. But if there's one emotion that everyone fully understands, it's (ironically) loneliness.
Everybody feels alone at some point in their lives, and that's a feeling that many filmmakers have tried to translate to the big screen.
Loneliness isn't an easy emotion to capture, but when it's done well, the resulting movie can make you feel things you never expected to.
Here are the best movies about loneliness, how different people deal with feeling lonely, and even how they overcome it.
20. Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
Directed by Spike Jonze
Starring Max Records, Catherine O'Hara, Forest Whitaker
Adventure, Drama, Family (1h 41m)
Based on the 1963 children's book, Where the Wild Things Are is an experimentation of the cinematic art form. Combining animal costumes with special effects and animatronics, director Spike Jonze created a surreal and wholly unique tone in this movie adaptation.
Where the Wild Things Are examines childhood loneliness in a warming and almost dreamlike way (that occasionally verges on the creepy), featuring so-called "Wild Things" which are strange, looming creatures on an island in the middle of the ocean.
Pre-teen Max (played by Max Records) is lonely, misunderstood, and prone to temper tantrums.
He stumbles onto the strange island after running away from home—and after "Wild Things" crown Max as their king, he comes to learn a thing or two about his life back home.
19. The Martian (2015)
Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig
Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi (2h 24m)
Ridley Scott loves a good sci-fi flick... and we love the ones he makes! In The Martian, Matt Damon stars as the lonely astronaut Mark Watney who's accidently left behind and stranded on Mars.
Desperately trying to reach NASA, Mark lives out his days completely isolated on Mars with barely enough supplies to live. Fortunately, he's an expertly trained botanist, and he manages to grow potatoes using a whole lot of science—but can they sustain him?
It's one thing to feel alone in your city or country. But an entirely separate planet? Now that really sucks!
But Mark Watney never lets his isolation defeat him, and The Martian is an incredible film about human ingenuity and will to survive, even when alone. Good luck, Mark!
18. Christine (2016)
Directed by Antonio Campos
Starring Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts
Biography, Drama (1h 59m)
The painful and lonely private life of real-life news reporter Christine Chubbuck—whom her mother described as simply "not enough"—is sympathetically explored in Antonio Campos's drama Christine.
Despite voicing her suicidal tendencies from a lack of human connection, Christine didn't receive much help.
Beautifully portrayed by Rebecca Hall, Christine's battle with depression is what led to her isolated lifestyle of dedication to nothing but her work.
Christine takes us through the buildup to her famous suicide on July 15, 1974, which took place on live TV and shook half the world.
17. Gravity (2013)
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Starring Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris
Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller (1h 31m)
Space is a beautiful but lonely place—a theme that most space movies deal with as astronauts are flung into the vast emptiness of black with little-to-no human contact. And nowhere is it more apparent than in Alfonso Cuarón's sweeping cinematic drama Gravity.
The film only ever shows you two characters: Dr. Ryan Stone (played by Sandra Bullock) and Lieutenant Matt Kowalski (played by George Clooney). After some mechanical mishaps that damage her space shuttle, Ryan is the sole survivor left aboard the Explorer.
Unable to contact Earth, she surrenders to her fate and attempts to commit suicide. Such is the powerful nature of empty space.
16. The Green Ray (1986)
Directed by Éric Rohmer
Starring Marie Rivière, María Luisa García, Vincent Gauthier
Drama, Romance (1h 39m)
Everybody across the globe has felt loneliness at some time or another. It's a human condition unbound by borders, and The Green Ray (originally Le rayon vert) gives us a French depiction of it.
Éric Rohmer's fifth addition to his Comedies and Proverbs collection is based on a novel by Jules Verne—loosely, anyway, since much of the dialogue is actually improvised.
Loneliness is commonly triggered by loss or breakups, and that's the case here. Seeing the intimacy of friends and couples can sting even stronger during fresh heartbreak, as Delphine (Marie Rivière) discovers during her idle summer holidays.
15. Joker (2019)
Directed by Todd Phillips
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz
Crime, Drama, Thriller (2h 2m)
What made DC supervillain The Joker so evil? Was he simply born that way? Or did something happen to turn him into an unhinged, violent criminal? Todd Phillips suggests it was society—or, more specifically, the loneliness of today's society—in his drama Joker.
Clearly influenced by the legendary Taxi Driver, Joker is a little different to most superhero (or supervillain) movies. Phillips swaps out the spandex and special effects for gritty realism, set against the backdrop of a dingy New York-inspired Gotham City.
Joaquin Phoenix stars in this psychological thriller, where Arthur Fleck's untreated mental illness and social alienation push him to embody his manic alter-ego: The Joker.
14. Cast Away (2000)
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Starring Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt, Paul Sanchez
Adventure, Drama, Romance (2h 23m)
Cast Away depicts an extreme and desperate sort of loneliness—the kind that literally makes you go insane.
When systems analyst Chuck Noland (played by Tom Hanks) is stranded on a desert island following a plane crash, he begins to lose his sanity in an isolated frenzy. Once the basics are covered—food, water, shelter—the next step in survival is to not lose your mind.
To try and combat this, Chuck befriends an inanimate object that comes to feel like a real person. The hand-printed volleyball with a face drawn from blood is essentially what keeps Chuck alive, forced to spend four years alone in the tropics.
13. Life of Pi (2012)
Directed by Ang Lee
Starring Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain
Adventure, Drama, Fantasy (2h 7m)
When young Pi Patel comes to find he's the sole survivor of a shipwreck, the months ahead look increasingly lonely. Stranded in the middle of the ocean on his lifeboat, Pi only has one possible friend at his disposal: a Bengal tiger (along with the odd whale and meerkat).
By befriending the great-yet-fearsome animal kingdom, Pi not only manages to ensure his survival but gets a pretty wild adventure out of it. Unfortunately for Pi, this adventure can't bring his family back.
Suraj Sharma stars as the teenager in his startling acting debut. Life of Pi is based on Yann Martel's 2001 novel and directed by Ang Lee.
12. Shame (2011)
Directed by Steve McQueen
Starring Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale
Drama (1h 41m)
Shame may make you feel a little uncomfortable at times, as it follows a sex-addicted protagonist by a director who loves lingering long takes. However, it's worth the watch as an expertly-crafted psychological drama that exposes the dark side of one-night stands.
Brandon's toxic lifestyle is marked by pornography and prostitution. His time is spent at the office, at the gym, in bed, or in front of a screen. Not one part of his daily routine involves joy, love, or true intimacy.
Michael Fassbender plays the New York executive with a cold air—except for when Brandon's lonely spiral culminates in him sobbing in the rain, hinting at his (deeply buried) heart.
11. Lost in Translation (2003)
Directed by Sofia Coppola
Starring Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi
Comedy, Drama (1h 42m)
Bob (played by Bill Murray) is an aging movie star, alone in Tokyo. Charlotte (played by Scarlett Johansson) is a Yale graduate accompanying her photographer boyfriend, also alone in Tokyo, much like a lonely Victorian housewife stuck inside her house.
When Bob and Charlotte meet by chance, they form an unlikely bond as they join their lonesome paths together... if only for a couple of days. The two lead melancholy lives tinged with moments of warmth and humor.
A midlife crisis; lounging empty hotel rooms; a foreign city; the hustle of crowds that only amplify their feelings of loneliness. These are the makings of Sofia Coppola's dream-like inspection of what it means to be alone in the modern age.
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
Directed by Stephen Chbosky
Starring Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller
Drama (1h 43m)
Oh, the woes of being a teenager! Although Charlie is a wallflower—someone who's shy and awkward and living on the sidelines—he does have a handful of good friends.
Set in the 1990s, The Perks of Being a Wallflower follows young Charlie (played by Logan Lerman) as he breaks into the minefield that is high school. His traumatic past, quiet disposition, and lack of friends make Charlie's adolescence a lonely one.
But he meets the beautiful Sam (played by Emma Watson) and is welcomed to the "Island of Misfit Toys."
Based on Stephen Chbosky's successful 1999 novel, this coming-of-age drama is as heartwarming as it is somber. Charlie narrates the story while writing to a unnamed friend about his life, which will leave you with a bittersweet taste as the credits roll.
9. Distant (2002)
Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Starring Muzaffer Özdemir, Mehmet Emin Toprak, Zuhal Gencer
Drama (1h 50m)
In Distant (originally Uzak in Turkish), there are tons of silent shots of lonely characters staring into space, taken by Nuri Bilge Ceylan (who also wrote and directed the film). That might sound somewhat boring, but that's what loneliness is! It's empty and mundane.
This minimalist Turkish drama is an award-winning arthouse gem that follows two aimless men living opposite lives, side-by-side. One is uneducated and jobless while the other is a wealthy photographer, yet both are at loose, lonely ends.
Distant is in praise of subtle acting, where Muzaffer Özdemir and Mehmet Emin Toprak put in tantalizing performances of them smoking and watching TV. The backdrops are also truly breathtaking.
8. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Starring Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly
Drama (1h 42m)
Mental illness, drug addiction, grief, insecurity... These can all be catalysts for loneliness, and they're all suffered by the characters in Darren Aronofsky's cult drama. Requiem of a Dream is mad, sad, and potentially triggering, so watch with caution.
The intertwining narratives follow a lonely widow on an amphetamine diet to lose weight while her grown son is off selling and injecting heroin with his girlfriend. It's all very grungy and depressing as it strips back Hollywood's tendency to glamorize substance abuse.
Darren Aronofsky explores the psychology of addiction, eating disorders, psychosis, sickness, and loss, which all add up to a tormented life of isolation. The film is based on Hubert Selby Jr.'s 1978 novel.
7. Her (2013)
Directed by Spike Jonze
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson
Drama, Romance, Sci-Fi (2h 6m)
An atypical love story that's as much about loneliness as it is about romance, Her is a dreamy science fiction film directed by Spike Jonze.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly: a sweet and introverted writer drifting through a futuristic Los Angeles. A hopeless romantic at heart, Theodore struggles with the fact he can't find a true soulmate—at least, until he encounters Samantha.
As he falls in love with Samantha, his life develops a new glow. The only catch is... Samantha's a robot. Well, not even a robot—she's an operating system with no face or body, just a female voice.
Despite there being no physical partner, Her still manages to embody those familiar feelings of love, longing, and heartbreak.
6. Chungking Express (1994)
Directed by Kar-Wai Wong
Starring Brigitte Lin, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tony Leung Chiu-wai
Comedy, Crime, Drama (1h 42m)
John Woo, Tsui Hark, and Kar-Wai Wong are all big names in Hong Kong cinema. The latter is universally hailed for directing In the Mood for Love and Fallen Angels, but there's also the legendary Chungking Express.
The film is split into two stories, both about lovesick policemen. Both cops are dumped by their girlfriends and now have their eyes on the same girl, Faye (Faye Wong). Set in Kowloon, the bustling urban spaces only serve to further separate its inhabitants.
What's interesting about Chungking Express is that it was intended as a small, personal movie to Kar-Wai, and yet it ended up ranking among the greatest films according to critics of Sight & Sound.
5. Taxi Driver (1976)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd
Crime, Drama (1h 54m)
Taxi Driver sets its loner protagonist against a grungy urban backdrop that they despise. Robert De Niro stars as the iconic anti-hero Travis Bickle, who cruises the sleazy streets of New York City as a traumatized insomniac who hates people. No surprise that he feels so alone.
After serving in the Vietnam War, Travis can't seem to connect to the new world around him, and he loathes the shady characters he ends up driving around in his taxi. And when he does rarely connect, he does so with dangerous intensity: spying, stalking, vowing to be their savior.
Safe to say, this doesn't exactly go well for Travis.
4. Solaris (1972)
Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky
Starring Natalya Bondarchuk, Donatas Banionis, Jüri Järvet
Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi (2h 47m)
On the one hand, you could watch the modern George Clooney version of Solaris from 2002. But if you'd prefer a more cultured watch, go with the original Soviet adaptation of Stanisław Lem's novel.
Solaris is an unsettling, melancholy, and avant-garde head-scratcher that takes place in space. A psychologist is sent to a space station to help the skeleton crew, who have fallen into emotional distress.
But this isn't your usual space-bound cabin fever. In Solaris, the planet they land on physically triggers pain, memories, and obsessions.
Solaris was screened in the USSR for 15 consecutive years because of how good it was, landing it firmly in the field of cult cinema for the ages. It's a lonesome, epistemological masterpiece.
3. Into the Wild (2007)
Directed by Sean Penn
Starring Emile Hirsch, Vince Vaughn, Catherine Keener
Adventure, Biography, Drama (2h 28m)
When you first begin Into the Wild, you'll probably feel the same urge to cut and run just like Christopher McCandless did, traveling the world and going on grand adventures.
But when you get to the end, his poignant final revelation sticks with you: "Happiness is only real when shared."
For all his unique experiences and his connection to nature away from the materialism of consumer culture, Christopher spent the majority of his life journey alone—and, tragically, died alone, too.
Christopher's last days in the Alaskan wilderness were riddled with hunger and loneliness. Into the Wild is based on an incredible true story, starring Emile Hirsch as the disenchanted college graduate who takes off into the unknown.
2. Three Colors: Blue (1993)
Directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski
Starring Juliette Binoche, Benoît Régent, Hélène Vincent
Drama, Music, Mystery (1h 34m)
Of Krzysztof Kieślowski's passion project—the Three Colors trilogy—Three Colors: Blue is generally considered the best. With its solemn, ocean-blue color palette, you'll encounter themes of grief, connection, equality, revolution, and, of course, loneliness.
When Julie (Juliette Binoche) loses her family in a car crash, her coping mechanism is to go into extreme hermit mode. She destroys her belongings, sells her home, and cuts everyone off in her life—but human connection is inevitably forced upon her.
Three Colors: Red and Three Colors: White also feature in the trilogy, corresponding with the colors of the French flag. Blue represents the "liberty" part of the flag. Specifically, emotional liberty.
1. Wings of Desire (1987)
Directed by Wim Winders
Starring Bruno Ganz, Solveig Dommartin, Otto Sander
Drama, Fantasy, Romance (2h 8m)
We tend to think of angels as joyous beings of light, as benevolent guides who sing praises and play the harp all day. We rarely consider that angels might get lonely, too.
In Wings of Desire, Wim Wenders posits that angels might also experience human feelings—and if they do, then they're greatly burdened by the suffering they see in the world.
Not only is it hard to invisibly comfort the people of Berlin, but it's even harder to fall in love with someone who can't see you.
Arthouse cinema tends to love everything melancholic, meditative, and poetic. That's all here in spades, wrapped up in themes of loneliness, making Wings of Desire one of the most thoughtful watches.
This black-and-white German drama was inspired by Berlin's angel-themed artwork, which is reflected through its gorgeous and symbolic cinematography.