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 time and time again. It’s not 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.
12. Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
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 Maxwell 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.
11. The Martian (2015)
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!
10. Christine (2016)
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.
9. Joker (2019)
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.
8. Lost in Translation (2003)
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 mid-life 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.
7. Taxi Driver (1976)
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.
6. Gravity (2013)
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.
5. Cast Away (2000)
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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. Do you reckon you could last that long?
4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
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.
3. Life of Pi (2012)
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.
2. Her (2013)
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.
1. Into the Wild (2007)
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.