Most emotionally draining films

by Tyler Pollitt

Created 06/21/13

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Films can leave you in a puddle of your own tears if they are powerful enough, leaving you drained, here are some the great ones.

  • Never have human emotions been explored so deeply than in Bergman's Cries and Whispers. A woman named Agnes is dying of cancer in her home in the late 19th century and her sisters, Maria and Karin, come to take care of her. We find out however, that the two sisters aren't exactly fully committed to doing this, but the maid, Anna is, and may even wish her to be gone already. Cries and Whispers is a devastating plunge into the cruel and selfish nature of a family in Sweden, a masterpiece for the ages.

  • An icon painter during the middle ages in Russia goes through life while the world is changing around him, and not for the better. Made in 1966, Andrei Rublev is pure cinematic art.

  • Set in 16th century Japan, two Japanese children are taken away from their mother and put into a slave camp under the ruthless Sansho the Bailiff. Another heart-wrenching masterpiece, "a man without mercy is no man".

  • A film about seeking meaning in life which seems to have been abandoned by God. Ester is very intellectually oriented and is very seriously ill and is accompanied by her sister Anna and her son Johan. They have a very tense relationship while travelling home while the country is on the brink of war. Human emotions run rampant in another Ingmar Bergman masterpiece.

  • A connection forms between a man and a woman when they discover their spouses are having an affair with eachother. Yet, they say "lets not be like them". A devastating love story by Wong Kar Wai.

  • Francois Truffaut's debut film is also his most personal. Antoine Doinel is thought to be a troublemaker by his teachers and neglectful parents. Truth his, Antoine is a very intelligent young boy and has an interest in the arts, but isn't too keen on expressing it, especially when he is accused by his teacher of plagiarism from a novel by Balzac. A story of Truffaut's own troubled childhood, The 400 Blows can also be heartwarming.

  • I tend to talk about this one often, its marvelous. Though, The Rules deserves to be on this list, what do you expect when a comedy of manners on the French bourgeoisie abruptly shifts to tragedy?
    "The film of films" -Francois Truffaut

  • The trials and tribulations of a hero of France, Joan of Arc. If you didn't know, Joan of Arc claimed to had been given a mission by God to drive the English out of France and she was put on trial for witchcraft and burned at the stake. The Passion of Joan of Arc is one of the greatest silent films and a cinematic treasure.

  • A scientific mission has stalled out because the crew of three scientists have gone into separate emotional crisis. Kris Kelvin then travels to this space station orbiting the planet Solaris and encounters the same phenomenon as the others previously. A difficult film to wrap your mind around, Solaris is a complex story about love of the consciousness.

  • A priest begins to question his faith in God after a member of the church comes to him with worries of nuclear holocaust. Faith is challenged harshly in this earth-shattering film by Ingmar Bergman but, he also leaves us with a bit of hope.


  • By D.j. West
    January 14, 2014
    12:42 AM

  • By Billy
    January 15, 2014
    12:57 PM

    I would add Mizoguhi's The Life of Oharu.
    • By Billy
      January 15, 2014
      12:58 PM

      Please excuse my typo.
  • By Cristina R.
    January 17, 2014
    06:01 AM

  • By Cristina R.
    January 17, 2014
    06:02 AM

    I have just created a new list called "most meaningful films". If anyone would like to come check it out, I personally think it is better than my "most emotionally draining films" list. You guys can decide for yourselves.
  • By Jerry Wood
    February 01, 2014
    05:02 PM

    Cries and Whispers has the most beautiful ending, transforming the first 85 minutes of horror into something transcendent. Brief Encounter put me in a two-week funk. It's sort of the Habanero of emotionally devastating films . . . a slow burn that intensifies with the passage of time. Make Way for Tomorrow should also be on the list. As for non-Criterion releases, Y Tu Mama Tambien was like walking into the emotional equivalent of a 2 x 4 to the head. But none of these holds a candle to Grave of the Fireflies which offers its viewers no absolution and no hope. Brutal.
    • By Tyler Pollitt
      February 02, 2014
      01:47 AM

      I've actually never seen Y Tu Tambien or Grave of the Fireflies. Though, I've heard nothing but great things about them.
  • By badgnosis
    February 14, 2014
    06:48 PM

    I had to comment back with a reply i posted earlier, persisting on the description of the list of being emotionally drained like your soul got untainted and cleared, here's a one that must be included in that listwhich is " 'Detachment', an unadulterated stream of emotions, not tied by any lack of of tools for creation, a simple yet urban production and a collective of feelings towards really specific things. I doubted Tony Kay would do another hit after all these years, i always blamed his anxious personality towards his self after American History X production problems- maybe after all he got his reasons giving back the credit"
  • By ALVideoholic
    March 13, 2014
    12:43 PM

  • By ALVideoholic
    March 13, 2014
    12:47 PM

    Although not a Criterion, I agree with the comments about Grave of the Fireflies; it left me feeling completely emotionally spent and, yet, I absolutely loved it.
  • By Ksmith
    March 17, 2014
    07:11 PM

    Tokyo Story
  • By ALVideoholic
    March 19, 2014
    01:18 PM

    For me, Woman in the Dunes would be an addition to this list.
  • By WillemDafoe
    July 11, 2014
    04:03 PM

    The 5-hour version of Fanny and Alexander is the most draining film I've ever seen, the injustice is so painful to watch especially when there seems to be no end in sight (it is 5.5 hours long after all). Also a few other emotionally draining films I can think of are Breaking the Waves and Shoah
  • By SamWizeGanji
    July 30, 2014
    09:19 PM

    Nice =] I felt a strong emotional tie, not really draining yet exhausting, to Paris, Texas. Crazy awesome film.
  • By ExtantHatchet
    June 20, 2015
    02:34 PM

    good list but you must have never seen Forbidden Games. It makes all the others feel like Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium
  • By Dan_Niles
    July 29, 2015
    10:39 AM

  • By Jake W.
    November 28, 2015
    08:52 PM

    I feel like the only person who thought Autumn Sonata was the emotional experience Cries and Whispers was.
    • By Jake W.
      November 28, 2015
      08:53 PM

      Edit: I meant to say the emotional experience other people have with Cries and Whispers.
  • By Zolar
    December 24, 2015
    11:14 PM

    Watership Down was a very uneasy film to watch and a mentally draining film. For me, it is definitely top 5.
  • By Walker
    April 30, 2016
    02:20 PM

    Breaking the Waves?
  • By Yagitude
    July 17, 2016
    07:37 AM

    do not overlooked 'Secret Sunshine' ....
  • By udo_blom
    January 23, 2017
    02:35 PM

    I love this list
  • By Sean Ramsdell
    July 30, 2017
    01:29 PM

    Made Happy Endings list for a pick-me up