In what will be the cinematic sendoff of the year (and perhaps the decade), Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has movie-goers examining the five stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are all emotions we’ve seen characters embody onscreen time and time again. If these stages are portrayed correctly, viewers will be moved to tears from the sheer passion of the performance or because the onscreen scenario is too relatable.
Whether it’s a good ugly cry or a few single falling droplets, these stories have evoked emotional responses where we find ourselves digging deep into our emotional archive to grieve with or for these characters. From tragic passings to new beginnings and every broken relationship in between, these tear-jerking movies are the best in the game.
10/10 ‘Wakanda Forever’ (2022)
This year’s emotional tribute film, Wakanda Forever, brings a shared loss of a cinematic icon to the screen. Mourning the loss of T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), Wakanda prepares to defend against a new threat, this time rising from the seas. The world is reeling from losing a legendary, boundary-breaking character, and the MCU and fans worldwide are also shedding tears in Boseman’s absence.
A loving tribute to T’Chall and Boseman, Wakanda Forever is a movie of collective healing. As Shuri (Letitia Wright), Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), and the rest of the Wakandan nation figure out how to carry on, audiences are also discovering how to move on as well. It’s the first time these characters returned to the screen, and it won’t be without an ocean of tears.
9/10 ‘The Farewell’ (2019)
When Billi’s (Awkwafina) Chinese grandmother is given a terminal diagnosis and weeks to live, the family decides to keep the news from her and gather one more time for a fake wedding to say their goodbyes. Winning a Golden Globe for her role, Awkwafina’s performance is poignant and precise, making this one to watch over and over. The Farewell places the characters and audience members in the front row of grief to come.
The family’s decision to withhold their matriarch’s diagnosis provides an excellent set-up for a multi-genre film. Billi must deal with the loss of her childhood and her grandmother’s looming death. Heartfelt and raw, The Farewell is a story that blends generations over a common thread of family and tough choices.
8/10 ‘Marriage Story’ (2019)
Dropping viewers in at the end of their love story, Marriage Story (directed by Noah Baumbach) illuminates the opposite side of a love story when the ride after the sunset doesn’t end in roses and hearts—detailing the messy divorce of Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole Barber (Scarlett Johansson) as they fight for custody of their son Henry (Azhy Robertson). Marriage Story demonstrates that you don’t need a physical death to grieve a lost relationship.
As Charlie and Nicole struggle to find their way after marrying young, the two engage in journeys of self-discovery as the people they were when they got married are not who they are now. Driver and Johansson masterfully portray a couple who desperately wishes they weren’t going through this major life change, which many viewers can relate to. This couple’s saga brought a new life to cinematic marriages and many tears to Netflix streamers.
7/10 ‘A Star is Born’ (2018)
With emotionally immaculate performances, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga brought this remake to life, putting a love story complicated by addiction and stardom on the critical acclaim path. A Star Is Born chronicles the relationship that blossoms between famed rocker Jackson “Jack” Maine (Cooper) after he meets Allie (Gaga) and discovers her immense talent for singing and songwriting. As Allie is catapulted into stardom, Jack begins to lean heavily on his vices, sending his career into a downward spiral.
Jack and Allie’s relationship is complicated in numerous ways as one rises and the other falls, forcing an identity struggle for Jack as Allie becomes unrecognizable to him. A heartbreaking romance, A Star Is Born leans into the denial and anger stages as spaces between Allie and Jack grow.
6/10 ‘Fatherhood’ (2020)
A tale of unexpected tragedy, Fatherhood features Kevin Hart becoming a single father. Based on the memoir Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss & Love by Matt Logelin, Hart stars as Matt following the birth of his daughter, Maddy, and the challenges of raising her on his own, despite family trying to intervene. This film features all five stages of grief as Matt is forced to come to terms with his situation.
The Netflix original resonated with viewers as Hart tapped his emotional side, straying away from the constant comedy. While the film is packed with comedic moments and timing from its lead and supporting characters like Lil Rel Howry, Fatherhood showcases a new beginning for Matt as he navigates the world of parenthood, balancing a career, and finding love again.
5/10 ‘Manchester by the Sea’ (2016)
A feature about sustaining through the worst of tragedies in life, Manchester by the Sea is about forgiving yourself in the wake of grief. Following the death of his brother, Lee (Casey Affleck) is asked to care for his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) despite Lee’s lifestyle and obvious depression.
In a whirlwind of emotions, Lee explores the guilt, mourning, and opportunity to move on with a second chance. Earning the Oscar for Best Actor, Affleck’s performance is crushing from start to finish. An exemplary vision of the spiral death and loss can cause, Manchester by the Sea takes audiences on a journey through their most vulnerable emotions alongside Lee.
4/10 ‘Steel Magnolias’ (1989)
Reminding audiences never to underestimate the power of friendship, Steel Magnolias is a classic film about loss and leaning on those around you. Centered around a group of southern women, M’Lynn (Sally Field) endures a terrible tragedy that tests her resolve as her close-knit friends rally around her.
An oldie but a goodie, this cast of characters hold not only M’Lynn’s hands as she grieves but the hands of the audience as we remember a similar loss. These women are the embodiment of true friendship and how crucial it is during an unexpected loss. From start to finish, Steel Magnolias will have you calling your support system to remind them how much you love them.
3/10 ‘A Ghost Story’ (2017)
An exploration of love and unexpected loss, A Ghost Story features moving performances from its leads, Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck. Grieving wife M (Mara) journeys through the emotions of losing her husband C (Affleck). C returns to their home as a white-sheeted ghost, visiting M as she attempts to come to terms with his death.
Slow-paced, A Ghost Story is a film for anyone needing a film to grieve with. It’s a story of grieving without the glitz and glamour the romance genre typically feeds into the widow/widower story. Flying mostly under the radar, this movie symbolizes the journey through each stage of grief.
2/10 ‘P.S. I Love You’ (2007)
There’s never a dry eye when it comes to P.S. I Love You. While it’s not critics’ first choice for a story of love, loss, and finding happiness again, this romance is an audience go-to. Following the death of her husband Gerry (Gerard Butler), Holly (Hillary Swank) discovers he left her 10 unique messages designed to ease her pain while encouraging her to pick up where life left off before his death.
Heart-wrenching, P.S. I Love You is based on Cecelia Ahern‘s novel of the same name. Capitalizing on the mindset that our loved ones are still with us after they’ve gone, this film explores that concept with Gerry’s after-life presence even though Holly cannot see him. While it’s an exaggerated tale (do all spouses plan a life adventure for us before they pass?), this movie still honors the growing pains that come with life after death.
1/10 ‘Nomadland’ (2020)
After the shutdown of the U.S. gypsum plant and the death of her husband, Fern (Frances McDormand) travels around the country, living out of her van and finding seasonal work at places like Amazon. She’s invited to a support rendezvous in Arizona for nomads like herself. There she discovers so much about the life she’s moved on to living and the journey that lies ahead for her. Nomadland is based on journalist Jessica Bruder‘s book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century.
While this masterful installment in McDormand’s filmography doesn’t hinge on the death of Fern’s husband, it is an ode to those who grieve the loss of life without losing a life. Fern is the embodiment of a soul examining the stages of grief for more than just death.
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