18 Movies That Really Understand Depression (2023)

Official estimates say that 16.2 million adults—or, nearly 7% of the United States adult population—have had a depressive episode in any given year. There's still work to do, but awareness of those figures, and deeper reflection upon depression's role in everyday life, can go a long way in helping to defeat the stigma that surrounds mental illness. One way we can engage with that idea is through film. Movies help us identify with characters managing depression and scenarios that better outline what it's like to live with mental illness.

Since film is a vessel for an artist's vision, many filmmakers channel their own experiences with depression into the movies that they make.

Some movies make conversations about depression more approachable by casting lead actors typically associated with comedy, like Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Will Ferrell in Stranger Than Fiction. In the same way that no one ever goes through their whole life feeling only happiness, even our favorite funny actors can find themselves in darker places.

This is in no way an exhaustive list. But it's a list of art that, whether super popular from the moment it was released or that gained traction over time, does a worthy job of depicting the experience of living with depression.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Wes Anderson made movies before The Royal Tenenbaums, and he made movies after The Royal Tenenbaums. Those movies all rang from 'good' to 'very good' to 'great'—but none of them top The Royal Tenenbaums. This uber-meta dramedy follows a dysfunctional family led by father Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) who has three children (Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, and Gwyneth Paltrow), all of whom were notably spectacular in their youth, only to run into their own forms of depression and further issues upon entering adulthood. One scene centered on Wilson's Richie Tenenbaum is particularly gut-wrenching; it's raw, intense, darkly funny, and perfectly scored in a way that only Anderson could pull it off.

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Silver Linings Playbook (2013)

Silver Linings Playbook is one of the best romantic comedy (with a pinch of drama) films of the last decade for many different reasons, but its depiction of real, fully-fleshed out characters with mental illnesses is chief among them. Bradley Cooper plays a die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fan who has a manic depressive disorder—a scene of him throwing Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms out of the window, expressing rage at its ending, is a masterclass—while Jennifer Lawrence won an Oscar for her portrayal of a grief-stricken woman whose recently lost her husband and has mental illnesses of her own. Sounds a bit heavy for a romantic comedy, but Silver Linings Playbook rides the line tactfully, and perfectly shows that a person's mental illness doesn't define them.

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Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

Little Miss Sunshine is another movie focusing on a very dysfunctional family, but it also makes an important distinction: just because someone is depressed doesn't mean they're entirely shut down. Both Steve Carell and Paul Dano play characters who, in one way or another, struggle with mental health in ways that we either see on-screen or hear about happening off-screen. It's a wonderfully-written movie that brings every character inside its VW van to life.

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Gravity (2013)

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Gravity, the Academy Award-winning film from visionary (and we don't say that lightly) director Alfonso Cuarón looks to the naked eye like a space movie. And literally, yes it is, with thrilling sequences that at times might make you feel like you're on a ride at Universal Studios. But beneath all the outer space spectacle, this a movie about feeling disconnected from everything after a traumatic event, and the mental process that can follow.

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World's Greatest Dad (2009)

What to say about World's Greatest Dad? Well, it's certainly not for the faint of heart. Go into this movie expecting a really dark, but really meaningful exploration of depression, mental illness, and how a cults of personality can form—and get out of hand. One of Robin Williams' most underrated and heart-wrenching performances.

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Palm Springs (2020)

Palm Springs is a very funny movie, but it hasn't been as loved by both critics and audiences alike just for big laughs; the movie's cast, led by Cristin Milioti and Andy Samberg (with a wonderful J.K. Simmons supporting turn) balances those moments of humor with some of the real-world feeling that comes with the thought of being stuck (like Bill Murray once did in Groundhog Day). Palm Springs takes a familiar high-concept plot device, and makes it funny, relatable, and most importantly, real.

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The End of the Tour (2015)

Jason Segel is still best known for his comedic work in movies like Forgetting Sarah Marshall and shows like How I Met Your Mother. But after his underwhelming 2014 comedy Sex Tape (also starring Cameron Diaz), he pivoted; his first foray after that was A24's The End of the Tour, where he plays the celebrated late author David Foster Wallace, as he was being interviewed by a Rolling Stone journalist (Jesse Eisenberg) during the end of his tour for Infinite Jest. The movie is basically a two-hander between these two excellent actors, and Segel does a wonderful job of threading Wallace's pain into his dialogue. Despite being at a professional apex with a best-selling book hailed as a work of genius, Segel lets you feel this character's struggle through his performance. The film is set in 1996, and Foster Wallace died by suicide in 2008.

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind stars Jim Carrey, but this isn't the slapstick god Jim Carrey from The Mask or Liar, Liar who popped into your head at first; this Jim Carrey is a man named Joel who's been so consumed by a bad break-up with his girlfriend (Kate Winslet) that he's decided to undergo the same procedure that she did—to have all memories of their relationship removed from his brain. Carrey perfectly captures a real person; he's a guy who it took a lot to even get to the point where he was, and after a break-up feels like there's no way he could possibly get back. It's a stunning film from director Michel Gondry and writer Charlie Kaufman, and one of the best of the 21st century, period.

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Stranger Than Fiction (2006)

Stranger Than Fiction is another film that shows that it's not always all funny and all laughter for our favorite comedic actors. The movie stars Will Ferrell as a man named Harold Crick; Harold is an IRS auditor, and is so loyal to his daily routine that it becomes clear that life is passing him by with every moment, even if it takes him a bit longer to notice it. Part of what pushes him toward that goal is hearing a narration in his head that turns out to to be the words of a writer named Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson). Karen thinks she's writing a new novel—but she's really writing Harold's life. It's a fun movie that doesn't ever get too deep, but examines the depression that ruts in life can really put people into, sometimes without them even realizing it.

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A Star Is Born (2018)

A Star Is Born is a movie that's been made before Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga's 2018 version, but Cooper's turn as Jackson Maine is the one that will stick with you, particularly in its depiction of untreated mental illness. Cooper plays Maine—a music star who drinks too much—as a troubled but loving man. But he also plays him all too realistically; as someone who clearly sees a stigma involved with mental illness, unable to realize that it's OK to not be OK. His downfall, like in every version of this story is tragic, and it stands as an important reminder that self-care is as important as anything else.

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It's Kind of a Funny Story (2010)

It's Kind of a Funny Story is one of the most important movies on the list, because it specifically makes the point that depression and mental illness doesn't need to be something that happens for a reason; it doesn't always come from trauma or abuse—it's an illness that can creep up on anyone. When a kid named Craig (Keir Gilchrist) contemplates suicide, he backs out and checks himself into the psychiatric ward of a hospital, where he is institutionalized for a week. There he finds a friend and mentor (Zach Galifianakis), a love interest (Emma Roberts), but most importantly, a support system for the future. Depression isn't something that's cured, but It's Kind of a Funny Story (based on a novel of the same name by Ned Vizzini, based on his own experience) shows that its characters (and the viewer) aren't alone.

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(Video) How To Cope With Depression

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

A coming-of-age story is always a great place to fit in some more mature themes, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of the best examples of that. The movie follows a kid (Logan Lerman) who's nervous about starting high school, yes, but also still grieving the loss of his best friend, who died by suicide relatively recently. He also just feels a bit off, and isn't entirely sure why; the movie tackles that feeling of anxiety and depression that a lot of people feel on a regular basis. It's normal—and seeing it represented in stories on screen is important.

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You're The Worst (2014-2019)

OK, so this is not a movie. But You're The Worst is not only a super sharp and frequently hilarious half-hour romantic comedy show, but also one that really understands how mental illness can affect people. In one ongoing storyline, Gretchen (the wonderful Aya Cash) reveals her Clinical Depression diganosis to Jimmy (Chris Geere). The show does a wonderful job of these two self-admittedly selfish people working through their own hang-ups, eventually learning to understand, appreciate, and love each other.

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WandaVision (2021)

Yes, another one that's technically a TV show and not a movie (though with this era of streaming, who can really tell the difference?). WandaVision is ostensibly a superhero story, but as you may have heard, this one plays by a different set of rules. Picking up with Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) following a series of personal losses over the previous six years of MCU movies, viewers are disoriented when not only are they dropped into an unexplained sitcom world, but when she's back with the late love of her life, the synthezoid named the Vision (Paul Bettany), without explanation. WandaVision touches on topics deeper than the typical MCU fare, and tells a story of dealing with loss.

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Melancholia (2011)

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Lars Von Trier's apocalyptic tale Melancholia is about people in society's reactions when a planet—the Melancholia in the title—may or may not collide with earth, killing everyone. Kirsten Dunst plays a character who's on her wedding day who herself has depression, which has her feeling disconnected from everything around her, including friends and family; the entire movie is a big metaphor for how a bout with depression can destroy everything in its path.

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Prozac Nation (2001)

Prozac Nation stars Christina Ricci as Elizabeth Wurtzel, the film's main character and also the real-life author of the bestselling memoir of the same name. Wurtzel is a brilliant student who also has bouts with atypical depression and has an overwhelming mother (Jessica Lange) over her shoulder at basically all times.

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Manchester by the Sea (2016)

This is one of the purely saddest and most depressing movies you will ever see. Written by master scribe Kenneth Lonergan (a playwright, but also the writer of You Can Count On Me and Margaret), Manchester by the Sea features a masterclass performance from Casey Affleck (which won him an Academy Award) as a man who gains custody of a 16-year-old nephew—just as he continues to grapple with his own life, which has basically been demolished by grief and depression. The cast of people in his orbit is rounded out by Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, and Kyle Chandler. It's an excellent movie, but certainly not one to watch leisurely.

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Annihilation (2018)

Annihilation is the exact type of heady, cerebral sci-fi we've come to expect from Alex Garland (who also made Ex Machina and Devs). But this movie is full of characters who are lost, and looking for something. There are all sorts of readings we can dive into for this movie, but for this blurb's purpose we'll just say that the sort of isolation that this film's characters—particularly Natalie Portman's—experience harbors both grief and the desire for self-destruction.

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Whats a good movie to watch when you're depressed? ›

Movies to watch when you're depressed
  • “About Time” (2013)
  • “A Knight's Tale” (2001)
  • “Annie” (1982)
  • “As Good As It Gets” (1997)
  • “Get On Up” (2014)
  • “Good Burger” (1997)
  • “Greater” (2016)
  • “Hugo” (2011)

Is there any movie on depression? ›

Numb. “Numb” tells the story of a successful screenwriter, Hudson Milbank, whose psychiatrist diagnoses him with depression and depersonalization disorder, a mental illness that involves periods of feeling disconnected or detached from the body and mind.

Does watching movies help depression speech? ›

“Along with the escapism, movies can [invite] your depression take a back seat. Movies can also help you release your emotions and act as a catharsis, sometimes helping you express some emotions you've been having a hard time expressing,” she says.

How do I find a movie I can't remember? ›

1 Run a Google search. 2 Use a film search engine. 3 Scour IMDb to find the title. 4 Check an actor's filmography.

Can watching movies improve mental health? ›

Regular cinema trips may help boost wellbeing, according to a new study which shows a few hours behind the big screen has positive benefits on a person's mental and physical state.

Can Sad Movies trigger depression? ›

The study also found that participants who watched more than 2 hours of TV each night displayed higher levels of depression than those who had shorter viewing times. Binge-watching horror movies also increases the regularity of adrenaline in the body, worsening issues with sleep.

What can I watch for anxiety? ›

It is also a visual delight, the scenery and costumes are beautiful, especially in the episodes that take place in the Catskills.
  • Better Things.
  • Mythic Quest.
  • Ted Lasso.
  • The Great British Bake Off. Image via Netflix.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
  • Schitt's Creek.
  • The Chef Show.
  • The Good Place.
Mar 22, 2022

Whats causes depression? ›

There's no single cause of depression. It can occur for a variety of reasons and it has many different triggers. For some people, an upsetting or stressful life event, such as bereavement, divorce, illness, redundancy and job or money worries, can be the cause. Different causes can often combine to trigger depression.

How movies affect our emotions? ›

Even dramatic or tragic movies could spark an emotional response. Similar to laughter, crying could activate the release of endorphins, according to a 2016 study. Dramatic movies could increase feelings of gratitude and reduce feelings of isolation.

Why watching movies is better than reading? ›

As visual, rather than textual, stimulus, they display content much more quickly than can a book. Movies, then, are better vectors to reach and inform a vast audience. Moreover, the concrete images of film are easier to remember long after their display than the imagined ones required for reading.

Are there benefits to watching movies? ›

Movies help us to get motivation

We may learn a lot by watching movies. Movies may motivate us to make positive changes in our lives, and movies' strong characters can inspire us to do the same. The benefit of watching movies can increase self-motivation to be solid and inflexible in dealing with all the problems.

When you can't remember the name of a movie? ›

Name The Actors

One of the easiest ways to find a movie title is by searching the actors who were in it. You can look up an actor's Wikipedia or IMDb page to check their filmography, and you should find the movie you're looking for there.

Is there an app to identify movies? ›

TheTake uses Shazam-like technology to automatically listen to your movie, then shows you products within the scene you're watching and makes them available for purchase.

Can Siri tell you what movie is playing? ›

Ask Siri to find out where a specific movie is playing

Siri will display a list of which movie theatres are playing Godzilla vs. Kong, along with the showtimes. Tap on the showtime to view a list of theatres, then tap on a theatre name to buy tickets.

What movies do to your brain? ›

A study conducted by researchers at University College London and Vue Cinema found that people who watched movies experienced improved mental focus and fixation towards the movie. This focused watching (according to the study) helps to improve cognition and memory.

What happens if you watch too many movies? ›

Binge-watching is bad for you. Gobs of studies have linked TV — or “excessive” TV — to things like diabetes, blood clots, and lower sperm counts. One 2019 study found that for adults over 50, watching 3.5 hours of daily TV led to cognitive decline and slips in verbal memory.

What is Post movie depression? ›

There is actually a psychological term for it: Post-Series Depression. Or, “the sadness felt after reading or watching a meaningful series or book”. The bittersweet feeling when you know the journey is over, but you don't want it to end.

What is Post movie depression? ›

There is actually a psychological term for it: Post-Series Depression. Or, “the sadness felt after reading or watching a meaningful series or book”. The bittersweet feeling when you know the journey is over, but you don't want it to end.

What should I watch when I feel lost? ›

List of 31 Movies For Your Quarter Life Crisis About Adulting
  • Into the Wild.
  • The Fault In Our Stars.
  • Whiplash.
  • 500 Days of Summer.
  • Garden State.
  • Devil Wears Prada.
  • Almost Famous.
  • Office Space.
May 25, 2020

What do you watch when you feel hopeless? ›

30 Movies That Have Helped People Through Depression
  • “ It's Kind of a Funny Story” ...
  • “ Frozen” ...
  • “ The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” ...
  • “ Back to the Future” ...
  • “ Big Hero 6” ...
  • “ Legally Blonde” ...
  • “ The Breakfast Club” ...
  • “ Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone”
Jun 30, 2017

Why do I feel like I'm in a movie? ›

Depersonalization-derealization disorder (DDD) often shows up with other mental health conditions. It happens when you feel like you're watching your life from outside your body. It can feel like you're watching a movie or a dream. This feeling is very upsetting.

Why do I feel so empty after watching a movie? ›

As anyone who's fallen in love with a story knows, feelings of hopelessness and emptiness are normal after finishing a deeply engaging show or book. This experience is called post-series depression, and Urban Dictionary defines it well: “It is the sadness felt after reading or watching a really long series or story.

Why am I sad after a movie? ›

Post Movie Depression Syndrome is a situation when you feel really depressed after watching some particular good movie. Doesn't matter if it's sad of happy, good or bad. If you feel depressed after watching a movie, you are probably having that so called syndrome.

Why do I get sad at the end of movies? ›

Crying in the movies is a sign that oxytocin has been triggered by the connections you feel due to vicarious social experience. Your attention is captured and emotions elicited by the movie's story.


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