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5 saddest Christmas movies ever

The holidays are a time for celebration. Who doesn’t love watching Home Alone or How the Grinch Stole Christmas – yes, the Jim Carrey version; no, I will not be taking any questions. And 2023 has no shortage of holiday content, from cheesy streaming originals to bona fide classics that will make you feel warm inside.

But if you want to instead embrace the feelings Elvis Presley sings about in Blue Christmas? There are several depressing movies you can watch that will do the trick. These films are among the saddest, most devastating holiday offerings, revolving around themes of depression, solitude, longing, and hopelessness. Because having a merry Christmas is tired, but having a miserable holiday is wired. So, for your pain and misery, here are the five most depressing holiday movies.

Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

Ryan Gosling as Lars sitting on a couch next to a lifelike doll of a woman in Lars and the Real Girl.
Image via MGM Distribution Co.

Ryan Gosling stars in the 2007 offbeat comedy Lars and the Real Girl. The plot revolves around Lars Lindstrom, a gentle, quiet, shy young man who develops a relationship with Bianca, a lifelike doll he treats as a human being. As Lars comes out of his shell thanks to Bianca, the entire town is bending over backward to accommodate the peculiar couple.

OK, so this is technically not a holiday movie, but the holidays are a feeling, and this movie feels like it’s set on Christmas? Between the snowy backgrounds, the perpetual Christmas-y sweaters, and Ryan Gosling’s boots, it’s Christmas-coded in all but name. Lars and the Real Girl is also remarkably melancholic, a profound and thought-provoking exploration of loneliness and nostalgia powered by what easily remains Ryan Gosling’s best on-screen performance.

Lars and the Real Girl is available for free on YouTube.

Stepmom (1998)

Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts as Jackie and Isabel standing next to each other and looking ahead in the film Stepmom.
Image via Sony Pitures Releasing.

You had to know this one was coming; after all, there are few losses worse than that of a parent? Living legend Susan Sarandon and iconic rom-com queen Julia Roberts star in Chris Columbus’ 1998 comedy-drama Stepmom. The plot follows Jackie Harrison, a woman diagnosed with a terminal disease who must deal with her ex-husband’s new lover, a much younger photographer who will become her children’s stepmom once she is gone.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it; Stepmom is bleak. The perpetual cloud of death lingers over the whole thing, with Sarandon never letting the audience forget that her character will die — there will be no happy ending here. Even the film’s more joyful moments – like the wretched scene where Jackie and her children dance to Ain’t No Mountain High Enough — are heartbreaking because, again, and I truly cannot stress this enough, she will die. Stepmom‘s final scene, where the entire family takes what will seemingly be their last photo together before Jackie’s eventual passing, is a gut punch sure to leave no dry eye in the house.

Stepmom is available to rent on Amazon Prime.

A Christmas Tale (2008)

Matthieu Amalric and Catherine Deneuve as Henri and Junon at mass in the film A Christmas Tale.
Image via Bac Films.

Arnaud Desplechin directs French icon Catherine Deneuve and a stellar supporting cast in the 2008 comedy-drama A Christmas Tale. A tale of dysfunctionality like no other, the film follows a family gathering for Christmas after learning the matriarch has leukemia.

Morbid, sardonic, and wickedly humorous, A Christmas Tale is a biting examination of the ties that bind us. Led by a commanding Deneuve, the film explores the thornier sides of family dynamics, delivering a refreshing take on a well-known trope. A Christmas Tale might not be necessarily depressing, but it’s certainly gloomy and pessimistic, with a truly cynical and uncompromising ending.

A Christmas Tale is available to watch on YouTube.

The Christmas Tree (1969)

William Holden as Laurent Segúr talking to a child in bed in the film The Christmas Tree.
Director: Terence Young

There are bleak Christmas movies, and then there’s Terence Young’s 1969 tearjerker The Christmas Tree. William Holden stars as Laurent Ségur, a French millionaire who learns his 10-year-old son Pascal is dying after being exposed to radiation. Together with his new girlfriend, Laurent tries to fill Pascal’s last days with joy and adventure.

The Christmas Tree is dark, but strangely unsentimental. Unlike Stepmom, a film that wants you to sufferThe Christmas Tree wants you to analyze and feel blessed about what you have because others have it worse. However, the film is not subtle with its imagery (spoiler: the kid dies , but the way he goes is equal parts emotional and slightly absurd). Still, The Christmas Tree is as grim as Christmas movies come, a slice-of-life story about a life that is ending.

The Christmas Tree is available for free on Tubi.

Last Christmas

Henry Golding and Emilia Clarke as Tom and Katarina looking up in the film Last Christmas.
Image via Universal Pictures.

The 2019 film Last Christmas borrows its title from George Michael’s iconic song and takes the opening lyric, “Last Christmas, I gave you my heart,” a tad too literally. The film centers on Katerina, a disillusioned Christmas store worker who meets and falls for a mysterious, yet dashing young man.

First things first: We, as a society, have failed Emilia Clarke, who should be an A-lister by now. Secondly, we failed Last Christmas, a delightfully depressing and absurd film that features every trope known to Christmas movies and then some. Bolstered by Clarke’s earnest performance and charming chemistry with Henry Golding, Last Christmas is a bittersweet rom-com that will leave you feeling empty inside. Although it has a somewhat positive ending, the final scenes are sad, yet hopeful, just like life itself. Plus, Clarke does a lovely rendition of the titular song; nothing but respect for my Mother of Christmas. The ever-iconic Emma Thompson and Michelle Yeoh also star.

Last Christmas is available on Prime Video.

Editors' Recommendations

David Caballero
Freelance Writer
David is a Mexican freelance writer with a deep appreciation for words. After three years in the cold world of Marketing…
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