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10 Best Tragedy Movies of All Time

December 29, 2016
10 min read

The entire history is riddled with tragedies which mankind can never control. Brutal murders, genocide, natural calamities tend to rock the normal lives and throw it in turbulent waters. And more often than not, the innocent who don’t have a clue of what transpires get affected. Several of these incidents have become the international headlines while others are buried by obscurity. Several of our filmmakers have dug into the history of these incidents and produced gems while depicting the stories. We, at the Cinemaholic, have present to you the list of top tragedy movies. You can watch some of these best tragedy movies on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime.

10. Titanic (1997)

Perhaps the most popular film on our list, ‘Titanic’ broke all records when released in 1997. James Cameron did the impossible and created a technical revolution while showing the sinking of the gigantic ship. Elaborate sets, an enriching love story, colorful characters, surreal music and a tear filled ending spelled success from the very first shot itself. ‘Titanic’ lived up to its meaning, breaking box office and award records at the time of its release. Rarely does a film get to be visually stunning and cinematically good together. The 1912 disaster was shown in the most magnanimous way possible. The love was real and the deaths were really painful. The scenes when the ship choir join in for a final round or when the Captain decides to remain with the ship till the end were emotional to the brim. The ending was wonderful and the audience can’t help but shed a few tears. Celine Dion’s magical song rewrote the book of romance and inspired love among a generation to come. And it gifted us Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. Need we say anything more?

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9. Dance with a Stranger (1985)

1950 was a historical year for Britain. It was the last time a woman was tried and hanged with Ruth Ellis being the unfortunate recipient of the punishment. Mike Newell took the courageous decision to showcase her life on the big screen with his 1985 critical hit ‘Dance with a Stranger’. The life of Ruth is sad at best, having had to degrade her social status to the drains in order to survive. She had been spurned at every moment and her love life was shaky always. The pain and pathos is prevalent throughout and this film carries these tones to perfection. The audience is left to sympathize with the protagonist as she shoots her way to jail. In the end everyone wonders if death had been a blessing after her tear filled life. Happiness had been an illusion and Mike Newell showed it astoundingly well. The lead pair of Miranda Richardson and Rupert Evertett have this film to thanks as it brought their careers to the spotlight.

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8. Mississippi Burning (1988)

The killing of the civil rights activists, two Jews and a black, had spurned a heated debate regarding the killings and the various methods taken by the detectives to arrive at the truth. Sir Alan Parker documents the investigation by the FBI into these killings and concludes at their conclusion. The racism, hostility and appearance of the illegal Ku Klux Klan prove to be roadblocks in the investigation and the detectives had to resort to crooked methods to arrive at the truth. Staged kidnappings, coercion and phony hangings were used to get to the bottom of the case, questioning the limit of freedom that must be given to the investigators and the extent of the line between a criminal and a detective. The stage of Mississippi burned hot with these questions and Alan Parker chronicled them perfectly. Strong performances by Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe helped it achieve a cult status in modern cinema.

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7. Apollo 13 (1995)

The Apollo 13 was one of the most infamous space accidents to have taken place and Ron Howard took the brave decision to document the incident on the silver screen. He went to great extent to bring about the naturalization for the movie and succeed by taking the help of the NASA for technical accuracy. The entire effect was a tumultuous ride of strained emotions, excitement and fear right from the initial liftoff to the splashdown. The audience floats with the three astronauts as they start to rely only on their will to make the perilous journey back home. It never goes over the top yet remains emotionally available to the audience allowing them to connect and empathize with the victims of the tragedy. Tears of joy are shed when they manage to return heroically after a long period of tension. The cast led by the trio of Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton give in stupendous performances as the space stuck astronauts and transform the film into one of the most memorable watches in recent times.

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6. Boys’ Don’t Cry (1999)

It isn’t wrong to be different but sadly we humans have failed to grasp this basic concept of life and never fail to ridicule or even eliminate anyone who isn’t ‘normal’ is our opinion. The life of Brandon Teena, the American transgender who adopted a male identity in order to live and find love, and was brutally killed, is brought about convincingly in Kimberly Pierce’s ‘Boys’ Don’t Cry’. The film is so well made that the audience can actually feel every stab of pain in the life of Brandon as he seeks love and peace in his life. The movie chronicles the hypocrisy of the democratic society and the love between Brandon and Lana amidst the raging intolerance. Hilary Swank honors the late Brandon Teena, taking his love above the social norms and the limitations of male/female. She was flawless in her portrayal, bringing out the desires and unconventional beauty of his soul. She was exceedingly natural and emotional, facing an uphill battle for love and a place in the society. This is truly Swank’s best performance till date and one of the films in recent history.

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5. Hotel Rwanda (2004)

In a tiny country of Africa called Rwanda, there occurred an event whose atrocity was unmatchable. The 1994 killings of the Tutsis by the Hutus were parallel to the Jew massacre by the Nazis. For the German Oskar Schindler, there was a certain Rwandan hotelier Paul Rusesabagina who operated on the same lines as his German counterpart and risked his own neck to save over a thousand Tutsis during the annihilation. Don Cheadle gave a career defining performance as the Hutu Hotelier and won hearts with his resolute persona during the crisis. The winning factor of the film lies in its simplicity – it never tries to do much but narrates a tale of excruciating pain and horror and this evokes a power of silent protest. The audience’s sympathy is present as they can feel the emotions of the people of Rwanda. Terry George’s ‘Hotel Rwanda’ remains one of the best real-life movies shot till date.

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4. United 93 (2006)

The September 9/11 attacks in 2001 is the most widely documented and notorious terrorist attack of all time. Apart from the crashing of the iconic World Trade Centre towers of New York, there was another story of a battle between the nefarious terrorists and some spirited common men who put up a challenge when the United 93 passenger plane was hijacked to act as a missile aimed at the US Capitol. Paul Greengrass used the last minute messages sent by the passengers on board, as the ‘soldiers’ strapped on and fought for the country, to form his screenplay. ‘United 93’ was more than just a film honoring these heroes, it is a symbol of true patriotism shown in the face of danger. It depicts how common man has the power to fight the fear of death after a moment of realization and battle for the country and their loved ones. No danger is big enough or is any challenge hard enough to throttle their might. Paul Grenngrass made a chilling document on these facts based on the bravest example of common man taking up arms. This is a film which makes the audience want to stand on their feet and applaud with tears in their eyes. Salute! United!

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3. Zodiac (2007)

The prospect of a serial killer on the loose is terrifying indeed. But the saddest part of it all is the fate of the victims. They were innocent and ended up as pawns in someone’s crooked game. David Fincher’s ‘Zodiac’ is based on one of those notorious serial-killers, The Zodiac Killer, who terrorized North California in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. David Fincher in his usual sleuthing style, grafts out a fine thriller, portraying the painstaking efforts to catch him, led by Robert Graysmith and Paul Avery of the San Francisco Chronicle. The film is shrouded with anxiety, premonition and dread. The psychological tests which the reporters and detectives had to undergo everyday have been depicted clearly. The lack of action scenes helped to focus on the mental aspect of the players on both sides of the case. ‘Zodiac’ is one of the finest works in mystery-thriller genre and the unsolvable case has been narrated splendidly. Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Junior and Mark Ruffalo formed a terrific trio in the lead and their honest performances made the film stand out even more.

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2. The Elephant Man (1980)

Tragedy doesn’t always strike with a bang and affect multitudes. It can come in quietly and wreak havoc in the life of an innocent individual who has nothing to do with the events. Such was a tragedy that struck Joseph Merrick, cruelly dubbed in history as ‘The Elephant Man’. In 1980, David Lynch decided to show the world the personal pain, humiliation and loneliness in the life of Merrick. He succeeded in painting a picture of pathos about a life which could have been so very colorful. Intelligently shot in monochrome, the black and white effect managed to highlight the void in Merrick’s life. The ending is one of the saddest in cinema and one cannot stop shedding a tear or two when Merrick goes to sleep. Sir John Hurt’s emotional portrayal as Merrick and Anthony Hopkins as Treves led a stellar cast which pushed the film into the league of elite. Special mention must be made of the makeup team whose efforts forced the Academy Awards Guild to open a new category for makeup and hair design.

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1. Schindler’s List (1993)

The modern history is speckled with disasters which proves fatal for many innocent souls living in this world. None have been more gruesome than the Holocaust during the Second World War and no movie has managed to capture the underlying pain and the horror of those black days like Steven Spielberg’s ‘Schindler’s List’. Depicting the journey of the German angel, Oskar Schindler, in his transformation from a Nazi worker to a Jew Savior, the film captures Holocaust in a remarkable way, somehow managing to transcend all the cinematic limitations and give an honest, emotional and humanistic portrayal of the barbaric moments. Beautifully shot and choreographed in black and white, Schindler’s List succeeded in acquiring the audience’s empathy whilst maintaining its cinematic excellence. One of the rare perfect films, it graces our list at the top.

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