Honorable Mention: One of the best all-time movies about death or dying is Jacob’s Ladder. Dated and quite dark, but check this wisdom: “If you’re frightened of dying, and you’re holding on, you’ll see devils tearing your life away. If you’ve made your peace, then the devils are really angels freeing you from the earth.”
10. The Sixth Sense
A spooky yet wholesome story about a little boy who communicates with the dead. You’ll guess the ending five minutes in or perhaps someone drinking too much at a Halloween party told you how it ends? Never mind. You’ll still love it. The overall message is to help people, even if they’re not people anymore.
Quote: “She wanted me to tell you she saw you dance.”
Favorite character: Toni Collette nails it. But doesn’t she always?
9. The Farewell
Started as a segment on the NPR radio show “This American Life” and made its way into a poignant movie. Apparently, in China, doctors give serious or terminal diagnoses to the family, and they choose whether or not to inform the patient. In this story, the family gathers for a wedding and nobody tells the grandmother she has mere months to live. As a result, the script provokes deep thought about culture and responsibility to family. Awkwafina is outstanding as the concerned granddaughter.
Quote: “In the east, a person’s life is part of a whole.”
Favorite character: Hello? AWKWAFINA.
A family coming together for one last Christmas as the mother, played by Diane Keaton, deals with cancer. More than a standout in the genre of movies about death or dying, they’re dealing with family fun and some drama – the high point is the oldest son bringing home his uptight girlfriend, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, to propose.
Quote: “What’s so great about you guys?” “Oh, nothing! It’s just that we’re all we’ve got.”
Favorite character: Diane Keaton is the star. In every way.
Features a group of college friends who reunite several years after graduation for a funeral. They deal with old loves and old resentments struggling with forgiveness/redemption. Also, a fascinating character study as thirty-somethings grapple with issues of mortality. Plus, if you had a fertile husband…and a dear friend who wanted a baby…what would you do?
Quote: “I haven’t met that many happy people in my life. How do they act?”
Favorite character: Sarah, played by Glenn Close. She’s got a lot going on under the surface.
A loveable and funny dysfunctional Jewish family. They sit shiva together because their father made it a condition in his will. ‘Nuff said.
Quote: “What’s the matter with you? Do you ever think before you speak?” “No, that would take all the fun out of it.”
Favorite character: Adam Driver steals the show.
A classic 80s comedy about a rather obnoxious family, with a sensitive and slightly strange daughter, moving into a home already occupied by dead people. Michael Keaton plays the title character “hired” to scare the living family into leaving the house.
Quote: “Open this door, you dead people, or we’ll bust it down and we’ll drag you out by the ropes you hanged yourselves with!”
Favorite character: Catherine O’Hara’s a legend. C’mon now.
A comedy about family dynamics and trying to keep it all together during their father’s funeral. Anyone else disturbed about the “little people” and R. Kelly jokes? Anyone? Just me? Okay.
Quote: “I always thought he had a little sugar in his tank.”
Favorite character: James Marsden.
A feel-good comedy about a man, Ned, dying right after winning the Irish Lottery. His small town pretends he’s alive in the hopes of getting the money and sharing it.
Quote: “Michael O’Sullivan was my great friend. But I don’t ever remember telling him that. The words that are spoken at a funeral are spoken too late for the man who is dead.”
Favorite character: The whole town.
A classic film detailing the funny and complicated relationship between a middle-aged woman and her grown daughter, who is diagnosed with cancer. Starring Shirley MacLaine, Jack Nicholson, and Debra Winger. Features some outstanding uncomfortable conversations. We finished this during Family Movie Night, our boys were about 14, when the oldest hugged me all teary-eyed and said, “You pick the WORST movies.”
Quote: “Don’t worship me until I’ve earned it.”
Favorite character: Strong moms anchor so many of these movies. Shirley MacLaine all the way.
The best movie of 2015. A touching story about a trio of high school students, one who has leukemia, and how they rally around her as she works through it. Smartly written and directed. Also, the parents are played by the likes of Molly Shannon, Nick Offerman, and Connie Britton. This movie will make you laugh and cry and feel gratitude to be living in a world where such thoughtful art is available to enjoy.
Quote: “I mean, dude’s mom always tellin’ him how handsome he is, which he ain’t. So now he think he can’t trust anybody close to him. Dude’s weird-ass dad don’t socialize with anybody ‘cept the cat. So that’s a role model ain’t got no friends.”
Favorite character: Earl. More wisdom at 17 than most people at 50.
Uplifting. Sad. Funny. Thought-provoking. These are the best movies ever made about death or dying. Enjoy!