When we watch movies and see a depiction of something familiar to our own lives, it can be validating. Think about the first time you saw someone who looked like you in a movie or who was from a similar small town or had the same type of heartbreak you just endured. Instead of feeling isolated in your identity or experiences, you felt seen and not so alone.
Watching similar traumas to our own play out on the big screen can have a similar effect. Since common tactics of abusers include isolation and gaslighting, survivors can end up feeling like they’re the only ones this is happening to and that they’re crazy to think something is wrong. Films depicting domestic violence can validate that our gut instincts are right, that abusers are in the wrong, and that we’re not the only ones being targeted.
Below, we’ve compiled a list of 10 films that reviewers say accurately depict domestic violence with a bonus list of more to check out. Of course, not everyone will get something good from watching dramatic remakes of their trauma. Make sure to take the proper precautions when watching any of the below films as they could easily be overwhelming for a survivor. Read about triggers and how to work through them before you jump into the list below.
Our Top 25 Films (Warning: Some Spoilers Ahead!)
This movie has been said to portray an accurate representation of domestic violence with the husband demonstrating controlling and berating behavior, minimizing his abuse, isolating his wife and forcing her into traditional gender stereotypes. The only criticism is the ease with which the wife’s character leaves her husband at the end—survivors are typically most at risk from escalating violence when they decide to leave and often leave and return several times.
Independence Day (1983)
No, not the Will Smith alien film. This is the one featuring the incomparable Dianne Wiest playing an abused wife as a secondary character that many critics say overshadows, in a good way, the main story arc. Warning: there’s not exactly a happy ending.
Madea’s Family Reunion (2006)
Though this popular franchise created by Tyler Perry is meant to make you laugh, there are serious moments scattered throughout Reunion. One of Madea’s nieces is being abused by her fiancé and trying to hide it while another niece is abusive toward her two children. Keep an eye out for a poignant cameo by the late Maya Angelou.
I, Tonya (2018)
This dramatization of figure skater Tonya Harding’s life delves far deeper than just the baton-to-Nancy-Kerrigan’s-knee attack she was involved in. It’s a retelling of her childhood mired in abuse by her mother and then a marriage that echoed that with an abusive husband who physically and sexually assaults her. For the record, Harding agreed to and approved the film.
This Boy’s Life (1993)
Based on the memoir of Tobias Wolff, a 19-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio plays the son of Ellen Barkin’s character who just wants to provide a stable home for her child, only to marry, of course, an abusive bully of a husband played by Robert De Niro. It depicts a survivor parent who has a hard time getting out… until she does. (Yay for a happy ending.)
A Star is Born (2018)
Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper are fantastic in this heartbreaking fourth (!) remake of abuse and fame. Cooper’s character, Jackson, does a loop around the power and control wheel, demonstrating just about every tactic to control Gaga’s character as she rises to stardom, and he battles some pretty harsh addictions that abuse can’t be blamed on. In the end, she’s free, but not in a happy-ending way.
Safe Haven (2013)
It’s domestic violence with a Nicholas Sparks twist which means you’ll get a fair dose of romanticism sprinkled into the story of a violent and stalking estranged husband who won’t let the main character leave (a very typical scenario in real life). It also touches on the survivor resorting to violence to escape, something many survivors are forced to do and suffer the consequences of as a result. Oh, and there’s also a ghost.
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)
What this film does well demonstrates this quintessential idea that many women will be asked to sacrifice their dreams to live someone else’s. Ellen Burstyn plays a widowed mom who’s just trying to make her singing dreams come true, but along the way, wouldn’t you know it, men try to derail that. The movie inspired the TV sitcom, Alice.
Sleeping With the Enemy (1991)
This chilling film stars Julia Roberts as a survivor of a controlling and violent relationship with a wealthy and powerful man with a penchant for straight bathroom towel alignment who, once again, considers his wife his property and has no intention of letting her leave, stalking her relentlessly until the end. (Don’t worry, she makes it.)
Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)
A classic. Based on a novel by Fannie Flagg, this movie beautifully handles loss and friendship and heartbreak, and, of course, domestic abuse. When the main character Idgie finds out her best friend Ruth is being abused by her husband, Frank, and then Frank tries to steal his child, well, it doesn’t work out well for Frank.
More to Check Out
These movies also deal with themes of domestic violence and abuse. For a complete list of all 35 films, check out ”35 Movies Survivors Say Accurately Depict Domestic Violence”.
Not Without My Daughter (1991)
Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2005)
Purple Rain (1984)
Dolores Claiborne (1995)
Take My Eyes (2003)
Something About Amelia (1984)
The Glass Castle (2017)
The Color Purple (1985)
Double Jeopardy (1999)
No One Would Tell (2018)
The Great Santini (1979)
The Burning Bed (1984)
What’s Love Got to Do with It (1993)