20 Movies to Help Survive Going Through a Divorce
Damarys Ocaña Perez
Jan 9, 2020
There’s no special time in someone’s life quite like divorce … said no one ever (Right?!) Dissolving a marriage is at best a very sad time, and at worst, a harrowing experience that we need a tremendous amount of self-reflection and help get through it — from family, friends, and great movies.
We go to movies for everything else — to laugh, to learn something new about a real-life figure, to be scared out of our wits — so, naturally, we depend on them to get us through tough times. Although when we’re feeling down, any comedy or uplifting story can help us forget the pain for a couple of hours, there are plenty of movies that someone going through a divorce can relate to on a whole other level.
We’re not necessarily talking about heavy breakup dramas that end on a massive down note, or anxiety-producing thrillers about psychopathic exes who will only stop tormenting a fleeing ex when she is forced to end him. No, we’re talking about the stories that take a lighter or an ultimately uplifting look at women going through some serious stuff but handling it like a boss — even if that means making some petty moves before finding enlightenment and moving on.
These movies tackle it all: Cheating husbands, mediocre husbands, overbearing husbands, having an affair with an ex, dealing with family members who don’t approve of a woman’s choices, getting together with girlfriends to vent. They delve into stories where the ladies are the bad guys in the marriage.
Naturally, epic and hilarious revenge takes center stage: The draining of bank accounts feature prominently, as well as midnight trashing of exes’ houses, and bonfires built from a cheater’s entire wardrobe and car. Some of the movies even tackle heavy topics, like domestic violence, drug use, and depression, but they do it in a way that is empowering to anyone watching.
Those are the ones we want to see when we’re trying to patch together a way forward.
Watching divorce flicks can be cathartic in a way that doesn’t always happen in real life when we’re busy fighting for custody of the kids, fending the legal maneuverings of a particularly nasty ex, or ironing out details about who gets to keep what. They may not always be realistic, but they are inspiring, and often, wryly funny. Here’s a list of 20 must-see movies about divorce guaranteed to make us laugh, do better, or at the very least, show us the, ahem, restorative powers of a post-divorce Italian lover.
- ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ (2003)Franco Biciocchi/Buena Vista PicturesThe divorce movie par excellence, Under the Tuscan Sun stars Diane Lane as a woman whose cheater of a husband not only leaves her, but gets the couple’s house and moves in his pregnant mistress. She goes to Italy on a whim, buys an entire dilapidated villa, and has a torrid affair with a hot, young Italian dude (shocking fact: it doesn’t last). Lane’s character also fixes the house and takes in an orphaned teenage Polish immigrant and her pregnant friend, whose partner has left her, creating an unexpected family. (Whew!) That’s A LOT of best-case-scenario fantasy, but we’re here for it.
- ‘Erin Brockovich’ (2000)Erin Brockovich is not a tale about divorce, it’s a story about the strength and ingenuity that many divorced women are forced to summon up when their backs are against the wall. Best of all, it’s a true story. Erin was a charmingly brash, gutsy single mom of three who forced her lawyer to hire her so she could support her kids after she lost her car-crash lawsuit case. Despite having no law degree, she ended up uncovering a gas company’s illegal dumping of cancer-causing chemicals beneath a small town and helped bring the victims millions in damages. And yes, Erin made more than enough to feed her kids … way more.
‘It’s Complicated’ (2009)Divorces can be messy, especially if both parties are still mightily attracted to each other. A decade after their divorce, exes Jane and Jake (Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin) are having an affair behind their grown kids’ backs, and that of his much younger wife’s. Meanwhile, Jane starts seeing a new man (Steve Martin), but he retreats when he realizes what’s going on. Oh, and the kids are not happy either — they’re still reeling from the divorce. Yup, moving forward from a divorce can take longer than anyone expects, and that’s totally understandable.
- ‘Bad Moms’ (2016)What’s a woman to do when she finds out her weasel of a husband has been cheating with a webcam chick? Kick him to the curb, then gather the girls and go on an all-night bender — that’s what. This hit movie has an all-star female cast — including Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Christina Applegate — that mines comedy gold out of the very specific condition of being an unappreciated, overworked mom who’s ready for some liberation. Here’s to going bad!
- ‘Joy’ (2015)In this movie loosely based on the real-life story of Miracle Mop inventor Joy Mangano, a single mom (Jennifer Lawrence) has major baggage — among them, her toxic divorced parents, and a loser ex-husband who still lives in the basement. This woman literally has to invent a self-wringing mop and fight shady business people to make and market it in order to move herself and her kids ahead.
- ‘First Wives Club’ (1996)Bette Midler, Diane Keaton, and Goldie Hawn star as three ladies whose husbands leave them for younger women. They, in turn, serve revenge ice cold, by draining bank accounts, buying out the companies the men work for, and exposing them for income tax fraud. It’s an epic takedown until, like many real-life women before them, they realize that sometimes, the best revenge is taking the high road and moving on.
- ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love.’ (2011)That hot subplot between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling aside (that should have been its own movie BTW), Crazy, Stupid, Love is a movie about how sometimes, the only way to reconstruct a marriage is to blow it up — and good. Steve Carrell plays a man whose wife (Julianne Moore) has just told him she’s leaving him, so he goes out and sleeps with nine women to try to get over her. While the movie ends ambiguously, it seems as though they might get back together, and hey, it happens.
- ‘Paris Can Wait’ (2016)Diane Lane is a one-woman divorce movie cottage industry, but not all of the films end on a high note (think the thriller Unfaithful, and the depressing Nights in Rodanthe). Like Under the Tuscan Sun, Paris Can Wait features an exotic location, a marriage that is ending, and a woman coming into her own. Unlike Tuscan, this movie is kinda trash, but the kind that’s fun to watch for its escapism value. It’s about a wife whose chronically absent husband asks his friend to drive her seven hours from the French countryside to Paris, and duh, the pair get romantic.
- ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It’ (1993)Domestic violence is hard to talk about and hard to watch on film. This Tina Turner biopic, starring Angela Bassett, however, does a great job of showing the painful childhood family dynamics that led a young Tina to marry the domineering, then physically abusive Ike Turner. Eventually, she stepped into her own power, left the marriage, and thrived on her own. What’s Love Got to Do With It is an empowering gem.
- ‘Hope Floats’ (1998)This is just a straight-up sweet story about a good person getting the true love that is coming to them. Sanda Bullock plays an unassuming housewife whose husband announces he’s been having an affair with her best friend … on national television. She leaves him and moves back to her tiny hometown, where a childhood buddy, played by Harry Connick Jr., helps her get back on her feet…. and then, ahem, off them. A feel-good film through and through.
- ‘Eat Pray Love’ (2010)Lots of people hate-watch this movie for the way its main character (played by Julia Roberts) just unceremoniously drops her husband because she’s unhappy, spends the next few months moving from one exotic locale to the next — eating what she wants, doing what she wants, and doing who she wants in an astounding display of privilege. Count us in to that group, and also the group that wishes we could have her size balls and bank account.
- ‘Enough Said’ (2013)Plenty of divorced women give up on dating to focus on single motherhood. Then the kids go away to college, and little by little, they begin to rediscover themselves as people who need love. That’s pretty much what happens in Enough Said, James Gandolfini’s final film before he died, which co-stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Eva. Navigating love after so much time single is challenging enough, but the movie adds another wrinkle: Eva, a massage therapist, befriends a client, who unbeknownst to her, is the ex of Albert, Gandolfini’s character. Beautifully written and acted, this is a gem full of hope.
- ‘Waiting to Exhale’ (1995)A classic whose title became a catchphrase, Waiting to Exhale is a film about four friends who are struggling through relationship problems and outright divorce is cinematic catharsis, a staple on many a woman’s breakup film list. Co-starring Whitney Houston and Angela Bassett, it’s honest about the things that make marriages fall apart, including repressed homosexuality and infidelity. It also includes one of the most famous scorned-woman scenes in the film, in which one of the characters burns her cheating husband’s clothes and car.
- ‘Celeste and Jesse Forever’ (2012)Sony Pictures ClassicsSometimes, marriages don’t go down in flames. Sometimes, they just kinda petered out. That’s what happens in this film, starring Rashida Jones and Adam Samberg. They marry young, then grow apart, and as Gwyneth Paltrow would say, consciously uncouple. Amazingly, they’re able to remain friends and support each other in new relationships. (We’re told this happens in real life, but rarely.) Still, Celeste and Jesse Forever offer something to hope for, for anyone wondering how to navigate divorce in a positive way.
- ‘Wild’ (2014)Depression. A marriage that she destroyed with drug use and infidelity. That’s the massive emotional baggage that Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) brings with her on a 1,100-mile trek that she hopes will help her heal. Based on a real-life story, the fact that she emerges from the challenging ordeal in better mental shape and ready to take responsibility for her actions and move forward. Wild is inspiring for anyone going through deep emotional turmoil.
- ‘Diary of a Mad Black Woman’ (2005)Ever wanted to destroy an ex’s house? Now is the chance to experience it vicariously, through this funny and heartwarming movie about a woman (Kimberly Elise) whose husband has numerous affairs and verbally abuses her. (We know we said heartwarming, stay with us.) Somehow, she still finds it within her kind heart to help him recover from a health scare after he dumps her. The good news is, she gets wise, leaves the marriage for good, and gets with a hot dude (Shemar Moore, yum).
- ‘Life of the Party’ (2018)It never feels good to get dumped, but it’s what people do next that counts. In Life of the Party, Melissa McCarthy’s character, Deanna, is given the heave-ho by her longtime husband immediately after they drop off their daughter at college. So she enrolls in the same college in order to finish her archaeology degree, a dream her ex had forced her to give up when she got pregnant. Not only does Deanna get to do the things she missed out on by staying at home (to hilarious effect), but she also unwittingly gets revenge on her husband’s new wife … by sleeping with her college student son.
- ‘Heartburn’ (1986)The untimely death of writer and director (and national treasure) Nora Ephron is something we’re still not over. Luckily, she left us with wonderful stories centered around women, like this timeless film based on her semi-autobiographical novel of the same name. Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson’s characters get married after a whirlwind romance, despite red flags that she chooses to ignore (been there!!). When she figures out he can’t keep it in his pants, she leaves him for good after a first attempt. The dialogue and humor in the film — as well as stellar acting — make this film a classic.
- ‘Something To Talk About’ (1995)It’s not a perfect movie, but Something To Talk About does try to be an honest look at how it often takes two people to make a marriage fall apart. Julia Roberts plays a homemaker wife who finds out her husband (Dennis Quaid) is cheating, then finds herself at odds with her family and others who think she should shut up and put up with it. The couple struggles and find their way back to each other and possibly a reconciliation by the end of the movie — but not before Kyra Sedgwick steals the entire movie as the sister who mercilessly calls out anyone who is full of BS.
- ‘Colette’ (2018)Keira Knightley nails the role of a woman who marries a Lothario and fraud in 19th century France, a time when women had little options beyond matrimony, in this biopic of the writer Colette. Her mediocre husband forces her to write books and then takes credit for them. Then, he even tries to take away her female lover. Once she embraces who she is and begins to lead a life of artistic and personal freedom (scandalizing all of Paris), she’s done with the fool and can move forward. Bonus: The meticulously detailed costumes are drop-dead gorgeous.