20 Honest Movies About Mental Illness

Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

A common goal in filmmaking is to figure out how to get inside the head and under the skin of the audience, and what better way to do that but to shed light on actual psychological disorders that affect millions around the world? The only issue with that otherwise well-meaning effort toward representation is that finding movies about mental illness that offer a truly authentic portrayal of proven symptoms and behaviors are a bit more of a rarity than they should be.

With mental health awareness a more important issue than ever these days, to do our part, we have compiled a number of films that represent these issues with the honesty they deserve. Check out our guide to these heartbreaking, uplifting, and even funny films and where to watch them.

Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man

(Image credit: MGM)

Rain Man (1988)

A young, selfish L.A. collectibles dealer (played by Tom Cruise) discovers he has an older brother (played by Dustin Hoffman) with autism and savant syndrome – a condition that makes him extraordinarily intelligent, but socially impaired.

How it is honest about mental illness: Dustin Hoffman earned his second Academy Award for his performance as Raymond Babbitt – a character inspired by real-life savants Kim Peek and Bill Sackter, according to Forbes – in director Barry Levinson’s Best Picture Oscar winner, Rain Man.

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Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader in The Skeleton Twins

(Image credit: Roadside Attractions)

The Skeleton Twins (2014)

A man (played by Bill Hader) and his estranged twin sister (played by Kristen Wiig) become reunited and bond over their common emotional struggles.

How it is honest about mental illness: Directed by Craig Johnson, who also co-writes with Mark Heyman, The Skeleton Twins is a dramedy that does not hold back on its depiction of depression, portrayed beautifully by SNL veterans Hader and Wiig in some of their most powerful performances.

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Buy The Skeleton Twins on Blu-ray on Amazon.

Johnny Depp and Mary Stuart Masterson in Benny & Joon

(Image credit: MGM)

Benny & Joon (1993)

The relationship between a mentally ill artist (played by Mary Stuart Masterson) and her protective older brother (played by Aidan Quinn) changes when she falls for a quirky young man (Johnny Depp in one of his best roles).

How it is honest about mental illness: While never explicitly stated in Benny & Joon, it has been suggested by Psi Chi that Masterson’s Joon has schizophrenia and Depp’s Sam is on the autism spectrum – both of which are represented with a refreshing respectfulness in director Jeremiah Chechik’s charming romantic-dramedy.

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Buy Benny & Joon on Blu-ray on Amazon.

Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting

(Image credit: Gramercy)

Trainspotting (1996)

A young Scotsman (played by Ewan McGregor) struggles to rise above the negative influences of his close friend group and let go of his reliance on heroin.

How it is honest about mental illness: One of Ewan McGregor’s best movies, director Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, is a drama that depicts addiction in bizarre, horrifying, and, ultimately, rawly authentic ways. 

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Frankie Corio and Paul Mescal in Aftersun

(Image credit: A24)

Aftersun (2022)

A 31-year-old single father (played by Paul Mescal) struggles with his own insecurities while on a Turkish vacation with his 11-year-old daughter (played by Frankie Corio).

How it is honest about mental illness: Mescal gives a stunning, Academy Award-nominated performance in writer and director Charlotte Wells’ feature-length debut, Aftersun – one of the most thought-provoking movies about depression in recent memory.

Stream Aftersun on Showtime through Paramount+.
Rent or buy Aftersun on Amazon.

Jessica Chastain and Michael Shannon in Take Shelter

(Image credit: Sony)

Take Shelter (2011)

A construction worker (played by Academy Award nominee Michael Shannon) fears for his family – and his sanity – when he begins to see visions of an impending doomsday.

How it is honest about mental illness: Also one of Jessica Chastain’s best movies, writer and director Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter is a masterfully crafted, beautifully acted, and thoroughly absorbing exploration of how psychological delusions can affect one’s life and their relationships with their loved ones. 

Stream Take Shelter on Hulu.
Rent or buy Take Shelter on Amazon.
Buy Take Shelter on Blu-ray on Amazon.

Pete Davidson at The King of Staten Island.

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

The King Of Staten Island (2020)

A young, aspiring tattoo artist (played by Pete Davidson) struggles to come to terms with the death of his firefighter father from years earlier, which is worsened when his mother (Marisa Tomei) begins dating a different firefighter (played by Bill Burr).

How it is honest about mental illness: One of Pete Davidson’s best movies, The King of Staten Island – which he also wrote with director Judd Apatow – sees the SNL star acknowledge his own real-life struggles with borderline personality disorder (which he discussed for Variety) by portraying a fictionalized version of himself in the acclaimed dramedy.

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Buy The King of Staten Island on Blu-ray on Amazon.

The Little Miss Sunshine

(Image credit: Disney / Fox)

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

A family struggles to survive the road and each other while traveling across the country to see their youngest member (played by Academy Award nominee Abigail Breslin) participate in a youth pageant. 

How it is honest about mental illness: Despite what the dramedy’s efficacious title suggests, each character in the Little Miss Sunshine cast is dealing with their own personal crisis – each of which are acknowledged in admirably authentic, and even uniquely funny, ways.

Rent or buy Little Miss Sunshine on Amazon.
Buy Little Miss Sunshine on Blu-ray on Amazon.

Timothee Chalamet and Steve Carell in Beautiful Boy

(Image credit: Amazon Studios)

Beautiful Boy (2018)

The experiences of a young drug abuser (played by Academy Award nominee Timothée Chalamet) and his father (played by Academy Award nominee Steve Carell), who is devoted to getting his son the help he needs.

How it is honest about mental illness: The topics of addiction in teens and the effects such habits have on families are explored in brutally honest ways in Beautiful Boy, which is an adaptation of two memoirs – one by Nic Sheff and the other by his son, David.

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Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook

(Image credit: The Weinstein Company)

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Following his release from a mental hospital, a former teacher (played by Bradley Cooper) hoping to mend his broken marriage finds friendship with a widowed recovering sex addict (played by Jennifer Lawrence in her first Academy Award-winning role) that soon shows signs of being something more.

How it is honest about mental illness: Despite claiming to always look for the bright side, Pat’s (Cooper) bipolar disorder causes him to act out in fits of rage, often fueled by his unrequited love for his adulterous ex-wife that also blinds him to his feelings for Tiffany (Lawrence) in Silver Linings Playbook – David O. Russell’s adaptation of Matthew Quick’s novel that might be the writer and director’s finest work.

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Buy Silver Linings Playbook on Blu-ray on Amazon.

Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting

(Image credit: Miramax)

Good Will Hunting (1997)

A young, mathematically gifted custodian (played by Matt Damon, who co-wrote the Oscar-winning script with co-star Ben Affleck) is forced by an uptight MIT professor (played by Stellan Skarsgård) to seek guidance from a widowed therapist (played by Robin Williams in his Oscar-winning role).

How it is honest about mental illness: It is not until near the end of Good Will Hunting – a brilliant, inspiring, heartily crafted drama from director Gus Van Sant – when we discover that Damon’s title character is a victim of child abuse, which has stunted his ability to form meaningful relationships and apply his intellectual gifts toward a better future.

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Buy Good Will Hunting on Blu-ray on Amazon.

Anton Yelchin and Kat Dennings in Charlie Bartlett

(Image credit: MGM)

Charlie Bartlett (2007)

A precocious troublemaker (played by Anton Yelchin) attending public high school for the first time becomes the personal therapist and pharmacist to his classmates in need.  

How it is honest about mental illness: Director Jon Poll’s underrated coming-of-age dramedy Charlie Bartlett came out at a time when themes of depression, obsessive behavior, sex addiction, and other mental health issues were rarely told from the point of view of high school students and in such a boldly authentic and encouraging way.

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Logan Lerman in The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

(Image credit: Summit Entertainment)

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower (2012)

An introverted high school freshman (played by Logan Lerman) becomes friends with an attractive senior (played by Emma Watson) and her gay stepbrother (played by Ezra Miller), who help him find a new sense of belonging when he learns that they also have their own damaging issues to deal with.

How it is honest about mental illness: As coming-of-age stories about mental health became more commonplace, The Perks of Being a Wallflower – writer and director Stephen Chbosky’s adaptation of his own novel – was praised as new high school movie classic for its deeply moving exploration of traumatic related to abuse, burdened romances, and death.

Rent or buy The Perks of Being a Wallflower on Amazon.
Buy The Perks of Being a Wallflower on Blu-ray on Amazon.

Lily Collins in To the Bone

(Image credit: Netflix)

To The Bone (2017)

A young woman (played by Lily Collins) in denial of her anorexia, despite her dysfunctional family’s vocal concerns, finds treatment from a support group run by an unconventional doctor (played by Keanu Reeves).

How it is honest about mental illness: Written and directed by a woman who once suffered from an eating disorder (Marti Noxon) and led by an actor who once suffered from an eating disorder (Collins) – according to USA Today –  the Netflix original drama, To the Bone, offers a pretty authentic portrayal of the experience.

Stream To The Bone on Netflix.

Winona Ryder in Girl Interrupted

(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

Girl, Interrupted (1999)

A young woman (Winona Ryder) is forced by her parents to live at a mental hospital where she meets a girl (Angelina Jolie in her Oscar-winning role) whose own destructive tendencies worsen her struggle to understand and cope with her issues. 

How it is honest about mental illness: Based on Susanna Kaysen'sn memoir depicting her 18-month stay in a mental institution, Girl, Interrupted is an early, acclaimed hit for director James Mangold that also tackles themes of sociopathy, self-harm, and suicide in revealing ways.

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Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind

(Image credit: Universal)

A Beautiful Mind (2001)

A brilliant, widely renowned, but socially challenged mathematician (Academy Award winner Russell Crowe) finds his relationship with his wife (Jennifer Connelly, in her Oscar-winning role) and his career threatened by an upsetting discovery.

How it is honest about mental illness: Another inspiring film about mental health based on a true story is director Ron Howard’s Best Picture winner, A Beautiful Mind, which, admittedly, does fabricate some aspects of John Nash's life, but still succeeds in its representation of the horrifying delusions and even harsher realities faced by paranoid schizophrenics.

Rent or buy A Beautiful Mind on Amazon.
Buy A Beautiful Mind on Blu-ray on Amazon.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

The Aviator (2004)

Illustrious billionaire Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) battles rival aircraft company Pan Am, accusations of war profiteering, and severe, undefined mental health issues during the late 1920s through the mid-1940s. 

How it is honest about mental illness: Director Martin Scorsese’s compelling biopic, The Aviator, also does take a few creative liberties depicting Hughes’ life, but in a way that effectively portrays his struggles with the then-undocumented obsessive compulsive disorder.

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Julianne Moore in Still Alice

(Image credit: Sony)

Still Alice (2014)

A successful linguistics professor (Julianne Moore in her first Academy Award-winning role) struggles to keep her family close and her mind together after she is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

How it is honest about mental illness: Based on the novel by renowned neuroscientist Lisa Genova, Still Alice gives audiences a vivid and sometimes harrowing first-hand account of the loss of memory and, eventually, of one’s sense of self that makes Alzheimer’s, as Moore’s title character describes, “hell.”

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Buy Still Alice on Blu-ray on Amazon.

Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems

(Image credit: A24)

Uncut Gems (2019)

A series of increasingly selfish and misguided decisions prevent a New York City jewelry store owner (Adam Sandler) from achieving the life-changing payout he assumes he deserves.

How it is honest about mental illness: No matter how large his debt, how dire the stakes, and how unlikely the odds, Howard Rattner’s gambling addiction always to win over in Uncut Gems – a masterful exercise in pushing character, plot, and audiences to stress-inducing limits, from writing and directing duo Josh and Benny Safdie.

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Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

After his mental instability plea to avoid jail time lands him in a mental hospital, a convict (Jack Nicholson in his first Oscar-winning role) becomes a voice to victims of unfair abuse at the hands of the sadistic psychiatric nurse, Mildred Ratched (Academy Award winner Louise Fletcher). 

How it is honest about mental illness: Perhaps the most iconic, honest, and terrifying depiction of mental institutions is director Milos Forman’s masterful adaptation of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which tries to portray patients in a most human way by shedding light on their historically inhumane treatment.

Rent or buy One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest on Amazon.
Buy One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest on Blu-ray on Amazon.

While the films above are heralded for offering honest representations of mental health, it is still important to educate yourself even further on the topics. Also, if you or a loved one is suffering from mental illness, please do not hesitate to seek help.

Jason Wiese
Content Writer

Jason Wiese writes feature stories for CinemaBlend. His occupation results from years dreaming of a filmmaking career, settling on a "professional film fan" career, studying journalism at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO (where he served as Culture Editor for its student-run print and online publications), and a brief stint of reviewing movies for fun. He would later continue that side-hustle of film criticism on TikTok (@wiesewisdom), where he posts videos on a semi-weekly basis. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.