Being in an abusive environment sometimes isn’t so readily apparent to the person being abused. Being in an abusive relationship can sometimes be subtle, and it takes the help of a trained professional to be able to break out of one, especially if someone has been emotionally and physically abused by their partner.
Sometimes, one of the best ways to recognize you’re in an abusive relationship is to see it yourself. Whether it’s a friend pointing out to you that you are in fact being abused, or even watching a movie that shows you what an abusive relationship looks like, a visual story showing abuse can be a powerful tool to pull you out of a negative relationship.
Below are some movies that showcase abuse, and how those in abusive relationships overcame their abuser. Watching them, or showing them to a loved one can help them better see their situation for what it is. Trigger warning: these movies can be traumatic, and it’s best to avoid them if you feel they will trigger negative emotional reactions stemming from past abuse. Also, of course, there are spoiler alerts!
This movie is probably one of the most accurate portrayals of domestic abuse in recent movie history. This movie focuses on the domestic abuse that led famous figure skater, Tonya Harding, to commit a vicious crime during the height of her career.
I, Tonya is an accurate portrayal due to the co-dependent relationship that Tonya develops with her boyfriend, Jeff. She also has to endure abuse at the hands of her mother, LaVonda Golden. This is a biographical black comedy, but it is graphic in its depiction of domestic violence.
This movie might not seem to depict a violent abusive relationship, but it does depict some aspects of an abusive relationship that can turn violent. In the movie, the protagonist, Tom, puts his happiness into the hands of Summer, a girl he met at work.
This is already a toxic and abusive mindset to have, as you are never supposed to be dependent on someone else for happiness. Summer, on the other hand, continues to send mixed signals and “do what she wants” with Tom while being SPOILER ALERT engaged to another man. Both personalities in this movie have the traits of an abusive partner.
This 1995 lifetime movie shows perhaps one of the most graphic yet powerful portrayals of domestic violence. After years of abuse, Beth doesn’t know how or when to leave Tim, and uses an excuse many domestic abuse victims face- what if I’m giving up? This movie shows Beth’s journey in trying to get away from the abuse, and the effect this has on her family and friends.
Forest Gump portrays many abusive relationships within the movie. From the protagonist’s girlfriend, Jenny, being abused by her various boyfriends and even her father, to Forest himself facing abuse from Jenny in the form of emotional manipulation. This is a beautiful movie that’s a tear-jerker and powerful tool to display abuse all in one.
This Golden-Globe nominated CBS television film debuted in 1977. It is one of the most tragic movies on our list, and showcases the effects that trauma can have when passed down from generation to generation. Mary Jane Harper Cried Last Night is not for the faint of heart, yet it is an important story to share for those who have been victims of abuse at the hands of their family. They might not realize they themselves are now abusers, and the effects this can have on their own children.
This movie made the term “gaslighting,” famous. This is a term used for a common-practice that abusers inflict on their victims. In the movie, the protagonist, played by Ingrid Bergman, suffers from what she believes are hallucinations which are, in fact, SPOILER ALERT her husband’s attempts at making her feel crazy. Much like an abuser tells their victim, “I didn’t say that,” or, “You’re being irrational,” this movie highlights the true meaning of gaslighting in abusive relationships.
This 1991 film is based on the true story of the book by the same name. It tells the story of Betty and her daughter Mahtob, who must escape from a foreign country and from her now abusive husband known as “Moody.” Not Without My Daughter is a movie that is inspiring and also highlights how abuse can transcend and deeply impact cultures, marriages, and values.
This film shows just how strong the bond between mother and daughter can be, but also how abusive relationships can be hidden within households. This movie is highly regarded and received well by critics, having premiered in 1995.
This miniseries premiered in 1984, and won two Golden Globe Awards after being nominated for eight of them. In the series, Amelia Bennett is trying desperately to warn her family of the sexual abuse she is facing at the hands of her father. Something About Emila shows the devastating sexually abusive relationships a family can have.
The Color Purple is a brave film, shedding light on incestuous, abusive relationships, and domestic violence in a movie that is regarded as being one of the best of all time. The Color Purple stars the talented Whoopi Goldberg as its lead actress. It is not just a tear-jerker, but it is powerful and a must-watch for anyone going through an abusive relationship and with a traumatic past that they want to confront.
This movie showcases the abusive relationship that can be part of a dysfunctional family. In the movie, Rex, the family father, goes through bouts of alcoholism, causing his family suffering and pain, as well as impeding him from reacting to incidents of abuse that take place in the family. His wife will not leave him, and the movie is based upon forgiveness, yet recognition of abusive relationships.
The Joy Luck Club is based on the stories of four women who all face some degree of abuse at the hands of their relatives, loved ones, and spouses. The Joy Luck Club highlights how these women have had to endure either emotional neglect, physical and even sexual abuse in order to please their families. But, this movie also shows the other side of abusive relationships- healing with the help of friends, loved ones, and family. In the movie, it focuses on Asian and Asian-American culture, and specifically, the game of Mahjong to share these women’s incredible stories.
No One Would Tell is a traumatic and devastating, yet powerful movie depicting the abuse that young girls face in even teenage relationships. Stacy Collins, a 16-year-old girl, finds herself being in an abusive relationship with the popular high-school jock Bobby Tennison. This movie shows how prevalent dating abuse and teenage abusive relationships can be, and how it’s never too early to warn your friends that something is amiss.
This 1980 movie is based on the true story of Francine Hughes. SPOILER ALERT, Francine is arrested after setting fire to the bed where her husband James Berlin “Mickey” Hughes lay. What the court doesn’t know is that Francine has been a victim of domestic abuse for 13 years, and this was simply the only way she knew how to escape.
This movie takes not just abusive relationships, but healing and strength to a whole new level. Enough premiered in 2002, and stars Jennifer Lopez as the protagonist Slim. Slim has to endure years of not just physical, but also emotional and financial abuse at the hands of her husband, Mitch. She finds the strength to get her revenge and find her way toward happiness and escape.
Smoke Signals is regarded by many to be one of the best American-Indian films of all time. This story follows the journey of Victor Joseph and his friend Thomas Builds-the-Fire. Both are Native American teenagers that are on a mission to find the true story behind the death of Victor’s father.
This story shows how emotional trauma can lead to neglect, substance abuse, and abusive relationships, as Victor’s father is not just abusive toward his wife, but also his son. It isn’t until the full movie is watched that we get a better picture of the psychology of a hurt man.
The Homesman stars mega-celebrity actors Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank, in a film that can scratch the itch for people craving a western, but also a powerful and dramatic story-line. The Homesman tells the story of George Briggs, played by Tommy Lee Jones, escorting three “mad” women through the American west en route to a safe haven.
The women are helped along with Mary Bee Cuddy, who sees that these women aren’t “mad,” but unfortunately, victims of abusive relationships. This movie is entertaining, but also insightful into just how devastating the effects of abusive relationships can be.
Don’t let the title of this movie fool you. Star 80 tells the real-life story of the death of playboy bunny Dorothy Stratten at the hands of her estranged and abusive husband Paul Snider in 1980. This movie shows just how fast an abusive relationship can develop, and how deadly it can become. It’s important to remember just how common it can be for an abusive relationship to turn physically abusive, followed by deadly, and how no one is immune to being abused, even if you are rich, famous, or a star.
Precious is not a movie for the faint of heart, but it is one that has to be told and shared, and provides powerful imagery. Precious tells the story of the protagonist of the same name, who suffers abuse not just at the hands of her mother, but also by her father. Precious goes on a journey to finally heal from the abusive familial relationships she has, and learn to love and believe in herself when no one else will. Precious finds that the definition of “love” she has been taught is entirely wrong, just like victims of domestic abuse discover after they’re finally made aware that their relationship isn’t filled with love, but instead abuse. Luckily, this movie shows how one woman can grow and prosper despite the abuse she has faced.
For Tina Turner fans, What’s Love Got to Do With It is a movie that has everything- love, drama, music, talent, and unfortunately, also abuse. The movie highlights the abusive relationship between Tina Turner and her jealous boyfriend and later husband Ike Turner, and shows how even celebrities can be victims of abuse themselves.
This 1981 movie sheds light on abusive relationships that exist between mother and daughter. Mommie Dearest tells the story of Christina Crawford, who is the adoptive daughter of mega actress Joan Crawford, and the abuse she had to endure at the hands of her adoptive mother. The movie was directed by Frank Perry, better known as pop-singer Katy Perry’s uncle!
It can be difficult for younger girls to understand that certain behavior from adults is not only inappropriate but also abusive. Hard Candy is a 2005 film staring Elliott Page as Hayley, a teenager who is desperate for answers on her friend’s murder. In the process, Hayley sheds light on the abuse and inappropriate behaviors that adults can display and use to lure minors into their web.
Not only is Carrie one of the best horror movies of all time, but it also showcases one of the worst mother-daughter abusive relationships in cinematic history. In the movie, Carrie is told by her religious fanatic mother that she is guilty of sin for simply wanting to live a normal girl life. Chaos ensues, but it’s important to know that it’s not just about the chaos in the movie, but about the abuse hidden in plain sight within a mother-daughter relationship that makes this movie so powerful.
This movie directed by Tyler Perry is easily one of the most heart-breaking on our list. It highlights the abusive relationships that can greatly impact the lives of women in certain ethnic groups, but also in general. This movie is all about growth, healing, and finding healing.
This might not seem like a traditional abusive relationship movie. However, to those who have watched it, Baby Boy proves that some relationships just need boundaries to survive. This movie is a cult classic, a staple of the early 2000’s era of movies. However, in seeing the relationship between Jody and Yvette, we see how difficult it can be to break difficult habits that can turn a relationship not just sour, but abusive as well.
Finding out you’re in an abusive relationship can be heartbreaking. As a victim, it can be difficult to see the abuse of a partner for what it really is and break out of the cycle of abuse. These movies star protagonists that are just starting their journeys of moving past trauma and starting to heal from abusive relationships.
If you see parallels between you and any of these characters, it might be time to re-think your relationship and seek professional advice.
If you are being physically abused or otherwise, it’s important to get help from a mental health professional, social worker, or domestic abuse counselor immediately. There are plenty of resources within your community that can offer assistance with housing, financial support, and other aid if you are a victim of domestic violence.
In addition, if you feel you might be in danger at the hands of your abuser, seek the help of local law enforcement if necessary. Remember, abuse, whether physical, emotional, or financial is never okay, and it is never your fault. Contact the domestic abuse hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.