Top 20 Films that make you cry

Any list of the best films that make you cry, especially one written by a man, is usually prefaced by some kind of guilty pleasure explanation; a get-out-clause that states “I’m not usually a crier, but these films…whoa!”. But not so for me. I am a massive crier. I cry at the slightest hint of emotion in film or TV. So much so that I even cried in Dumb and Dumber when Lloyd has been driving in the wrong direction for hours, and he and Harry have a roadside argument – Harry berates Lloyd for being an idiot and Lloyd shouts back with tears in his eyes “I’m sorry MR PERFECT! I forgot you never made a mistake”, following which they go their separate ways and the Crash Test Dummies’ Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm kicks in. At this point I’m swallowing a lump in my throat and everyone around me thinks I’m an idiot. But I don’t care – I guess I just put the ‘pathetic’ in ‘empathetic’.

So that’s my weepy back story. Now here’s my list of guaranteed tear jerkers.

Oh and I need to add that I’ve never seen The Notebook. I know that for a lot of people that exists as the saddest story ever committed to celluloid, but I’m yet to find out. So sorry to those who are offended by its omission.

Oh and honourable mentions to Patch Adams and Grave of the Fireflies. It was a battle to not put them in here, but them’s the breaks.

20. Man on Fire

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This slow burn tale of revenge is one of the few films on this list that all men will admit to crying at. That’s probably because Denzel’s John Creasy is the manliest of men you could hope to find. And to see him redeemed from rock bottom by a young girl, only to have to sacrifice everything for her is about as heroic as it gets.

Most teary moment – When Creasy is reunited with Pita on the bridge and tells her “I’m going home too. Back to blue bayou” before walking towards his eventual fate at the hands of the kidnappers.

19. Stand by Me

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This bittersweet story of nostalgia sees 4 best friends on the search to find a dead body, rumoured to be laying in the next town across. During the sunny walk they talk about the things that are most intimate and personal, and in doing so reveal the honesty and vulnerability all children have to deal with as they try to forge lasting bonds with their peers.

Most teary moment – Richard Dreyfuss’ monologue at the end which speaks to the lost child in all of us, making us reflect on all the things that disappeared with our childhoods.

18. The Color Purple

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The first Spielberg film on the list. An intimate and yet sweeping epic tale of slavery and oppression in the deep south. Whoopi Goldberg turns in one of the great performances in all of cinema as Celie, a girl who we follow into womanhood, whereupon after years of torturous stifling she finds the courage and strength to strike out on her own.

Most teary moment – When Celie becomes the free spirit she always dreamed she would be, and her vicious husband finally sees the error of his ways.

17. Cinema Paradiso

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A very intimate drama about the friendship between an Italian cinema projectionist and a young boy who is desperate to learn all he knows. The relationship which is at first a little strained blossoms and becomes a lifelong bond that plays against the backdrop of classic cinema.

Most teary moment – When Salvatore plays Alfredo’s film of all the famous on screen kisses cut together.

16. Rain Man

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When selfish, money hungry Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) finds out his dad has died he can’t wait to get his hands on the inheritance. Unfortunately for Charlie all the money was placed in trust to his brother Raymond, a high functioning autistic man who lives in a care institution. Charlie decides to break his brother out and bribe the institution to hand the money over, and so begins a road trip across America as the brothers forge a new and deep relationship with each other.

Most teary moment – Charlie says goodbye to Raymond as he makes the trip back to his care residence. Everything has changed.

15. The Iron Giant

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Brad Bird’s masterwork of animation is one of the best tellings of what it means to be a child, and what it means to be a friend. The relationship between Hogarth and the Giant is filled with moments of humour, fun and love that make the oncoming tragedy all the more heartbreaking.

Most teary moment – The Giant takes one last moment to say goodbye to Hogarth – “me go, you stay, no following”. 

14. The Pursuit of Happyness

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This true story of Chris Gardner, a man who risked everything to make a better life for himself and his child is played with aplomb by a mature and astute Will Smith. There are moments of unbelievable desperation as Gardner tries to hide his abject poverty from his son.

Most teary moment – When Chris and his son have to sleep in the toilet of a subway station.

13. The Sessions

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John Hawkes is a revelation in the mini biopic of Mark O’Brien, a man paralysed from the neck down who hires a sex surrogate to help him lose his virginity. This is one of the few films about disability that doesn’t treat its subject matter as something out of a hallmark card, with obvious attempts at emotion. Because of this its moments of genuine sadness are all the more palpable.

Most teary moment – When Cheryl reads the poem Mark had written about her.

12. Milk

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This telling of the key events in the life of gay rights activist Harvey Milk in San Francisco is a powerful look at how acceptance has to be truly fought for. It’s also astonishing to see just how much one person can do to change the whole world for the better. 

Most teary moment – Harvey’s candlelit memorial procession.

11. The Shawshank Redemption

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One of the most harrowing stories in cinema. The wrongly convicted Andy Dufresne is sent to a prison where punishment comes from all sides, and minds are broken by a tyrannical warden. But the true message is that hope must endure, even in the darkest moments when all efforts seem futile. 

Most teary moment – Brooks was here. (I don’t think I need to say any more than that).

10. Radio

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The most schmalzy film on the list, in that its story is most formulaic in depicting how narrow minded people treat those with a learning disability. Saying that, this story of a young man who finds his calling through a relationship with a local football coach is absolutely wringing with moments of pathos and sadness that you can’t help but turn the waterworks on for.

Most teary moment – Radio sits alone in his room, crying for the memory of his dead mother.

9. It’s A Wonderful Life

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This is slightly different in that the tears we shed for It’s A Wonderful Life are joyful ones. That said there are plenty of sad moments in the life of George Bailey, as his dreams are shattered at every turn whilst he sacrifices himself again and again for the good of the people of Bedford Falls. But it is the ultimate redemption that has us grabbing for our tissues.

Most teary moment – George’s brother Harry returns in time to help save the day and holds his glass aloft stating “A toast to my big brother George; the richest man in town”

8. Forrest Gump

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The fantastical story of the exploits of one Forrest Gump as he fights in Vietnam, joins several revolutions, meets the president, becomes a ping pong champion, runs across the USA (lots of times) and starts a global shrimp company that makes him a millionaire. But all that matters to him is the love of his “best girl” Jenny, which eludes him again and again.

Most teary moment – Forrest gives a simple yet beautiful monologue at the gravestone of his lost love.

7. The Green Mile

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Michael Clarke Duncan gave his career defining performance as John Coffey, the gentle giant with magical powers, wrongly accused of murdering two little girls. The truth becomes obvious to Tom Hanks’ prison guard as he comes to know Coffey during his time on death row.

Most teary moment – Too many to list! But the death of Eduard’s mouse Mr Jingles, and John Coffey’s execution are two of the most unbearable. 

6. Untouchable

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This French masterpiece tells the story of a paraplegic millionaire, Phillipe, and the street hood Driss, who becomes his personal carer. It is the classic tale of the odd couple, but with a modern twist, and so much genuine love between the men that it becomes the perfect tale of friendship.

Most teary moment – Driss sets up a meeting between Phillipe and the woman he has been scared to get together with, and leaves them to talk, smiling as he walks away.

5. Up

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When talking about films that make you cry, you need only look to the first 10 minutes of Up, which through visuals and music alone (no dialogue) tells a stunning story all in itself, of a man and woman who fall in love and dream of exploring the world together, only to find that the reality of life stops them ever going – yet they still truly enjoy their perfect life together.

Most teary moment – Michael Giachinno’s score slows to a bare piano, playing the most poignant melody as Carl and Ellie are parted by death.

4. Planes, Trains and Automobiles

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One of the many genius films by the great John Hughes is, like Untouchable, the story of an odd couple who are thrown together by circumstance. The difference is that here one of the two men, Neal, is desperate to be rid of the man travelling across America with him. That man is Del, played with a vulnerable honesty by the inimitable John Candy, who can’t help but rub his companion up the wrong way whatever he does. And yet somewhere along the way a true friendship blossoms.

Most teary moment – After getting home, Neal goes back to the station and finds that Del is sat alone. He has no home to go to and has no one waiting for him anywhere.

3. Big Fish

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Tim Burton’s last great original film (Frankenweenie is a remake, albeit his own work being remade) sees a strained father son relationship put to the test when the older man becomes severely ill. Will Bloom is desperate to find out something “real” about his father and is left infuriated by the tall tales the old man tells about his life, which can’t possibly be true….or can they?

Most teary moment – As death becomes a reality for his father, Will takes up the mantle of storyteller and gives him a fitting send off amongst all the larger than life characters that made up his fantastical life.

2. Schindler’s List

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The second Spielberg film on my countdown and the best historical film ever made. This retelling of Oskar Schindler’s rescuing of hundreds of jewish people in Nazi Germany is not easy to watch, but carries such a weight of importance that every single person on the planet should see it at least once, if not many times.

Most teary moment – Schindler is thanked by the people he saved, and breaks down in sadness for not being able to save more. 

1. Awakenings

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Robin Williams stars as a doctor faced with treating catatonic patients whom the world has written off as vegetables with no functioning state of mind. Discovering a new medication Williams’ Dr Sayer begins tests on patient Leonard (Robert De Niro). This leads to the titular Awakening, in which Leonard reverts back to his old self, fully functioning, talking, walking and living life again. Sayer then treats the rest of the patients and the same result occurs. But the medication soon fails, leading to absolute tragedy.

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Most teary moment – Leonard wishes to dance with a woman he falls in love with, but as the drugs wear off he becomes so ashamed of his spasming body that he wants to hide away. She finds him and gives him the dance, during which all of his ticks and twitches disappear. He is alive again, if only for a few moments. 

James is a movie obsessive with a particular love for scores and screenplays. He has written for numerous blogs, sites and cinemas and has been involved in several screenwriting projects. He can usually be found in front of a large plasma screen devouring Westerns, 80s pulp, Jimmy Stewart movies or anything by the Coens.

5 Comments

  1. ELBSeattle

    6 June, 2014 at 7:48 am

    Some of these are fine (Up in particular.) But some of them are pure shite. Radio? Forrest Gump? No, those make me puke.

    • James Weller

      6 June, 2014 at 8:38 am

      Puke! Forrest Gump is definitely a tear jerker but then Lion King made me ball!! #iwas8

    • James Plummer

      7 June, 2014 at 6:12 am

      Ha ha! Yeah I’ll give you that. Forrest and Radio are easily the schmalziest (is that even a word?) films on the list. But sometimes I fall victim to Hallmark emotion and I can’t help it. I am weak. Apologies.

      But I would have to say that when people puke it usually makes their eyes water. So maybe those two films did make you cry after all?

  2. Jesse

    6 June, 2014 at 7:50 pm

    If you dont cry when forrest asks if Forrest Jr is “like him” you are not a man… (this is also the greatest movie ever).

    also kill bill volume 2. If you actually stop to comprehend what the bride would feel upon finding out her daughter is in fact not dead. I mean actually try to think about that for a moment. Everything thats happened, the view her life would of given her. To walk into that room and there she is… again tears…

    Oh and Groundhog day. Bill Murray trying to keep the old guy alive but he keeps dying. That one is sad.

    It was clearly the goal of the scene but I watched 5 grown men cry when will smith strangled his dog in I am legend.

    Again if you pause to wonder about the depths reached during the speech delivered in the end of Bladerunner and realize it was improvised on the spot it may inspire a tear.

    I think if watched during the right time of day (usually between 2 am and 5 am), when a movie can be seen free of personal bias or alone then a lot more movies become tearjerkers. Like that baseball movie with Keana Reeves (wow I have never spelt that name before, does not feel like a real word at all) i think its called hardball. The one that sets you up the whole time for a bad disney ending? Well there is no disney ending, the little black kid that never gets to play gets shot and killed. Bam movie over. Watched alone tear-jerker. Watched with other people, bad movie.

    • James Plummer

      7 June, 2014 at 6:09 am

      That’s a great point about Kill Bill 2. It’s one of those you don’t instantly think of as a tearjerker, but yeah when she walks into Bill’s house and sees her daughter it’s pretty hardcore.

      The truth is there are so many films that go straight for the tear ducts. The evidence of that is that I had to make a Top 20 list when I usually just do Top 10 lists.

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