Movies are meant to bring out emotions. From joy to despair, film can take us on a roller coaster of a ride. Some of the best films in history can bring viewers to tears. A good actor can effectively fill us with empathy. Sometimes we all just need a good cry. But as we all know some actors do this more effectively than others do. It’s when you actual feel the emotions that you assume they feel that the scene can truly capture you. With all of that said…
Here are the top 20 crying scenes in the history of movies.
No one would deny that Tom Hanks is a great actor. As an “everyman”, he has the ability to tackle the most sensitive issues. In 2000’s “Castaway” Hanks’ character Chuck spends 4 years alone on a deserted island following a plane crash. While on the island he learns to survive physically and emotionally. Emotionally, he bonds with a volleyball that washes up on the island’s shore. “Wilson” becomes the castaway’s lone companion and keeps him sane in his insane situation. When Chuck leaves an accidental blood stain on the ball he suddenly When he gets angry and takes it out on the ball by tossing it away, he quickly regrets it and retrieves “Wilson”. When Chuck finally leaves the island “Wilson” becomes separated from the life raft. Chuck desperately tries to save him but can’t without letting go of the life raft. Seeing Chuck weep for the loss of “Wilson” and apologizing is heart wrenching. “Wilson” is what helped Chuck survive emotionally alone on the island. He lost his life saver and best “friend”. The loss of “Wilson” and Chuck’s tears and anguish are heart wrenching because we get how “Wilson” kept Chuck alive for 4 years.
The Green Mile
Another Tom Hanks film, 1999’s “The Green Mile” takes place on death row in a southern prison in 1935. However, it’s not Hanks’ tears that make us cry. It’s other characters’ tears and Hanks’ efforts to not cry that are so moving. In the movie, inmate John Coffey (played by Michael Clark Duncan) is about to be executed and is in tears in the electric chair. The prison guards know that Coffey is not guilty of the crime. They know he is special and a gentle giant. As Coffey breaks down he asks not to have the hood placed over his head because he is afraid of the dark. Guard Paul Edgecomb (played by Tom Hanks) tries hard to keep himself together. He holds Coffey’s hand. As Coffey is executed the prison guards are all anguished and one cries.
The 1999 film “American Beauty” features a scene where a very surprising character breaks down in tears. The film revolves around neighbors living in a suburb. Lester (played by Kevin Spacey) is going through a midlife crisis and unhappy in his marriage. Frank (played by Chris Cooper) is a retired marine who worries that his son is homosexual. There is a homosexual couple living in the neighborhood. When Frank is distraught Lester talks to him in the garage while it is pouring rain outside. As Frank cries and Lester comforts him, Frank tries to kiss Lester who gently rebuffs him. Frank walks away in the rain sobbing before later shooting Lester.
The 2009 film “Precious” is depressing and features one of the best crying scenes in film. Mo’Nique’s Mary Lee Johnston is despicable. She physically and emotionally abuses her daughter Claireece “Precious” Jones (Gabourney Sidibi). Not only does Mary lie about her daughter with Downs Syndrome living with her grandmother so Mary can continue to collect welfare, Mary allows her boyfriend to repeatedly rape her daughter Precious and get the teenager pregnant twice and give her HIV. The film follows Precious’ drive to break free from the emotional, physical and sexual abuse and poverty as she struggles through high school. When Precious’ abuse is finally revealed, Mary is called in to meet with her daughter and social worker Ms. Weiss (Mariah Carey). As we watch Mary attempt to explain away the abuse, Mary breaks down in tears while making the point that the abuse was all of her young daughter’s fault. The scene is difficult to watch and Mo’Nique does an amazing job of portraying Mary as a victim even though we all know that she could have protected and saved her daughter.
Gone With the Wind
The classic film “Gone With the Wind” has many emotional scenes. In the 1939 movie set against the backdrop of the American Civil War, Scarlet O’Hara (Vivian Leigh) gives us plenty of emotional scenes as she struggles to save her family’s plantation while carrying a torch for unrequited love. It’s not Scarlet’s emotional tearful scenes that are the best of the movie. It’s her husband Rhett Butler’s (Clark Gable). Apparently Gable was hesitant to cry in this scene, but the fact that he did makes the scene and the character so much more sympathetic. Rhett knows that Scarlet loves another man and his relationship with her is tumultuous despite being married and having a daughter together. When Rhett returns to his family after a trip to London he argues with Scarlet who falls down the stairs. It turns out Scarlet was pregnant with the couple’s second child and loses the baby. Rhett confesses his guilt to Scarlet’s cousin in a scene that is memorable as he cries for the baby they lost, his guilt and the fact that he knows Scarlet loves another man.
A Streetcar Named Desire
One of the most famous scenes in the 1951 film “A Streetcar Named Desire” based on the Tennessee Williams play is of Stanley Kowalski’s (Martin Brando) tearful breakdown to his wife Stella (Kim Hunter). Most people know of the scene where Stanley stands outside the couple’s New Orleans apartment building after flying off in a tantrum and wails “Stella!”. Standing in the pouring rain in a tattered shirt, Brando portrays Stanley’s remorse and despair for upsetting his wife. As Stella descends the stairs it’s unclear if she will forgive her husband or hit him. As Stanley falls to his knees sobbing, Stella kisses him passionately and carries her to their apartment.
The 1991 coming of age movie “My Girl” has some tear jerking moments. During the summer of 1972 11 year old Vada Sultenfuss (Anna Chlumski) moves with her father, a widower and funeral director, to a new town. Vada becomes friends with Thomas (Macaulky Culkin). Living in the funeral parlor, Vada becomes obsessed with death. One day out with Thomas Vada drops her mood ring by a bees nest. When Thomas returns later to find the ring he is stung and dies of the allergic reaction. Vada is despondent. She comes to the funeral and nearly climbs into the casket of the young boy crying and screams that Thomas can’t see without his glasses before running off sobbing. It’s difficult to see this young girl facing the acceptance of the death of her mother and facing the death of her best friend.
No one who has seen 1989’s “Steel Magnolias” can ever forget when M’Lynn (played by Sallie Fields) breaks down in front of her friends after laying her daughter Shelby (Julia Roberts) to rest at the cemetery. M’Lynn seems to go through all 7 stages of grief in the scene. Sallie Fields brings us to tears watching what she goes through after her daughter dies due to complications from Type 1 Diabetes and her pregnancy. Shelby and M’Lynn bond with old and new friends while getting their hair done for Sheby’s wedding at the small town northern Louisiana beauty salon run out of Truvy’s (Dolly Parton) house with new beautician Annelle (Daryl Hannah). Along with Clairee (Olivia Dukakis) and Louisa (Shirley MacLaine), the women form a strong bond. At the cemetery M’Lynn goes through denial and anger over the loss of her young daughter in front of her friends. The tears and screams of Sallie Field are difficult to watch, but Clairee brings humor to the situation by offering up the difficult Louisa for M’Lynn to hit. The friends end up laughing which is just what they all need. M’Lynn receives the support of her friends when she most needs it.
Who can forget the anguish Meryl Streep’s character Sophia, a Polish immigrant to Brooklyn, New York when she reveals the terrible decision she had to made during World War II? In the 1982 film “Sophie’s Choice” Streep portrays Sophie who meets a novelist, Stingo, in New York City and shares her story. In the meantime Sophie’s boyfriend is a paranoid schizophrenic. Sophie relives the worst part of her life when she tells Stingo what she had to do in Nazi Germany. Sophie was arrested and send the Auschwitz concentration camp with her 2 young children. A Nazi guard told her to chose which of her children would live and which would die. When terrified Sophie tells him “I can’t choose!” the guard orders that both children be put to death. Panicked Sophie gives them her young daughter at the last moment. As her daughter is ripped from her arms and taken to the gas chamber Sophie is rapt in tears, anguish and shock.
ET The Extra-Terrestrial
ET is one of Steven Spielberg’s most touching film. The 1982 story of an alien stranded on Earth trying to return home is beautiful. Found by a young boy Elliot (played by Henry Thomas), ET is taken into hiding at Elliot’s family home. The 2 form a bond that transcends their differences. Eventually ET is found out by the government as he is dying. Because of their connection Elliot is also dying. Elliot recovers and ET appears to die. However, ET comes back to life and reveals that his family has come to take him home. Elliot and his siblings sneak ET out to get him back to his spaceship where they share tearful goodbyes with the alien. The saddest part is ET’s goodbye to Elliot when the alien asks the boy to come with him. As Elliot cries ET tells him he will be right here pointing to the boy’s head.
There are too many crying scenes to even mention in this film. Honestly take your pick and pretty much any of them would make this list. However, we are particularly fond of the scene when Raqchel McAdams is driving in her car and the waterworks begin. Most people consider The Notebook to be one of the great love story movies of all-time and they certainly nailed it with the crying and emotional moments.
In a gut wrenching scene, Sean Penn puts on an incredible performance when he finds out his daughter is dead at the hands of a brutal murder. Overall Penn’s performance in the film along with Kevin Bacon, Laura Linney, Tim Robbins and plenty of other supporting cast was second to none. Clint Eastwood delivered a raw and emotional look at how three men’s lives were affected by one powerful moment in their childhood.
Good Will Hunting
When Matt Damon’s character, 20 year old math genius Will in 1997’s “Good Will Hunting” finally has an emotionally breakdown or breakthrough, it is one of the best crying scenes in film. The film written by Damon and friend Ben Affleck is about a south Boston kid who works as a janitor at MIT. When his genius is discovered by a professor, Will is hired to do math research but often gets into trouble with his drinking buddies. The professor asks an old college friend Dr. Sean Maguire (played by Robin Williams) to treat Will with psychological therapy. Despite Will’s bad attitude he and Dr. Maguire develop a bond. Ultimately, Dr. Maguire helps Will face his feelings. In the crying scene Dr. Maguire repeatedly tells Will “It’s not your fault”. Will breaks down sobbing and hugs Dr. Maguire. Will can finally face his emotions about the person he is and the abuse he has suffered throughout his life.
The psychological thriller “Shutter Island” came out in 2010. It takes place at a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane on a remote island off the coast of Massachusetts in 1953. US Marshal Teddy Daniels (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) investigates the hospital with his partner Chuck when a patient goes missing. It turns out that Teddy is a violent patient at the facility who is being treated with experimental medication to help him recover from his delusions. In a heart wrenching flashback Teddy remembers the day he returned home to find his wife Delores, who suffers from manic depression, has drowned their 3 children. Teddy tearfully drags the children’s bodies from the water and when Delores asks him to set her free he shoots her collapsing and sobbing over his family’s bodies.
The last scene of the 1994 movie “Forrest Gump” is tough to watch. The film about a simple minded man’s journey through life and unintended feature in history is one of Tom Hanks’ greatest movies. Forrest goes through major periods in history never knowing how important they are. Hanks’ portrayal of Forrest won him an Oscar. At the end of the movie Forrest stands before his wife and longtime love’s Jenny’s (Robin Wright) grave. He explains to his deceased wife that he is taking care of their son and he always feels near to her. Forrest is mostly stoic throughout the movie because of his defect of intelligence. To see him cry in the scene at Jenny’s grave is amazingly cathartic. It is one of Hanks’ most memorable speeches in a movie.
“Casablanca” was filmed in 1942 as the Nazis were occupying much of Europe. Some French and European refugees that fled to Casablanca were actually extras in the scene that has one of the emotional and poignant crying in film history. Rick (Played by Humphrey Bogart) has just denied Victor Laszlo (played by Paul Henreid) help obtaining letters so he can reach freedom. Rick is usually neutral to the war but his love for Ilsa, Victor’s wife, is what motivates him not to help. In this scene the German officers at Rick’s club are singing their national anthem. Victor marches up to the band and tells them to play the French national anthem La Marseillaise. Rick nods to the band and the patrons all sing along much to the anger of the Germans. Yvonne was rebuffed by Rick and began flirting with a German soldier because she needed a man. Yet as the anthem is sung she joins in with a tear streaked face realizing that her French nationalism is more important.
The Godfather III
Of “The Godfather” films the third which was released in 1990 contains one of the top crying scenes in a movie. Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) has turned his business legitimate. However, after leaving a Sicilian opera house where his son performed Corleone is besieged by media on the steps outside. Amidst the chaos there is an assassination attempt. While Michael is hit in the shoulder, his daughter Mary is shot in the chest and dies. Michael rocks her body while crying in anguish screaming “Oh God no”. Mary’s mother Kay (Diane Keaton) also wails. Michael rolls on his back and lets out an animalistic scream at the pain and anguish of his daughter’s death.
The 2005 film “Brokeback Mountain” is about 2 men who develop a secret sexual and emotional connection in 1963. Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaul) meet while working a summer herding sheep on Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming. Ennis reluctantly gives into his attraction to Jack and the 2 men meet up several times despite marrying and in Ennis’ case having children. Despite his divorce Ennis won’t leave with Jack. When Ennis finds out that Jack was killed he is devastated. Jack’s wife discloses that her husband wanted his ashes spread at Brokeback Mountain. Ennis visits Jack’s parents to offer to take the ashes but his father refuses. Jack’s mother lets Ennis see Jack’s childhood room where he finds a shirt of his that Jack kept. Ennis breaks down in tears.
When Harry Met Sally
Meg Ryan is a great “ugly crier”. Her role as Sally in Nora Efron’s 1989 movie “When Harry Met Sally” Meg played a neurotic control freak. In her crying scene Sally’s best friend Harry comes to her apartment to console her after she finds out that her ex boyfriend is getting married. Sally is hysterically crying and is comical as she does so. At one point she says “I’m going to be 40” and Harry asks “When?”. She responds “Someday”.