25 Tearjerker Movies That Have Broken Our Hearts

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For good reason, a true tearjerker movie sticks with us forever. When a film touches are hearts and gets us to truly care about a story or a group of characters, we can be completely immersed in the action.

The results? A grown man crying like a baby during Titanic. I will not feel embarrassment for this, as these works of art were crafted in the hopes of carrying an audience through the ups and downs, and then a little lower even! Enjoy 25 of the greatest tearjerker movies of all-time!

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We know that the beloved Brit teacher Mr. Chips (Robert Donat) is a kind man by the way he comforts the boy on the train who, like him, is nervous about going off to boarding school for the first time. And because we know that Chips was a lonely man who always spent summer holidays by himself, we cheer when he finally finds love with Greer Garson’s incandescent Katherine. And then comes the awful…

KLEENEX MOMENT when she dies in childbirth and Chips wanders off to the classroom. There he sits, dazed, while a choked-up student stumbles through the Latin lesson. That this scene is played with stiff-upper-lip restraint makes it all the more heartrending.

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The stories of four Chinese women and their difficult relationships with their daughters have explored in director Wayne Wang’s relentlessly emotional adaptation of Amy Tan’s novel. A chick flick through and through, the movie switches between the mothers’ early lives in restrictive Chinese society — dealing with child marriage, domestic abuse, and infanticide — and the Asian-American daughters’ present-day lives as they face loveless marriages, racist in-laws, and a major lack of connection with their moms.

KLEENEX MOMENT The trophy of tears goes to the deceased Suyuan (Kieu Chinh), as a flashback shows how she had to abandon her twin baby girls by the road while fleeing the invasion of Kweilin.

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Dying and death have been done (see half our list). But Sally Field took grieving to a new level in Herbert Ross’ Southern drama about a group of tenacious gal pals who gossip and grapple with love, loss, and beauty-shop appointments. She plays a feisty mother struggling to protect her diabetic daughter (Julia Roberts) as she starts a family, suffers kidney failure, and slips into a coma. Rumor has it there are male characters in the film, but it’s the women who carry all the weight.

KLEENEX MOMENT Surrounded by friends at her daughter’s grave, Field rages from hysterical anger to glacial calm. The tears don’t stop until the audacious moment when Olympia Dukakis offers Shirley MacLaine to her as a punching bag. See this clip below.

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Timothy Hutton won an Oscar for his film debut as a suicidal high schooler haunted by his older brother’s accidental drowning. But the movie’s true gut punch comes from the counterintuitive casting of sunshiny Mary Tyler Moore as the appearance-obsessed, feeling-phobic matriarch who can’t tolerate the disintegration of her family after her favorite son’s death: Here, she can turn the world off with denial.

KLEENEX MOMENT Hutton’s agonized therapy session with Judd Hirsch over his guilt for surviving the sailing accident (Hirsch: ”What was the one thing wrong you did?” Hutton: ”I hung on”).

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Erich Segal’s melodrama reveals the story of two lovers — a rich Harvard jock (Ryan O’Neal) and a middle-class Radcliffe music geek (Ali MacGraw) — whose lives are sewn together against all odds, and then ripped apart by cancer, all by the ripe old age of 24. But the true soul of the movie — and the tagline — is revealed near the end when a lovelorn O’Neal, whose soul mate has just died in his arms, says to his apologetic, overbearing father, ”Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” In 1970, this killed. And if you give in to the kitsch, it still works.

KLEENEX MOMENT After realizing she has the terminal disease, the raven-haired beauty says to her husband, ”I just want you…and I want time, which you can’t give me.” Enjoy below and try not to cry this time.

POTOFEST

The story of the Civil War’s first African-American regiment, the 54th Massachusetts volunteers, is more than a moving history lesson. It’s a reminder that some things are worth dying for. Led by a Boston abolitionist (Matthew Broderick), the troops are made up of free men and escaped slaves — individuals for whom the word liberty is no abstraction — who train and fight bravely only to become cannon fodder in an effort to prove their worth.

KLEENEX MOMENT As soon as we hear the Boys Choir of Harlem startup over a military tattoo, the floodgates open, but when a white soldier starts a cry of ”Give ’em hell, 54!” as the regiment marches toward the inevitable bloodbath, we move on to sobs.

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SERGIO STRIZZI

The uniqueness of writer-director-star Roberto Benigni’s Italian Oscar winner lies in the theory that by using comedy to enhance the highs, the low points emerge as that much more devastating. (Jury’s out on whether turning genocide into a fable is the creative genius or cheap manipulation.) Benigni plays a father who shields his son from the horrors of a concentration camp by pretending it’s all a very elaborate game.

KLEENEX MOMENT Benigni convinces his boy to hide in a metal cabinet until no one is in sight, then, as he is marched past the cabinet at gunpoint, he plays soldier to avoid alarming his son. Nothing prepares us for the gunshots that follow.

PHOTOFEST / Tearjerker Movies

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