There’s a good reason that so much money is spent making movies each year. It’s because studios know that any money they spend on making a quality movie will be made back in spades by excited movie goers, anxious to escape their own hum drum reality for a few hours and allow themselves to be swept away by someone else’s story. Just look at the salaries of the biggest movie stars and you will see where the entertainment industry places value.
For those of us who love the feeling of sinking into the cushions of a recliner, couch, or theatre seat and be taken away by a cinematic marvel, the power of a great movie to make you feel is a cherished endeavor. Some make you experience crippling fear, while others make you feel the wonder of first love, but there are those that have a special power beyond love and fear. I'm talking about the movies that have the ability to reach into your chest and rip out your still beating heart, but not in a cool, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom kind of way. They do it by connecting with us in some basic way: through friendships, lost loved ones, or sad, melodramatic music that breaks us down.
So, if a sad movie that can break your heart isn’t your thing, brace yourselves, because I'm about to resurrect some tear-jerkers that you may just have spent years trying to move past. Without further ado, I give you fifteen movies that tore your heart out.
15 The Cure
My first heart breaker of a movie is one that not a lot of people remember. It's called The Cure, and it came out in 1995. It stars Brad Renfro and Joseph Mazzello as two young boys, Eric and Dexter, who befriend one another. They're both the odd man out, one a loner, the other dying from AIDS, but despite their differences, they become best friends.
The boys run away from home looking for the cure to save Dexter and go on this hopeful journey that brings them even closer together. In one scene, Dexter doesn't want to go to sleep because he might not wake up, and Erik gives him his shoe, reasoning that Dexter would know he was alive because Heaven wouldn’t dare let him in with that kind of stink. In the end, Dexter passes away and you see Erik walk out of his funeral wearing just one shoe.
I confess, I'm crying now as I write this because, twenty-one years after watching it with my mom, it still rips me to shreds.
14 Fox and the Hound
Okay, I know you probably thought the list would only include grown up movies but come on, the sweet, sad story of Todd the fox and Copper the hound becoming friends when they were so different is heart wrenching.
I don't know if I've ever cried quite as much as when, at the end of the movie, you hear an echo of their childish voices over the wind saying, "And we'll always be friends forever. Yeah, forever."
Cue tears, tissues, and red, puffy eyes. Yes, I confess, I sobbed.
I think this one chokes me up so much because I first watched it as a child. There’s just something so sad about a friendship that is torn apart not because of the differences between the children, but because of the differences of adults. Regardless of why, it definitely ranks as one of the most sob worthy movies of my lifetime.
Have you ever seen Braveheart? The movie starring Mel Gibson in a kilt? If you haven't for some crazy reason, watch it right now and don’t read any further because I’m about to give a rundown of the entire movie. It tells the story of William Wallace, a Scottish man whose brand-new wife is torn from his side by an English Nobleman who demands primae noctis, or the right to the first night. That means he gets to sleep with her before her own husband. Gross, I know.
It’s a powerful movie, based on some true events, and depicts the conditions Scottish highlanders were subjected to under English rule. Wallace ends up leading an army of highlanders against the English. The battle ends in disaster and Wallace is captured, then gets publicly tortured to death. It's his last moments, though, that bring the tears. As William Wallace is dying, he sees his dead wife coming through the crowd to be by his side. Instead of dying a pitiful death, he dies a happy one.
It's moving. So much so, that I left the theatre puffy and red-eyed. It still hits me hard. Great movie.
12 Schindler's List
I still remember the first time I watched Schindler's List. I was in grade eleven and we were studying WWII. The teacher warned us the movie would be powerful, which, I think, made some of the boys uncomfortable because during some pivotal scenes, they giggled. It was easier to laugh than to identify with the naked, exhausted, Jewish men and women running in the yard at Auschwitz to stay alive.
That movie broke my heart, but not in a fun. Fox and the Hound kind of way. It took a piece of me that remains gone all these years later and I'm so thankful it did. No one should be able to watch a movie like that and remain dry eyed and untouched.
Oskar Schindler was a real man; a man who saved over a thousand Jewish men, women, and children from the clutches of the Nazis. His actions were heroic and brave, but that’s not why I cried. I cried because I saw that day just how cruel people in this world have the capacity to be. I cried because it happened and is still happening. It’s a hard and necessary movie to watch.
11 The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas
If Schindler's List took a piece of me, The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas scarred me for life.
It seemed like a nice story about a budding friendship between two boys; one the son of a German Commandant and the other a Jewish child. It was sweet, the way they bonded on either side of the fence, finding commonalities and things in one another that made them close. There was an air of innocence throughout the story, a sweetness that built you up and made you believe in their friendship only to have the bond torn down the middle.
You see, the boy in stripped pajamas was a Jewish prisoner of war at Auschwitz and the pajamas he was wearing, the ones his friend was so determined to wear himself, was prison garb. So, when the German boy gets the chance to shimmy under the fence and don an extra pair of pajamas, he does so with glee and an excitement to be spending the day with his friend on his side of the fence. Only, that day there was a mass gassing, and the two boys were swept up in the crowd. His parents searched for him everywhere, but all they found were his clothes on their side of the fence.
See?! Tear jerker!
10 The Notebook
This movie brought me to ugly tears. It’s told in the present and the past, going back and forth to show the development of an epic love between lower class Noah, and upper class Allie. Their relationship is tumultuous and frantic, becoming the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, but they’re ripped apart when Noah goes to war and Allie’s mother hides the letters he sends to her.
Thinking he’s walked away from her, Allie moves on with a gorgeous man she cares for during the war, and they plan to be married when, by chance, Allie sees a picture of Noah in the newspaper in front of the old house they used to visit together. He’s restored it for them, even if she isn’t with him.
Their reunion is awkward and stunted until Noah takes her out on a rowboat and the Heavens open. In what must be the best scene ever, Noah tells her, “I wrote you 365 letters. I wrote you every day for a year.” His confession changes everything and Allie knows he didn’t walk away. Cue best kiss in the history of movies!
This stuff if all awesome, but where’s the sadness. Well, the present part of the movie shows Allie and Noah in a nursing home, her with Alzheimer’s and him loving her too much to leave even though she doesn’t remember him. He reads their story to her over and over, hoping she’ll remember and then one night she does, for a brief time, then slips away again, screaming that she doesn’t know him. It is heart breaking, especially seeing him sob as the attendants pull her away to be sedated. Later that night, he goes to her room and she knows him again so he slips in bed with her and the nurses find them together, in the morning, holding hands having passed away.
And I’m crying now.
9 Dead Poet's Society
Even when Robin Williams was alive, this movie was special. Now that he’s gone, it has become just that much more poignant for all those people who appreciated it over the years.
The movie focuses on the friendship that develops when a new student moves to an elite boarding school where an English professor, played by Robin Williams, works. Moved by his unorthodox teaching philosophy of carpe diem, which is a Latin term that means “seize the day,” the boys resurrect an old club called The Dead Poets Society. It’s sweet, innocent, and special to the boys.
When one of the boys, Neil, discovers a love for acting and makes the school play, he doesn’t know how to tell his father, who is a strict man with plans for his son. His father finds out about the plan the day before the play goes live and pulls Neil out of school, enrolling him in military school in preparation for Harvard. Distraught, Neil takes his own life and breaks the hearts of his friends and viewers.
The club is blamed for Neil’s death, the teacher is fired, and the boys all turn on one another. Then, in a beautifully sad moment, when the teacher returns to pick up some things from class, the boys find their bravery and climb up onto their desks, saluting him with “Oh captain! My captain!” - a line from poet Walt Whitman.
8 Me Before You
This movie is still very new to viewers. It came out in 2016 and struck a chord with people around the world. Some loved it, some were upset by it, but most reacted to it in a strong manner.
The reason there’s such a divide in reactions to this movie is because it tells the story of Will Traynor, a man who has been paralyzed and who wants to be euthanized. His parents are wealthy and want him to live so they try to find him a companion, someone who will make him enjoy life again. They find the right girl in Louisa Clarke, a quirky girl who slowly draws Will out of his head and makes him see that life does still have beauty.
They fall in love and it’s sweet, but Will and his parents are keeping the secret of his desire to die from Louisa, and when she finds out, she’s shattered. Despite her pleas, Will doesn’t change his mind and, in the end, he gets his wish. Louisa almost misses telling him goodbye, but, at the last moment, knows that she’ll be forever broken if she doesn’t, and goes to him.
It’s sad, it’s sweet, and it pissed off a lot of paralyzed individuals and their loved ones. But it’s the story of one man, his pain, and his choices. It wasn’t meant to reflect the whole society of disabled people. So, if you want a good cry, watch Me Before You.
This movie is renowned for being incredibly sad and it’s obvious why. It’s about the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 and the loss of 1,503 souls on board. For movie watchers, though, it’s about the inspiring love that blossoms between a high-class lady, Rose DeWitt Bukaterand, and low-class artist, Jack Dawson.
For me, the true heartbreak of the movie was the image of an elderly husband and wife clinging to one another in their bed as the ice-cold water of the Atlantic rushed into their rooms, stealing their lives. They loved in life and they loved in death. The fact that the couple in the movie was based on the real-life owners of Macy’s is beyond touching. We tend to forget while watching a movie that sometimes what we’re watching actually happened to real people.
Then there’s the part at the end when Rose and Jack are in the freezing water and there’s only room for one on the floating board. Jack slips off, making the ultimate sacrifice, and disappears forever as we watch. So many tears were shed.
6 Any Movie About Dogs Dying
I know, vague, but I meant it that way, because, let’s face it, any movie about a loyal dog who dies is the worst.
Think about it, Old Yeller ripped your heart out when you were a child, I Am Legend scarred you when Sam had to be put down, and I’m still crying over Marley and Me. So, why do movies that depict the death of a beloved dog hurt us so much more than most movies where people die?
It’s simple, really. Dogs are the most loyal, unconditionally loving creatures that exist. They forgive you when you yell, race to you with kisses when you come home, and cry when you’re hurt. Personally, I’m a cat person, but I’ll admit that the death of cats in movies just isn’t the same as watching a sweet, innocent dog die onscreen. That might be because cats are usually depicted as soulless and evil, but that’s just pretend. Right?
5 Saving Private Ryan
This movie was soul shattering! I admit that I watched it during a not so perfect time in my life when my oldest brother, who’s a soldier, was overseas in a war-torn area. To say that it was bad timing is putting it mildly. But I’ve since watched it again, when he was in the safety of our country’s borders, and the result was much the same. It broke my heart.
Saving Private Ryan is a movie about the invasion of Normandy during World War II, and the search for Private First Class James Francis Ryan who was played by Matt Damon. In the movie, Private Ryan is the last surviving brother of four who joined the service.
The opening scene of this movie, the advance on Omaha Beach, is so graphic and violent that you can’t help but be shocked to tears. It’s not like watching The Walking Dead or other graphic shows or movies because it feels too real to be ignored. This movie makes you feel raw inside and out, and no one should be ashamed to say it made them cry their eyes out.
4 Boys Don't Cry
This movie was so amazingly well done that it had the ability to actually crush not just your heart, but your soul too!
Boys Don’t Cry tells the story of a transgender man named Brandon. Born Teena, Brandon, played by the incomparable Hillary Swank, tries desperately to hide his biological sex, but gets found out by a former girlfriend’s brother. Wanting to escape threats of physical harm, Brandon runs away and meets some ex-convicts who run with Lana, played by Chloë Sevigny, who Brandon starts to fall for.
When Brandon is picked up by the police, he’s detained in the women’s center and explains his presence there to Lana by saying he was born a hermaphrodite and will soon get a sex change. She accepts him and loves him, but her ex-convict friends aren’t quite as accepting.
Here’s where it gets earth shattering. These men, who befriended Brandon and took him in, drive him out of town and violently beat and rape him repeatedly, then kidnap him. Brandon manages to escape despite his wounds and makes his way to Lana, and they’re about to leave together, when those horrible men find them and murder Brandon in a shocking scene.
It’s graphic, horrifying, and heart wrenching, and very pertinent to the issues of today. Boys Don't Cry is the kind of sad movie everyone should watch and be moved by.
3 City of Angels
I used to watch this movie whenever I needed to cry. Nicolas Cage plays the role of an angel who falls in love with a human woman, played by Meg Ryan. He watches her from afar and the depth of his love is astounding. The purity and beauty of life as an angel is hard for him to walk away from, but he does just that, for the chance at life with her.
It’s such a sweet and romantic movie, so why is it here on a list of movies that will break your heart? Well, it’s here because after making the horrible decision to fall from Heaven so he could be with her, Meg Ryan’s character dies. She’s riding her bike back from town where she went after their first night together, in the Biblical sense, happy and filled with life and love, when it happens. She doesn’t see the log truck jack knife in front of her, it eventually strikes her, and Cage’s character’s entire world is crushed. He’s left alone in a world that makes no sense to him because she was his entire existence.
I need to watch it again. Everyone needs a good, cathartic cry every now and then.
2 The Fault in Our Stars
In 2014, a wonderful novel called The Fault in Our Stars by author John Greene was adapted into film and received with critical acclaim by most who watched it. It tells the story of Hazel and Augustus, two young people who join a support group to help them come to terms with their cancer. Hazel, played by Shailene Woodley, is a withdrawn teen, forced to carry around an oxygen tank that makes her feel separate from her peers. At the group, she meets Augustus, played by Ansel Elgort, who seems bigger than life to her. He’s playful and fun, and he draws her out of herself and gives her a reason to love life again.
They fall in love and bond over a mutual adoration of an author who lives in Amsterdam. Eventually, Augustus arranges a trip for them both to Amsterdam to meet the author who turns out to be a drunken sod.
The whole movie you think it’s Hazel who will succumb to her illness first, so it comes as a surprise that it’s Augustus who worsens and dies, leaving Hazel to mourn him. It’s a sad, sweet story that will leave you in tears.
1 A Walk to Remember
Oh, my God, this one is a doozy! If you haven’t seen A Walk to Remember, go get it. It stars a very young Mandy Moore and equally young Shane West, looking all sweet and adorable. Mandy is a smart, quiet, withdrawn girl with a very protective father, but she’s all that for a very good reason. She has leukemia and her father is very protective of her, especially since they lost her mother years ago.
Then there’s Shane, the cocky high school flirt who thinks he’s God’s gift, but something about this girl calls to him. He can’t stop thinking of her. When they both make the school play, he jumps at the opportunity to be close to her and asks her to help him practice his lines. She agrees, on one condition: that he not fall in love with her. He promises.
He fails at keeping his promise because very soon he sees just how amazing she really is. They fall madly in love and he asks her to marry him. He’s a changed person, caring more for her than for his own heart. They get married knowing she’ll die soon and, at the end of the summer, she passes away.
It is heart breaking. Especially when they show him coming home after a few years away at medical school to speak with her father. Shane says he wishes he could have given Mandy a miracle and her father tells him that she did get one: him.
So, beautiful. Go watch it!