Despite all evidence to the contrary, I don’t mind a good cry every once in a while. When Valentine’s Day rolls around, if I’m not out with my girlfriends at a club, I’m in bed with a movie that makes me feel like my heart may burst out of my chest (see my prior PSAs). But you know, there are a lot of excellent emotional films that don’t revolve entirely around love. So I threw together a few of my top tearjerkers, because I like to torture myself by watching gut-wrenching YouTube clips during the day. My list is pretty short, so add your own in the comments!
Toy Story 3 | 2010
Disney/Pixar comes into your
childhood adulthood like a wrecking ball (minus the naked Miley Cyrus on top AKA Disney gone wrong). It’s bad enough Andy’s going off to college (are we really that old already?) but then the toys get accidentally dropped at a daycare made of nightmares and boogers, their lives are turned upside-down by a homicidal teddy bear, and they wind up in an incinerator and they’re trying to get out and they realize it’s useless and they all commit to the fact that they’re about to die and they hold hands to face it together and—WHAT THE HELL, DISNEY. Pretend you don’t already have tears in your eyes over toy deaths (can they even feel pain?), because they get rescued (whew), but you don’t realize the conclusion of this film is a one-two-punch until Andy brings his pals over to Bonnie’s house and finds Woody at the bottom of the box. He never meant to give away his best bud, but he gives a heart-wrenching speech about what makes Woody special: “He’ll never give up on you, ever. He’ll be there for you, no matter what.” Kids will take the speech at face value, but adults—especially those who graduated college a month before this film’s release and have been thrust into the real world and are quickly realizing that it’s time to leave childhood behind—will take it for the lovely metaphor it is and may or may not find themselves ugly crying in a room full of strangers. So long, partner. ❤
Free Willy | 1993
Oh god, this movie. I may have mentioned once or twice (or a few dozen times) that I grew up by the ocean, so it should come as no surprise that marine mammals hold a huge soft spot in my heart. I was six years old when my mom took me to the theater to see this and I was crying right along with Willy when Jesse discovered that he had a family waiting for him. It has remained one of my all-time favorite movies to this day, and yeah, I still get a little teary-eyed when Jesse asks Glen for help (“I gotta look out for Willy and I gotta do what’s best for him”) and when Willy finally leaps to his freedom at the end. The trailer below doesn’t leave much room for imagination for those who have never seen it, but I don’t think spoiler alerts apply when a film is 22 years old. P.S. It’s kind of the original Blackfish.
The Impossible | 2012
Chances are, if just the trailer alone for a film chokes you up, the movie is going to be a powerhouse. Have tissues handy for this one. Seriously, when my mother and sister and I went to the theater for this true story of a tourist family caught in the 2004 tsunami that struck Thailand, we went prepared with a whole box. And we needed them. Naomi Watts received an Oscar nod for her role as the matriarch of a family that gets separated when the Indian Ocean rises up and batters the coast: the unflinching, 10-minute scene is terrifyingly realistic. Their journey to reconnect with one another is harrowing, gut-wrenching, heart-breaking—but by the end, the tears (and there are so. many. tears.) are happy ones.
Another traumatic animal movie for a child. This film slays me. What kind of movie is this for children?! Three beloved pets believe they have been abandoned and decide to trek across the California wilderness to find their way home and each wind up in a life-threatening predicament. As a golden retriever owner, Shadow was my fave, and so the scene below tends to annihilate my heart. And the ending? Don’t. Can’t. WHO’S CHOPPING ONIONS?
A Walk to Remember | 2002
You gotta give me at least one Nicholas Sparks. I am female, after all—we’re all about those damn Nicholas Sparks movies, apparently. Before The Notebook exploded and every single Sparks novel just had to go and become one of those movies (the ones with the teenage girls and the tissues and the crying), there was a little movie called A Walk to Remember (worst title ever). It wasn’t the first Sparks movie (that was actually Message in a Bottle in 1999, but no one thinks of that one because it didn’t star attractive young people), but it is, in my opinion, the best one. Yes, even though it doesn’t have Ryan Gosling in it. Instead, it stars Shane West and Mandy Moore (proving here that she is actually capable of decent acting) as the classic bad boy / good girl routine with a twist—she’s dying. And she doesn’t tell him until after he’s already fallen in love with her. Not very nice for a reverend’s daughter. And despite allllll the clichés (and there are a ton), it still gets me every time. Particularly that part on the right. Aaaand the one below.
The only book, aside from Harry Potter, that ever made me cry, Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah. Also, obviously, Harry Potter. I’m convinced that the “Piertotum Locomotor” scene from Deathly Hallows Part 2 will give me chills and heart palpitations for the rest of my life. When I saw it for the first time in the theater on opening night, I was half convinced I was about to stroke out in my seat. Also, this:
UGH, right in the feels every time.
Let’s see, what else … Marley & Me is pretty obvious if you’ve ever loved a dog and had to watch the life leave their eyes. My sister and I clutched each other in our theater seats and sobbed. I don’t know if it would have the same impact a second time around because I will never touch that movie with a ten foot pole again. The book is no easier. Titanic, while totally cliché, is pretty rough the first time, especially for an emotionally-stunted 15-year-old. (“Wow! I can cry! Wait, why are you letting go of Jack … you said you’d NEVER LET GO!”) And finally, one of the most underrated television family dramas of all time, NBC‘s Parenthood. If you can make it through this scene without your eyes welling over, I’m not sure you have a soul. And for dolphin lovers: A chilling documentary about the annual slaughter that takes place in Taiji, Japan called “The Cove.” It won an Oscar in 2010. It’s not easy to watch (not just because the pivotal scene had me sobbing uncontrollably in front of my roommates), but it’s worth it. Spreading awareness is key.