Movies that Make Me Cry

Sometimes, after a really difficult week at work, there's nothing more cathartic than a good cry. Fortunately, crying isn't a problem for me. I'm so weak, a particularly sentimental Hallmark commercial has been known to reduce me to tears. (Most recently, it was the one that aired around Christmas, where the soldier opens a storybook sent to him by his daughter, and her recorded voice starts reading the story aloud. You can't tell me other people didn't cry at that one.)  Really, I should probably just quit work and invest in Kleenex stock.

But if commercials aren't enough to do the trick, I have the following list of go-to movies I know I can rely on to trigger a lovely, cleansing cry. How does my list compare to yours?

  1. Going, Going ... Gone. Filmmakers know that the most reliable way to wrench a tear out of their viewers is to kill off a main character. God knows it always works on me.  For this reason, I tend to deliberately eschew such movies, which explains why I've never seen Love Story and Brian's Song.  But every once in a while I drop my guard or get taken by surprise, and the next thing you know I'm digging in my purse for tissues.  Million Dollar Baby, The Pride of the Yankees and Finding Neverland all had me discretely dabbing my eyes; but there was nothing discrete about the way I bawled like a baby when Ryan Hurst died in Remember the Titans, and don't even get me started on Titanic when Leonardo de Caprio passes.  Damn that plaintive Celtic soundtrack.
  2. Going, Going ... But wait!  Then there are the movies that manipulate me into believing the main character is going to die off, only to spare their lives at last possible instant.  I still remember the first time I watched, horrified, as that little light in E.T.'s chest faded, then winked out.  And how hard I clapped for Tinkerbell the first time I saw Peter Pan. I start crying because I'm convinced they're going to die, then I just keep cying because I'm so relieved they're okay. Talk about doubling down.  
  3. Mourning.  And then come the movies about the lovers that all those tragic deaths have left behind.  I'm particularly thinking of Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle, the scene when he's describing to the late-night radio host all the different ways his wife used to smile; and P.S. I Love You, every time Hilary Swank opens one of those letters that her wonderful (and gorgeous) husband left for her to find after his death. I'm crying because it's so damned beautiful and tragic at the same time.  
  4. Death is Just the Beginning.  And just when I think it can't get any worse than pining over the death of loved ones, along come the movies where death is just the beginning: not only can't the surviving partner bear to live without their love, but the ghosts of their loved ones remain tied to earth by their devotion.  Always, starring Richard Dryfuss and Holly Hunter, gets me every time, as does Ghost and Madly/Truly/Deeply.  Nor can I resist weeping at movies where people who are already dead fall in love with the living.  (Talk about setting yourself up for disappointment.) The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, City of Angels, and Meet Joe Black all fall into this category.
  5. Thwarted Love.  Movies where lovers are separated by circumstances beyond their control reliably reduce me to sniffles.  I didn't even like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but still shed tears over the debacle of lovers doomed to live out their lives in opposite directions. In West Side Story love is thwarted by hate, in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind it is thwarted by pain, and in the incomparable Casablanca is it thwarted by honor and politics: whatever the cause, though, thwarted love inevitably means Niagra Falls for me.
  6. Unrequited Love. Ditto movies devoted to the misery of unrequited love.  How can Jenny keep turning her back on Forrest Gump when it's clear to everyone else in the world that they were meant to be together?  And how come not a single person in Legends of the Fall manages to fall in love with someone capable of loving them in return?  
  7. Overcoming Obstacles.  I'm a sucker for movies where, by dint of enormous personal courage and dignity, people triumph over disabilities or injustice.  The scene where Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump asks Jenny if their child is "normal" breaks my heart, and even before Russell Crowe starts addressing the Nobel Prize ceremony in Beautiful Mind, I'm already a mess. And as for The Shawshank Redemption ... basically, I start crying from the moment Tim Robbins emerges from the drainpipe straight through to the last scene where he and Morgan Freeman reunite on that beach in Mexico. Yes, that's a lot of tissues.
  8. Just When You Thought Their Lives Couldn't Get Any Worse.  Into this category I place all those movies that feature characters who endure grevious hardships and who, tragically, never make it happily ever after. The name Les Miserables should have given me a clue what to expect: even so, nothing really prepares one for the relentless tragedy of Eponine's story. The Birdman of Alcatraz is another movie that layers hardship and tragedy like a parfait of grief.  But I think the granddaddy of them all, for me, remains Slumdog Millionaire.  Even the (relatively) happy ending can't undo the damage that 2hrs of nearly unrelenting weeping inflicts upon my poor swollen eyes.
  9. Nostalgia and Childhood.  Waxing sentimental over times gone by is another personal weakness.  I still can't watch Toy Story II or Toy Story III without wishing I could go back in time and thank Fuzzy Wuzzy, my loyal teddy bear, for all the times he stood by me.  (Could that song "When Somebody Loved Me" be any sadder?) And I once read (and completely believe) that 95% of men cry at the scene in Field of Dreams when Kevin Costner finally gets to play catch with his father ... so it's not just me.
  10. When "Happily Ever After" Isn't an Option.  And then there are those movies where "happily ever after" isn't an option, because the filmmakers are confronting real-world cruelties and miseries like racism, hatred, cruelty, intolerance, and regret.  These are the movies I prepare for in advance by packing not just handkerchiefs, but also dark glasses so that I can hide my swollen eyes when the lights come up in the theater.  Schindler's List. Philadelphia. The Color PurpleSophie's Choice. AtonementSaving Private Ryan. To Kill a Mockingbird.  And back when I was in elementary school, a short film called The Red Balloon that I'm not sure even exists anymore, but that was so tragic (the boy's magical red balloon is punctured by bullies hurling stones), it used to regularly reduce the entire 6th grade class to sniffling wrecks.
  11. Honor & Nobility, Courage & Sacrifice. Another guaranteed tear-jerker for me is are plots that feature characters nobly sacrificing themselves for others.  That scene in Armageddon where Bruce Willis sacrifices himself to save the life of the man his daughter loves. The scene in Last of the Mohicans when Duncan sacrifices himself so that the woman he loves can find happiness in the arms of Daniel Day Lewis's Hawkeye. The scene in Gladiator when Russell Crowe kills the emporer, restoring Rome to democratic rule.  The finale of Dead Poet's Society, when the boys defy their schoolmaster and climb up onto their desks in order to pay tribute to their departing friend and mentor, Robin Williams. Yes, even that scene in the Star Trek movie (I forget which one) where Spock sacrifices his life to save the Enterprise. Not to mention pretty much every scene in The Green Mile
  12. Oh, the Humanity! Sometimes it isn't the fate of the main characters that moves me, but the larger tragedy of the story being told.  Yes, I cried when Leonardo died in Titanic, but I'd already been going for a while by then, moved to horror and pity by the spectacle of so many deaths.  And the scene in Henry V when Kenneth Branaugh and the battered English survey the horrific aftermath of Agincourt always evokes a similar cathartic sob.
  13. No More Dead Dogs!  I'm not sure why Hollywood can't make a nice movie about animals without killing them off in the end.  I only know that I'll never, ever forgive them for Old Yeller.  I cried so hard, it's a wonder they didn't have to cart me off to the hospital to be rehydrated. Since then I've deliberately boycotted movies featuring animals, and I understand from friends who saw Marley & Me that it's just as well I have 
  14. Happy Endings.  Sometimes, however, filmmakers cut us a break, and the tears streaming down my face are triggered by joy rather than sorrow.  I typically lose it at the moment when the characters I've been rooting for all movie finally achieve their dream - when Hickory High School wins the regional championship in Hoosiers, for instance, or when August's parents find each other in August Rush; when Richard Dryfuss finally gets to hear his composition performed in Mr. Holland's Opus, or when Gene Krantz, playing NASA Flight Director Gene Krantz, surruptitiously wipes his eyes as Apollo 13 crashes safely into the sea; and, of course, when George Bailey realizes, every year at Christmas, that it really is A Wonderful Life.   

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