In honor of Pixar’s Inside Out completely breaking my heart and leaving me weeping in a theater full of kids, I reflect on a long line of film that have turned me into a mess. From cheap shots that I should have seen coming to genuine emotional outpourings over finely crafted cinema, I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve spilled salty tears over many a movie.
The following 10 films have left a lasting impression on me by making me cry my big dumb eyes out. While there are certainly more films I’ve wept during besides the following (I could basically list most of Pixar’s output), these 10 are some of the biggest doozies. Warning: There Will Be Spoilers!
The Setup: Estranged brothers Tommy (Tom Hardy) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton) wind up fighting in the same UFC tournament with a huge amount of money on the line. After years of family conflict, the two brothers win their separate fights in very different manners, only to have to face one another in the championship bout.
The Moment: With every win that each brother achieved in the tournament, my emotions hit a sharp spike, so I quickly realized that Warrior had gotten a death grip on my emotions without my notice. Tommy and Brendan face off in a brutal match, with Brendan eventually dislocating Tommy’s arm and putting him in a chokehold submission. Tommy refuses to tap out, but when Brendan tells him he loves him and how sorry he is for everything, Tommy quits. Together, they leave the stadium an emotional wreck. Just like me leaving the theater.
The Type of Cry: Your emotions well up but you can’t hold them back. So you just let it out. I cried well into the credits and it was worth it. Warrior is a fantastic film.
Beauty and the Beast
The Setup: You know the story. But I had seen Beauty and the Beast many times throughout my life without my eyes even getting moist. But falling in love makes this story far more emotionally impactful. Getting married doesn’t make it easier. But it probably makes it better.
The Moment: At the climax of a rain-soaked fight atop a castle, The Beast stops short of killing Gaston thanks to his growth as a person. But when he goes to embrace Belle, Gaston stabs him in the back (and then falls to his death). So Beast lays dying, confessing his love and gratitude to Belle, who tells him she loves him, too. The Beast seemingly dies, but the spell is broken, saving his life and returning him to human form. Cut to me on the couch, embarrassing everyone around me as I turn into a blubbering mess.
The Type of Cry: There are so many emotions packed into this climax that I can’t quite tell where they turn from tears of sadness into ones of happiness. But that’s what makes it so powerful.
The Return of the King
The Setup: After plowing through the books, spending more than nine hours watching the tale of The Lord of the Rings, and having the film trilogy be part of my life for several years, it all comes to a head for then-15-year-old boy. He didn’t see this one coming.
The Moment: Frodo and his friends escort Gandalf and the elves to the harbor where a ship will take them to The Grey Havens across the ocean. Having read the books, it wasn’t the surprise of the events that got me, it was the meaning. When Frodo turns to his friends, you know he’s going to leave, too. Cue me losing it.
The Type of Cry: Long and drawn out, much like the ending of this movie! But when you’ve invested so much in a film series, it takes a while to let the emotions out. Thankfully, the credits were extremely long. So there was enough time to dry out and come to my senses. But that ending song didn’t make things any easier. Thank a lot, Annie Lenox.
The Setup: Crash tells the story of various people whose lives collide due to racism in the city of Los Angeles. While not all of the stories work very well and the melodrama on display can push these ideas too far past the point of realism to be effective in making their point, it’s an admirable try. Of course, putting a little girl’s life on the line due to racism is a sure fire way to get the emotions flowing.
The Moment: It’s incredibly convoluted, but for a moment I thought a young innocent girl was shot trying to protect her father. The suddenness and extreme emotional pain is just brutal. Yes, it’s really complicated and is simply meant to get the audience to cry, but it certainly work on me.
The Type of Cry: It’s the type of cry where you curse the world through the hot tears streaming down your face, only to realize everything is ok. Then you start cursing the filmmakers for the cinematic equivalent of kicking you in the balls.
How to Train Your Dragon
The Setup: Young Viking Hiccup and injured dragon Toothless form an unlikely friendship in a world where their kind are at war with one another. While there’s plenty of action and adventure, the real power of the How to Train Your Dragon is how love, friendship, and understanding can conquer everything else.
The Moment: After defeating the giant Green Death dragon at a cost, Hiccup wakes up with a foot missing. But when he opens the door to the cabin he was sleeping in, he’s faced with a brand new and far better world where Viking and dragon live in harmony. It’s all because of his friendship with Toothless and together with new friends, they fly off into a bright and thrilling future as John Powell’s triumphant score comes in with full force.
The Type of Cry: Overwhelming, pure joy. After the many highs and lows, seeing Hiccup and Toothless free, happy, and having succeeded in making their world a better place brings very happy tears.
The Setup: In the far flung future, the little robot Wall-E helps clean up a deserted and uninhabitable Earth until he discovers a sign that the planet has been restored. When he’s sent on a wild adventure, we become invested in a little robot that doesn’t talk and the love he feels for fellow robot Eve. This being Pixar, my emotional investment in the story was sure to make me cry at some point.
The Moment: Wall-E is terribly damaged saving humanity and returning them to Earth to restart life on the planet. So clearly, either Wall-E is going to be ok in the end or he’s going to bite the big one in a very appropriate manner. This being Pixar, either one could happen. Because this is an animation studio that likes to break kids’ hearts.
The Type of Cry: Wall-E is for all intents and purposes dead. Dead! When Eve tries to fix him, nothing seems to work. So she holds the hand of the little robot that loved her, which is all he ever wanted. That’s enough to make anybody upset. Thankfully, the little guy comes back to life. But that just makes me cry more. Stupid Pixar. Stop making me cry!
The Setup: Seeing as this incredibly emotional moment comes at the very beginning of Pixar’s Up, there isn’t too much setup involved. But Pixar’s storytelling prowess means that the story of Carl and Ellie’s marriage is powerful thanks to the pure emotion invested by the creators, composer Michael Giacchino’s score, and the truth behind the ideas here.
The Moment: Not really one particular moment, but the entire story of Ellie and Carl is filled with ups and downs that range from the joyful to the devastating. Of course, once Ellie becomes sick, you know where this is all going. But that doesn’t mean it won’t land a devastating emotional punch.
The Type of Cry: Pure devastation. First, you cry for Carl and Ellie. Then you cry for yourself because Pixar has just taught you a valuable lesson – everybody you love is going to die and you are, too.
Field of Dreams
The Setup: Ray Kinsella is compelled to build a baseball field on his farm, which causes the ghosts of the disgraced 1919 Chicago Whitesox to come and play. Throughout it all, Ray is here’s a mysterious voice tell him “If you build it, he will come.” While he’s thought it meant Shoeless Joe Jackson and the Chicago White Sox, it was someone else.
The Moment: The ghost playing catcher takes off his facemask, revealing that he’s Ray’ long dead and estranged father. Ray asks his dad to play catch with him and they do as the sun sets and people from all over come to the field. That may sounds like very little, but the emotional baggage and father issues packed into it are powerful.
The Type of Cry: Guy cry. While anyone can be emotionally affected by Field of Dreams, this is one that is especially poignant for men. Of course, the first time I saw the film was in a high school class. So manly tears were held in check by my interior monologue of “Don’t you cry! Don’t you cry! You’re in a classroom right now and you’re a teenage boy, you’ll never live this down.”
Marley and Me
The Setup: We see the life of a man and his uncontrollable but lovable dog as he becomes a husband and eventually a father. Of course, this tells the entire story of a dog’s life, beginning to end. The end, that’s where the crying starts.
The Moment: MARLEY DIES. Also, I saw this in a hotel room the morning that I had to drive hundreds of miles away after a weekend of visiting my long distance girlfriend who I knew I would not see again for at least a month. The decks were stacked against me.
The Type of Cry: There’s a special kind of crying reserved for when beloved pets die. Having lost several in my life, I can tell you that Marley and Me quite effectively replicates real life emotions. In other words, I was bereft.
The Setup: William Wallace singlehandedly declares war on the British for the sake of Scotland’s independence after British soldiers murder his wife. Love, loss, and brutal violence means both men and women can really get behind the story of Braveheart. But if you know anything about Wallace’s life, you know it won’t end well.
The Moment: After being captured by the British after a betrayal, Wallace suffers a long and drawn out public execution. Nearing the end of his life, Wallace sees the ghost of his wife in the crowd, comforting him and compelling him to shout for freedom. With his death, he’s finally able to join his love once again.
The Type of Cry: This is the brutal death of a real life person you’ve come to care about over the course of two hours, so it’s incredibly sad. But it’s also the moment he joins the woman he loved in the afterlife, so it has some emotional release to it, too. It’s also an incredibly manly death, so there’s some big old dude tears mixed in there, too.