It’s been almost a year since my first look at 10 Films That Made Me Bawl Like a Baby, but movies just won’t stop making me cry. I’m not ashamed of it either, clearly. A great movie should be emotionally impactful and that includes everything from moments of pure joy to massive devastation. And any of those emotions can elicit tears if delivered just right.
The following 10 films range from some of cinema’s greatest tear-jerking moments to the cheap shots that squeeze out tears while they can. In either case, these movies have made me cry gallons over the years. Buckle up, it’s going to get messy.
The Peanuts Movie
The Setup: The newest film on this list is like a recipe specifically created to make me weep. Good ol’ Charlie Brown struggles with his own insecurities, but when The Little Red Haired Girl moves to town, he decides to prove his own worth once and for all. Supported by his pet Snoopy and friend Linus, Charlie experiences countless highs and lows, showing himself to be a truly good person, no matter what he’s going through. All the while, we grow to deeply care and desperately root for our hero.
The Moment: After an entire school year of Charlie Brown trying to get The Little Red Haired Girl to notice him, the object of his affections chooses him to be her pen pal partner for the summer. Before she leaves for camp, Charlie races to talk to her and understand why she would pick a “loser” like him. In return, The Little Red Haired Girl explains that she saw all the great things he did, which showed her that he had an amazing heart. There’s simple truth and love spoken into the character that renders him and the kids watching speechless. Even Lucy starts crying! And after The Little Red Haired Girl promises to write before she leaves, everyone gives Charlie a massive hug and lifts him on their shoulders, celebrating him for who he is.
The Type of Cry: The kind of massive, uncontrollable cry that turns you into a big, wet, sloppy mess in a movie theater full of children. It’s not from sadness, but from pure happiness and goodness. This is years and years of loving a character who always loses finally given the love and grace he deserves. I didn’t expect The Peanuts Movie to destroy me, but it sure did.
Pride & Prejudice
The Setup: Adapted from the Jane Austen novel, Pride & Prejudice focuses on the independent Elizabeth Bennet, who struggles against the confines of late 18th century England. When the difficult Mr. Darcy comes into her life, the two find themselves constantly at odds with one another. However, Darcy’s unexpected profession of love catches Elizabeth off guard, as she slowly comes to better understand him. Eventually, Darcy’s truly good nature is revealed and Elizabeth finds herself in love with him, as well, despite many forces seeking to keep them apart.
The Moment: After being told that Darcy is engaged to someone else, Elizabeth walks the moors at dawn, wondering if she has lost her chance at being with him. Suddenly, Darcy appears walking out of the mist, once again proclaiming his love for her, which she reciprocates in kind. The tender moment of love between them in the light of the misty dawn is one of the great romantic film moments.
The Type of Cry: Completely unexpected. Pride and Prejudice is the type of story that makes you invest heavily in the lives and relationships of its characters without really thinking about it until suddenly Mr. Darcy is walking out of the morning mist and you’re losing it. Happiness, relief, and love all wrapped up in one.
The Setup: Set years after the events of all six Rocky movies, Creed tells the story of Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the son of Apollo Creed, who has become a boxer in the tradition of his long-deceased father. Seeking purpose and a path in the world of boxing, Adonis trains with Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), the longtime rival and friend of his father. After some success in the ring, Adonis gets a shot at the title due in large part to being the son of his world champion father.
The Moment: The Rocky movies have always been emotional affairs, but the best of them truly hit deep. That’s no exception with Ryan Coogler’s Creed. Locked in a desperate fight during his climactic bout with World Light Heavyweight Champion Ricky Conlan, Adonis is seriously hurt but refuses to throw in the towel. When Rocky considers throwing in the towel, Adonis begs him not to because he has to “prove it.” Prove what? “That I’m not a mistake.”
The Type of Cry: Adonis’ line is a total gut punch. After getting to know him over the course of the film, he finally reveals the pain and anguish that has been driving him this whole time. Of course Adonis isn’t a mistake, but he desperately needs to prove this to himself. But you don’t pity him in his pain; you empathize deeply with him and cheer him on even more.
The Setup: After they are temporarily left at a ranch, pets Chance, Shadow, and Sassy mistakenly believe that they have been abandoned. Setting out to find their home and their family, the pets travel through the wilderness and brave many dangers to get back to their owners, who believe that they have been lost forever. But the worst challenges come near the end of their journey and threaten to keep them from being happily reunited.
The Moment: Nearly home, old Shadow falls into a muddy pit, hurting his leg. With no one able to get him out, Shadow tells Chance and Sassy to go on without him. Cut to home where young Peter and the family see the two coming back miraculously, but without Shadow, leading both the characters and the audience to believe that Shadow is a goner. Just as Peter believes that Shadow was simply too old to make it, he sees his faithful old dog limping home. The boy and his dog run toward one another, reunited and happy.
The Type of Cry: The kind of cry you can only have if you’ve ever had a pet. I made the mistake of rewatching Homeward Bound shortly after losing my lifelong dog as a teenager. Needless to say, it was a huge mistake.
Saving Private Ryan
The Setup: After the invasion of Europe by Allied Forces on D-Day in World War II, Captain John Miller and a company of men are tasked with finding Private James Ryan deep with Axis-controlled Europe. All of Ryan’s brothers have died and the U.S. military has decided that Ryan must be saved in the light of his family’s great loss. A long journey leads to the death of several men and a climactic showdown with Nazi forces in the town where Ryan is stationed.
The Moment: Ryan is saved by Captain Miller and his men, but at the cost of many lives. With his last words, Miller tells Ryan to “Earn this.” The film returns to the present, where an old Ryan breaks down at the grave of Miller while surrounded by his wife and family. “Tell me I have led a good life,” Ryan says to his wife. “Tell me I’m a good man.” She replies, “You are.” All that he can do is salute the man who saved him.
The Type of Cry: There’s a sense of sorrow yet deep thankfulness held within the final emotional moments of Saving Private Ryan. So much was given for the life of one man. Seeing that he questions his worth years later is wrenching, but shows how the sacrifice of others can never be truly earned, only given thanks again and again.
The Setup: Young Paddington Bear lives with his aunt and uncle in Darkest Peru until a massive earthquake destroys their home and causes the death of his uncle. With nowhere to go, Aunt Lucy sends him to London, the home of an explorer who visited them many years ago and the only conceivable choice for where Paddington can live. But after he arrives, Paddington finds the city far less welcoming to an immigrant than he expected. Taken in by the Brown family until he finds the explorer and a permanent home, Paddington deals with being a stranger in a new country and being displaced from the only home and family he has ever known.
The Moment: There are two huge emotional moments in Paddington, but let’s go with the more complex one. Here, Paddington finally sees the film made by the explorer who came to visit his aunt and uncle years ago. As the black and white film reel unspools, Paddington walks toward the screen until he finds himself moving through it and suddenly transported to his dazzlingly colorful home in Peru, where his aunt and uncle wave to him from afar. But when the film ends, he finds himself back with the Browns watching the reel end. It’s completely wordless, letting Nick Urata’s delicate and emotional score support the massive wave of emotions that comes from this small moment of magical realism.
The Type of Cry: This is a transcendently beautiful moment that captures a multitude of emotions in a single minute. That wave of sadness, longing, and fleeting happiness brings the tears, but in the softest and most wonderful way.
Toy Story 3
The Setup: With owner Andy heading off to college, his toys are mistakenly donated to the local daycare. Trying to fit in with the new toys and their life inside the daycare, Woody, Buzz, and the gang end up in a battle with the evil Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear. This being a Pixar movie, Toy Story 3 is jam packed with enough emotion to cripple even the staunchest of moviegoers. Since this trilogy ender deals with massive issues of loss and acceptance affecting characters that have been love for more than a decade, the emotional toss is massive.
The Moment: Accidentally sent to a dump, our beloved toys are thrown in with the rest of the garbage heading toward the incinerator. With no way out, Buzz, Woody, Jesse, Slinky, Ham, Rex, and Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head hold hands as they prepare for their inevitable death. After an entire movie spent questioning their future, Pixar has set up a moment that makes you truly believe that the death of the toys will actually happen. Yes, they are saved by the timely intervention of a crane operated by the Aliens, but this moment is genuinely devastating. The impending death of these beloved characters is horrifying enough, but it is their bond in the face of destruction that is most moving.
The Type of Cry: Toy Story 3 is the Schindler’s List of animated films. It will destroy you and you’ll never want to watch it a second time. The toys almost getting incinerated is one of the most traumatizing and emotional moments in any film, but it’s also kind of a dirty trick. Pixar makes you believe that the characters you’ve loved your entire life are about to meet their doom. Worst of all, they find some solace in it since their together. Of course they get pulled out, but you’re destroyed by it.
The Fault in Our Stars
The Setup: Hazel Lancaster is a teenager dealing with terminal thyroid cancer and struggling with depression. During a support group, she meets Augustus Waters, who has been cancer free since losing a leg to bone cancer. Together, they cope with her fight against cancer and fall in love, even with so much loss surrounding them and dominating their future. While Hazel knows that she will eventually die from her disease, it’s the surprise return of Gus’s cancer that devastates them.
The Moment: After Gus’s cancer returns, he dies after a short battle. But he has left a final note for Hazel – a eulogy for her. Lying on the lawn in front of her home and staring up at the stars, she reads about his acceptance of his death and his love for her. “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, but you do have a say in who hurts you. And I like my choices. I hope she likes hers. Okay, Hazel Grace?” She responds, “Okay.” As the movie ends, we understand she accepts everything that has happened, and everything that will happen to her.
The Type of Cry: There’s a deep and intense grief felt at the loss and impending loss that comes with the end of The Fault in Our Stars because of the reality of its story. But there’s also a sense of closure and even some form of happiness that comes with the intense sadness, which is a perfect way to make me weep.
Harry Potter and the Death Hallows Part 1
The Setup: In the first part of the Harry Potter finale, longtime friends, Harry, Ron, and Hermione set out to destroy the evil Lord Voldemort. But they mostly camp out in a forest an mope. Other stuff happens, too. But let’s get to the crying, which comes in the high stakes climax to this first half.
The Moment: Harry, Hermione, and Ron are locked in a dungeon awaiting their certain doom at the hands of the Malfoys and the forces of Voldemort. But a timely intervention by the house elf Dobby (not seen since the second film) leads to their escape. Proclaiming himself to be a free elf, Dobby teleports the group out of danger, but not before the vile Bellatrix Lestrange throws a dagger into their group. Safe on a beach far away, Harry finds Dobby with the dagger in his chest. In his last moments, Dobby tells Harry “Such a beautiful place it is, to be with friends. Dobby is happy to be with his friend, Harry Potter.” Harry buries Dobby as the movie ends.
The Type of Cry: This is just one of the many times that author J.K. Rowling broke fans hearts within the course of her massive finale, but this may hurt the most. Incredibly sad but still touching, you still can’t help but be pissed at Rowling for doing this to you.
The Setup: Idealistic rat Remy dreams of being a chef and eventually finds himself teamed up with the naïve Linguini in a kitchen at one of Paris’ most famous restaurants. The duo clash and grow together as they embrace the craft of cooking. Along the way, they try to avoid being found out and must prepare for the upcoming arrival of notorious food critic Anton Ego, who could make or break them with a single review.
The Moment: Presenting Ego with a meal after nearly everything has gone wrong behind the scenes, Remy decides to give him the simply yet elegant choice of ratatouille. With a single bite, Ego is transported back to his childhood, where his mother fed him ratatouille and cared for him after a difficult day. Relying on simple visual storytelling to convey a lifetime’s worth of memories, the moment is transcendent and deeply beautiful.
The Type of Cry: The power of memory and distant yet powerful happiness in jampacked into this brief yet unforgettable moment. That potent idea evokes a strong but very earned emotional response. It’s the thesis of the movie distilled into a single experience. And the result is like a welcomed punch to the gut.
What movies have made you the most emotional? Let me know in the comments below!