Wilson Webb/Columbia Pictures
There’s something about sad movies that draws us in. Why do so many of us suffer through the magnum opus of tearjerker movies, Titanic, multiple times? Why do we revisit the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet in all of its forms?
While watching the true story of an early 20th-century tragedy, or the doomed romance between two teenage lovers, doesn’t sound like something that would feel cathartic, those types of films are rewatched by many. So why exactly do people turn to emotional movies regularly to feel better?
To answer that, some point to a study from Ohio State University that used another gold medalist among movies to cry to, Atonement, as a vehicle for understanding why these movies make us happier. What researchers found is that sad movies, like Titanic and Atonement, make us think about the relationships we hold near and dear in our own lives. As Silvia Knoblock-Westerwick, lead author of the study and a professor of Mediated Communication at the Technical University of Berlin, put it: “Tragic stories often focus on themes of eternal love, and this leads viewers to think about their loved ones and count their blessings.”
Plus, crying over the lost love of fictional characters comes with some health benefits, too. Researchers have shown that crying releases the feel-good chemicals oxytocin and endorphins, which means that movies that make you cry do everything from help your body flush away stress hormones and improve your immune system to boost your empathy levels and increase healthy attachment with friends and family. It makes total sense that we are attracted to tear-jerker movies.
Science aside though, it’s also true that sometimes you just want to let yourself escape into the melancholy of these characters’ lives. So if you’re in the mood to get the waterworks going, we’ve compiled a list of some of the saddest movies ever that will make you cry for sure. Proceed with caution, some of these emotional movies will do a number on you.
1. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
Gorgeously shot, this movie’s got everything: queer romance between women, seaside vistas, subtle nods to witchcraft, and not-so-subtle nods to abortion. It’s also got a final ~10 minutes that will completely wreck you. (For those who know, page 28, anyone?) Though it’s not been with us for long, Portrait of a Lady on Fire will inarguably live on as a mainstay of sad, romantic movies for, well, ever.
2. Steel Magnolias (1989)
This is maybe melodrama at its finest, with a true mouthful of a star-studded cast — we’re talking Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton, Olympia Dukakis, Sally Field, Julia Roberts, and Daryl Hannah. Six small-town Southern women can frequently be found hanging out in the local beauty salon — and acting as witnesses to each other’s wins and losses. The emotional monologue Sally Field delivers will have you blubbering.
3. My Girl (1991)
Let’s cut to the chase here. Famously a heavyweight among tearjerker movies, we’re pretty sure you should be whipping out the tissues at the mere mention of My Girl. Macaulay Culkin, Anna Chlumsky, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Dan Aykroyd deliver scene-stealing performances in this tale of two young friends experiencing childhood wonder together. Please, don’t ever say “He can’t see without his glasses” around me or I’ll start sobbing.
4. The Fox and the Hound (1981)
If you’re somebody who requires your sad movies to involve anthropomorphic animals, reacquaint yourself with The Fox and the Hound. We’re pretty sure it only takes a little star-crossed animal friendship to make sob-y suckers of us all.
5. Fruitvale Station (2013)
This one is woof — going to do some damage. Based on a true story, it follows the last day of 22-year-old Oscar Grant’s life. Oscar (Michael B. Jordan) has been turning things around following a stint in San Quentin, but on his way home from watching New Year’s Eve fireworks with family and friends, his life is cut short by police violence. It’s a heavy watch, and those personally affected by police violence against Black communities may want to follow this one with some self-care.
6. Titanic (1997)
After the way we started this sad film list, you knew this one was coming. The question is, what part of Titanic will make you wail the loudest? For us, when the camera pans over photos of Rose living out the plans she and Jack had made, we will never not lose it. Do we need to explain this one any further?
7. The Farewell (2019)
Awkwafina has said that starring in The Farewell made her “an emotional wreck,” causing her to “come home and call my grandma crying every night.” It stands to reason that this movie, about family and grief and togetherness before the ultimate farewell, might have a similar effect on you.
8. Up (2009)
As with most movies to cry to on this list, including Up here isn’t to suggest it’s entirely or even mostly sad, given there’s plenty that’s hopeful and heartwarming about this movie. The opening montage alone though, showing scenes from the shared life of Carl and Ellie, will emotionally ravage you. Plain and simple.
9. The Neverending Story (1984)
Sometimes, a single scene can be enough to squarely brand a movie as sob-worthy. The Swamps of Sadness scene in The Neverending Story is one of them. An (extremely) thinly veiled metaphor for depression, it demolishes us every time.
10. Harriet the Spy (1996)
Maybe this is nostalgia talking, but Harriet the Spy is a deeply sad movie, and actually, we can’t be persuaded otherwise. Tell us you didn’t become a heart-clutching, sniveling mess when Golly says goodbye. Go ahead. Tell us!
11. Other People (2016)
Semi-autobiographical, Other People is the first movie from Chris Kelly, a comedy writer whose writing credits include “Saturday Night Live” and “Broad City.” Unsurprisingly, it’s funny, but it’s also super moving and personal, following a New York comedy writer who must move home to care for his terminally ill mother.
12. Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)
We’re not sure which half of Fried Green Tomatoes is more tear-inducing; the flashback part of the movie, telling the “Extremely Good Friends” story of the (totally in love) Idgie and Ruth, or the present-day part where Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy’s characters find life-changing friendship in a nursing home. Are we crying already? Maybe, friends.
13. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
In this fantasy-drama film, 6-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) and her father Wink (Dwight Henry) are preparing for the end of the world from their tiny island home in the Louisiana bayou. When Wink falls ill, and with natural forces — including rising temperatures and tides — threatening their island community, Hushpuppy sets off in search of her birth mother. Climate change is a big theme here, making this movie sad at times in a slightly too-real way.
14. A Walk to Remember (2002)
A sleepover movie for the ages. Mandy Moore’s performance will get us every single time. If you were a tween at the start of the aughts, we know you heard at least three classmates sing “Only Hope” in the school talent show. (Or maybe you yourself were that classmate.) Either way, a devastating movie.
15. Coco (2017)
If stories about our connections to our ancestors are a surefire tear-duct trigger for you, Coco will hit, guaranteed. A beautifully animated, multigenerational story about family and forgiveness, its incorporation of Mexican culture has been widely celebrated, from the importance of Día de Los Muertos to the movie’s plot to its nods to Mexican folk art, music, and historical figures.
16. Stepmom (1998)
A time-honored classic among tearjerker movies, after Stepmom, you’ll never listen to Ain’t No Mountain High Enough the same way again. Fashion photographer Jackie (Julia Roberts) isn’t exactly nailing the whole soon-to-be-a-stepmom thing, but when a family crisis rears its head, she and the kids’ mother (Susan Sarandon) must become unlikely allies. Make sure the tissues are nearby.
17. Atonement (2007)
If movies with sad endings are your jam, chances are you’ve seen Atonement more than a few times. Oft-watched during breakups and bad periods alike, it’s also the movie that earned Saoirse Ronan her first Oscar nomination at the ripe old age of 13. This movie has anything but a happy ending and will trick you before revealing the ugly truth.
18. The Green Mile (1999)
Scary movie sovereign Stephen King also gave audiences one of the undisputed saddest movie endings in The Green Mile, a story about the wrongful imprisonment of a Black man condemned to death (John Coffey) and a guard on Death Row (Tom Hanks).
19. The Land Before Time (1988)
What sick, sick people allowed an animated children’s movie about dinosaurs to be this sad? (Our kind of sick people, apparently!) The Land Before Time came out a full eight years before a certain other cartoon movie about grief and community resilience got all the glory for its parent-death scene. (We’re looking at you, Mufasa.) In our book, Littlefoot’s loss hits just as hard, though.
20. Marriage Story (2019)
Divorce is hard. And watching someone else’s divorce is also unpleasant. But Marriage Story deserves its place among good sad movies, and Adam Driver undeniably aces his part. That scene where he finally reads the letter that Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) wrote for him? We couldn’t handle it. If you’re a child of divorce, maybe watch out for this one.
21. The Lion King (1994)
We know, we know. We were just low-key slighting The Lion King in favor of The Land Before Time. But of course, Mufasa’s death still makes The Lion King, for so many people, one of the most emotional movies ever made. And when Simba starts running back to Pride Rock from Hakuna Matata land? Feelings! We know you have them.
22. One True Thing (1998)
If mother-daughter relationships are your crying kryptonite, give One True Thing a whirl. In it, Ellen (Renée Zellweger) is an up-and-coming journalist in New York City who, following a cancer diagnosis and at the behest of an impressive father she adores (William Hurt), must return home to care for a mother she less-than adores (Meryl Streep).
23. A Star is Born (2018)
As thankful as we are that we’re no longer in the era of hearing “Shallow” stream from the inside of every Uber, grocery store, and karaoke bar in America, including A Star is Born as a sad-love movie entry feels kind of obligatory. If you’ve already seen the Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper version, try watching one of its predecessors: either the 1954 movie starring Judy Garland and James Mason or the 1976 version starring Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. Each adaptation is slightly different but equally heartwrenching.
24. Selena (1997)
The story of Selena Quintanilla, memorably captured onscreen by Jennifer Lopez, certainly makes for a movie with a sad ending. But it’s also just a beautiful tribute to the life and legacy of the Mexican American pop queen. Even though we all know how Selena’s life tragically ended, seeing it played out on screen still makes us cry.
25. The Pianist (2002)
An adaptation of a Holocaust survivor’s autobiography, The Pianist features Adrien Brody as a Polish Jewish radio station pianist who, with the help of a friend, escapes a concentration camp-bound train and hides in Warsaw for the rest of the war. It’s, understandably, a heavy film and should be entered into with that in mind.
26. Soul (2020)
The Disney-Pixar team did it again. If this stunningly animated movie doesn’t make you at minimum tear up with its themes of purpose, passion, and friendship and its message that you are enough, well, that’s also okay. For us though, we’ll be blubbering.
27. Life is Beautiful (1997)
Things start out joyful in this Italian comedy-drama movie, as our happy-go-lucky lead, Guido, meets and falls in love with Dora, his life’s big love and soon the mother of his son. Things take a turn with the introduction of the war; this is Northern Italy and, in the mid-1940s, the Nazis invade. Guido, who is Jewish, and his son are seized, and the family is taken to a concentration camp. There, Guido devises an elaborate game designed to keep his 5-year-old safe, and if it’s not already abundantly clear, many, many tissues will be needed for this one.
28. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
While there’s, yes, the element of two straight actors (Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) playing gay here, Brokeback Mountain is also a wrenchingly heartbreaking movie that lives on with a mixed legacy for a lot of queer viewers. If you’re looking in particular for movies with sad endings, this might be the ticket. Also: Anne Hathaway keeps ending up on this list of sad movies… What’s the deal, Anne?
29. Beaches (1998)
As one reviewer on Google put it: “This movie is so beautiful, I snorted a meatball out of my nose while weeping. (We were eating spaghetti.)” Take a cue of caution and maybe skip the pasta dinner while watching this beloved, Bette Midler-starring classic about a 35-year friendship and all its highs and lows.
30. Rent (2005)
Rent composer and creator Jonathan Larson died the day of Rent’s opening debut on Broadway, meaning he never got to see his creation on the stage. Toss that knowledge into your next, already-weepy watch of this iconic musical. If you’re unfamiliar, it does deal with the AIDS crisis, along with drug addiction, so be warned.
31. Marvin’s Room (1996)
"I've been so lucky to have been able to love someone so much.'' That’s a line spoken by Diane Keaton’s character, Bessie, in this beautifully sad movie — and a taste of all the tears you’re sure to shed when watching it. Also worth mentioning is that Meryl Streep stars in this as Bessie’s estranged sister! So do Robert De Niro and the guy who only dates 25-year-olds, Leonardo DiCaprio.
32. The Notebook (2004)
Would this have been a list of movies that make you cry without it? Absolutely not. The film is a sad romantic movie Hall-of-Famer and pulls at the heartstrings of all ages. Seeing a couple in love from their earliest dates, all the way until the end is nothing short of beautiful. Yes, The Notebook is corny, but — old people in love! Lost love that isn’t really lost at all! What chance did we stand?
33. Dead Poets Society (1989)
At this point, we’re not sure Dead Poets Society, famously starring Robin Williams (and also Ethan Hawke in one of his earlier roles), requires much by way of introduction. Obviously, we’ve included it among the saddest movies ever. We’re not monsters! (Joke-y language aside, we want to include a self-harm content warning for anyone who hasn’t seen this movie.)
34. The Hate U Give (2018)
Amandla Stenberg, who stars in this movie, said after its release: “We have a lot of white people crying, which is great. I’ve never seen so many white people crying before… white people crying was actually the goal!" A story about a 16-year-old’s reckoning with the police slaying of her childhood best friend, it’s not an easy watch, but one that — to Stenberg’s point — those of us whose lives aren’t consistently jeopardized by police violence would do well to pay attention to.
35. Homeward Bound (1993)
Not to spoil anything for folks whose childhoods didn’t involve watching this movie on repeat, but a certain animal character’s almost-death gets us every time.
36. The Big Sick (2017)
Kumail Nanjiani didn’t have to reach far for the material for his first feature film, given it’s based on his real-life story: Nanjiani, a Pakistani-American comedian, and his wife (and co-writer on this film) Emily V. Gordon were eight months into dating when she was placed in a medically induced coma. The Big Sick gives us a window into that, with plenty of moments of humor peeking through all the pathos.
37. Irreplaceable You (2018)
Shortly after Abbie and Sam, best friends who’ve known each other since age 8, get engaged, they’re dealt a blow neither saw coming. Abbie is terminally sick, and as a final gift to Sam, she becomes bent on picking out his life’s next love. It’s both as sad and funnier than it sounds.
38. Amour (2012)
Anne and George have been in love and totally devoted to each other for decades. When she suffers a stroke, George does everything in his power to keep his promise to her: that she won’t have to carry out the rest of her days in a hospital. We’ll have to apologize for any typos in this movie description, as it’s a little hard to type through tears.
39. Moonlight (2016)
Moonlight was the first LGBTQIA+ movie and the first movie with an all-Black cast to win Best Picture, and it’s also going to make you cry buckets. In it, we see Chiron, a young, gay Black man in Miami who grows up poor and whose mother struggles with adduction, come to terms with his identity. Aside from a love story for the ages, it’s also beautifully shot.
40. P.S. I Love You (2007)
We’ve got to admit, among movies that make you cry (and are, y’know, engineered to), P.S. I Love You has a pretty fail-proof premise. Husband (Gerard Butler) dies of a brain tumor. Bereft wife (Hillary Swank) is left to pick up the pieces, with the help of surprise letters and gifts her husband secretly arranged for her in his final days. If he wanted to, he would (even in death).
41. Pieces of a Woman (2020)
A raw, moving story about the grief of childbirth gone wrong, Pieces of a Woman takes us on the journey of a young mother (Vanessa Kirby) whose at-home birth ended in tragedy and who, painfully, is learning what life looks like after the loss of a child.
42. Sophie’s Choice (1982)
We couldn’t consider any list of the saddest movies ever complete without Sophie’s Choice on it. Notorious for supplying tears, it tells the story of a Holocaust survivor (memorably played by Meryl Streep) who’s haunted by Auschwitz and an unspeakably terrible choice she had to make there.
43. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
When Chris (Will Smith) and his young son (Jaden Christopher Syre Smith) are evicted from their apartment, Chris is left with no money, no resources, and a need to make a plan. Based on a true story, its themes of resilience and a father’s love will have you headed for the Kleenex box. But this movie also offers a commentary on America’s lack of a social safety net and the circumstances people shouldn’t have to be resilient against.
44. The Secret Life of Bees (2008)
Starring Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, Jennifer Hudson, Sophie Okonedo, and Dakota Fanning, the film version of The Secret Life of Bees is sure to make a movie crier out of you, same as the 2001 book did in your school library.
45. Carol (2015)
You can admire the fashion in this movie, adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s queer classic The Price of Salt and starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, between sobs.
46. Seven Pounds (2008)
Will Smith is back to making us cry in this 2008 film directed by Gabriele Muccino about a man who sets out to change the lives of seven people. We don’t want to give too much away, but it’s a beautiful story about redemption, loss, and love. And it will get you every time.
47. Marley & Me (2008)
If you haven’t seen Marley & Me, can you even call yourself a sad movie lover? This movie, based on a book of real-life columns, follows a couple — played by Owen Wilson and Jennifer Anniston — as they navigate life and marriage alongside their beloved yellow lab Marley, who has been through it all with them. As we know, dogs (unfortunately) have very limited lifespans, so you can probably guess what happens. Even though you know it’s coming, it still makes us sob uncontrollably.
48. La La Land (2016)
Nobody plays a couple better than Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. The chemistry is off the charts between these two, who play lovers who are both trying to make it in Hollywood. Stone’s character is a struggling actress, while Gosling plays a jazz-obsessed musician. The woes of auditioning and selling out to the big fame machine take a toll on their romance in this Oscar-winning (IYKYK) musical. And if you’re on a plane, be careful when selecting this movie, because that final scene will make you stifle quiet sobs.
49. Interstellar (2014)
This one is for sci-fi lovers who are in the mood to feel something deeply. Directed by Christopher Nolan (Oppenheimer, Inception), this star-studded film follows a group of astronauts who venture to other galaxies to find a better planet to live on. Matthew McConaughey has one of his greatest performances in this movie, acting alongside Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon, and a young Timothée Chalamet. The scene where McConaughey is viewing video messages from his kids back on Earth will destroy you — if the mind-bending science of space doesn’t do it first.
50. The Family Stone (2005)
Could it technically be considered a Christmas movie? Perhaps. But it will bring up every emotion in you all the same. This film is STACKED with stars including Diane Keaton, Sarah Jessica Parker, Rachel McAdams, Luke Wilson, and more. The plot follows a family during the holidays who fight and bicker, but also show up for one another. New romances and loss ensue in this touching film, which makes it a classic tearjerker movie.
51. One Day (2011)
Based on a book of the same name, this 2011 film follows friends-turned-lovers on one day a year over 20 years. Starring Anne Hathaway (girl, why do all of your movies make us cry?) and Jim Sturgess, the characters are always in each other’s lives, despite many hiccups. Fair warning, the end will have you in a mess.
52. I Am Legend (2007)
Look, sometimes you need a zombie apocalypse to make you emotional, and that’s okay. Will Smith is back to making us cry once again in this classic sci-fi flick that follows his character experiencing isolation (and avoiding zombies) in an abandoned New York City. It’s a heartwrenching tale of loneliness and loss, and a must-watch.
53. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
We do have to give a trigger warning for this one, as it deals with themes of sexual assault and suicide. But it’s an emotional tale of a group of teenage friends who navigate high school together and all that comes with it. Starring Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Paul Rudd, and more, this story will have you gutted.
54. Someone Great (2019)
This one was sneakily devastating. This 2019 movie follows Gina Rodriquez’s character as she navigates life immediately following her relationship ending. It’s one of the most accurate depictions of what the aftermath of a break-up looks like — including having flashbacks of the good times and the bad. The movie has a great message in the end, but will have you crying more than you expected to. After all, it’s the movie that inspired Taylor Swift’s hit, “Death by a Thousand Cuts.”
55. Little Women
This classic novel has been made into multiple movies and TV shows, so pick your favorite. If you want the modern spin on it, turn to Greta Gerwig’s 2019 version — starring Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Laura Dern, and literally so many other famous people. This story will make you wish you grew up in a house of four sisters, all leading different lives. It’s been adapted several times for a reason.
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue