A good cry, noun: the necessary purging of pent-up emotions to be done on the couch, underneath the covers, or in a puddle of your former self on the floor in the corner of a dark room. Wherever you choose to indulge in the cathartic experience that is a good cry and release the valve on the stream of steady tears you’ve been holding back, just make sure there’s a screen nearby, so you can stream one of our favorite tearjerkers.
From Steven Spielberg and vintage classics to animated and musically inclined soul-stirrers, every single one of these cinematic emotional wrecking balls will take hold of your heartstrings and refuse to stop tugging. Some of them elicit a glistening tear for a scene or two, while others wait until their climatic endings to tie that proverbial knot in your throat. So grab the Kleenex, or your sponge-worthy pet, and get ready for the good cry. Let’s feel the feels.
Disney knows how to get even the stiffest upper lip to quiver (The Lion King, Up, Inside Out), but this animated classic about best friends Copper, a hunting dog, and Tod, his natural enemy, takes the prize for most waterworks. Largely due to this scene with Tweed and Tod. BRB, got something in our eye.
For any sob fest enthusiast, James L. Brooks’s classic is a rite of passage. Shirley Maclaine and Debra Winger are Aurora and Emma, a mother and daughter who share a close yet complicated bond. Without giving anything away, just know that once the tear duct levies break, there’s no going back.
Thanks to the Garry Marshall super soaker starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey as besties whose friendship begins on a beach when they’re kids and ends on a beach decades later, we’ll never be able to get through “Wind Beneath My Wings” without a tissue again.
Stream Beaches, $4 to rent, $18 to buy, amazon.com.
Isao Takahata’s wartime survival tale set in a firebomb-ravaged Japanese port city will make you rethink “cartoons.” An emotional beating, it reveals the horrors of WWII with unflinching animation (mass graves, lice, starvation) and does so via a four-year-old girl and her older brother. Here’s a full breakdown.
A mascara-streaking comedy about a beautician and the small-town Southerners she soon calls friends, Steel Magnolias has a way of wrestling with one’s emotions. Be it crying so hard, you’re laughing., you’re crying. Or
Anna Chlumsky has a way with words, whether she’s rapid-firing obscenities on Veep or waxing precocious as Veda Sultenfuss with her BFF Thomas J. in this nostalgic early ‘90s number that has plenty of reasons to tear up (see: his glasses). The best time to view? On a cloudy day, of course.
Emotional triggers are everywhere in this Italian concentration-camp drama that smiles through the horror. Roberto Benigni stars as Guido, a cheery waiter whose happy bubble is burst when he, his wife, and his son are imprisoned. Benigni is a joy to watch, his charm and humor tangible, but there aren't enough tissues in the world to stop the flood that’s about to ensue.
What do Lars Von Trier, Bjork, and Hollywood musicals have in common? This shattering drama from the controversial director, about an almost-blind Czechoslovakian immigrant (Bjork) whose only way of escaping the horrors of a murder trial are by starring in her own musicals. Very hard watch here.
Anything stamped with “from Nicholas Sparks’ best-selling novel” is going to elicit the feels, even if that’s an eye roll. But Nick Casavettes’s doomed romance starring the electric onscreen chemistry between Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling is in a class of its own. And just when you thought you’d cried your last tear through the couple’s steamy, rain-soaked reunion, you soon learn: It's not over. It still isn’t over.
Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler star as perfect couple Holly and Gerry in this drama, which actually begins when he dies. Set dually in NYC and Ireland, the film unravels via a series of letters Gerry leaves for Holly. But that pond you keep jumping? It isn’t an ocean. It’s a sea of tears. Your tears.
What starts out as a filmmaker’s poignant and intimate letter to his murdered friend’s unborn son morphs into a truly jaw-dropping work of nonfiction. One part super-sad documentary, one part super-chilling crime thriller, Kurt Kuenne’s journey will have you crying, oh yes, and then screaming. Be ready.
Ben Zeitlin’s Beasts is a joyously original ride through human emotion. The imagery is so real, it’ll make your mouth water for soul food. The score is so celebratory, it’ll make you want to hug a stranger. And the tale of Hushpuppy, a six-year-old enduring force of nature, and her daddy who live in the "Bathtub" is so beautifully tragic, it may just make your heart burst.
True story: A little boy from India gets separated by thousands of kilometers from his family, escapes street life, and is adopted by Australian parents. And that’s only the beginning. Good luck trying to get through this one (especially that final scene!) with a dry eye.
Nothing akin to the schmaltzy tearjerkers that feel like an assault on the senses, Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight is a portrait almost too touching for words. It chronicles the life a bullied boy who grows into a man wrestling with his own identity, and from start to finish, your heart will just break.
A little backstory: Director Steven Spielberg found his concept for his beloved extraterrestrial classic nestled under a melancholic memory: The relationship between Elliott and E.T. was inspired by his parents’ divorce. “What would happen if a child of a divorce or a family of a divorce with a huge hole to fill, filled the hole with his new best extra-terrestrial friend?” he said. Magical to watch flourish and heartbreaking to see end on Earth, their time together is one of the best things to come out of the ’80s.
Two brilliant musicians so obviously meant for each other are tragically kept apart because of loyalties and choices made before they met—it’s a star-crossed lovers story that comes around only oncein a lifetime, and with some of the best original music of all time to boot. Irish auteur John Carney hit the pot of gold with his leading pair, Markéta Irglová and Glen Hansard, the former who gives a soul-wrenching performance about two-thirds of the way through the film that will leave a river of tears.
Is it an animated take on the Cold War? Is it maybe something more, like an antiwar fable disavowing weapons and guns? Who cares! Just watch Brad Bird’s notoriously misunderstood and continuously debated Iron Giant for what we truly want it to be: an emotionally wrought, heart-wrenching tale about a boy and the giant killing robot machine who learns about love, empathy, and heroism. Sometimes, heroes don’t wear capes; they’re just giant hunks of scrap metal.
Any installment from the Toy Story franchise—well, any selection from the Pixar library, really—is professional-grade waterworks material. But Toy Story 2 in particular is a surefire one-way trip to the water park for us, beginning with the scene when newbie cowgirl character Jessie reveals her tragic backstory, compounded by a mournful Sarah McLachlan singing Randy Newman’s poignant and painful “When She Loved Me.” Just. ruin. us. why don’t you.
An indie that came and went criminally underseen by the masses, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl won top prize at Sundance in 2015. And it left not a dry eye in every room in which it screened. It stars Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, and Olivia Cooke as the respective title characters, and follows along as best friends Greg and Earl make a movie for their dying friend, Rachel. Their resulting film will leave you in a puddle.
Sarah Polley, the actress-turned-director whose debut directorial effort saw its screenplay and leading actress, Julie Christie, both get nominated for Oscars, is a virtuoso behind the lens. Away from Her, an emotional beating about a man who watches his wife of 44 years not only succumb to the cruel effects of Alzheimer's disease but also fall in love with another man living in the same nursing home, is a difficult watch. But it’s also a really superb film from a truly stellar filmmaker.
Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline star in the 1982 Holocaust drama adapted from William Styron’s 1979 novel. A Polish woman who survived the Nazi concentration camps and is haunted by the ghosts of that past, Sophie (Streep) was forced to make a brutal decision that we wouldn’t dare give away here for readers who have not yet watched the film. But it’s Streep’s Oscar-winning act of impossible decision making that has penetrated the zeitgeist and given us the pop-cultured slang we use to this day.
Anyone who made it through grade school knows the frontier tale of Travis Coates and his “big, mongrel yellow dog,” whether they read it in class or watched the movie on the Disney Channel. Novelist Fred Gipson had nary a care for children’s feelings when he wrote the ending of the timeless American classic and Newbery Honor Book, and we guess, neither did Disney when it turned the climax into a third-dimensional assault on our senses: What are you doing what that gun, Travis?
Clint Eastwood has become an emotive softie in his older age. His days of making punks feeling lucky have been ushered offstage and replaced with thought-provoking narratives of life, legacy, and mortality, many of which he writes and directs himself. The pinnacle of such films has to be Million Dollar Baby, a tearjerker sports film starring Eastwood as the coach to Hilary Swank’s boxer in the grueling role that won her an Oscar.
You will cry because of Celie’s life story—the abuse, sexual, physical, and otherwise, she’s suffered at the hands of her father and others for decades. You will cry because of the pain the Black women on-screen endure. But you will also cry because of the hope, the strength, and the resilience on display. Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, Margaret Avery, and more bring Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel to life, with Steven Spielberg capturing it on film. Just make sure to stock the tissues.
David Lean, the storied director behind legendary films including Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, and The Greatest Story Ever Told, also crafted one of the greatest romances ever made. Brief Encounter (1945) is a relative quickie (it’s only 86 minutes) about a middle-class couple who are married to other people but share several “brief encounters” at a railway station—each one harder to depart than the last, and each departure tugging a bit harder on the heartstring.
The Crown's Vanessa Kirby gives a gut-wrenching performance in this Oscar-nominated tale of grief. She plays a woman who in the opening minutes of the film goes into labor, gives birth in her bedroom, and then is thrust into the deepest period of grief and reckoning any expecting mother could ever experience. An exploration of tragedy and the ripple effects that transform lives, this one is a crusher.
Don't let the whimsy of a Taika Waititi film fool you; this war-centric satire is entirely heartbreaking. Not only is the film's lead, Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), a misled Nazi wannabe who is confounded by the Jew hiding in the upstairs nook of his house, but the real-world lessons he's forced to learn—we're thinking about the fate of his mother, played by Scarlett Johansson here—are brutal.
A Hindu-language grief drama that tries to find the light in the darkest of times, The Sky Is Pink stars Bollywood heavyweights Priyanka Chopra and Farhan Akhtar, and is actually based on the true story of its narrator, Aisha Chaudhary, who died at age 18 of pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease she was born with. Achingly raw, the film will at least make you laugh between the tears.
Though Alfonso Cuarón's visual and emotional masterpiece Roma is filled with love and delight, the sadness on display is heavy—like, several soaked hankies heavy. For the narrative, the director pulled from his own childhood growing up in a suburb of Mexico City under the guidance of many women, including his mother and beloved domestic worker. It's through these women that harsh realities show themselves and, in turn, drain our tear ducts.
You don't have to be an animal lover to fall to pieces watching Hachi. This man's-best-friend story will permeate even the toughest of critics. Starring Richard Gere, the film is based on the true story of a college professor and his loyal Akita Inu who would greet him every night after work at the train station. Without giving anything away, the film shows just how far this rusty-colored pup took his love and devotion. And we're crying already.
Awkwafina is hilarious. And so is The Farewell … at times. Underneath the comedy and the ridiculous-in-a-good-way ruse at the core of Lulu Wang's personal film is a delicate story that taps an emotional well that will be empty once the credits roll. In short: A Chinese family keep their terminally ill matriarch in the dark as they all say their final goodbyes. Just know: You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll miss your grandma.
Drive My Car is one director's affecting opus that rides shotgun on the road to recovery. When Yusuke learns of his wife's affair shortly before her sudden death, he's forced to face unburied truths, emotional obstacles, and every painful stage of grief. Clocking in at about three hours, this mesmerizing epic takes its time, so just sit back, keep tissues near, and absorb all that director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi is dishing.
Simply put: Patty Jenkins's directorial debut is a soul-crushing watch. It's about real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos, the Daytona Beach prostitute who killed her johns, but the humanity injected by the director and the stirring performance given by a completely transformed Charlize Theron outweigh the violence and brutality, leaving us choking on our sobs as Aileen is led away in shackles and chains.
At first, you think you're watching an extraterrestrial thriller about leggy aliens trying to make contact. About halfway in, however, the deeply thought-provoking reality of Denis Villeneuve's masterpiece takes up residence as a giant lump in your throat. Amy Adams stars as Louise, a linguist who gets a "gift" from the cephalopods she's studying. That gift shuffles everything she knows and asks one very profound question: If you knew how it would end, would you do it again?
In the hands of Barry Jenkins, James Baldwin's novel gets the big-screen treatment, enlisting KiKi Layne and Stephan James to steer the moving drama as lovers and expecting parents Tish and Fonny. Set in 1970s Harlem, Beale Street operates at the intersection of love and heartbreak, as Fonny is wrongly accused of rape and then incarcerated, and Tish and her family (including the incredible Sharon, played by Regina King) fight to clear his name.