Do not watch any of these films without an entire box of tissues handy. WARNING: Spoilers and major tears ahead.
1. Old Yeller (1957)
Buena Vista Distribution
Written by: Fred Gipson and William TunbergDirected by: Robert Stevenson
What it’s about: In 1860s Texas, a boy named Travis (Tommy Kirk) forges a bond with his pet dog, a Labrador retriever he names Old Yeller.When you’ll start crying: Old Yeller is bitten by a wolf while defending his family. The dog survives the attack, but you know what’s coming.When you’ll totally lose it: After a rabid Old Yeller goes after Travis’ brother Arliss (Kevin Corcoran), Travis is forced to shoot and kill him.
2. Imitation of Life (1959)
Written by: Eleanore Griffin and Allan ScottDirected by: Douglas Sirk
What it’s about: Aspiring actress Lora (Lana Turner) and her daughter Susie (Sandra Dee) form a close relationship with Annie (Juanita Moore) and her daughter Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner), who struggles with her racial identity.When you’ll start crying: After trying and failing to make peace with her estranged daughter, Annie grows increasingly ill and finally dies of a broken heart.When you’ll totally lose it: At Annie’s funeral, Sarah Jane returns — too late — to beg forgiveness of her mother, throwing herself on the casket as it’s carried away.
3. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)
Koch Lorber Films
Written by: Jacques DemyDirected by: Jacques Demy
What it’s about: In the French town of Cherbourg, Geneviève (Catherine Deneuve) falls in love with auto mechanic Guy (Nino Castelnuovo), who is drafted into the Algerian War.When you’ll start crying: Guy tells Geneviève that he will be leaving for two years, and they sing the haunting, heartbreaking “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” promising to wait for one another.When you’ll totally lose it: Many years later, when Geneviève and Guy are both married to other people, they run into each other for one final restrained good-bye.
4. Love Story (1970)
Written by: Erich SegalDirected by: Arthur Hiller
What it’s about: Wealthy Oliver Barrett IV (Ryan O’Neal) falls for working-class woman Jenny Cavalleri (Ali MacGraw), and the two get married against the wishes of his father (Ray Milland).When you’ll start crying: Start? From the moment Jenny gets her diagnosis — leukemia — to the moment she asks Oliver to hold her tightly before she dies, you won’t stop crying.When you’ll totally lose it: After Jenny dies, Oliver’s estranged father tries to make amends with his son. Oliver repeats the words Jenny once told him: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
5. The Champ (1979)
Written by: Frances Marion and Walter NewmanDirected: Franco Zeffirelli
What it’s about: Ex-boxing champion Billy Flynn (Jon Voight) is barely supporting his son T.J. (Ricky Schroder), so he decides to go back to fighting to pay off his gambling debts and give T.J. a better life.When you’ll start crying: Billy’s final fight, which he wins, will have you weeping — especially if you know the outcome.When you’ll totally lose it: After watching his dad win, T.J. sees him die. He tearfully tugs at Billy’s body, crying out, “Wake up, Champ. Don’t sleep now.” (He doesn’t.)
6. Ordinary People (1980)
Written by: Alvin Sargent and Nancy DowdDirected by: Robert Redford
What it’s about: Calvin (Donald Sutherland) and Beth Jarrett (Mary Tyler Moore) deal with the death of their son Buck, while Buck’s brother Conrad (Timothy Hutton) recovers from a suicide attempt and tries to return to normalcy.When you’ll start crying: Conrad confronts his mother about never visiting him in the hospital, saying that she would have visited Buck. Beth answers that Buck never would have been in the hospital.When you’ll totally lose it: Calvin emotionally appeals to Beth one last time and asks if she’s truly capable of loving anyone. Unable to deal with her feelings, she leaves her family behind.
7. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Written by: Melissa MathisonDirected by: Steven Spielberg
What it’s about: Lonely 10-year-old Elliott (Henry Thomas) befriends an alien named E.T. who’s stranded on Earth, eventually helping him get back to his home planet.When you’ll start crying: E.T. and Elliott both become ill. When they’re separated, Elliott recovers, but E.T. continues to get worse and appears close to death.When you’ll totally lose it: E.T. has to say good-bye to Elliott and his sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore). He touches his glowing finger to Elliott’s forehead and tells him, “I’ll be right here.”
8. Sophie’s Choice (1982)
Written by: Alan J. PakulaDirected by: Alan J. Pakula
What it’s about: In 1947 Brooklyn, Polish immigrant Sophie (Meryl Streep) bonds with a writer named Stingo (Peter MacNicol) and eventually recounts her traumatic experience at Auschwitz.When you’ll start crying: Sophie’s explains the titular “choice” — upon arrival at Auschwitz, she was forced to choose between saving her son or saving her daughter.When you’ll totally lose it: In a flashback, we see that choice. Sophie saves her son Jan, and her daughter Eva was sent to her death.
9. Terms of Endearment (1983)
Written by: James L. BrooksDirected by: James L. Brooks
What it’s about: Over the course of 30 years, mother Aurora (Shirley MacLaine) and daughter Emma (Debra Winger) navigate a contentious love-hate relationship with one another.When you’ll start crying: Emma is undergoing treatment for cancer when her doctor reveals that the drugs she was taking failed and she will not survive her illness.When you’ll totally lose it: Emma’s son Tommy (Troy Bishop) openly resents his mother as she’s close to death, but she forces him and his brother to listen to her tearful good-bye from her hospital bed.
10. The Color Purple (1985)
Written by: Menno MeyjesDirected by: Steven Spielberg
What it’s about: Celie (Whoopi Goldberg) suffers a difficult life, abused by her father and her husband Albert (Danny Glover), until she becomes nearly mute and subservient, with only her sister Nettie (Akosua Busia) showing her kindness.When you’ll start crying: After spurning Albert’s advances, Nettie is banished from his home and separated from her sister, before she can finish teaching Celie to read.When you’ll totally lose it: Albert’s guilt eventually catches up with him, and he arranges for Nettie and her family to return, finally reuniting the sisters after years spent apart.
11. Beaches (1988)
Buena Vista Pictures
Written by: Mary Agnes DonoghueDirected by: Garry Marshall
What it’s about: Actress and singer C.C. Bloom (Bette Midler) shares a lifelong friendship with lawyer Hillary Whitney (Barbara Hershey), despite their different backgrounds and journeys in life.When you’ll start crying: Hillary is diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy, requiring a heart transplant — but because of her rare tissue type, she will almost certainly die before finding a match.When you’ll totally lose it: Hillary and C.C. sit together on the beach one last time. As they watch the sunset, the scene transitions to Hillary’s funeral, all while Bette Midler sings “The Wind Beneath My Wings” in the background.
12. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
Written by: Isao TakahataDirected by: Isao Takahata
What it’s about: Shortly after the end of World War II, Seita and his younger sister Setsuko struggle to survive following their mother’s death with a diminishing food supply.When you’ll start crying: Seita returns to Setsuko with the rations she desperately needs, but it’s too late. She hallucinates and dies before he can help her.When you’ll totally lose it: Seita cremates Setsuko and puts her ashes in a fruit tin along with a photo of their dead father, carrying them with him until he dies of starvation.
13. Steel Magnolias (1989)
Written by: Robert HarlingDirected by: Herbert Ross
What it’s about: A group of Southern women experience the highs and lows of life. Shelby (Julia Roberts) is enjoying her new marriage, while also dealing with complications from her diabetes.When you’ll start crying: Shelby receives a kidney transplant from her mother M’Lynn (Sally Field), but her body rejects it. When she falls into a coma from which she’ll never wake up, her family takes her off life support.When you’ll totally lose it: At Shelby’s funeral, M’Lynn breaks down into hysterics, as the other women do their best to comfort her.
14. Dead Poets Society (1989)
Buena Vista Pictures
Written by: Tom SchulmanDirected by: Peter Weir
What it’s about: English teacher John Keating (Robin Williams) brings his unconventional methods to stuffy Welton Academy.When you’ll start crying: After his father demands he withdraw from the school play and enter military school, troubled Neil (Robert Sean Leonard) commits suicide.When you’ll totally lose it: Keating is fired, but his students stage a final protest at the risk of expulsion, standing on their desks and calling out, “O captain! My captain!” as Keating leaves.
15. Longtime Companion (1989)
Written by: Craig LucasDirected by: Norman René
What it’s about: The AIDS epidemic of the ’80s is depicted through the lives of a group of gay male friends.When you’ll start crying: Tough to say! Maybe when John (Dermot Mulroney) is the first to die. Or when Willy (Campbell Scott) and Fuzzy (Stephen Caffrey) discuss their fears of dying. Basically, there are a lot of tears throughout.When you’ll totally lose it: David (Bruce Davison) sits with Sean (Mark Lamos), who is suffering from constant pain and dementia, and tells him he no longer has to fight to stay alive. Sean relents and dies.
16. Awakenings (1990)
Written by: Steven ZaillianDirected by: Penny Marshall
What it’s about: Dr. Malcolm Sayer (Robin Williams) discovers that the L-Dopa drug has a dramatic effect on his catatonic patients, and he’s able to “wake up” Leonard Lowe (Robert De Niro).When you’ll start crying: Leonard realizes that he’s reverting to his previous state. Wracked with pain, he urges Sayer to continue filming him so that the research can help future patients.When you’ll totally lose it: Knowing he’ll soon be catatonic again, Leonard breaks up with his girlfriend Paula (Penelope Ann Miller), but not before the two share a final dance, during which Leonard’s spasms temporarily disappear.
17. My Girl (1991)
Written by: Laurice ElehwanyDirected by: Howard Zieff
What it’s about: In 1972, 11-year-old Vada Sultenfuss (Anna Chlumsky) feels distant from her widower father (Dan Aykroyd), and bonds with a boy named Thomas J (Macaulay Culkin).When you’ll start crying: Thomas goes into the forest to retrieve Vada’s mood ring, but he’s stung by hornets and dies from his allergy.When you’ll totally lose it: Vada becomes emotional at Thomas’ funeral, because he’s not wearing his glasses and can’t see without them. Her father consoles her in her grief and later finally tells Vada that her mother’s death wasn’t her fault.
18. Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)
Written by: Fannie Flagg and Carol SobieskiDirected by: Jon Avnet
What it’s about: Ninny Threadgoode (Jessica Tandy) tells Evelyn Couch (Kathy Bates) stories from her childhood, particularly about the friendship and love between Ninny’s sister-in-law Idgie (Mary Stuart Masterson) and Ruth (Mary-Louise Parker).When you’ll start crying: After Idgie is cleared of charges in the murder of Ruth’s abusive husband Frank (Nick Searcy), Ruth develops cancer and dies.When you’ll totally lose it: Ninny and Evelyn pass by Ruth’s grave, where there is a fresh jar of honeycomb and a card saying “I’ll always love you, the Bee Charmer” from Idgie.
19. My Life (1993)
Written by: Bruce Joel RubinDirected by: Bruce Joel Rubin
What it’s about: Bob Jones (Michael Keaton) learns that he has terminal cancer while his wife Gail (Nicole Kidman) is pregnant, so he creates videos for his wife to show their son after he’s gone.When you’ll start crying: Bob lives past his expected date of death and is able to see the birth of his child, shortly before the cancer spreads to his brain.When you’ll totally lose it: Bob’s father (Michael Constantine) shaves him when he’s near death and can no longer do it himself. Bob tells his dad that he loves him.
20. Philadelphia (1993)
Written by: Ron NyswanerDirected by: Jonathan Demme
What it’s about: When gay lawyer Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) is fired, he believes it’s because of his sexual orientation. He hires another lawyer, Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), to sue his former firm.When you’ll start crying: Joe visits a dying Andrew in the hospital to tell him that the jury has ruled in his favor. Though once afraid to get near Andrew, Joe touches his face.When you’ll totally lose it: Andrew tells his boyfriend Miguel (Antonio Banderas) that he is ready to die, and he does shortly thereafter.
21. Schindler’s List (1993)
Written by: Steven ZaillianDirected by: Steven Spielberg
What it’s about: German businessman Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) saves the lives of Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his factories.When you’ll start crying: This is a Holocaust movie, so…at any number of horrifying moments. The most frequently cited, though, is when Schindler realizes the little girl in the red coat he saw earlier has been killed and burned. It’s brutal, but so is the whole film.When you’ll totally lose it: Schindler breaks down thinking about how many more lives he could have saved — and again, at the very end, when the real-life Holocaust survivors who have Schindler to thank for their lives place stones on his grave in Jerusalem.
22. Dead Man Walking (1995)
Written by: Tim RobbinsDirected by: Tim Robbins
What it’s about: Nun Sister Helen Prejean (Susan Sarandon) forges a bond with convicted murderer Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn), who is due to be executed.When you’ll start crying: Right before he is taken away, Poncelet confesses his crimes to Sister Helen, who has told him redemption is possible if he takes responsibility for his actions.When you’ll totally lose it: During his execution, Poncelet appeals to his victims’ parents for forgiveness, saying he hopes his death brings them peace.
23. The Bridges of Madison County (1995)
Written by: Richard LaGraveneseDirected by: Clint Eastwood
What it’s about: Unhappy housewife Francesca Johnson (Meryl Streep) enjoys a brief affair with traveling photographer Robert Kincaid (Clint Eastwood).When you’ll start crying: Robert asks Francesca to leave with him, but she ultimately decides to stay behind with her husband and children instead.When you’ll totally lose it: Francesca gets one final chance and comes close to leaping from the front seat of her husband’s truck, but Robert finally drives away and Francesca collapses in tears, her voiceover explaining why she couldn’t go.
24. Life Is Beautiful (1997)
Written by: Roberto Benigni and Vincenzo CeramiDirected by: Roberto Benigni
What it’s about: Guido Orefice (Roberto Benigni) helps his son Joshua (Giorgio Cantarini) survive life in a concentration camp by pretending that they are playing a game.When you’ll start crying: As Guido is being led off to be executed, he sees Joshua one last time and stays in character, still pretending it’s all a game.When you’ll totally lose it: A shot rings out and Guido dies offscreen.
25. Stepmom (1998)
Written by: Gigi Levangie, Jessie Nelson, Steven Rogers, Karen Leigh Hopkins, and Ron BassDirected by: Chris Columbus
What it’s about: Jackie Harrison (Susan Sarandon), a woman dying of terminal lymphoma, comes to terms with her children (Jena Malone and Liam Aiken) being raised by her husband’s girlfriend Isabel Kelly (Julia Roberts).When you’ll start crying: Isabel tearfully confesses that her biggest fear is Anna reaching her wedding day and wishing her mother were there. Jackie, also crying, shares her fear that Anna won’t miss her at all.When you’ll totally lose it: At Christmas, Jackie reminds her kids that even though she will soon be gone, she’ll be with them as long as they remember her.
26. Armageddon (1998)
Buena Vista Pictures
Written by: Jonathan Hensleigh and J. J. AbramsDirected by: Michael Bay
What it’s about: NASA sends a team of deep-core drillers, led by Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis), to stop a giant asteroid from colliding with Earth.When you’ll start crying: The survivors of Harry’s team draw straws for the suicide mission to detonate the bomb that will destroy the asteroid. A.J. Frost (Ben Affleck), Harry’s daughter’s boyfriend, is tasked with being left behind.When you’ll totally lose it: Harry forces A.J. to leave and takes his place, telling him that he would be proud to have A.J. as a son. Harry’s daughter Grace (Liv Tyler) watches from NASA headquarters.
27. Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Written by: Kimberly Peirce and Andy BienenDirected by: Kimberly Peirce
What it’s about: Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank), a trans man, tries to keep his biological sex hidden from those around him, including his girlfriend Lana (Chloë Sevigny).When you’ll start crying: Lana’s friends Tom (Brendan Sexton III) and John (Peter Sarsgaard) violently beat and rape Brandon, and threaten him not to report the attack.When you’ll totally lose it: Tom and John decide to kill Brandon, shooting him in front of Lana while she tries to stop them. Lana falls asleep next to his body.
28. The Green Mile (1999)
Written by: Frank DarabontDirected by: Frank Darabont
What it’s about: Death row inmate John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) reveals to prison guard Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) that he has healing powers and has been falsely accused.When you’ll start crying: John shows Paul what really happened to the two young girls he was accused of killing. When Paul offers to set him free, John says that he is tired of all the pain in the world and ready to be free of it.When you’ll totally lose it: John is sent to the electric chair to be executed, but he refuses the black hood because he is afraid of the dark. He is killed as Paul looks on.
29. Dancer in the Dark (2000)
Fine Line Features
Written by: Lars von TrierDirected by: Lars von Trier
What it’s about: In 1964 Washington, Czech immigrant Selma Ježková (Björk) works in a factory although she is going blind, because she needs to raise money for her daughter to have an operation that will save her sight.When you’ll start crying: Selma, convicted of a murder she was forced to commit, is sent to the gallows to be executed. Along the way, she sings to the other prisoners and hugs them.When you’ll totally lose it: Right before she is executed, Selma dissolves into hysterics, only regaining her composure when she learns that her daughter’s operation was successful. She sings a final song, cut short when she is hanged.
30. My Dog Skip (2000)
Written by: Gail GilchriestDirected by: Jay Russell
What it’s about: A lonely boy named Willie (Frankie Muniz) learns to come out of his shell and build new friendships with the help of his dog Skip.When you’ll start crying: Willie leaves to go to Oxford University and narrates Skip’s life after he’s gone, explaining that Skip slept in Willie’s old room until he died.When you’ll totally lose it: Willie remembers getting the call that Skip had died, and that although he was buried under the elm tree, “he really laid buried in my heart.”
31. A Walk to Remember (2002)
Written by: Karen JanszenDirected by: Adam Shankman
What it’s about: Popular high school kid Landon Carter (Shane West) falls for quiet, religious Jamie Sullivan (Mandy Moore) despite their different backgrounds.When you’ll start crying: Jamie, dying of leukemia, tells her father that she loves him. He explains, “If I’ve kept you too close, it’s because I wanted to keep you longer.”When you’ll totally lose it: Landon helps Jamie complete all the items on the list of things she wants to do before she dies, culminating in a wedding at the same chapel Jamie’s parents were married in.
32. The Laramie Project (2002)
Written by: Moisés KaufmanDirected by: Moisés Kaufman
What it’s about: In 1998, Matthew Shepard is murdered for being gay. A theater company travels to Laramie, Wyo., to interview the townspeople.When you’ll start crying: Tears flow freely from the moment the news breaks of the attack on Matthew. But the scene of his funeral, in which his friends block protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church, is particularly poignant.When you’ll totally lose it: Over and over again. But definitely when gay Laramie resident Harry Woods (Bill Irwin) describes being stunned by a local march in Matthew’s honor.
33. Big Fish (2003)
Written by: John AugustDirected by: Tim Burton
What it’s about: Edward Bloom (Albert Finney), a lifelong storyteller, attempts to repair his relationship with his estranged son Will (Billy Crudup) from his deathbed.When you’ll start crying: After having a stroke, Edward is barely able to speak. He asks Will to finish his story, in which Will carries his father from the hospital to the river, where Edward transforms into a big fish.When you’ll totally lose it: Satisfied that Will now understands and appreciates his storytelling, Edward dies.
34. The Notebook (2004)
New Line Cinema
Written by: Jeremy LevenDirected by: Nick Cassavetes
What it’s about: At a nursing home, Duke (James Garner) tells a fellow patient (Gena Rowlands) the story of Noah Calhoun (Ryan Gosling) and Allie Hamilton (Rachel McAdams), two star-crossed lovers in the 1940s.When you’ll start crying: The young folks are sweet, but the real emotional punch comes in the present, when Rowlands’ character realizes she is Allie in a moment of lucidity, and panics that she will eventually lose all memory of their love story.When you’ll totally lose it: Allie wonders out loud if their love is strong enough to “take them away together.” Shortly thereafter, they die in each other’s arms.
35. Finding Neverland (2004)
Written by: David MageeDirected by: Marc Forster
What it’s about: Playwright J.M. Barrie (Johnny Depp) forms a friendship with Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet) and her sons, who inspire him to write Peter Pan.When you’ll start crying: Because Sylvia is too sick to attend the premiere of Peter Pan, Barrie has a version of it performed in her home.When you’ll totally lose it: Sylvia dies, leaving her young sons in the care of her mother and Barrie.
36. Hotel Rwanda (2004)
Written by: Keir Pearson and Terry GeorgeDirected by: Terry George
What it’s about: Hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) turns his hotel into a safe haven for refugees when war erupts between the Hutu and Tutsi peoples in Rwanda.When you’ll start crying: As soon as the situation escalates, with Paul and his family watching in horror as his neighbors are killed in brutal acts of ethnic violence.When you’ll totally lose it: Again, likely more than once. At the very least, at the realization of how many people weren’t able to be saved. The film’s epilogue notes that almost a million people died by the end of the genocide.
37. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Written by: Paul HaggisDirected by: Clint Eastwood
What it’s about: A no-nonsense boxing trainer named Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) trains upstart Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank).When you’ll start crying: During a fight, a sucker punch sends Maggie into the corner stool. She breaks her neck and is left permanently paralyzed.When you’ll totally lose it: After consulting with a priest, Frankie agrees to help Maggie die so that she can remember the cheers she heard when she fought.
38. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Written by: Larry McMurtry and Diana OssanaDirected by: Ang Lee
What it’s about: In the American West of the ’60s, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) find themselves falling in love with each other.When you’ll start crying: Jack’s wife Lureen (Anne Hathaway) tells Ennis that Jack died when a tire he was changing exploded, but Ennis imagines Jack beaten to death by a gang.When you’ll totally lose it: Ennis tucks Jack’s shirt inside of his in a hanger in his closet. He buttons the top button and the camera pans back to reveal that he’s crying. “Jack, I swear…” he says, and the music swells.
39. The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006)
IFC First Take
Written by: Paul LavertyDirected by: Ken Loach
What it’s about: Brothers Damien (Cillian Murphy) and Teddy O’Donovan (Pádraic Delaney) fight during the Irish War of Independence and Irish Civil War.When you’ll start crying: Now on opposite sides, Teddy pleads with Damien to betray the IRA and save himself, but Damien decides to stay loyal and is executed instead.When you’ll totally lose it: Damien writes a good-bye letter to his love Sinéad (Orla Fitzgerald) and is then killed by a firing squad, which includes his own brother.
40. Atonement (2007)
Written by: Christopher HamptonDirected by: Joe Wright
What it’s about: After jealously witnessing her sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and Robbie Turner (James McAvoy) having sex, Briony (Saoirse Ronan) falsely accuses Robbie of raping her cousin Lola (Juno Temple).When you’ll start crying: Robbie is sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and only his mother and Cecilia believe that he’s innocent.When you’ll totally lose it: Briony reveals that the scenes of Cecilia and Robbie reuniting and spending their lives together were fiction; both died during the war and never saw each other again.
41. P.S. I Love You (2007)
Written by: Richard LaGravenese and Steven RogersDirected by: Richard LaGravenese
What it’s about: A widow named Holly Kennedy (Hilary Swank) receives messages that her late husband Gerry (Gerard Butler) arranged to have sent to her after his death.When you’ll start crying: As soon as Gerry dies, probably. Or when his first postmortem message arrives on Holly’s 30th birthday. And then again and again.When you’ll totally lose it: Holly learns that her mother (Kathy Bates) was the one Gerry had asked to deliver his letters, and she reads the last one.