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Feature: Crying At The Movies – A Guide To Your Tears

Posted October 2, 2012 by Lisa McInerney in Movies

It is a rare creature that never cries at movies.

As cynical, tough or stubborn as you are, films are designed to launch multi-pronged attacks on your composure – through story, speech, music or vision – and there is more than one out there that’ll wear you the fuck down, Iceman.

People connect with different things and find that there are different frequencies to their heartstrings. There are some movies that make nearly everyone cry. There are others that are so specialist as to be quite confounding: we know someone who cried at Con Air. Con fucking Air! So not all weepy moments are created equally. We can’t, for example, compare the emotional manipulation in films about the Holocaust to the bittersweet pang of movies about lost love. That’d make us feel shallow. Shallow, and a little dirty.

Instead, here’s a breakdown (pun intended) of the reasons we find ourselves blubbering at the drive-in, the kinds of weepy moments movies throw at you, and the best examples of each tearful genre. Which of them get you howling?

Oh, and it shouldn’t need to be said, but MASSIVE SPOILERS abound. Abandon the element of surprise all ye who enter here.


I’m Crying Because…

… I Have Awesomeness Overload

When good triumphs over evil, when amazing characters make huge sacrifices, when the human spirit triumphs and when enemies become friends. We’re not crying because there’s something in our eye. We’re crying because we’re so damn proud. Go team!

Most Blubbericious Example: The Iron Giant

Adapted from the classic Ted Hughes novel The Iron Man, this beautifully animated and criminally underseen 1999 feature will (s)melt your heart and leave you an emotional wreck. Nine-year-old Hogarth befriends a massive alien robot and reads him Superman comics. When the giant becomes distressed at seeing a robot bad guy in the comic, Hogarth assures him he too can be a hero. The US army attacks Hogarth’s town, believing the giant to be a dangerous weapon, and a nuclear missile is launched in an act of aggressive stupidity. Knowing that the missile will kill his new friend and the people he loves, the iron giant flies into the air to collide with the missile at a safe distance. As he flies towards his doom, he closes his eyes, remembering Hogarth’s words that he can be whoever he wants to be, utters ‘Sooo-per-maaan’… and saves the goddamn world.

This writer doesn’t know a single person who didn’t cry at the end of The Iron Giant.

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Also seen in:

Cool Runnings: The slow clap, started by their won-over rival, as our Jamaican underdogs carry their bobsled over the finish line.

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The Return Of The King: When Aragorn tells the hobbits ‘My friends, you bow to no one’ and bows to them instead.

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Strictly Ballroom: When the stick-in-the-mud officials turn off the music so that Scott and Fran can’t complete their final dance, and Scott’s meek dad leads the slow clap to provide the rhythm they need to do it anyway.

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Casablanca: When the patrons of Rick’s Cafe drown out the Nazis’ singing of ‘Die Wacht am Rhein’ with ‘La Marseillaise’. Made all the more awesome by the fact that the tears from the actors were real.

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… Death Is So Fucking Sad

It’s the final frontier, the place from which no one returns. There’s nothing quite as gut-wrenching in cinema as the death of a loveable character, especially if the audience is not expecting it. The fact that the character is gone and isn’t coming back is bad enough, but the reactions of those remaining on-screen is what’ll really fuck you up.

Most Blubbericious Example: Bridge To Terabithia

Bridge To Terabithia came with one of the most misleading trailers ever. Hot on the heels of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, its marketing team clearly thought it a good strategy to play up the fantastical elements of the movie. Those who hadn’t read Katherine Paterson’s classic novel had no idea what they were letting themselves in for; Jess of the hard-knock life, who finds a true friend in boho girl Leslie, is torn asunder when she dies in an accident he could have prevented. It’s the aftermath that’s so beautifully told in Bridge; Jess’s guilt, the understanding of the adults around him, and his eventual bestowing of the gift of Terabithia on his adoring little sister. And that incredible performance from The Hunger Games’ Josh Hutcherson.

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Also seen in:

Up: Don’t celebrate too soon if you get through the first twenty minutes of Up. You still have to watch Carl going through Ellie’s ‘Stuff I’m Going To Do’ scrapbook, upset because she never got to go on any great adventures… and then realising she’d filled it out with memories of her life with him.

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My Girl: Thomas J can’t see without his glasses.

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The Neverending Story: Artax dies in The Swamp Of Sadness and there’s nothing Atreyu can to stop it, breaking the hearts of a million ‘80s kids.

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Brokeback Mountain: Although the whole story of the love that dare not speak its name is heartbreaking, Ennis finding their shirts entwined in Jack’s room after his death is completely devastating.

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Page 2: … That Kid Can Really Act

About the Author

Lisa McInerney

Lisa’s soul is so damn sensitive, she has to invent and occupy parallel universes just to spread herself evenly. This is also known as being a frustrated novelist.

  • http://twitter.com/ElleEmSee Laura

    So I’m crying in work.
    I couldn’t even watch any of the videos because I can’t stream them. I just re-lived the scenes in my head.
    Damn you Ramp.
    Damn you.
    I cried sore at almost all of these when I watched them. Why? Because I have a working human soul, that’s why.

  • Sinéad

    Thomas J.


  • Frecklor

    Ah agree with ROTK but I also would have included the grey havens scene, makes me blubber like an idiot. Also the green mile makes me very very sad :(

    • http://www.lisamcinerney.com Lisa McInerney

      Alas, I find it hard to cry when Sam is crying. He just looks so… awful.

      • http://twitter.com/ElleEmSee Laura

        Heart of stone there Lisa.

        • http://www.lisamcinerney.com Lisa McInerney

          Ah in fairness. He’s a shocker.

          Pippin, though! Mmpfh!

  • http://www.krank.ie/ Neil

    Seymour the dog mixed with To Zanarkand. Bloody hell! :(

    I waited for you Fry…

    • http://twitter.com/ElleEmSee Laura

      Why Neil? Why would you do this? *sniff*

      • http://www.lisamcinerney.com Lisa McInerney

        Mixing Seymour with To Zanarkand? I dunno, that’s bordering on sacrilegious.

        Connie Francis’ ‘I Will Wait For You’ was just perfect for Jurassic Bark. Really melodramatic manipulative stuff, only pipped at the post, IMO, by Don’t You (Forget About Me) in Luck Of The Fryrish. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of crying in Futurama. No other animated series comes close.

        Also, I reckon if one were to make a list of weepy moments in video games, 90% of them would be from the FF series.

        • http://www.krank.ie/ Neil

          Both Drakengard games. Who knew you could get so freaking attached to a character in a “meh,ok” game?

          Shadow of the Colossus: The horse. Oh god the horse.

          Deku Tree dying in Zelda. It’s only level one man, don’t do this!

          Fallout 3: Liam Neeson NOOOO!!!

          (FF7 and FF10…oh lord)

          Infamous – Zeke’s betrayal and trying to save Trish. Infamous 2 – Koh being afraid to die, Cole sacrificing himself. AND bad karma ending fighting Zeke. Half as long twice as bright.

  • http://twitter.com/SerialBlogamist Catherine C

    EXCELLENT! I’m welling up just reading this *sniff*

  • http://www.lisamcinerney.com Lisa McInerney

    A sensitive soul on Twitter has just reminded us of The Railway Children… *gulp* http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEPvfZrXWPY

    • http://www.krank.ie/ Neil

      Oh no! :(

  • http://twitter.com/powertara Tara Power

    I literally welled up reading the Up description, NOTHING has ever made me cry like that movie has. I was like Harry and Lloyd crying into their dollar bills.

    • http://www.lisamcinerney.com Lisa McInerney

      Watching Up in the cinema has to have been one of the most socially awkward moments in my life. Great heaving sobs from everyone.

    • http://twitter.com/notRuairi Rú Hickson

      Came here to say this about up, but I’ll just upvote instead.

  • http://twitter.com/KevinLehane Kevin Lehane

    No E.T., no dice.

    • http://www.lisamcinerney.com Lisa McInerney

      Ah, every weepy movies list has E.T. We’re just trying to widen the circle of tears, you know? Open people’s poor red eyes to more diverse misery.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=695132914 John Green

    The closing scene of Mike Leigh’s High Hopes, when they’re on top of the apartment block overlooking London. Never have I seen a more poignant moment in the movies. Human kindness, the grandeur of ordinary people, persistence in the face of hardship, the necessity of compromise, compassion and empathy, and the importance of solidarity. It’s all there.

    • http://www.lisamcinerney.com Lisa McInerney

      Mike Leigh! Of course! His repertoire is full of exquisitely delicate, affecting moments and I completely forgot about him when making this list. For shame.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=695132914 John Green

        It pays to have drunk a bottle of wine by the time this scene arrives. And to have someone there to hug.

  • http://www.krank.ie/ Neil

    There’s a really weird episode of Family Guy that is a little stranger and grosser than usual and then you are hit with Brian being suicidal. And the silent ending, it’s just, I dunno. It hits very hard and unexpectedly.

    The ending of Dead Man’s Shoes has gotten worse for me the more I see it. Seriously, no spoilers, just watch it and let the emotions flow through you.

    The long attack flashback in The Crow when Shelly is being raped and Eric walks in, can’t watch it anymore. Just, argh.

    Dammit all Ramp, imma go back through my memory files and make you weep.

  • http://twitter.com/notRuairi Rú Hickson

    Saddest scene ever is in The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, when Clint Eastwood puts a poncho over the dying soldier to keep him warm, then gives him a puff of his cigar before the kid exhales for the last time. Closely followed by the last scene in The Wild Bunch: “It’s not like old times, but… It’ll do.”


    • http://twitter.com/ElleEmSee Laura

      Tombstone. The death of Doc Holliday. It kills me.

  • Sinéad

    I just watching the blubbing scenes from Finding Neverland and Fried Green Tomatoes on YouTube. Why????!

  • Will Fitzgerald

    Thomas J can’t see without his glasses! … You almost got me.

  • kazza

    Babe? Anyone? :/

    • http://www.lisamcinerney.com Lisa McInerney

      “That’ll do, Pig. That’ll do.”

      And the sheep trials audience goes wild!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kerrie-ONeill/1323548852 Kerrie ONeill

    My Girl, Shawshank… Breakdown :<

  • Jenny Foxe

    I welled up at the words ‘Artax dies’ reading this. A movie doesn’t count in my eyes if it doesn’t give me a lump in my throat. I’ve been known to watch the True channel which might as well be tear porn. I’ve a soft spot for any parent/child relationship dysfunction. Just the opening scenes of Hook have me in blubber mode every time and as for the end…

    • http://www.lisamcinerney.com Lisa McInerney

      Run Home Jack! Run Home Jack!

  • Joe McManus

    The scene in “Live and Let Die” where Roger Moore deflowers Jane Seymour always has me reaching for the tissues.

    • http://www.lisamcinerney.com Lisa McInerney

      I won’t ask what for, McManus.

  • mushacles

    Oh god, bridge to terabithia. Had me in bits.

    • http://www.lisamcinerney.com Lisa McInerney

      Mate of mine, a fine strappin’ lad in his thirties at the time, described Bridge To Terabithia as “a film that’d make you cry like a little girl”. Most accurate description I’ve heard yet.

  • Liselle Nic Giollabhain

    I’m a bit notorious for crying at movies, but I think the hardest I’ve ever cried was Tim Burton’s Big Fish, at the end, when Russell-from-Stillwater starts telling stories to his dying dad…yup…here come the tears just thinking about it.
    Also, in the category of Awesomeness Overload, may I nominate the first Harry Potter, for that bit at the end where Gryffindor and Slytherin are tied for the House Cup and then Neville gets ten points for having the courage to stand up to his friends…am I the only one who can’t watch that scene without wanting to simultaneously weep and cheer?

    • http://www.lisamcinerney.com Lisa McInerney

      Big Fish keeps coming up in lists of weepy moments. I am ashamed to say I can’t remember it very well. Must watch again soon.

      I can’t remember that bit in the first Harry Potter movie either! Perhaps I was crying so hard at both of them I got amnesia?

  • Jennifer_McShane

    I’m crying here, simply reading those few lines about Up. It was just so bittersweet and desvastatng!

  • annie_wonder

    I am such a bawler (I cry at ads without shame) and can’t get through an episode of the Animal Clinic without weeping at least twice – this list is made for me.
    Beaches KILLS me without fail, every single time. And Fried Green Tomatos. And The Champ. The Green Mile. Terms of Endearment. The Pursuit of Happyness. Big Fish (big heaving sobs, quite embarrasing really). Terms of Endearment. And DUMBO – that bit where his mum is chained up in a cage whilst all the other animal babies are snuggled up with their mums so she cradles him with her trunk gently instead. Oh and Kodaline’s music video All I Want (not a movie but still…) I could go on but I won’t.

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