October 19, 2020

38 Best Sad Movies – Best Tearjerker Films to Make You Cry

9 min read

Not everyone enjoys a movie that will leave them in tears, but there’s something comforting about a cathartic cry. Maybe watching a sad film in the middle of a global pandemic isn’t your idea of escapism. Or maybe you’d rather have another reason to cry it out. Don’t worry, there are happy endings in some of these plot lines—just tread carefully.

Some of these movies will leave you wanting to call your mom, dad, grandma, sister, brother, and/or best friend. Others will make you want to dip into a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and stay in bed for a few extra hours. Either way, clear your schedule.

1

Forrest Gump (1994)

Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) is different from other people, but his mother (Sally Field) has never made him feel that way. He fights in the Vietnam War, captains a shrimp boat, and runs across America, but the only thing he really cares about is the affection of his childhood sweetheart, Jenny (Robin Wright). —Hilary Weaver

2

Blue Valentine (2010)

Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) appear to have the perfect marriage—from the outside looking in. But upon closer inspection, it seems this couple is coming up against obstacles that might end their storybook romance. —HW

3

Call Me By Your Name (2017)

In 1983, 17-year-old Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) spends the summer with his family in Italy. Soon, Oliver (Armie Hammer), a doctoral student who’s interning for Elio’s father, shows up and changes Elio’s world. The two unexpectedly fall in love and leave us all in tears—and with the best existential fireplace scene ever featured on film. —HW

4

The Hours (2002)

Get ready to write a queer theory paper on this one. The Hours is the story of three women searching for more meaningful lives while facing demons of their own. One of these women is Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman), whose book Mrs. Dalloway inspires the two other women, Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) and Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep) as they are experience circumstances that parallel Woolf’s famous work.

5

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

Marianne is an artists who has been commissioned to paint a wedding portrait of a willful young woman. After days of socially distant walks and subtle flirting, they fall for each other. But just a warning: This is 1770, and PFLAG isn’t exactly a thing yet. —HW

6

My Sister’s Keeper (2009)

Anna Fitzgerald (Abigail Breslin) is a bone marrow donor for her older sister, who is gravely ill. Anna sues her parents for emancipation, and her entire family might fall apart as a result. Cameron Diaz might not have been able to cry in The Holiday, but this film, in which she stars, gives her plenty of reason. —HW

7

P.S. I Love You (2007)

As a teenager studying abroad in Europe Holly (Hilary Swank) meets charming Irishman Gerry Kennedy (Gerard Butler). They get married and have a passionate romance until Gerry dies young. Holly is devastated, but it turns out Gerry left her a few letters before he died, and their adventure together isn’t quite over. Bonus: Butler (who’s from Scotland) really pulls off the charismatic Irish type. —HW

8

The Spectacular Now (2013)

Sutter (Miles Teller) and Aimee (Shailene Woodley) meet after Aimee finds Sutter passed out on her front lawn after a drunken night. They come from different worlds, but they teach each other something neither of them knew about life. Yes, it’s a familiar story, but if you’re looking for a good cry, this movie will supply it. —HW

9

The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

Chris Gardner (Will Smith) and his young son (Jaden Smith) have been evicted from their apartment with nowhere to go. Chris takes on an unpaid internship and does everything he can to ensure that his little family has a better life. —HW

10

A Walk to Remember (2002)

This might be the most underrated Nicholas Sparks tear-jerker. Shane West and Mandy Moore star as two teens who aren’t a predictable match. They might be kids, but their love comes up against some real adult stuff. Plus, once you hear “Only Hope,” you’ll never forget it. —HW

11

Good Will Hunting (1998)

Will Hunting (Matt Damon) has an impressively high IQ but work as a janitor at MIT. After school hours, Will solves an impossible math equation and his talent is discovered by Professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård). But after Will gets arrested, he promises to get help from therapist Sean Maguire (Robin Williams). —HW

12

One True Thing (1998)

This movie was adapted from a novel by Anna Quindlen and tells the story of Kate, a housewife whose own family undervalues her. When she gets a cancer diagnosis, her daughter Ellen (Renée Zellweger) comes home to take care of her mother while her father (William Hurt) continues his career as a respected writer and professor. Kate protests, but Ellen stays, and the time they spend together helps Ellen see her mother in a completely new light. —HW

13

Inside Out (2015)

Nothing quite brings on the feelings like an animated film about them. Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) has a lot of emotions, and this movie examines all of them through cartoon cartoon personifications voiced by Amy Poehler, The Office’s Phyllis Smith, Mindy Kaling, and more. Also: Bing Bong. (If you know, you know.) —HW

14

Toy Story 3 (2010)

This movie franchise has gotten deep! Woody and Buzz’s owner Andy is all grown up in Toy Story 3, which leaves the toys trying to figure out their purpose. Kids will laugh; adults will weep. —Adam Schubak

15

Beaches (1988)

This story of two childhood best friends who maintain their friendship throughout adulthood is so powerful thanks to the performances by Barbara Hershey and Bette Midler. The soundtrack will make you tear up just as much as the movie does. —AS

16

The Notebook (2004)

Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams got most of the attention in this Nicholas Sparks drama, but it was Gena Rowlands and James Garner who really brought home the emotional impact of this love story. —AS

17

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal star as cowboys who fall in love while working together as sheep herders. The fact that the world lost Ledger far too soon adds an extra layer of sadness to this Oscar winner. —AS

18

Mr. Holland’s Opus (1996)

Here’s one for all the teachers out there. This gem follows the career of a music teacher (Richard Dreyfuss) and the young lives he impacts along the way. It’ll make you want to go back and thank the educators who made a difference in your life. —AS

19

The Joy Luck Club (1993)

This drama about Chinese-American daughters and their mothers was based on Amy Tan’s bestselling novel of the same name. You’ll be grabbing your phone to call your own mom as soon as the end credits start to roll. —AS

20

Stepmom (1998)

Co-parenting with an ex isn’t always easy…especially when there’s a third person in the equation. We won’t spoil this tearjerker if you haven’t seen it, but the twist will break your heart. —AS

21

Titanic (1997)

The real-life story of this shipwreck is tragic enough without the fictional love connection between Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet). The rich girl/poor boy romance still draws you in, over 20 years after its release. “You jump, I jump…remember?” —AS

22

The Lion King (1994)

There are plenty of scenes in this movie that will make you laugh—and then there’s Mufasa. Just writing that name chokes me up a little. —AS

23

The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

If you aren’t reduced to a blubbering mess by the end of this drama about two teens (Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort) who fall in love while fighting cancer, you probably weren’t paying enough attention. Their sweet, tentative connection is sure to bring on the waterworks. —AS

24

The Hate U Give (2018)

Police brutality and racial injustice: This drama will make you simultaneously angry and sad. Amandla Stenberg plays a girl from a predominantly black neighborhood who attends a mostly white private school and questions her identity after witnessing her friend’s murder at the hands of cops. —AS

25

What Maisie Knew (2013)

This intense drama from flew largely under the radar. It stars Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan as a married couple at odds with one another, and their six-year-old daughter is caught in the middle. Watching this little girl used as a pawn by her feuding parents is gut-wrenching. —AS

26

Lion (2016)

A young Indian boy gets separated from his family, borne away on a train that takes him thousands of miles from home. He is taken in and raised by a loving family, but as a grown-up (played by Dev Patel), he yearns to find the family he lost. —AS

27

Coco (2017)

Trust Disney/Pixar to make an animated kids movie about death that entertains children while reducing adults to sobbing messes. Coco focuses on themes of family and preserving the memory of those who came before you. It’s also visually stunning, taking you through the world of the dead as well as the living. —AS

28

Marley & Me (20018)

Marley, a mischievous little pup, grows up in front of our eyes over the course of this two-hour film. Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston are in it, too, but the rascally Labrador Retriever is the star. —AS

29

Steel Magnolias (1989)

This classic about a group of southern women at a beauty salon boasts top-notch talent including Sally Field, Julia Roberts, and Dolly Parton. It’s the kind of movie you have to watch whenever it’s on, regardless of how many times it’s coaxed tears from your eyes. —AS

30

My Girl (1991)

Any kid who went to see this movie because “the boy from Home Alone” (Macaulay Culkin) was in it got a huge surprise. As traumatizing as its big twist may have been, this coming-of-age tale about 11-year-old Veda (its sequel works too) is basically comfort food in movie form. —AS

31

Other People (2016)

People know Molly Shannon best for her work as a cast member on Saturday Night Live. Don’t let that fool you—she gives an award-winning performance as a matriarch battling cancer in this under-appreciated indie gem. —AS

32

The Way We Were (1973)

The floodgates should open up just hearing Barbra Streisand singing the movie’s theme song, but there’s a whole sad love story that comes with it. The singer/actress and Robert Redford play two total opposites who attempt to make a relationship work despite their differences. —AS

33

The Color Purple (1985)

Based on Alice Walker’s award-winning novel and directed by Steven Spielberg, this unforgettable movie follows Celie (Whoopi Goldberg), a young African-American woman in the south trying to overcome years of abuse. Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, and Danny Glover deliver classic, affecting performances. —AS

34

A Star Is Born (2018)

Not every artist can make the jump from music to acting, but this is Lady Gaga we’re talking about. Gaga wrecks us as her character Ally achieves the fame she’s been fighting for—but at a cost. Her chemistry with Bradley Cooper is undeniable and that’s exactly why audiences and the awards circuit loved it. —AS

35

If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

If you didn’t catch this one during awards season, rectify that now. The drama, based on the 1974 novel by James Baldwin, follows a black couple in Harlem during the 1970s, showing the injustices they face while simply trying to build a life together and chase the American dream. Regina King took home a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance. —AS

36

Selena (1997)

The far-too-short life and career of Selena Quintanilla will always hurt to think about. Jennifer Lopez brings the Queen of Tejano music’s achievements to light in this biopic, which helped carry on Selena’s legacy and remind us what a talent we lost when she died in 1995. —AS

37

Angel of Nanjing (2015)

This real-life story has huge stakes on an intimate scale. The documentary’s filmmakers followed Chen Si, a man who has devoted his life to preventing people from taking their own lives on the Yangtze River Bridge in Nanjing, China. —AS

38

Sophie’s Choice (1982)

Meryl Streep won an Oscar for her role as Sophie, a concentration camp survivor trying to rebuild her life with a Jewish American man (Kevin Kline) who is fixated on the holocaust. Like many other films on this list, it’s not easy to sit through—its emotional heft is undeniable. —AS

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