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Saddest Movies That Are Certified Tearjerkers

As a vehicle for emotion, few other mediums are as powerful as the moving image. We turn to great comedy movies to make us laugh, terrifying horror movies to make us scream, and yes, sad movies to make us cry. The movies on this list all fall into the latter category for different reasons, but definitely shouldn’t be movie night picks unless a person is ready to feel something. While one might not want to watch a sad movie every day, there’s nothing like the true catharsis of shedding a tear because of an on-screen tragedy, igniting every ounce of empathy in the body.

These films elicit an emotional response because they hit on something personal for people, something we can latch onto and relate to, even if they seem to bear no resemblance to one’s own life. After all, that is what is so magical about movies — the best ones accomplish something so universal through stories that are incredibly specific. So, whether it’s romantic dramas, stories of families torn apart or reunited after many years, or even tales of injustice on an individual or massive scale which reduce one to a puddle of tears, these are some of the greatest, downright certified tearjerkers.

Updated on August 9th, 2023, by Gargi Chatterjee: This article has been updated with additional content to keep the discussion fresh and relevant with even more information and new entries.

30 The Notebook (2004)

New Line Cinema

Think about it like this: The Notebook was so sad that a certain streamer felt the need to change the heartbreaking ending to ease the pain. Meanwhile, the film is unquestionably one of the most iconic love stories ever. The film follows Noah (Ryan Gosling) and Allie (Rachel McAdams) who fall in love one summer, but unfortunately, the two are separated due to war and Allie’s parents’ disapproval.

Years later, they find their way back to each other. The film intercuts between elderly Noah and Ally, and unfortunately, Ally has Alzheimer’s and simply can’t remember their love for each other. And we’d be a bit surprised if you’re not crying by the end — edited version or otherwise.

29 Titanic (1997)

DiCaprio Winslet Titanic 1997 Paramount
Paramount Pictures

For the newer generations, let it be known that Celine Dion’s iconic “My Heart Will Go On” originates from James Cameron’s 1997 masterpiece. Titanic is rightfully one of the most successful movies ever made. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet star as the ill-fated lovers Jack and Rose — two of their most iconic roles, which skyrocketed each of them to stardom (even more so than they were at the time).

Cameron, meanwhile, broke ground in terms of cinematography, special effects, and editing, leading to the end result to win 10 Oscars at the ceremony that year. Uttering the line, “I’ll never let go” to someone you know — whether it be a joke or used seriously — seems to be an American pastime at this point.

28 My Girl (1991)

Anna Chlumsky in My Girl
Columbia Pictures

Beloved ’90s child star Macaulay Culkin appeared alongside the charming Anna Chlumsky in the coming-of-age dramedy My Girl, in which the stars portray two 11-year-olds who develop a profound friendship during a life-altering summer in 1972 Pennsylvania.

Tackling heavy issues like death, grief, mental illness, and the growing pains of adolescence, the film is perhaps best remembered for the emotionally crippling death of Culkin’s character Thomas from a bee attack. The scene where Chlumsky’s Vada is visibly distraught when attending Thomas’ funeral, noticing he’s not wearing his glasses, is a punch to the gut of viewers and still causes even the toughest to shed a tear.

27 Me Before You (2016)

Scene of Me Before You
Warner Bros. Pictures

If you are a fan of tearjerker movies, then you must have watched or at least heard about Me Before You. This 2016 movie stars Sam Claflin and Emilia Clarke in the two main roles of William and Louisa. The movie begins as we see that a very successful and active Will has become paralyzed from the neck down after an unfortunate accident with a motorbike.

Years later, Louisa is hired by Will’s parents to assist him and also lift his spirits, which she does successfully. But she also gets to know that Will was planning to o down the path of assisted suicide. Without spoiling the movie anymore, we will just let you know that it does not have your typical happy ending. You will shed a lot of tears and feel a lot of frustrated feelings while watching the movie. But the ending will also bring a smile to your face.

26 Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

A scene from Grave of the Fireflies

Lauded as one of the greatest war films of all time, the riveting war tragedy Grave of the Fireflies is a masterpiece created from the minds of Isao Takahata and the beloved Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli, and tells the sorrowful story of two orphan siblings who must flee their home in Kobe, Japan after it is destroyed in a firebombing during World War II. Having lost their mother in the deadly assault, Seita and Setsuko struggle to stay safe and hopeful amid uncertainty and a country plagued by conflict.

The breathtaking and equally agonizing film was adapted from Akiyuki Nosaka’s semi-autobiographical short story and his own harrowing experiences during the bombing of Kobe, and Takahata also drew on surviving the incendiary bombings in Okayama during the war. The painfully sad Grave of the Firefliespremiered to widespread critical acclaim across the world and is considered to be Takahata’s magnum opus, with the gripping drama continuously landing on numerous lists of the cinema’s most outstanding and celebrated achievements.

Related: 10 Saddest Deaths in Animated Movie History, Ranked

25 Call Me By Your Name (2017)

Scene from Call Me by Your Name
Sony Pictures Classics

Starring Armie Hammer opposite a young Timothee Chalamet, and kicking off the cultural obsession with the latter, Call Me by Your Name is a unique addition to the romance genre. Part love story and part coming-of-age tale, the movie is full of beautiful shots of the small Italian village where it’s set.

The movie doesn’t draw tears until the very final scene, a close-up shot of Chalamet sobbing as the credits roll. It’s the kind of cry that is guaranteed to bring back all the feelings of having your heartbroken for the first time.

24 Up (2009)

Pixar movie Up
Walt Disney Pictures

Unlike others on the list, Up will have you in tears in the first ten minutes of the movie. While it’s certainly still light enough to be children’s fare, the beginning packs a punch that will likely go over any kid’s head.

Going through the backstory of the main character, we see his whole life unfold– falling in love, getting married, being unable to have children, and then eventually losing his wife before they get a chance to make the dream trip they always wanted. It’s an excellent lesson in visual storytelling, and it’s incredibly heart-wrenching.

23 Hotel Rwanda (2004)

Scene from Hotel Rwanda
MGM Distribution Co.

Documenting the violent and merciless massacre that took place during the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and the courageous actions of hotelier Paul Rusesabagina and his wife Tatiana, Hotel Rwanda stars Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo as the brave married couple who helped provide asylum to over 1,200 refugees during the brutal conflict at the Hôtel des Mille Collines.

The heartfelt picture shines a light on the barbarous genocide and how political corruption in the country played a heavy hand in the slayings of thousands of innocent lives, and the fact that the drama is based on true events makes it that much calamitous. Cheadle was absolutely phenomenal as Rusesabagina, earning an Academy Award nomination alongside Okonedo and earning rave reviews for their emotionally-gripping portrayals of the tenacious couple.

22 The Way We Were (1973)

Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand in The Way We Were (1973)
Columbia Pictures

Before there was The Notebook there was The Way We Were. Starring Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford, the film is a sweeping love story spanning decades, with heartbreaking moments interspersed throughout.

A classic tale of two people told by society and circumstance that they aren’t right for each other but foolishly thinking that love is enough, they try to work it out over and over again. Ultimately ending up estranged, married to other people but with a child Redford’s character might not even know, the movie is beautiful but gut-wrenching.

21 A Silent Voice (2016)

Scene from The Silent Voice
Kyoto Animation

With themes like bullying, redemption, guilt, friendship, and a deaf girl at the center of it all, A Silent Voice has all that it needs to be a good tearjerker. If you are a fan of anime movies, then this movie should definitely be on your watchlist. It tells us the story of Shoya, a disturbed elementary school student who bullies a deaf girl named Shoko along with his friends. But when the news gets out, Shoya is the only one blamed for it.

All throughout middle school, he is treated like a social pariah and he decides that it’s better to end his life instead of living like this. But before that, he wants to right all the wrongs he has done and starts his journey with Shoko. This amazing film goes on to show us how Shoya and Shoko become friends slowly. The movie is about forgiveness and mending your ways. The beautiful journey of Shoko and Shoya and all her friends will make you tear up a few times, but in the end, you will be able to finish the movie with a smile on your face.

Related: 10 Saddest Movies Based on True Stories

20 Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)

Image from Dear Zachary

Dear Zachary: A Letter to A Son About His Father is so completely devastating that it could probably be used as a tool to determine if someone is capable of feeling empathy at all, as it has to be impossible for an emotionally healthy person to escape the experience with a dry eye.

Originally made as a video project to show a child what a great person his father was, as he was killed before the child was born, the filmmaker released the powerful film to the public, premiering at a film festival to great acclaim. While grief in scripted films is one thing, watching it unfold on screen in real people is hard to watch.

19 Roma (2018)

Scene from 2018's Roma

A beautifully shot modern black-and-white film, it’s no surprise that Roma cleaned up at the 91st Academy Awards, bringing home Oscars for Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Foreign Language Film.

Unlike other heavily-nominated fares that don’t hold up in the following years, the strength of Roma‘s story guarantees that it won’t soon be forgotten. Following the life of a housekeeper of a middle-class Mexican family, played by newcomer Yalitza Aparicio, the story takes a sad turn towards the end, tying into the unrest of early 1970s Mexico City.

18 Brian’s Song (1971)

Scene from Brian's Song
Sony Pictures Television 

Widely regarded as one of the greatest television movies ever made, the 1971 biographical drama Brian’s Song tells the poignant real-life story of Chicago Bears football players Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers, whose growing friendship in the 1960s garnered attention and became a positive symbol during the civil rights era.

The film chronicles the athletes’ inspiring bond while detailing their vastly conflicting personalities and racial backgrounds, culminating in Piccolo’s heartbreaking battle with cancer. Despite the two men being in competition with one another, their friendship remained powerful and unwavering as Sayers stood steadfast by his side in his final days.

17 Lion (2016)

Scene from 2016's Lion
Transmission Films

In Lion, Dev Patel stars as a man who is searching for his birth parents after getting lost in his village in India as a child and eventually adopted out by an Australian couple, played by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham. Years later as an adult overcome with emotion when thinking about his family back in India, he uses Google Earth to begin searching for them.

With the blessing of his adoptive mother, now terminally ill, he travels to India, where he has a tearful reunion with his family after so much time has passed. Anyone with a distant family will be deeply touched.

16 All the Bright Places (2020)

Scene from All the Bright Places

Based on a novel of the same name by Jennifer Niven, All The Bright Places is a story about two unhappy teenagers named Violet Markey and Theodore Finch who live in a small town. Violet suffers from immense survivor’s guilt as she had lost her sister in an accident which only she survived.

Finch, on the other hand, is branded as a loner and weirdo at school and made fun of by some other students as well. When Violet tries to end her own life one day, Finch saves her and the two begin an unlikely friendship that we will see grow into something poignant and beautiful all throughout the movie. Unfortunately, the film does not have a happy ending and will definitely make you cry by the time you finish it.

Related: 10 Sad Movies That End With a Funeral

15 One Day (2011)

Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturges in One Day
Focus Features

One Day is a movie that starts out as one thing and then takes a dramatic turn that changes everything. Starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess, the romantic drama follows the couple on the same day years apart, as they start as friends and eventually fall in love, despite fate getting in their way at every turn.

Something terrible happens that changes the course of their relationship, which they had only just seemed to have figured out. It’s a beautiful, intellectually stimulating love story that adapted David Nicholls’s celebrated book of the same name.

14 Sophie’s Choice (1982)

Scene from Sophie's Choice
Universal Pictures 

Arguably one of the most emotionally-wrecking films of all time, 1982’s Sophie’s Choice stars Meryl Streep as the eponymous Polish immigrant and Holocaust survivor who is plagued by an unfathomable dilemma that is gut-wrenching for any parent to imagine: choosing between your children.

After being arrested by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz during World War II, Sophie is forced to decide which of her daughters will be immediately sent to the gas chamber and which one will proceed to the labor camp. The tormenting decision has haunted the young woman ever since, and as impossible as it seems Sophie’s Choice gets even more dark and tragic by the final few moments of the picture.

13 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Scene from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Focus Features

This movie begs the age-old question, is it better to have loved and lost, or never loved at all? Jumping through time and following the breakup between Joel and Clementine, played by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, there are several moments that’ll have you reaching for the tissue box.

Whether it’s seeing Carrey cry in the opening sequence while a sad song plays, or seeing him bring in every single belonging that reminds him of Winslet to a special doctor capable of erasing memories, even the most stoic viewer is bound to break after watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

12 If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

KiKi Layne and Stephan James in If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)
Annapurna Pictures

If you’re prone to crying out of pure frustration, then If Beale Street Could Talk is the pick for you. Adapted from a James Baldwin novel, the story follows a young couple, Tish and Fonny, as they fall deeply in love.

Tish becomes pregnant, only for Fonny to be wrongfully arrested and sentenced to prison for a crime he did not commit. What ensues is a painful fight to free Fonny from jail, which ultimately reveals the shortcomings of the legal system and the lengths people will go to for those they love.

11 The Green Mile (1999)

Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile
Warner Bros. 

The 1999 classic The Green Mile is based on Stephen Kin’s famous novel of the same name. The movie takes the audience on a very emotional journey with Tom Hanks playing the role of a prison guard in a death row facility during the great depression. He tells us the story of a prisoner named John Coffey who had supernatural powers.

He was really calm and polite despite being physically imposing. We realize throughout the movie that not only does John possess an ability to heal other people, but also that John is actually innocent. The movie comes to a very bittersweet end and will definitely make you cry. The movie is emotional and sad for the most part, but there is also a silver lining because as his last wish, John gets to watch a movie, which is something he had never done before.

Related: Best Dramatic Movies From Funny Comedians

This story originally appeared on Movieweb

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