Monday, April 5, 2010

90s Tearjerker Movies

Sometimes, we all just need a good cry. Watching a great tearjerker is a bittersweet experience: the emotional release can be enjoyable, but the sadness lingers. I'm still not totally over the whole Bambi's-mom-getting-knocked-off-by-a-hunter thing. It haunts me still.

It's a testament to the quality and effectiveness of a movie when it has the power to make you reach for the Kleenex. Bonus points if it warrants a whole box. When a movie moves you to tears, it allows you to really let it all out. Plus, it's totally embarrassing if there are other people around. Some tips? I recommend pretending you have a bad cold or a loose contact lens. Practically foolproof.

Defining a solid tearjerker is tenuous territory. Plenty of movies have the power to move us, but only some give you that satisfying release of a much-needed cry. Some might be heavy contenders for tears on the basis of subject matter alone--for example, a well-executed war movies. This list, however, focuses more on the non-violent genre. Or, dare I say it, girlier movies. Okay, fine, chick flicks. But I threw in a few neutral picks as well, so, you know. You're welcome.

You're more than welcome to add your own favorite cry-a-minute picks to the list in the comment section. It can serve as a reliable reference for when the next cryfest urge hits. So, whether you consider yourself to be an emotional lightweight or possess tear ducts of unmovable steel, here are some movies likely to make you bawl like a little girl...whether or not you ever were one:


If you're watching Titanic at will, you can't say they didn't warn you; it's a pretty sure bet you know just what you're getting yourself into. On the off chance you don't, spoiler alert: the boat sinks. Rose swears to Jack that she'll never let go, but then he freezes to death and she lets go. Not much for follow through, don't you think? Joking aside, it still gets me every time. I'm only partially embarrassed to admit I usually keep a fully stocked Kleenex supply on hand if the Titanic mood ever strikes.


You've got to miss Patrick Swayze when you consider the tearjerking reflex of Ghost. The movie examines a murdered man's posthumous observation of his former lover in mourning. Ghost has some interesting ideas about what happens to our loved ones when they die, striking a tearful chord with any movie-watchers who have ever lost someone close to them. Throw in that much-satirized pottery wheel scene and you've got yourself a surefire cry session.


As a kid I could watch this one over and over again, though I think I may have been more interested in Selena's spangly stage outfits than her eventual demise at the hands of her fan club president. It's an interesting story, even more so because it's a ripped from the headlines account of a likable teenage girl poised on the brink of potential stardom. Jennifer Lopez's portrayal of the Mexican-American singer is believable and sweet; you can't help but feel for her family, friends, and fans for her tragic murder. There's also some really catchy music as an added bonus, so it's sort of a twofer.

Steel Magnolias

Take one look at this cast and tell me this isn't the ultimate chick flick. It out-chicks the rest of the genre on cast alone. I mean, really. Dolly Parton, Julia Roberts, Shirley MacLaine, Sally Field...they've really got all chick flick hands on deck with this one. Based on the play of the same name, Steel magnolias explores the relationships between a group of close-knit Southern women as they encounter various obstacles in their lives. The movie throws around a lot of funny one-liners toward the beginning, so the whole tragedy/death thing sort of sneaks up on you. Let me tell you though, it's a doozy,

What's Eating Gilbert Grape?

Gilbert (Johnny Depp) lives his small town life with his a 500-pound widowed mother, a developmentally disabled younger brother (Leonardo DiCaprio), and a married lover (Mary Steenburgen.) The movie has an offbeat oddball warmth and appeal, endearing us to this dysfunctional family. What's Eating Gilbert Grape isn't showy and high-minded. It shows us everyday life at its most basic and mundane, making it all the more affective. Bring on the tissues.


Here's a handy hint: if one of your movie's major characters is terminally ill, it's pretty darn likely that movie will try its hardest to elicit uncontrollable sobbing. Like Roberts' other film on this list, it starts out heavy on the humor and then gets us when we've let down our defenses and are at our most movie-watching vulnerable. I remember the previews for this movies hinted nothing about anyone dying a slow and painful death, so many of us were stuck wiping our eyes on our sleeves and popcorn wrappers. I was totally unprepared for this one.

My Girl

Vada (Anna Chlumsky) is an eleven year old hypochondriac whose widower father is in the disconcerting funeral parlor biz. The movie follows Vada through her everyday trials on her path to adolescence, detailing her crushes, friendships, and social tribulations. Her best friend, Thomas J (Macaulay Culkin) is deathly allergic to bee stings, so surprise surprise, he gets stung. That's when the floodgates really opened for me. That scene in the woods is pretty brutal. The movie has no shortage of heart, so at least the ending

The Piano

It takes a very well-conceived and well-executed movie to leave you uneasy and haunted after watching it, and The Piano pulls it off skillfully. The story is intriguing: a mute pianist with a daughter forced by her family into an arranged marriage. It explores emotions in an interesting way, and the result is a movie we are willing to invest in emotionally.

Edward Scissorhands

Who would've thought a movie about a man with shears for hands could be so touching? Johnny Depp is truly masterful as Edward Scissorhands in this quirky but ultimately moving movie from Tim Burton. The product of a mad inventor's experiment, Edward lives as an isolated outsider. Not only does this movie have the potential to make you cry, it also allows you to marvel over the fact that the villainous character is played by Anthony Michael Hall. The role is certainly a far cry from his brat pack days. It just goes to show, if you eventually beef up go through puberty, you may have a whole new world of evil-tinged roles at your fingertips.

Jerry Maguire

Finally, a movie a guy can feel comfortable sobbing uncontrollably at. It's okay: it's about sports! The bulk of the movie is an earnest depiction of Jerry's quest for happiness on a career path paved by ruthless success. Throw in Renee Zellweger, though, and you've got yourself a serious cry fest. She pretty much had us at hello.


At a time when AIDS was still largely off-limits subject matter for popular entertainment, Philadelphia delivers a story about AIDS that is both moving and respectful. Tom Hanks plays Andrew Beckett, a gay lawyer in Philadelphia who has not come out to his coworkers. As he begins to show signs of illness, he suspects he has been framed by his firm to give reasonable cause to firing him. Hanks' performance is a testament to the power of an actor to make us feel for his plight and symp0athize with his situation. At a time when AIDS was largely a taboo subject, Philadelphia gave us a realistic and human look at its impact.

Free Willy

This movie forever changed my ability to visit Sea World. It's not that I can't, because let's be honest here, I have; it's more that it leaves me with a sort of undefinable sadness. Not so much at the whole entrapped and forced to do tricks thing, but more that I'll never have an orca of my own to dramatically jump over me at just the right moment. I've been waiting patiently, but the moment has yet to present itself.

It takes a special sort of movie to bring forth such strong emotions, but if you're in the mood for a good cry any of the above movies should more than fit the bill. They are not all fine works of high-concept cinema, but they will definitely do the trick. Just don't forget the Kleenex multi-pack: you're going to need it.


Badass Geek said...

Without even reading this post (which I did, btw), just by seeing the title I knew that "Stepmom" would be on the list.

Melanie's Randomness said...

Great picks for these!! Yup I need a good cry every now & again & My Girl, Ghost, Selena, & Titanic are my top choices. I can't watch Steel Magnolias or Stepmom tho. I've seen them once & I'm good. Steel magnolias gets me too upset.

for the love of pictures said...

I agree - great list! I haven't watched "My Girl" in years. The bee scene, and the aftermath of it, is just too much. You're right, sometimes you just need a good cry :)

Rachel said...

Before I even read the whole post I knew Steel Magnolias would be included, gets me every time!

Little Ms Blogger said...

Stepmom, Philadelphia and Steel Magnolias definite tear jerkers.

Titanic annoyed me and I have a friend who vows never to see this movie.

Ghost somewhat annoyed me. Yes, i will be hated by all for that comment.

Others didn't see.

Bibliotender said...

We can’t forget about Rudy. No matter how many times I watch that damn movie I start to tear up. The only difference in recent history is the fact that now when the crowd starts to chant “Rudy…Rudy…” I only hear “Samwise….Samwise….”

And I know that it isn’t technically the 90’s but 89 is close enough; Turner and Hooch. I should have known what was going to happen but at the time I was a na├»ve little dog lover who was totally caught off guard and left very angry with the director.

ajroyston said...

For me the worst scene in "My Girl" is when she comes down into the parlor during Thomas J's funeral and says something about how he needs his glasses because he can't see w/o his's gut-wrenching everytime.

SarahBeth said...

Perfect picks! I've seen and cried my way through almost all of them!

Fran said...

Great choices! All my picks are on the list, notably Gilbert Grape. I adore that movie. Titanic is one that I know a lot of people hate, but I cry more for the other people in the movie than I do for Jack and Rose. The historical part of the movie gets me more than anything- people actually died like that. Bibliotender, Rudy's a great pick too.

lissa said...

I've never saw Bambi, perhaps I should rent it

titanic - saw it, though I only like the ending when the ship gets full of water, I may have shed a tear or two when Jack die, not really sure if I did

ghost - I don't care much for Demi Moore but Patrick Swayze's is a heartbreaker in this one

Selena - still wondering if I actually like the movie or not, it is very sad to know Selena die at such a young age

Steel Magnolias - yep, cry like a big baby

What's Eating Gilbert Grape? - don't really care much for this film even if my favorite actor, Jonny Depp, is in it, I find it depressing though no tears

Stepmom - it just seems like those movie of the week but Susan Sarandon changed that slightly, just slightly

My girl -I really did cry, so sad that her best friend die and also not to know her mom

The Piano - saw it and then forgotten about it, can't remember if I like it or not

Edward Scissorhands - great movie but sad ending, love the snow effects in the end

Jerry Maguire - frankly, I dislike Cuise even before this movie so I can only say the Renee Zellweger is the only reason to watch

Philadelphia - quite a depressing movie, you got to be robot if you don't cry watching this

Free Willy - don't think I saw this one

Melissa Blake said...

These are THE BEST picks!! :) I still cry every timw I see Philadelphia...

Anonymous said...

Great list! Stepmom is tied for my all-time favorite movie. Although I hate Titanic there is nothing sadder than when the old couple are laying in bed holding hands and when the mother is reading to her kids. Oh my goodness, it kills me ever time. My dad and I were just talking about Selena last night and he informed me that it is one of his favorite movies. (Hehe!) When I told him that I own it I thoght for a second he was going to be like "Well what are you waiting for? Go get it!" :) my additions to this list would be The Cure with Brad Renfro and, even though they're from the eighties, Terms of Endearment and Sophie's Choice. All of which have got to be the saddest movies of all time.

Faux Trixie said...

You forgot "Schindler's List." I get about 20 minutes into that movie and then it's a gut-wrenching sobfest for the next 2.5 hours. That movie rips me apart every time I see it.

Shannon said...

Ghost was just on tv this weekend, and I caught the ending. Cried my eyes out. Gahhhhhh. I'm so easy.

Meghan said...

These movies are my life:) Truly - I have so many memories associated with them. I've always loved "My Girl" - except I never bought the untimely demise by bees storyline:)

Anonymous said...

There is a huge, glaring omission to this post!!

How can you not include Homeward Bound?!

I'm just going to assume everyone has seen it (you're crazy if you haven't) and skip right to the tearjerker part.

The tears start when Shadow, the loyal, wise, aging golden retriever, falls into a mud pit. He cannot get out, saying he's too old. He urges the young, naive dog, Chance, and the snobby cat, Sassy, to go on without him.
Next, the family, who misses their beloved pets very much and has basically given up hope of ever seeing them again, is playing basketball. The youngest son hears a dog barking and begins calling, "Chance." The mom begins to tell him it isn't Chance. The boy continues calling, and Chance comes bounding over the hill in the backyard. Sassy the cat follows quickly after. The family stands waiting for Shadow to appear. When he doesn't come, the oldest boy, Peter, turns around to go inside, saying, "He was old. It was too far. He was just too old." Then, Shadow is seen slowly limping over the hill. He says, "Oh, Peter, I've worried about you so." Peter begins to run to him. Shadow picks up his pace and begins to run too. By the time dog and boy meet, Shadow is running and jumping like a puppy again.

As a child who grew up with a dog and sadly watched him age, I can never watch this movie without crying. In fact, I sobbed the entire way through writing this.

Jen said...

I'd like to add Untamed Heart!

Christian Slater and his "baboon heart". Marissa Tomei and Rosy Perez as sassy waitresses. Everything about this movie is awesome, and the ending totally makes me BAWL. Every time.

Heather Taylor said...

I LOVED Stepmom. So underrated. I still watch it when it comes on TV, every time :)

Lil' Woman said...

I've cried the ugly cry to every one of those movies except maybe the last 5....I didn't see some of them

ark said...

I agree that Homeward Bound is definitely a contender. Another one that comes to mind is Mr. Holland's Opus. If you've never seen it. DO. SO good! And then of course there's The Lion King when Mufasa dies but maybe that's just me.

Stephanie Elena said...

I would like to add Armageddon it's the ultimate cry movie...or maybe that's just me? At least made five of my friend cry like babies! I cry a bit in "a little princess" but it ends well at the end so doesn't really count does it?
And come on! City of Angels? Cried like crazy!
Then I just got to mention even though Moulin Rouge is to years of, that one brings me to tears and A walk to remember and yes, three years of, but worth a mentioning;)
The green mile=)
And call me wierd but i cry when I watch the sixth sense=)
Heavenly creatures make me cry too...well a tear to my eye or two..
Well, just had to mention these movies :D Love the list by the way, Have to watch the ones I haven't seen yet;)

Gabriel Lopez said...

Stepmom is everything. Literally just thinking about it makes me tear up. Every single time I watch that movie I burst into tears and even after I'm still weepy. Every. Single. Time.

Christina Horrell said...

I owned a dog who looked and acted JUST like Chance. He was my best friend and became my daughter's best friend very soon after she was born until we lost him to heart disease last year. He gave us the best wonderful 13 years loving us and taking care of us. But I always swore one day I was going to hear him talk and sound just like Michael J Fox.

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