People enjoy the occasional good cry, especially in a movie theater. How else to explain the 1,300 reader responses to Kate Ward’s PopWatch post last week after the Smithsonian brought attention to a 1988 study that scientifically proved that the weepy scene at the end of The Champ is the saddest of all-time? What was apparent from the comments, though, was that some of our teariest scenes were also from our favorite movies, like Toy Story 3, Field of Dreams, and Casablanca. It might get dusty whenever Sam picks up Mr. Frodo on the lip of Mount Doom, but The Return of the King is not a “sad movie,” per se.
A great sad movie can be like a stomach punch. Fade to black, the credits roll, the theater lights come on… and there you still are, frozen in your seat, devastated by what just transpired onscreen. Tears are not enough. A great sad movie makes you ache. And in some cases, you eventually love it even more because of it. The Champ, actually, might qualify on the weight of its powerful finale. But is it the saddest movie of all-time? Sadder than Terms of Endearment? Sadder than Old Yeller?
We’ve culled through 41 pages (!) of readers’ responses, eliminated sob-scenes from otherwise uplifting films, and selected 10 emotional juggernauts that have clearly left scars on our collective psyches, in order to select the saddest movie of all time. These films don’t have a single sob-scene — they have several. I know it’s cruel to make you watch clips of them all, but I believe in an informed electorate. Start with The Champ. Then say goodbye to Debra Winger in Terms of Endearment. And Old Yeller. And Jake Gyllenhaal’s denim shirt in Brokeback Mountain. Watch the scene in Schindler’s List where Liam Neeson sees red. Lighten the heavy Holocaust mood with an “amusing” scene from Life is Beautiful that only makes the film’s conclusion that much more heartwrenching. Watch Cary Grant confront Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember, with or without Rita Wilson. Then dive back in to hyperventilating silent-cry territory with Clint Eastwood and his macushla in Million Dollar Baby, and finally, the tragic ends of Love Story and Titanic.
You okay? If you’re still speaking to me, vote below for the saddest movie of all time.