WARNING Spoilers ahead! Plot points and endings revealed. Again.

By Marc BernardinMonica MehtaMissy SchwartzSumeet BalMichael SauterErin RichterNancy Sidewater and Joshua Rich
Updated January 09, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST

We knew going in that tearjerkers are the kind of movies that evoke passion, but we never could’ve predicted that said passion would elicit such a phenomenal response. We stopped counting your letters once they reached a thousand (partly because we’ve got weekly deadlines, partly because we’re entertainment journalists and can’t count that high), but that breaks an unofficial EW record for most mail received for a story. To thank you for embracing your — and our — softer side so earnestly, here are the 10 films you the readers felt most deserved a place on our 50 Greatest Tearjerkers list, along with the reasons they didn’t make the cut. Once again, tissues at the ready…

1 Beaches

Bette Midler, Barbara Hershey (1988, Touchstone) We tried distracting ourselves with Hershey’s famously plumped-up lips, but despite our best efforts, the ultimate in chick flicks had us boo-hooing in the end. Meeting as kids on the beach in Atlantic City, the precociously showbiz-driven CC (Midler) and the properly upper-crust Hillary (Hershey) form a fast friendship that spans more than three decades. Seeing each other through all life throws their way, including death, the bond is occasionally tested but never breaks. Their dedication culminates during the final summer they spend together back at the beach while Hillary wastes away from cardiomyopathy. KLEENEX MOMENT Hillary’s death, the depth of CC’s loss, and that darned ”Wind Beneath My Wings” playing through scenes of the funeral, and CC’s adoption of her friend’s daughter. WHY WE TEAR-JERKED IT Hate us if you like, spew vile epithets at us if you will, but if forced to choose between a good movie that makes us cry and a bad one, we’ll always choose the good one. And let’s face it, Beaches is a trite, sappy, over-manipulative bad movie. Sorry.

2 The Color Purple

Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover (1985, Warner) From the moment 14-year-old Celie’s newborn is ripped from her arms, we know we’re in for a multi-tissue event. Steven Spielberg’s searing adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel about a group of disparate black Southerners consistently makes our eyes fill to the brim as their stories unfold over three decades. Celie (Goldberg) and her sister are literally torn apart by the abusive Albert (Glover). Sofia (Oprah Winfrey) has the sparkle beaten out of her. Chanteuse Shug (Margaret Avery) yearns for her preacher daddy’s love. And if that isn’t enough to get the tears flowing, there’s always Rae Dawn Chong’s pitiful performance. KLEENEX MOMENT We dare you to try holding it together when the sisters are finally reunited, along with Celie’s two long-lost children. WHY WE TEAR-JERKED IT With E.T. on the list, we felt we had Spielberg’s teary work well represented, so this and Saving Private Ryan fell by the wayside.

3 Schindler’s List

Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley (1993, Universal) While we make light of it, crying happens to be an especially personal behavior — a fact that bears heavily during Steven Spielberg’s vivid Holocaust memorial. Impressively anchored by Neeson (as the Nazi businessman who saved over 1,000 Polish Jews), Kingsley (as his trusted Jewish accountant), and Ralph Fiennes (as a psychotic camp commandant), the Best Picture winner is enough to make one person sit in silent shock while their neighbor sobs straight through. Which is to say that not only is it difficult to quantify the tear factor herein, it’s just not right. KLEENEX MOMENT As that weighty mix of emotions washes over, the coda features the surviving Schindler Jews visiting his grave. WHY WE TEAR-JERKED IT Because it’s the Holocaust, that most pulverizing of topics (even more so than slavery, only for its immediacy), and because it’s a true story. Quite simply, it was too big, too vast, too deep a topic for our schmaltzy list.

p>4 Forrest Gump

Tom Hanks, Robin Wright (1994, Paramount) Nearly a decade after it earned gazillions and swept the Oscars, Robert Zemeckis’ ode to 20th-century America still represents one of cinema’s most clearly drawn lines in the sand. One half of folks see it as an artificial piece of pop melodrama, while everyone else raves that it’s sweet as a box of chocolates. Really, though, it doesn’t matter what you think when Alan Silvestri’s score swells with a stringy sentiment that screams”Try not to cry now, pal” KLEENEX MOMENT Forrest visits Jenny’s grave underneath their tree in Greenbow, Ala.”I miss you, Jenny,” he says.”If there’s anything you need, I won’t be far away.” (Cue: sobbing jag…or mocking gag.) WHY WE TEAR-JERKED IT In the spirit of the tearjerker–the most manipulative of film genres–we did it to provoke a response. We knew its absence would elicit letters. Lo and behold, it worked.

5 My Life

Michael Keaton, Nicole Kidman (1993, Columbia TriStar) Though we know PR guru and expectant father Bob Jones (Keaton) is going to die from the get-go, Bruce Joel Rubin’s blubberfest leaves us devastated well after the final credits roll. It’s difficult to watch brave Bob’s physical decline from an able-bodied exec to a feeble man who must rely on his father for a shave and his wife (Kidman) to feed him, but it’s his preparations (in an ode to camera-happy parents) for the arrival of his son–videotaped confessions about love, revelations about his past, and reflections on life–that truly wreak havoc on our eyes and souls. KLEENEX MOMENT Before his final breath, Kidman looks at an inaudible Keaton and says, ”You don’t have to talk. I know what’s in your heart.” WHY WE TEAR-JERKED IT We know it sounds cold and heartless, but we had too many cancer movies–Love Story, Brian’s Song, Terms of Endearment–on the list already, and we wanted to spread the sobs around.

6 Gone With the Wind

Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh (1939, Warner) Her beloved Ashley has married cousin Melanie, the Yankees have burned her precious Tara estate to the ground, and her family’s Confederate fortune is worthless. But as God is her witness, Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara (Leigh) survives the Civil War through sheer pluck–only to drive away the true love of her life, third husband Rhett Butler (Gable), through pure spoiled-brattiness. KLEENEX MOMENT Which is why we don’t cry for Scarlett (Come on! She had it coming!), but for her dashing, reformed scoundrel of a spouse who, after realizing she’ll never love him, utters his legendary ”Frankly, my dear” and leaves her, his heart broken for the last time. WHY WE TEAR-JERKED IT Yes, David O. Selznick’s four-hour melodrama won 10 Oscars back in 1940 and, to many, will always be the romantic epic of the 20th century. But today, we find it hard to weep for a long-defunct, slavery-supporting South.

7 My Dog Skip

Frankie Muniz, Kevin Bacon (2000, Warner) In the first 20 minutes of director Jay Russell’s treacly adaptation of Willie Morris’ memoir, Bacon’s stern father warns that giving a puppy to his ”frail, sensitiv” 9-year-old Willie (Muniz) is a”heartbreak waiting to happen.” And with that he explains the shameless, sometimes shameful, effectiveness of the whole boy-and-his-dog genre. Surprisingly, nothing truly tragic happens to the spunky Jack Russell who drives, plays football, and helps the timid only-child find friends, confidence, and strength in ’40s Mississippi. When old Skip finally passes, we don’t mourn the loss of the beloved pet so much as the innocence lost between youth and adulthood. KLEENEX MOMENT Arthritic and gray-whiskered, Skip feebly tries to jump onto Willie’s bed; the inevitability of his end marks the start of tissue time. WHY WE TEAR-JERKED IT Because after Old Yeller and Sounder, how many sad dog movies do you need? According to you, at least one more.

8 The Bridges of Madison County

Meryl Streep, Clint Eastwood (1995, Warner) Clint Eastwood directs the big-screen adaptation of Robert James Waller’s beloved novella, in which a small-town Italian-Iowan housewife (Streep) falls in love with a free-spirited, nomadic photographer (Eastwood). An earthy, Botticelliesque Streep is enchanting as she quickly falls for the sinewy, rugged Eastwood, who symbolizes lost dreams and true freedom. The KLEENEX MOMENT comes, however, when she chooses her family over her own happiness: As she makes a trip into town with her husband a few days after rejecting Eastwood, she spots him standing in the rain, mournfully staring at her. You stop being able to tell the difference between the torrential downpour on screen and your own tears. WHY WE TEAR-JERKED IT How much Streep could one list hold, what with Sophie’s Choice, Kramer vs. Kramer, and The Deer Hunter already on it? No more Streep.

9 My Girl

Macaulay Culkin, Anna Chlumsky (1991, Columbia TriStar) Few things are more affecting than watching childhood innocence mercilessly destroyed by the hands of fate. Precocious 11-year-old tomboy Vada Sultenfuss (played to perfection by the pouty Chlumsky) spends the summer contemplating life with best friend Thomas J. (an adorably prepubescent Culkin). But while the angsty preteen grapples with adolescence–her first crush, her first period, her first kiss–she’s also forced to grow up after suffering a tragic loss. KLEENEX MOMENT When Vada arrives at Thomas J.’s funeral, she runs over to his open casket and says, ”Wanna go tree-climbing, Thomas J.? His face hurts! And where’s his glasses? He can’t see without his glasses” WHY WE TEAR-JERKED IT Heck, half of all movies made are about the loss of innocence, and this one just didn’t seem all that special. Besides, he dies of a bee sting. Lame!

10 Somewhere in Time

Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour (1980, Universal) Obsessed by a 1912 portrait of a beautiful actress (Seymour), young playwright Richard (Reeves) finds a photo taken late in her life and recognizes the mysterious old woman who once pressed an antique watch into his hand and said,”Come back to me” What else can he do but will himself through time? KLEENEX MOMENT When Richard, thinking he’s lost his newfound love, slumps on the veranda of a grand hotel, not knowing she’s on the lawn below, running toward him with joyful abandon. WHY WE TEAR-JERKED IT To be honest, we’ve got no good reason other than that we just didn’t feel it was better than any of the 50 films on the list. Sue us.

The Bridges of Madison County

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 135 minutes
  • Clint Eastwood