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There is great catharsis in watching films that make us cry. Most of us may have a pivotal memory of the first film we ever cried at, whether that be Bambi or The Lion King or Titanic, that shapes the way we watch films. There is much scientific evidence to back up the fact that crying can be good for you, so it’s no surprise that we sometimes crave watching sad films.

A lot of tear-jerking movie moments are made better with a happy ending to reward the audience – leaving us in a state of happy-sad crying all at once. Others revel in the sad and nothing more, making us question everything about our lives and why we even sat down to watch such an upsetting and depressing film in the first place.

Find here a list of ten movie moments that are guaranteed to make you cry, some with the promise of a brighter ending, others indulging in the harsh reality of life that we often try to avoid. Warning… there are spoilers ahead.

10 movie moments that are guaranteed to make us cry:

The Florida Project (Sean Baker, 2017)

Sean Baker’s exploration of the life of a poverty-stricken six year old girl and her unemployed mother living in a motel near Disneyland is as emotionally stunning as it is visually. Featuring a cast of largely non-actors or new-comers to the industry, The Florida Project highlights the real-life experiences of those who live on the margins of society – on the outskirts of Disneyland with no money to visit it. Main character Moonee, played by Brooklynn Prince in her first major role, leads the film with both an authentic childish innocence and a complex emotional performance.

However, the tear-jerking scene comes at the film’s end, when Moonee is about to be whisked away by social services and separated from her mother. Running to find her friend Jancey, Moonee breaks down in tears as she worries that they may never see each other again. Her tears are visceral, with the emotional weight of her performance transferring onto the viewer. In a moment that we can only speculate as being reality or fantasy, Jancey grabs Moonee’s hand and takes her to Disneyland. The filming crew were so dedicated to the final scene that, unable to secure the right to film inside the park, they shot the closing sequence on an iPhone 6s Plus.

Big Fish (Tim Burton, 2004)

Starring a stacked cast of actors, including Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Jessica Lange, Billy Crudup, and Helena Bonham Carter, Tim Burton’s Big Fish is a stunning take on grief and memory. The film follows Will Bloom as he attempts to uncover the truth about his dying father Edward’s life, since he has always told his son such unbelievable stories. From encounters with witches, giants, werewolves, and planting thousands of daffodils outside of his future-wife’s house, the film is full of weird and wonderful moments in typical Burton fashion.

When the film nears it end, Edward is dying with Will by his side. To comfort him, Will tells his father an imagined story where they break out of the hospital and go to a forest where everyone important in his life is gathered to say goodbye to him. Will carries him to a river where he lets him go, and Edward turns into a catfish like the one he claims to have caught on the day of Will’s birth. As we are brought back to the hospital, Edward passes away. By this point, tears are probably flowing – however, the final scene of the film only rubs more salt into the wound. The funeral is actually attended by all of the strange characters we have met in the film, much to the amazement of Will.

Y Tu Mama Tambien (Alfonso Cuaron, 2001)

Released to much critical acclaim, Y Tu Mama Tambien takes place in Mexico in 1999 and follows the road trip taken by two male teenage best friends, Tenoch and Julio, and a woman in her late twenties, Luisa. Cuaron described the film as “about two teenage boys finding their identity as adults, and . . . also about the search for identity of a country going through its teenage years and trying to find itself as an adult nation.” Exploring sexuality, class, gender, love, friendship, and betrayal – the film is a beautiful coming-of-age journey that will find you both laughing and crying.

At the end of the film, we discover that the close friends, Julio and Tenoch, have stopped hanging out with each other. The pair meet in a chance encounter, leading them to catch up over coffee. It is here that Tenoch tells Julio that Luisa died from cancer a month after their trip, and hid her illness all along. Stunned, Julio’s face seems to display every experience he had and the emotion he felt through his time on the road with Luisa, forcing us to confront the fragility and fleetingness of life.

Paper Moon (Peter Bogdanovich, 1973)

Starring real-life father and daughter Ryan and Tatum O’Neal, Paper Moon is set during the Great Depression and follows the journey taken by nine-year-old Addie and con-man Moses, who is suspected to be her father. The pair travel across the Midwest conning people together, with Addie proving to be a good addition to Moses’ conniving schemes. The charming relationship between the pair is a joy to watch, which makes it all the more saddening when Addie must finally be dropped off to live with her aunt.

Trying to cover up his sadness, Moses doesn’t even walk Addie to the door. Yet driving away, it is clear that he is upset and will possibly never see her again. Moses pulls out the photo that Addie left for him of her sat on a paper moon which is signed to Moze, the nickname she gave him. Luckily though, Addie decides to ditch her aunt’s house and can be seen running in the distance behind Moses’ truck. She reminds him that he has still not repaid her the $200 she is owed while the truck begins to roll away. The pair run after the truck together before climbing in, and we can only assume that Moses really is Addie’s father.

The 400 Blows (Francois Truffaut, 1959)

One of the greatest coming-of-age films of all time, as well as one of the greatest films to come out of the French New Wave, The 400 Blows follows Antoine Doinel, a young schoolboy who can’t help but find himself getting into trouble. Played magnificently by Jean-Pierre Leaud, who went on to play Antoine in the subsequent films about the boy’s life which sees him get married and have a child, the film is incredibly tender and tear-inducing.

With stunning black and white shots of Paris and a whimsical and nostalgic soundtrack by Jean Constantin, The 400 Blows is a simply beautiful film. A key scene that may induce some watery eyes is during Antoine’s arrest. Placed in the back of a police van with adult criminals, the fear on his face highlights the naivety and innocence of the small boy. As lush strings play, a tear rolls down his cheek, and we are shown alternating shots of the child’s face and his view of Paris which towers over him. Furthermore, the ending sequence in which Antoine escapes the youth detention centre and runs along the beach, only to be captured by the camera in a freeze-frame shot of his face, is equally heart-wrenching.

The Green Ray (Eric Rohmer, 1986)

After his series Six Moral Tales, which featured solely male protagonists, Eric Rohmer decided to switch things up in the 1980s and make an almost entirely female-centric set of films. The Comedies and Proverbs series saw Rohmer strip back his working conditions, in keeping with New Wave tradition. The Green Ray, the fifth film in the series, (although they all stand-alone) used an all-female crew and largely relied on improvisation. The film follows Delphine, a sensitive and recently single woman who is searching for her perfect holiday over the summer.

Delphine struggles to connect with others and spends a large amount of time wandering around alone. She often cries amongst nature and desires to see a natural phenomenon called the ‘green ray,’ a flash of green light that can be seen at sunset which according to myth gives the viewer a greater sense of clarity within their life. Near the end of the film, joined by a man she meets and connects with at the train station, Delphine finally witnesses the green ray and starts to cry. However, for the first time in the film, she seems to be crying tears of happiness and we can’t help but experience these happy tears with her.

Vortex (Gaspar Noé, 2021)

After Gaspar Noé suffered a brain haemorrhage and his mother was diagnosed with dementia, the director, famous for his work in the French New Extremity movement, was inspired by these experiences to make Vortex. Focusing on an elderly couple, played by Dario Argento in his first leading role, and Francoise Lebrun, the pair must face the realities of their declining health.

Noé’s exploration of old age and death is beautifully executed, albeit excruciating. Despite a lack of sex and violence, something that has come to define Noé’s previous work, the film is just as intense. He dedicates the film to “those whose brains decompose before their bodies do,” which should give you a good indication of the sheer emotional impact Vortex has upon its audience.

Leon: The Professional (Luc Besson, 1994)

Starring Natalie Portman in her terrific breakout role, Leon: The Professional is a marvellous action-thriller that follows twelve year old Mathilda whose entire family is murdered by corrupt DEA agents while she is out grocery shopping. The young orphan forms an unlikely bond with Leon, a reserved hitman who lives in the same apartment block. He trains her in the art of killing so that she can get her revenge on the men that killed her little brother.

Just as in Paper Moon, the bond between the two is a joy to watch, which makes the ending ever the more upsetting. Leon is killed by Gary Oldman’s terrifying Norman, but as he dies, he manages to let off a grenade to kill his murderer, saying, “this is from Mathilda.” The wavering of Leon’s voice as he delivers his final lines is enough to make you shed a tear, alongside the fact that the beloved hitman is about to die. Moreover, when Mathilda returns to school in the final scene of the film, another emotional moment is shared when she plants Leon’s plant and says to it, “I think we’ll be okay here, Leon.”

Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich, 2010)

The third instalment in Disney Pixar’s beloved franchise, Toy Story 3 sees Andy now 17, and preparing to move away for university. After deciding to take Woody with him but putting the rest of the iconic toys in a bin bag, his mother mistakenly takes the bag out with the rest of the rubbish, leading them to believe that Andy wanted them to be thrown away. They manage to escape and end up being donated to a day-care centre where they meet new toys.

The toys eventually all end up back with Andy after almost dying in an incinerator. In an emotional end scene, Andy decides to give all of the toys to a little girl named Bonnie. When he pulls Woody out of the bag, he is initially hesitant to give him away, however, he decides to let Bonnie have him, and the pair play with the beloved characters before he leaves. The film’s emotionality perhaps stems from the fact that for many people watching it, their childhoods, or their children’s childhoods, were also coming to an end.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Celine Sciamma, 2019)

Celine Sciamma’s beautiful tale of the forbidden romance between an aristocrat and the woman commissioned to paint her is one of the past decade’s most authentic and emotionally delicate films. The New Yorker described Portrait of a Lady on Fire as a film about “the entanglements between artistic creation and burgeoning love, between memory and ambition and freedom,” with these entanglements leading to a tear-jerker of an ending. Pulling together the reference to the story of Orpheus and Eurydice that the pair discussed earlier in the film, we see Marianne witness Heloise at a concert.

Whilst Marianne observes Heloise listening to Vivaldi’s ‘Summer,’ the same piece she had played to her years before, she believes that Heloise cannot see her. A long close-up shot then closes in on Heloise as she is moved to tears by the music. Sciamma leaves the audience wondering whether Heloise does know Marianne is there, but is choosing not to look back as Orpheus did. It is clear that the memory of Marianne has returned with the familiar piece of music and this is perhaps the reason for her tears – a simply moving ending.

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