Some movies make us laugh. Other movies give us chills and thrills. And every so often, we see a movie that inspires us to be better people.
Then there are those movies that contain moments so emotionally powerful that they make us cry. These are the movies that break our hearts and in this article, we are going to list those that we think are well worth seeing.
Check out our picks below and then let us know which movies have made you shed a tear during your lifetime.
This article does contain spoilers so do skim through if you haven’t seen the listed movies!
On the surface, Aftersun doesn’t seem like a sad movie. Charlotte Well’s film tells the story of Sophie, a young woman who reflects on a summer she shared with her father Callum when she was just a young girl. Through extended flashbacks, we see the father and daughter spending time together while on holiday at a Turkish resort, and their relationship, for the most part, is seemingly a happy one.
But away from his daughter, Callum is often distant and at one point we see him walking into the sea. It’s clear that he is struggling with depression although he never lets his daughter see his unhappiness. As the older Sophie looks back on her holiday via camcorder footage that was taken at the time, she is able to pick up clues about her father’s mental state that she previously missed as a child.
The final scene of the movie is heart-wrenching. We see Sophie saying goodbye to her father at the airport and it can be assumed that this is the last time she ever saw him. An earlier scene featured the David Bowie lyric ‘This is our last dance’ and this is the clue that their holiday was the final time they spent together.
As the young Sophie gets a final glimpse of Callum, we get the gut-wrenching feeling that he may have committed suicide shortly afterwards. Suddenly, this tender slice-of-life drama takes on a whole new dimension and the realization that their farewell was possibly their final goodbye rips our hearts away.
The Quiet Girl (2022)
Colm Bairéad’s Irish-language film tells the story of Cait, a 9-year-old girl who is neglected at home and bullied by her peers at school. Consequently, she has become withdrawn and we notice her inherent sadness during the early part of the film. But one summer, salvation comes in the form of her mother’s cousin, Eibhlin, who takes Cait away from her joyless surroundings to her home in the countryside, which she shares with her husband Sean.
Eibhiln’s kind gesture is helpful to Cait’s impoverished mother, who now has one less mouth to feed. But the biggest impact is on Cait. As the movie progresses, we watch as she comes out of her shell and starts to become happier as she spends time with Eibhlin and Sean in the beautiful Irish countryside. For the first time in her young life, she starts to feel loved and accepted and the connection she makes with Sean, who is initially distant for reasons that become clear in the film, is wonderful.
But all good things have to come to an end. It turns out that Cait’s stay in the country was only temporary. After experiencing a very happy summer, Cait is returned home by the two people who have shown her a great deal of care.
The moment when she re-enters the dank and gloomy surroundings of her home is painful, more so because her parents don’t seem to have missed her. But the scene that will break your heart the most is the one right at the end of the film, when Sean and Eibhlin drive away, leaving Cait alone. Cait runs after the car and this causes Sean to stop the car, get out, and hug her. When she calls him “daddy,” you will melt with tears, as she is saying goodbye to a relationship that she doesn’t experience with her real father.
Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
Hilary Swank stars in Kimberly Peirce’s movie as Brandon Teena, a young guy who moves to a small Nebraska town. He forms friendships with the guys around him and gets romantically involved with a girl named Lana but his involvement with these people has repercussions later on in the movie when the truth about Brandon is revealed. It turns out that he is a trans man, previously known as Teena Renae Brandon, which is something of a surprise to everyone, especially John and Tom, two of Brandon’s friends.
Unfortunately, they are not the friends Brandon thought they were as they are intolerant of his gender identity. Towards the end of the movie, they pursue Brandon, force him to strip, and then brutally beat and rape him. This is shocking enough but Brandon’s traumas continue when he reports the crime to the police and is then dismissed by them because they are less concerned with the rape and more interested in interrogating him about his sexual identity.
At the end of the movie, Brandon goes into hiding but he is found by Tom and John, who shoot and stab him. Lana finds Brandon’s corpse the next day and discovers a letter to her on his body, which includes the line “I’ll be waiting for you, love always and forever” which we hear in a voiceover. It’s the tragic end to Brandon’s tale that is so heartbreaking but the real kicker is that this story is painfully true. You will be moved to tears, by anger as well as sadness, as the injustices the real-life Brandon faced are sadly all too common in society today.
Hachi: a Dog’s Tale (2009)
Why are dog movies always so sad? Marley and Me, A Dog’s Purpose, and Old Yeller are just a few of the films that will break your heart, especially if you’re a dog lover, but chances are, you might consider Hachi: a Dog’s Tale to be the saddest of them all!
The movie stars Richard Gere as Parker Wilson, a university fine arts professor who gives a home to a puppy that he discovers at a train station. He names the puppy Hachi and over the years, the two form a very special bond. Every day, Hachi returns to the station to greet Parker when he steps off the train. But one day, Parker does not return home and we learn that he has died.
Hachi is then given a home by Parker’s grown daughter but as the grieving dog misses his owner so much, he continues to return to the station at the same time every day, in the hope that he will see Parker again.
Hachi returns to the same spot for ten years until the day Parker’s wife spots him at the station. She offers to sit with him until the next train but while they are waiting, Hachi passes away. This is a very sad moment and is almost as sad as the previous scenes that saw him sitting alone at the station waiting for his master. Still, the movie doesn’t end on a completely sad note as there is the suggestion that Hachi and Parker were eventually reunited in Heaven. This won’t stop you from sobbing uncontrollably, however.
James Cameron’s sweeping epic takes us back to 1912 and the maiden voyage of the Titanic. We already know this is going to be a tragic story as the fate of the ship and its passengers are well-known to us. Still, knowing what happens doesn’t quite prepare us for the movie’s closing scenes, when fictional characters Jack and Rose, who we see fall in love during the movie’s hefty runtime, are forced to say goodbye to one another in the most heartbreaking way possible.
After the ship strikes an iceberg and breaks in half, Rose and Jack find themselves cast adrift on a floating door in the middle of the freezing ocean. Unfortunately, their makeshift life raft isn’t enough to hold both their weights so Jack sacrifices his life to let Rose live hers.
As he clings to the door, he speaks to his beloved one final time – “Promise me you’ll survive. That you won’t give up, no matter what happens, no matter how hopeless. Promise me now, Rose, and never let go of that promise.”
Rose never did let go of that promise but after succumbing to hypothermia, Jack was forced to let go of his life. We feel Rose’s pain when she realizes he is dead and cry sad tears when we realize he could have been saved if the lifeboat that arrived to save Rose had made its way to them just a little while earlier.
Toy Story 3 (1999)
Growing up is hard but it’s even harder for those we leave behind when we eventually come of age and say goodbye to our loved ones before moving on to the next chapter in our lives. This is something that is demonstrated so well in Pixar’s movie but it’s not Andy’s parents that are so bereft by his leaving but his toys, who are devastated to learn that their precious owner will no longer spend his days playing with them like he used to.
Thankfully, Woody and co aren’t left out in the garbage, although they are almost incinerated at one point. They do have a sort of happy ending when they are left in the hands of 4-year-old Bonnie, their new owner. But the final scene in the movie is still emotional when Andy tells Bonnie to look after the toys that meant so much to him.
Your heart will be broken when Andy finds Woody at the bottom of a cardboard box and then plays with him one last time. It’s a joyful moment that becomes a very sad one when Andy gets into his car and somberly says “thanks guys” to the toys before driving away to college. Woody is understandably bereft as are we, as it can be assumed that Andy and the toys will never see one another again.
The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas (2008)
Mark Herman’s movie is one we know is steeped in tragedy because it takes place during World War 2 at a concentration camp. This time in history is a dark and painful one and it will resonate with a lot of people. Coming into the movie, you are already prepared for heartbreak, but at the time of its release, nothing could have prepared us for its shocking final scenes.
The movie focuses on the friendship between two boys who come from very different worlds. One of these boys is Bruno, the German son of a Nazi officer, who has been subjected to Nazi Propaganda about the Jews but who isn’t quite convinced of its authenticity. The other boy is Shmuel, a Jewish inmate in the concentration camp.
The two are separated by a fence that surrounds the camp but this doesn’t stop them from playing with one another. At the end of the movie, when Bruno is about to be transported to a place of safety, he decides to dress in the striped pyjamas of a Jewish prisoner so he can be with Shmuel one last time. Sadly, this ruse ends tragically when he is mistaken for one of the prisoners and taken to a large changing room with Shmuel and the other inmates, by the Nazi soldiers. It becomes apparent that this is a gas chamber and when the lights go out, we know what happens next.
Outside, we see Bruno’s family who have been desperately looking for their son. They hear the cries of the dying inmates and realize their son is among the number. It’s a horrifying moment that is guaranteed to chill your heart before smashing it into a thousand pieces.
My Girl (1991)
A movie starring Macauley Culkin couldn’t be a sad one, right? The star of Home Alone, Richie Rich, and Getting Even With Dad, was somebody who made children laugh and not cry, so his appearance in this coming-of-movie was a welcome relief to parents in the early 90s who wanted to keep their kids occupied with something entertaining.
But as we all know by now, this was not another Culkin laugh-fest. There is a sting in this tale, quite literally, as Culkin’s character, Thomas J. Sennet, has a very tragic end. Still, the movie is fun for a while and it’s actually quite heartwarming as we witness the blossoming relationship between Thomas and Vada, the young girl that he hangs out with one summer. But then tragedy happens.
When Vada loses her mood ring in the woods, Thomas sets out to find it, but it’s not long before he is attacked by a swarm of bees. He doesn’t survive, as you probably know already, and his death is probably one that caused you to cry.
But the heartbreak doesn’t end there as the boy’s funeral scene is also upsetting. He is lying in his coffin without his glasses and this is agonizing for the grief-stricken Vada who, in a very emotional sequence, tells the people in the congregation that her best friend can’t see without them. The death of Thomas was very hard to bear but seeing Varda grieving gives us another level of heartbreak that can cause tears to flow.
The Outsiders (1983)
Francis Ford Coppola’s film is adapted from the YA novel by SE Hinton and it’s as traumatic as the book on which it was based. It’s set in the 1950s and is largely focused on Ponyboy Curtis (C. Thomas Howell), a sensitive young teen who loves poetry and sunsets, and who is far different to his brothers who are part of a gang called the Greasers.
Curtis is friends with Johnny (Ralph Macchio), and after an incident with a rival gang, when Johnny kills one of them while trying to protect his buddy, the two boys flee into the countryside to hide from the law. Here, Ponyboy reads extracts of Gone With the Wind to Johnny and the two of them discover moments of peace away from their troubles at home.
Their time together is golden but sadly, ‘nothing gold can stay’ (a reference to the Robert Frost poem that Ponyboy shares with Johnny). The peaceful existence shared by the two boys is interrupted when they notice a church that has been set on fire with a group of children inside. They bravely help the kids but Johnny is injured by a flaming beam and is later rushed to the hospital.
From his hospital bed, Johnny encourages Ponyboy to “stay gold” before succumbing to his injuries. These moments are incredibly powerful but there is more heartbreak to come, as another of Ponyboy’s friends, Dallas (Matt Dillon), also meets an untimely end when he commits a crime after becoming grief-stricken over Johnny’s death.
The movie is an incredibly sad one but it’s an inspiring one too, as we are reminded of our lives and the importance of ‘staying gold’ (remaining hopeful), despite the pressures that bear down on us in adulthood.
Joe Bell (2020)
Mark Wahlberg stars as Joe Bell, the grieving father who walked across America to raise awareness about teen bullying after Jadin, his gay son, took his own life after being tormented about his sexuality by his peers. Sadly, Jadin’s story is a familiar one. According to The Trevor Project, at least one LGBTQ youth between the ages of 13 and 24 attempts suicide every 45 seconds in the U.S.
This is a movie that will resonate with anybody who has been impacted by the suicide of another or who has experienced abuse because of their sexuality. But even those who don’t share these experiences will find this movie heartbreaking. This isn’t only because of the sadness associated with Jadin’s death but because of the conclusion of Joe’s story. During his journey, this grieving father was struck and killed by a semi-truck while walking across a two-lane highway in Eastern Colorado.
In a film already steeped in tragedy, knowing that Joe also died is almost too much to bear. However, his legacy lives on. As this loving father made sure his son didn’t die in vain, Joe’s family and friends did likewise. They continued the good work that Joe started through the anti-bullying organisation, Faces for Change and thanks to Joe and the people who took on his baton, many schools have now adopted anti-bullying policies and support systems to aid their LBGTQ students.
Have you seen any of these movies? Did you experience heartbreak while watching them? Are there any other heartbreaking movies that you think are worthy of mention? Let us know in the comments section below.