The saddest movies in the world

A recent study by the Smithsonian tried to find what movies make us cry, here’s our list…

The 1979 movie The Champ – starring Jon Voigt and a young Ricky Schroder – might never feature in any film critic’s all-time top 10, but that story of a washed-up boxer and his young son has officially become a tool in a scientific study of sadness and how we respond to and deal with that emotion.

Psychology researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have decreed that of all well-known tearjerker movies and movie scenes, the tragic ending of The Champ drew the most potent responses from subjects in experiments that aimed to “create” sadness in laboratories.

The research was documented in a recent article in Smithsonian Magazine, no less (click here), describing The Champ as “the saddest movie in the world”.

Those of us who have seen that film – and I for one was forced to sit through it many times growing up by a boxing-obsessed father – will know that that final scene packs a wallop, but what are the other weepie movies that reduce you to a blubbering, red-eyed mess by the end?

Here are 10 of my personal favourites, in no particular order – and please feel free to add your own/disagree in the comments section below:

*My Girl:

Don’t judge me. I was 10 when I saw this movie in the cinema, and I was left bereft. How could they do that to Macauley Culkin, who, at that point, would have been known to his young peers as the greatest actor/hero/legend in the universe through his robber-foiling antics in Home Alone? And with bees, too. You monsters!

*Harry and the Hendersons:

This is my first memory of crying at a movie. I was six years old, and that final scene where John Lithgow brings Bigfoot/Harry back to the wilderness just killed me. Punching and hitting the beast to make him leave…excuse me, I have something in my eye.


Another childhood trauma. ‘Man’ enters the forest. Shots ring out. Little prancing Bambi will never see its mother again. This has coloured my opinion of men ever since. The rotters.

*ET: The Extra-Terrestrial:

Funnily enough, despite watching this approximately 784 times as a child, I was never moved to tears by it – until I grew up. Just last Christmas I watched it again, blubbering into my box of Cadbury’s Heroes, while my tweenage niece looked on at me in something akin to horror/pity. She’ll learn, in time.

*Finding Neverland:

One of the conclusions from the research into The Champ is that the sight of sad cute kids on screen is powerful enough to short-circuit the motherboards of all adult emotionless cyborgs like me. Little Freddie Highmore more than achieved that at the end of this movie whilst talking to Johnny Depp’s JM Barrie on the park bench following the death of his mother (Kate Winslet).

*Toy Story 3:

Ugh, I hate being such a cliché, bawling crying during the finale of Woody and Co’s last (?) adventure like every other man in the world (apparently). But that ending is just so finely judged, and packed with tenderness and love of and for the characters that it really is difficult not to be moved.

*My Sister’s Keeper:

This one is really embarrassing. I reluctantly watched it on a flight home from the US (it was either that, or [retch] read), and spent the first three-quarters of the movie rolling my eyes and scoffing at the idea of Cameron Diaz playing a mother to teenage children. And then, despite myself and to the utter discomfort of the passenger next to me, I was wailing into my mutagen-esque airplane curry. Shamelessly manipulative stuff, but it gets you.


The montage sequence covering Carl and Ellie’s life lived and loved together at the start of this Pixar classic is already being held up as the greatest moment in the history of animated film. That’s debatable, but it’s certainly one of the most powerful and moving.

*Brokeback Mountain:

Honestly, the first time I watched this film I couldn’t get up out of my seat in the cinema. The final image of sad, lonely Heath Ledger smelling and dancing with Jake Gyllenhaal’s old shirt is devastating beyond words.

*The Shawshank Redemption:

One of the few movies at which men – that is, heterosexual men – are allowed to cry. That bromantic ending does induce a rush of emotion, but the movie’s most poignant segment covers the release of old timer Brooks into a modern world he doesn’t recognise or understand anymore. You know it can’t end well, and still it feels like someone kicked you in the goolies when Brooks takes matters into his own hands.

Words – Declan Cashin