We’re a sensitive bunch here at GeekDad and not afraid to show our emotions from time to time. After our conversation last week about our go-to movie recommendations, talk started drifting toward movies that reduce us to puddles even after repeated viewings. It seems there are some movies that no matter if you know the feels train is coming, there’s no stopping the tears.
Below you’ll find some of our favorite tearjerkers. It’s worth noting that we had to limit ourselves to non-Pixar movies, because only a soulless monster could watch the beginning of Up or the end of Toy Story 3 without openly weeping. Whether the tears come from warm fuzzies, tragedy, death, triumph, or love, the following GeekDad staff picks will ensure there’s something in your eye.
For Love of the Game
While Costner’s other baseball movies are probably more well known, few movies are as guaranteed to bring me to tears as For Love of the Game. In case you aren’t familiar with it, the movie stars Costner as Billy Chapel, a pitcher for the Detroit Lions. The movie is set over the course of a single game, which Chapel knows will be one of the last he pitches. While he throws a perfect game, he reflects back on his life and his career. The movie features moving performances by Costner and Kelly Preston, along with Jena Malone and JK Simmons. Definitely one to watch with a box of tissues nearby. – Rob Huddleston
Grave of Fireflies
Forget Up, Isao Takahata’s Grave of Fireflies is the most gutting animated film I have ever seen. Released by Studio Ghibli in 1988, Grave of Fireflies follows a boy and his young sister as they try to survive following the firebombing of Kobe Japan during WWII. I refuse to go into any details beyond that, because if you haven’t seen the film, you absolutely must. While difficult to watch, Grave of Fireflies is one of the most essential WWII films ever made. This film will make you weep for days and stay with you for a lifetime. – Tony Nunes
Pay It Forward
This movie was specially crafted by skilled emotional engineers in order to turn anyone with a functioning amygdala into a heaving, sobbing puddle of tears and Kleenex. Every possible depressing situation is covered. Poverty? Got it. Addiction? Check. Abuse? You bet. Pay It Forward drags you through the shattered lives of broken people then beats you upside the head with despair while at the same time giving you warm, fuzzy, hopeful hugs, all backed by the master of musical maudlinness, Sarah McLachlan. It is obviously, unapologetically, emotionally manipulative, and it doesn’t matter; you’ll still end up crying yourself to sleep that night after a very long good-night hug with your kids. – Randy Slavey
The scene where she reunites with her parents always gets me. I suppose it’s the feeling you’d have when you get something back you’d thought was lost forever. (I had the) same reaction at the end of The Color Purple. – Sean Hallenbeck
We’ve already established that the Pixar movie Up gave us one of the saddest intros in the history of film. Iris is almost exactly like those heartbreaking first few minutes of Up, but instead of lasting minutes, this heart-wrenching story takes an hour and a half. To me, this is perhaps one of the most beautiful love stories ever depicted on film and follows the mental decline of one of two soulmates. Jim Broadabent is excellent and Judi Dench won an Oscar for her portrayal in this gut-wrenching true tale. – Preston Burt
New York Doll
I already knew the tale of Arthur “Killer” Kane going into Greg Whiteley’s 2005 documentary New York Doll. Like any good student of rock ‘n’ roll, I was well aware of Kane’s rise to ’70s stardom as bassist in seminal proto-punk outfit the New York Dolls, and his subsequent fall–complete with the requisite substance abuse, alienation of former friends/bandmates, and even his later life conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. While all these plot points serve as elements of the doc, New York Doll primarily concerns itself with a different brand of redemption: the Dolls’ 2004 reunion, a mending of fences with vocalist David Johansen, and an inspired performance at Morrissey’s Meltdown Festival in London. Still, the movie ends, just like Arthur’s life, in the afterglow of this triumph with an abrupt death from leukemia. Even foreknowledge of this unfortunate resolution never manages to stave off tears, not even on repeat viewings. – Z.
Avatar: The Last Airbender – “The Tales of Ba Sing Se”
This single episode from the second season is split into six small stories, each adding considerable depth to the characters. Legendary actor, Mako, who voiced Uncle Iroh, passed away before broadcast. The haunting grief at the end of “The Tales of Iroh” remembering the death of his son many years earlier is accented by a slate honoring Mako’s life. The sorrowful “Leaves From The Vine” sung by Iroh should wet any father’s eye. – Stephen Clark (The solo episode is available on iTunes & Google Play)
Life Is Beautiful
Roberto Bernini’s tragic tale of a man trying help his son through the horror of the holocaust left me a gibbering wreck even before I had children. Now I can’t even think about it without welling up. Light in tone, serious in matter, and utterly devastating. – Robin Brooks
The Normal Heart
When HBO adapted The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer’s autobiographical play about the AIDS crisis in NYC between 1981 and 1984, it was clear that this was going to be a hard film to watch. That still didn’t prepare me for what was one of the most emotional film-viewing experiences I’ve ever had. The Normal Heart is a beautiful film about love, hatred, optimism, and ignorance all coexisting in a story of hard truths and tragic outcomes. Mark Ruffalo is incredible in this film, and his relationship with Matt Bomer is the crux of an emotional arc that left me in a pool of tears. – Tony Nunes
Requesting permission to shake the hand of the daughter of the bravest man I met.” Awful writing (how many articles can you fit in one line of dialogue), ridiculous plot, overacting everywhere, and scientifically impossible – BUT I can’t keep the tears in watching Bruce Willis’ final moments and the following wedding.- Kishore Hari
My Life stars Michael Keaton as a high-powered executive who is diagnosed with terminal cancer who also just happens to have a baby on the way. He spends the film going back through his life while recording a video of life lessons and truths for his unborn son. The film pulls no punches as it shows his steady decline and infirmity in a very realistic way. My Life is a film that is sure to make anyone cry, but is especially poignant for me. My father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died just two years before it came out. Seeing the film then was very cathartic for me, and to this day, I still wonder what things he would have filmed for me. – Will James
Lady and the Tramp
In the tradition of hurting animals to make us cry, the frontrunner has got to be Trusty in Lady and the Tramp. In a heroic attempt to rescue Tramp from unjustified imprisonment (he really was innocent this time), Trusty causes the dog catcher to wreck. The scene ends with Jock howling and a motionless Trusty under the cart. I think I’m still traumatized from seeing this scene as a child and really believing that Trusty was dead. Even now, knowing he’s not really dead, it’s a scene I watch with tissues in hand. – Samantha Bryant
I have to be the odd duck out, don’t I? The movie that invariably gets me choked up is a bit out of left field: Top Gun. Yup. The scene (SPOILER ALERT) when Goose dies and Maverick is holding onto him in the water does it to me every time. The bromance is over! We’ll always have that studly volleyball game, though. – Jamie Greene
I have what I think to be a bit of an unusual choice for a movie that makes me go all soggy. No one dies and there’s nary a puppy, horse, or other animal in the whole film. And, to be honest, my choice doesn’t reduce me to a blubbering and quivering mess, but it’s still guaranteed to leave me with “something in my eyes” every time I see this film. It’s Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous and this movie has one of my favorite screenplays of all time. While other movies attempt to evoke emotions through brute-force exploits like terminally ill patients who can’t find a cure or a family pet that has to be put down, I think Almost Famous does a purer job of bringing out emotions through simple and honest storytelling.
Crowe’s strongest specialty is his characters and Almost Famous is rich with them. They are characters that I identify with – and become invested in – every time I press “play” on this movie. Consider the scene when the dysfunctional family of the main character, William, the band, and other tag-alongs cathartically reunite via a sing-along to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.” It’s a wonderful piece and not just because of how it’s setup or the camaraderie of singing along. When William is told that he “is home,” I’m filled with a warmth that radiates from my head to toes. Or reflect on the brutal honesty when William listens to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Lester Bangs. In less than a minute, Crowe perfectly deconstructs what it means to be uncool — and why it’s OK, leaving you with a feeling of belonging while not belonging. It’s a scene that sticks with you.
But it’s more than just a few scenes that leave me feeling all melancholy. As a whole, Almost Famous sums up my youth incredibly well. I was heavily into music and used it to escape a not-so-great childhood. I would spend hours on the floor of my room with headphones on, listening to a lot of the music that’s in the film, and reading magazines like CREEM and Rolling Stone. I’d daydream about writing for them one day and, although those aspirations faded, I still enjoy writing, so that part rings true for me. While there are scenes of other movies that can reduce me to a quivering, bubbly mess in microseconds (“Brooks was here,” “Tell me I’ve led a good life … Tell me I’m a good man”), as an entire movie, Almost Famous is a film that is so good, so beautiful, that I connect with so intimately, that it leaves a fist sized bruise on my heart every time I watch it. – Dave Banks
Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Neverbeast
This is the part when I admit that I’m an absolute sap when it comes to animated movies (Pixar notwithstanding, because you’d have to be made of actual stone to not cry at those). This wasn’t always the case; but after my first child, I noticed that I would get choked up at pretty much any scene that was intended to do exactly that, no matter how blatant or how well broadcast. It doesn’t matter if I can see the scene coming from the opening credits, once the strings kick in, I’m done. Take Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Neverbeast. It’s a sweet movie and my daughter loved it. But I knew that at the end of the day, someone was getting their heart broken over the big fluffy beast of the title. And sure enough, after the Neverbeast saved the day and revived Fawn (which already had me sniffing), they all plodded back to his lair. There, it was time for each one of them to say goodbye, as they would be long gone before he next came out of hibernation. Essentially, it was a reversal of any scene where the characters lose a pet, he was losing them. This made it about a trillion times worse. I ended up having to make sure I didn’t speak until after the final credits rolled. – Anthony Karcz