My Favorite Crying Scenes

The Kid (1921)
Written & Directed by Charlie Chaplin

We (Americans) easily forget how cruel & brutal life was just a handful of generations ago. When you watch a Chaplin film, you are reminded how crude most cities were at the time, with muddy thoroughfares and people living in hovels. Charlie Chaplin was a director concerned mainly with the socio-economic class he grew up in, the working poor. The Kid captures the importance of family in making your way through life, especially when you are poor. This sequence includes two beautifully performed crying scenes. The first is child actor Jackie Coogan’s heartbreaking tears as he is separated from his father. Then we get a pair of criers when Chaplin’s Little Tramp is reunited with his son. You can imagine the heartstrings being pulled in the audience who first saw this.

Sixth Sense (1999)
Written & Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

Before filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan apparently went off the deep end, he used to make pretty good movies. The Sixth Sense was his breakout picture and featured many emotionally powerful performances. This beautiful scene is between Cole (Haley Joel Osment) and his mom, Lynn (Toni Collette). It comes near the end of the film and is the moment the little boy makes it clear to his parent that he can see the spirits of the dead. Collette is one of the best criers in movies right now; her sobs always feel authentic, which speaks to her tremendous skill as an actor. This scene made me tear up in the theater when I first saw it in 1999, surprising me as the picture went from a creepy, horrific one to something more profound about humans and the pain they leave behind.

Watch this scene here.

Eat Pray Love (2010)
Written by Ryan Murphy & Jennifer Salt
Directed by Ryan Murphy

I don’t like this movie. I don’t like the book it was based on. I don’t like Ryan Murphy. Yet, despite these dislikes, I cannot deny this is one of the best crying scenes I’ve ever seen. It’s pulled off so well because Richard Jenkins is the actor performing the scene. Jenkins is one of my favorite character actors, always putting everything he has into his performances, no matter how small they are on the page. This scene is a moment of catharsis, an admission of guilt, a confession that must be done so that Jenkins’ character can experience some sense of release. It’s about letting yourself feel your regret because you won’t grow if you don’t.

Dancer in the Dark (2000)
Written & Directed by Lars Von Trier

Did you ever want your heart torn out, thrown on the floor, and stomped on? Well, Dancer in the Dark is the movie for you. My wife doesn’t cry at many films, but this one and The Elephant Man broke her. Bjork stars as Selma, a factory worker whose eyesight is deteriorating. It is hereditary, and her son will undergo the same process. The end result for both of them is blindness. All Selma does is work and save money for an operation that will cure her son. Her only other interest is movie musicals, as they help her escape her harsh reality. The movie is a musical but a very unconventional one. The crying scene shared here is a spoiler but involves multiple people crying. To me, the scene condemns the inhumane things people are told to do as part of their society when their humanity is screaming for them to stop. It’s a very, very tough watch.

Cinema Paradiso (1988)
Written & Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore

Conversely, Cinema Paradiso is a life-affirming movie about a man, Salvatore, reflecting on his childhood. He’s a director working in Rome and one night learns a man from his village named Alfredo has died. Through flashbacks, we learn how Salvatore assisted Alfredo, the town’s movie projectionist. Alfredo becomes a father figure for Salvatore, whose birth father is killed in World War II. Through films, they bond, caught up in the larger-than-life stories being told. The Catholic Church had a firm hold on media then, and Alfredo is forced to snip any intimate scene between couples or nudity before the movies can be shown. Salvatore discovers his old friend had taken these lost moments of love and pieced them together into a glorious posthumous gift. One of the great “make you sob like a baby” scenes in movies.

In a bit of irony, due to the fact you see a couple pairs of breasts in this scene, YouTube has it age restricted, hence no embedding. You can watch here though, only if you can handle seeing boobies. Omg!

Moonlight (2016)
Written by Tarell Alvin McCraney and Barry Jenkins
Directed by Barry Jenkins

Not all crying scenes need to be over the top. I find subtlety to make a crying scene hit even harder. Mahershala Ali plays Juan, a drug dealer who becomes a father figure to the film’s protagonist Chiron. Juan and his partner, Teresa, become people Chiron can go to when he has questions about life. In this scene, he asks them about names he’s been called and wants to know if they approve of him being gay. Then, the devastating moment comes, Chiron has figured out Juan is partially responsible for his mother’s addiction by selling her product. Ali’s jaw clench is such a real thing if you have seen men who fight back their tears, that gritting of the jaw. You don’t need Juan blubbering or sobbing; that pain in holding it back is enough to get me weeping.

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)
Written Kelly Masterson
Directed by Sidney Lumet

It still feels surreal to think it’s already been 9 years since Philip Seymour Hoffman’s life ended due to a drug overdose. He was one of the best actors I’ve ever seen and I can go back to his performances over and over again. This was the director Sidney Lumet’s final film, and he ended his career with a fantastic picture. Andy (Hoffman) has been embezzling money and knows the coming audit will ruin him. So he plans on running off to Brazil and coerces his brother Hank (Ethan Hawke) into a robbery scheme. Andy is not someone you should feel much sympathy for; he’s a rotten son of a bitch who does horrible selfish things from start to finish in this picture. I think this is such a great crying scene because of the juxtaposition between his self-pity and sudden coldness. It’s an emotional moment that is not catharsis but a revelation of the character that he is a cold bastard.

Mulholland Drive (2001)
Written & Directed by David Lynch

With a David Lynch film, it’s often hard to give the context of a scene. The scenes often lack context due to the director’s frequent use of dreamlike logic. All you need to know is that two women, Betty & Rita, find themselves at Club Silencio. They listen to a performance of Roy Orbison’s ‘Crying’ sung in Spanish. The song lyrics profoundly affect them and reveal a truth about the world. What we see is merely the facade of something larger beneath.

Magnolia (1999)
Written & Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

I have never cared for Tom Cruise, but Magnolia and Collateral are the two anomalies in his career where I wish he’d have followed that path instead of being an action movie star until he dies. Magnolia is a movie I did not warm to right away, and it took additional viewings for me to see how great the picture was. One of the many stories woven throughout is about Frank Mackey (Cruise) and his estranged father, Earl Partridge (Jason Robards). Earl is on his deathbed, attended to by hospice nurse Phil (Philip Seymour Hoffman, again). Phil manages to get in touch with Frank, who begrudgingly agrees to come to see the old man before he dies. The scene is about holding onto hate and letting it go when you realize there’s no point in keeping it. Probably Cruise’s best performance.

The Piano Teacher (2001)
Written & Directed by Michael Haneke

Like Moonlight, this is a subtle crying scene, but that doesn’t diminish its weight. Michael Haneke is an Austrian filmmaker and one of my favorite directors. He doesn’t care for inauthenticity in cinema, and The Piano Teacher refuses to be maudlin. Erika (Isabelle Huppert) is the title character, a woman tied up in a knot inside due to her neuroses and sexual fetishes. Because of her social class and that she is a woman, Erika is typically not allowed to find release or express herself. She is wound so tight it kills her, and she commits self-harm throughout the picture. Big warning here, this is a profoundly intense scene, not played at high volume but vibrating with emotional rage. 

Bicycle Thieves (1948)
Written by Oreste Biancoli, Suso D’Amico, Vittorio De Sica, Adolfo Franci, Gherardo Gherardi, Gerardo Guerrieri, and Cesare Zavattini
Directed by Vittorio De Sica

This is possibly my favorite crying scene in all the movies I’ve seen. Italy post-WWII was a nation in ruins. The people are trying to find work and sustain themselves as starvation and homelessness are ever-present threats looming. Antonio has his bike stolen while painting, which is his only means of transporting himself and his son, Bruno, around Rome. They spend most of the picture looking for the stolen bike but always coming up with nothing. Then Antonio becomes the thief and steals another man’s bike. It is a devastating moment, the son feeling sadness for his father, who in turn feels shame for the kind of man his son sees him become. But, even more significant than that, they both realize that the society they live in has no justice, and people are almost forced into criminality to survive. The broken looks on their faces tell us everything we need to know about the bleak future laid out before them.


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