Tearjerkers don't get enough credit from critics, who find them shameless and manipulative. But then, so are horror movies, comedies, thrillers, and any other movies that mean to provoke an emotional reaction. Truth is, we all like to experience that kind of catharsis. Even guys will watch certain tearjerkers and feel no shame about misting up. (It helps if they're about sports.)
So in the list below, you'll find "Beaches" and 29 other movies that'll have you reaching for the Kleenex. If we've left your favorite off the list, please let us know in the comments.
Gallery | 30 Movies Guaranteed to Make You Cry
- 'Beaches' (1988)
If watching Bette Midler bond with pal Barbara Hershey's little girl as Hershey wastes elegantly away from an incurable disease doesn't get you, then Midler slamming it home with her rendition of "Wind Beneath My Wings" will bludgeon you into blubbering submission.
- 'The Notebook' (2004)
Depending on your age, you'll cry either for young Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams -- separated for all those years by war, class, and clueless parents -- or for old James Garner recounting the courtship to Alzheimer's-afflicted Gena Rowlands one more time, in the hope that she'll remember something, anything. Surely the most successful application of Nicholas Sparks's lovers-separated-by-tragedy formula.
- 'My Girl' (1991)
The fact that poor Vada (Anna Chlumsky) lived in a funeral home and had a mortician for a dad should have clued us in. Still, what kid wasn't shocked and traumatized to watch Vada's best bud, Thomas J. (played by the beloved Macaulay Culkin), die of bee stings at age 11?
- 'Love Story' (1970)
The prototype for every modern romance where two young people transcend class differences to fall in love, only to have one of them die from some fatal disease that only makes them more radiant as they deteriorate. In this case, it's Ali MacGraw as the ill-fated baker's daughter and Ryan O'Neal (who always looks on the verge of tears anyway) as the old-money preppie. Featuring that famous, lush, weepy Michel Legrand theme music, popping up every few minutes to remind you to cry.
- 'The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King' (2003)
There are all those farewell scenes for characters you've come to love throughout the lengthy trilogy, of course, but the most tearjerking scene is when Sam (Sean Astin) tells Frodo (Elijah Wood) that he can't carry the ringbearer's terrible burden, "but I can carry you."
- 'Longtime Companion' (1989)
Made at the heights of the AIDS epidemic, when there were no happy endings on the horizon for any of the afflicted characters or their loved ones, this drama is terribly sad, never more so than when Bruce Davison (in an Oscar-nominated performance) urges his suffering, dying lover to let go, talking him gently into oblivion.
- 'Kramer vs. Kramer' (1979)
There are plenty of opportunities for tears throughout this drama, from Dustin Hoffman's various stumbles as he tries to adapt to being a single dad to little Justin Henry, to the kid's playground accident, to Dad losing his job at Christmastime, to the bitter custody battle that ensues when mom Meryl Streep pops up again. So effective that Hoffman and Streep won Oscars and tyke Henry was nominated for one.
- 'The Joy Luck Club' (1993)
In this adaptation of Amy Tan's novel, the struggles of four second-generation Chinese-American women to find happiness is contrasted with the horrors their immigrant mothers endured back in China. No wonder the moms are able to out-guilt their daughters.
- 'In America' (2003)
This modern-day, neorealist tale, about a family of illegal Irish immigrants struggling to survive in New York's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood is sure to push your buttons, no more so than when the dad (Paddy Considine) risks a fortune just to win his little girl an E.T. doll at a carnival.
- 'Ghost' (1990)
Demi Moore weeps beautifully when she loses Patrick Swayze, and she weeps again during the finale when she momentarily gets him back. So will you.
- 'Field of Dreams' (1989)
Every guy who's had issues with his dad -- which is pretty much every guy -- chokes up at this fable about baseball as the one force that can reconcile feuding generations of damaged men. Remember, the voice also says, "Ease his pain."
- 'E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial' (1982)
Sure, you've seen it a zillion times, and you know the little alien will magically come back to life, but you'll still bawl like Elliott when you watch him flatline. And you'll cry again when he leaves his friend behind on Earth, never to return.
- 'Cinema Paradiso' (1988)
Most of this Italian film, about a small-town boy trained to love movies by a crusty projectionist, is sweet and sentimental, but the final montage, in which the now-grown protagonist receives his mentor's true legacy, is sure to open a floodgate of tears.
- 'The Champ' (1979)
Science has proved that the 1979 drama about a beaten-down boxer (Jon Voight) fighting for custody of his son (Ricky Schroder) is the most tearjerking movie ever. Of course, the 1931 original, with Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper, is no slouch.
- 'Brokeback Mountain' (2005)
Here's a classic tearjerking romance where the two thwarted lovers just happen to be a pair of cowboys. Straight or gay, gal or guy, you'll mist up at the end when Heath Ledger, talking to a shirt in a closet, chokes out the words, "Jack, I swear..."
- 'Brian's Song' (1971)
This made-for-TV movie, eventually released in theaters, is generally No. 1 on most guys' lists of movies that make them cry. Like "Beaches," it's the story of a friendship, in this case, between two Chicago Bears players (Billy Dee Williams and James Caan) cut short by terminal illness.
- 'Bicycle Thieves' (1948)
Vittorio De Sica's Italian classic, a cornerstone of world cinema, was remade a couple years ago as the Americanized "A Better Life," but for true, tragic tearjerking, stick with the original tale of a poverty-stricken dad, his son, and their Sisyphean struggle to survive in postwar Rome.
- 'Bambi' (1942)
The model for all Disney movies (especially "The Lion King") that traumatizes kids by killing off a parent.
- 'Awakenings' (1990)
Like "Charly," this loosely-based-in-fact medical drama appears triumphant at first, as Robert De Niro and his fellow sleeping-sickness patients awaken and blossom -- only to turn tragic as they revert to their former state.
- 'An Affair to Remember' (1957)
This story, about two lovers whose rendezvous at the Empire State Building is forestalled by tragedy, has been filmed three times (four if you count all the nods to it in "Sleepless in Seattle"), but the Cary Grant-Deborah Kerr version, with two British-born stars trying to maintain stiff upper lips, is the definitive one.
- 'Toy Story 3' (2010)
If you're a grown-up, the toys' farewell sequence will make you cry, either for the loss of your own childhood, or that of your kids.
- 'Up' (2009)
Sure, most of the Pixar cartoon is triumphant and funny, but that's all to make up for the opening montage, eight wordless, heartbreaking minutes chronicling Carl and Ellie's all-too-brief lifetime together, with all its tragic disappointments and frustrated dreams -- as well as love, buoyed by Ellie's generous spirit and ever forward-looking optimism.
- 'Titanic' (1997)
There are lots of reasons to cry in "Titanic," not just for Leonardo DiCaprio's gallant self-sacrifice. There are all the other horrible deaths, of course, as the ship sinks. And with the sinking of the ship, there's also the symbolic death of the old pre-modern order, the one where rigid rules of class, blood, and gender determined one's fate. Not that anyone mourns the loss of that order, just the colossal waste of resources, potential, and human lives dragged down by its demise.
- 'Terms of Endearment' (1983)
There's a lot of humor in "Terms" (most of it from Jack Nicholson's randy, over-the-hill astronaut), and yet, it's still one of the all-time champion tearjerkers. There are little heartbreaks throughout, as Shirley MacLaine and daughter Debra Winger fight and make up, and as men come and go in their lives, but then there's the wallop of the last half-hour, as Winger withers, says goodbye to her tearful little boys, and dies, despite all of the helpless MacLaine's fierceness and strength. Even she breaks at the end, and so will you.
- 'Stella Dallas' (1937)
You may have seen the 1990 Bette Midler remake, but for full weepiness, you can't beat the original 1937 version, with Barbara Stanwyck as the poor mom who sacrifices everything, even her daughter's love, so that the daughter can have a bright future. That climactic scene, with Stanwyck watching the happy young woman from outside the window, will wring those tears.
- 'Steel Magnolias' (1989)
"Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion" announces hairdresser Truvy (Dolly Parton), who'll have plenty of opportunity to experience that feeling, along with the audience, throughout the film. Most of those chances come from Julia Roberts, determined to push her frail body to the limit in order to enjoy a few moments of motherhood, and from Sally Field, as Roberts's protective mom, who turns out to be tragically right about everything.
- 'Saving Private Ryan' (1998)
The aged Ryan shows up at the beginning and the end of Steven Speilberg's World War II epic, crying over his lost brothers-in-arms -- as if all the horrors of combat shown in between weren't enough to make us share his tears. Ton Hanks's injunction to the young Ryan (Matt Damon) to "Earn this," is alone enough of a reminder of a sacrifice so great that only tears can repay it.
- 'Rudy' (1993)
Sean Astin's utterly earnest performance as Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger, who achieved his dream of suiting up just once for Notre Dame through sheer heart and persistence (certainly not from academics or football skills), is one that often drives men to tears. Then again, the real Kleenex moment doesn't even feature Astin; it's when his teammates hand over their jerseys to their coach, one by one, each offering to sit out if Rudy can take his place on the last game of his senior year.
- 'Pride of the Yankees' (1942)
Every sports weepie that makes men cry owes a debt to this one, the true story of Lou Gehrig, the Yankees' iron horse until felled by the disease that now bears his name. When Gary Cooper makes his farewell speech, insisting that he's still "the luckiest man on the face of the Earth," there's not a dry eye in the stadium.
- 'Old Yeller' (1957)
Movies about dogs are almost always tearjerkers, even if the dog lives to a ripe old age ("My Dog Skip," "Marley and Me"). This one, about a frontier lad who has to put his beloved pooch down after the dog saves the family from rabid wolves, is the king of tearjerking dog pictures.