When life’s got me down, there’s nothing more cathartic than a good cry. I could activate the waterworks just thinking about how little sleep I get with a teething baby, but it’s more enjoyable to hunker down with a sad movie. All those big feelings, sweeping music scores and heart-wrenching stories take me out of my own mundane problems and let me lose myself in another world. By the time I’m done sobbing, I feel a whole lot better. And here’s the thing: The lift I get from a good cry isn’t in my imagination, according to science. Crying really is healthy for you!
If you love emotional drama, I’ve put together a list of the all-time great tear jerker films, from classics to contemporary, including one that it’s in theatres right now! So bring the popcorn and the tissues, because these movies will give you all the feels.
1. Manchester by the Sea
After his brother dies, Lee (Casey Affleck), a down-on-his-luck janitor, is summoned to Manchester to care for his teenaged nephew, Patrick. But it’s not a happy homecoming, due to Lee’s tragic past, which is slowly and devastatingly revealed. Despite the wrenching storyline, Manchester by the Sea is surprisingly funny, especially the wisecracking relationship between uncle and nephew. We root for them, hoping Lee can overcome his grief to be the surrogate father Patrick needs. It’s a beautifully made film about the depths of human emotion that will make you laugh, break your heart, and remind you to hold your loved ones a little bit closer.
2. Terms of Endearment
The love between a mother and daughter is complicated, especially for Emma (Debra Winger) and Aurora (Shirley Maclaine). They’re so close that they can cackle about Aurora’s late-in-life sexual awakening with a hot retired astronaut (Jack Nicholson). Yet they also fight constantly, with Aurora even boycotting Emma’s wedding. But when Emma gets devastating health news, no one is there for her like her mother, who famously screams, “Give my daughter the shot!” at a hospital nurse. This sprawling family melodrama swept the 1984 Oscars, and 30 years later, it’s still making everyone cry.
3. Steel Magnolias
This celebration of multi-generational female friendship starts out hysterically funny and then punches you in the gut with tragedy. Talk about getting tear-jerked around! Truly, there is so much joy in watching old friends played by Sally Field, Olympia Dukakis, Shirley Maclaine, and Dolly Parton gossip and snark with southern accents, giant curlers, and insane hats, that it’s kind of shocking when diabetic Shelby (a luminous young Julia Roberts) gets sick, despite loads of foreshadowing.
4. The Fault in our Stars
Cancer-stricken teens in love—oh boy, just the logline can make you cry. The film does a beautiful job of bringing John Green’s best-selling YA novel to life, with strong performances by Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort as doomed paramours Hazel and Gus. Of course, the character who really gets to me is Hazel’s mum (Laura Dern) who notes that if she loses her only child, she won’t get to be a mother anymore. And there it is, the saddest thought ever.
There’s a reason the ’80s ballad “Wind Beneath my Wings” still makes us misty, and that reason is Beaches, the tragic story of besties C.C. (Bette Midler) and Hillary (Barbara Hershey), whose soulmate-level friendship survives 30 years of drama only to be cut short by a terminal illness. Uh oh, there’s something in my eye.
6. Love Story
Best known for the line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” Love Story features a beautiful young Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal as Harvard students with great chemistry. (Basically, she busts his balls, and he loves her for it.) After they marry, they struggle to conceive, which is when they discover a life-threatening illness. Cue the super sad theme music!
7. Brokeback Mountain
While herding sheep together one summer, cowboys Ennis (Health Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) fall in lust and then love. Unfortunately, in rural 1960s Wyoming, they can’t exactly go public, opting instead to marry women and attempt to lead conventional lives. Their happiest moments are during brief getaways—fishing trips, they tell their spouses—but their precious time together is all too fleeting. Let’s just say that when one cowboy is left clutching the other’s bloody shirt, you are bound to lose it.
Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet) meet on board the “unsinkable” ship and overcome their class differences to fall deeply in love, just in time for epic disaster to strike. It doesn’t matter that you already know the ending—either from history class or repeated screenings of this wildly popular Best Picture winner—you can no more escape tears than the Titanic can escape that fateful iceberg.