The 10 best sad movies to watch when you need to cry

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Sometimes a good cry is the best way to feel relief. I like to joke about the relevance of James L. Brooks’ early Broadcast News (1987). Holly Hunter’s character has a habit of showing up to work five minutes early, to therapeutically cry at her desk before immediately going into work mode as soon as the clock strikes 8:00.

Whether you are personally upset or saddened by a recent incident, getting rid of your emotions feels good. Just like when we need a good movie to cheer us up, we can find many movies that reflect our bum mood. So let’s take a look at our available options.

Again, there are famous spoilers.

Love Story

Previously, on my list of “breakup movies”, I included Arthur Hiller’s Love Story (1970), which is also arguably the most famous tearjerker of all time. Almost every tragic YA melodrama that has followed since its release was most likely influenced by the young romance, most notably Adam Shankman’s A Walk to Remember (2002). Whether it’s Ali MacGraw or Mandy Moore, terminally ill with a troubled friend played by Ryan O’Neal or Shane West, you’ll be sure to dull your cheeks if this kind of subgenre gets in your way.

Terms of Endearment

The other great classic in the tear-jerking category is James L. Brooks’ Terms of Endearment (1983); which has not only been a huge hit with critics and award shows, but has also paved the way for many melodramas of mother-daughter or similar relationships. Once again, terminal illness has arrived and is destined for Debra Winger’s character as she confronts her marriage to her on-screen husband, Jeff Daniels, and a dysfunctional relationship with her neurotic mother, played by Shirley MacLaine. Both Debra and Shirley were nominated for Best Actress Oscars for their tear-filled eyes, with Shirley taking home the award.

Steel Magnolias

Most often treated as an adequate double function with the terms of affect is Herbert Ross’s Steel Magnolias (1989). Julia Roberts is the seriously ill adult daughter, Sally Field is the worried mother, Dylan McDermott is the handsome husband, and Shirley MacLaine returns as one of Sally’s friendly friends. Dolly Parton and Daryl Hannah round out this stellar cast for a very familiar southern family drama.

Beaches

One of the latest hits of the crybaby family drama trend in the 1980s is Garry Marshall’s Beaches (1988). Barbara Hershey and Bette Midler play lifelong best friends who have the best and worst times in life together. Things stop when – you guessed it – Barbara’s character suddenly receives a fatal diagnosis and Bette reunites to support her best friend and her young daughter.

My Girl

And my final recommendation for family melodramas in which a character is terminally ill is Howard Zieff’s My Girl (1991). A must-have for anyone growing up in the 1990s, My Girl is a retro blend of bittersweet and lighthearted sentiment from the perspective of preteen Anna Chlumsky, 20 years before “Veep” (2012-19). Macaulay Culkin, at the height of his childhood career, plays the best friend whose fate gives the film its sad twist, and Dan Aykroyd and Jamie Lee Curtis serve as the film’s main adults.

Blue Valentine

For a slightly less spicy but downright depressing semi-modern romantic drama, there’s Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine (2010) starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. A critical success, I remember seeing this film in theaters and feeling so defeated for the rest of the day. Blue Valentine’s flashback sequences have a sweet quality, but most of the time you get a grim reminder that due to circumstances you can’t force a marriage and as a result you could make the relationship worse. Michelle was the co-star who landed nominations for this sad story, but Ryan also deserved as much attention.

Manchester by the Sea

For more information on Michelle Williams in another exercise to challenge your emotions, see Kenneth Lonergans Manchester by the Sea (2016). A sad story about a divorced father, played by Casey Affleck, who distances himself from his family until he gets custody of his recently deceased brother’s teenage son (Kyle Chandler), played by Lucas Hedges. Michelle plays the ex-wife of Casey’s character, who is featured in a shocking and traumatic flashback sequence that is likely to stay with you for a while. While the topic is serious, there is also a unique mix of comic reliefs that make this drama stand out.

Atonement

Joe Wright’s Modern Classic Atonement (2007) is another one I saw on opening weekend when it was released, and one of those times when I felt like I was looking at a future classic. It has everything from the WWII setting to the period novel, the tragic misunderstanding, the frustrating plot progression, the ick factor with a certain subplot. James McAvoy and Keira Knightley play the attractive but unlucky couple, while 13-year-old Saoirse Ronan rose to fame and earned her first Oscar nomination with this costume drama.

Dead Poets Society

A rare film for kids is Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society (1989) starring Robin Williams and the famous Robert Sean Leonard and Ethan Hawke. We follow Robin as an eccentric and charming professor in front of a class of private schoolchildren, including Leonard and Hawke. As with Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me (1986), the film ends in a somber, but upbeat tone, and will leave you smiling and weeping.

Brokeback Mountain

And finally, the seminal romance that changed the genre of period dramas and cowboy films, Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (2005). The film introduced Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as leading men in Hollywood and helped Anne Hathaway and Michelle Williams get teen movies/shows. Almost two decades ago, Brokeback brought many moviegoers to tears with its then-original take on a tragic gay romance set in a Western setting. Ang’s direction and four main performances live on to this day, and Heath in particular will touch your heart in the third act.

 


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