Shade Grown Hollywood: The 12 Top Tear-Jerker Movies

ColumnWhere celebrity goes conscious.

The lump in your throat is the first sign it’s happening. You look around to see if anyone is watching you, but since you’re in a dark theater it’s hard to tell. And then it hits – tears are streaming down your face and you need a tissue. Actually, make that a box of tissue. You’re stuck in the dangerous drag of a tearjerker, designed by Hollywood to dig at all the unresolved issues and emotional land mines you’ve got buried in your subconscious.

Though it doesn’t sound so fun, this emotional purging, the fact remains, many of us love a good cinematic cry. After all, Titanic’s doomed love story brought on tears and a worldwide gross of $1.8 billion. And yet, some of Hollywood’s biggest players feel the tearjerker is in decline. Lynda Obst, producer of Sleepless in Seattle, points out that movies today are made for young men who aren’t so interested in weeping their way through the price of a $16 movie ticket. As Obst told CBS News, “[Young men] go the most often, and they go in droves. And most significantly, their taste mirrors the international market because they require the least dialogue and the most explosions! And our foreign market is the biggest portion of our business right now.”

So what about the rest of us who are less inclined to robots smashing buildings while chasing down Victoria Secret models? Film critic Leonard Maltin explains our position. As he told CBS News, “There used to be an expression about movies: ‘Oh, go to this movie and you’ll have a good cry.’ Meaning, that you won’t leave the movie dejected or depressed. You’ll leave the movie feeling almost sort of refreshed in an odd way because you’ve had an emotional experience.”

We couldn’t agree more. So in support of the tearjerker, here are some of our favorite films that had us reaching for tissues and seeking support after for those unresolved emotional land mines that we embraced post film.

Bicycle Thieves (1948)
Vittorio de Sica’s masterpiece has a home in both film school classrooms and our tear ducts. The story of a man searching for his stolen bicycle critical to his job seems simple. And yet, the emotional complexities spilling from this man to his son are memorable enough to make this film a classic for generations.

Top Tissue Moment: When Antonio (Lamberto Maggiorani), and his son Bruno (Enzo Staiola) fade into the crowd, clasping hands, resigned to their fate.

Sense and Sensibility (1995)
Not all movie tears are sad ones. The classic from Ang Lee gives us Miss Elinor Dashwood’s stoic, common sense love juxtaposed to Miss Marianne’s “He lifted me as if I weighed no more than a dried leaf” life-or-death passion.

Top Tissue Moment: It’s Elinor Dashwood, played by Emma Thompson, who wins us in the end when her stoic, common sense exterior crumbles to reveal a mending heart. As Mary of Huntington, New York, shares “When Hugh Grant proposes to Emma Thompson and Emma Thompson covers her mouth to stifle a sob…I want to die.”

Terms of Endearment (1983)
Have a mother? Have a son? Have a heart? Basically, this ultimate tearjerker covers every point of entry possible for its audience. Shirley MacLaine gives a tour-de-force performance as Aurora Greenway, whose tumultuous relationship with daughter Emma Horton (Debra Winger), eventually leaves us all a collective emotional wreck.

Top Tissue Moment: When a dying Emma says goodbye to her children, only a heart of stone can resist crumbling.

The Notebook (2004)
Move over Romeo and Juliet, because star-crossed lovers Allie and Noah might hold the contemporary reigning title for tragic love. Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams play lovers whose commitment to each other spans disease, war, and Joan Allen’s icy snobbery. (Well played, Joan Allen.)

Top Tissue Moment: When Allie and Duke lay entwined in a loving embrace on their death bed. It’s visible only if you can see it through the tears flooding out of your already bloodshot eyes.

Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (2009)
This film from Lasse Hallstrom tells the true story of an abandoned dog and the professor (Richard Gere) who saves him. After Professor Gere dies, Hachi holds a vigil for his lost master, fruitlessly waiting to greet him every day at the train station. A remake of Hachi-ko, a 1987 film from Japan, this movie brings the ever-tearful animal genre to a whole new level. (Also see: Old Yeller, My Dog Skip, Marley and Me, Seabiscuit, Where the Red Fern Grows)

Top Tissue Moment: As if there can ever be an ending to any animal-centric movie that doesn’t involve tears?

Field of Dreams (1989)
This baseball classic tells the story of Ray Kinsella, beleaguered post-hippie farmer, who carves out a baseball diamond in his cornfield for some ghostly childhood heroes. Ultimately Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner, offers us all a chance to ruminate on redemption and closure.

Top Tissue Moment:

John Kinsella: Well, goodnight Ray.

Ray Kinsella: Good night, John.

They shake hands and John begins to walk away.

Ray Kinsella: Hey…Dad? John turns.

Ray Kinsella: You wanna have a catch?

John Kinsella: I’d like that.

Ray and John toss the ball, as we pull back on an Iowa sunset, trembling from happy tears.

Starring Meryl Streep: The Drama Years
Yes, this isn’t technically a movie. But since the mere mention of Meryl is enough to get some people tearing up like they’ve just been pepper-sprayed, we thought she deserved her own mention. Picture these clips.

Top Tissue Moments: Kramer versus Kramer (1979), as Joanna Kramer realizing her son’s true home is with his father. Sophie’s Choice (1982), as the titular Sophie forced to choose which of her young children will go into the arms of a Nazi to certain death. Out of Africa (1985), as Karen Blixen unable to throw a handful of dirt onto her lover’s open grave. The Bridges of Madison County (1995), as Francesca Johnson leaving her great love for the good of her family.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Frank Capra’s holiday classic first debuted to a war-weary nation and has continued to play on our emotions ever since. George Bailey (James Stewart), feels life isn’t worth living when he’s about to lose it all. But angel-in-training Clarence shows him just how important his life has been to the people of Bedford Falls.

Top Tissue Moment: When the grateful townsfolk of Bedford Falls chip in to pay George’s debt while war-hero brother Harry shares, “A toast to my brother George, the richest man in town.”

Glory (1989)
Based on the true story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer infantry of the Civil War, this film tells the tale one of the first formal units in the United States Army to be made up on African American men. It’s portrayed largely from the surviving letters of Robert Gould Shaw (played by Matthew Broderick), who led the men into battle.

Top Tissue Moment: When Sergeant Rawlins (Morgan Freeman) tells a young boy in occupied South Carolina, “That’s right, Hines. Ain’t no dream. We runaway slaves but we come back fightin’ men!”


Late Spring (1949)
This critically-acclaimed film from Japanese director Yasujirō Ozu tells the story of 27-year old Noriko (Setsuko Hara), who lives happily in post-war Japan with her widower father. But when society demands she must marry, Noriko’s life dissolves into a conflict marked by duty, selflessness, and familial love.

Top Tissue Moment: When Noriko’s father, played by the celebrated actor Chishu Ryu, explains to Noriko his own simple yet starkly truthful idea of what is means to be happy.


Good Will Hunting (1997)
Will Hunting (Matt Damon) is a gifted MIT janitor who has the world at his feet, if he can only get his life together. Robin Williams is Sean, his stoic psychologist with some unresolved issues of his own.

Top Tissue Moment: As Scott of Tiburon, California, shares, “The scene where Sean finally breaks through to Will, repeating over and over again, “It’s not your fault, it’s not your fault, it’s not your fault,” tears me up every time I see it. It’s speaks to everything any one of us has wrongly carried on our shoulders throughout our lives.”


Up (2009)
Some might infer that animation can’t move an audience – some who have never been traumatized by Bambi or Dumbo. Pixar upped the Disney tradition of animated tears with the story of an elderly widower named Carl and young friend Russell, who fly to South America via Carl’s floating house.

Top Tissue Moment: The first montage of this movie should really be known as the Montage of Unstoppable Tears. Young Carl meets Young Ellie, both young adventurers. We see them grow up, marry, and endure the heartbreak of childlessness. Carl rallies to cheer Ellie by starting an adventure fund, which gets used up by life’s typical woes. Then Ellie dies, leaving Carl bereft. He sails away to a new life  – but you can’t help but wish a house of over-stuffed balloons for anyone like Carl.

We know how we feel about these tender flicks – do you agree? Tell us what we missed.

This is the latest installment in Katherine Butler’s column, Shade Grown Hollywood, where celebrity becomes conscious. “Shade grown” refers literally to shade grown coffee, a farming method that “incorporates principles of natural ecology to promote natural ecological relationships.” Shade Grown is our sustainable twist on Hollywood.

Image: dno1967b

Katherine Butler

Katherine Butler is the Beauty Editor of EcoSalon and currently resides in Los Angeles, California.