Bloody hell, what an exhausting Top 5 this has been! Remember that feeling when you were a kid and had cried so much that all you could do was give up and just fall asleep on the spot? This post is kind of like that. But with the added torture of reliving it over and over through reading, writing, and rewatching the scenes for our research purposes. If by the end of reading this Top 5 you haven’t shed at least one solid tear, I suggest you head to your local doctor and check to see if you in fact have a heart.
It’s been ages since we’ve done a Top 5 (and even longer for me personally, such a slacker!), and so I thought it was high time we did one. Dean must have been in a sombre mood, because out of all my upbeat suggestions, he came back with “How about top five saddest scenes?” Um, OK, Mr. Depression. But seriously, we all love a good cry — or a good Something’s In My Eyes for those not willing to admit it — and what better way to get one, without having to go through the turmoil of a personal tragedy, then to watch some actors go through it instead? So grab some tissues, make sure no one’s in the room, and prepare for some of the saddest moments to be put on film. This should be obvious, but major spoiler alerts ahead, so please tread with caution. And as always, these are our personal saddest scenes, which are always going to be subjective, but we would love to hear from you in the comments — what’s your saddest scene?
Honourable Mention – Boys Next Door
This entry is an honourable mention simply for the small, technical fact that it’s actually a TV movie from the Hallmark channel. Chances are not many people have seen it — I caught it on Laser Disc (rockin’ the Laser back in the ’90s!) as a kid, and back then it was just a drama that had some really funny bits in it. Rewatching it now as an adult there’s so much more to gain, which is obvious from the story: four mentally-challenged men who share a house, and their guardian who looks after them. Despite that plot and the fact I’ve chosen it, it’s mostly a happy, uplifting film, and so worth a watch if you can ever find it.
The scene I’m referring to centres on the least light-hearted character, Barry (Robert Sean Leonard), who suffers from schizophrenia. He gets news that his dad is coming to visit, and excitedly makes his preparations throughout most of the film. Too bad for Barry — and us — his dad turns out to be an asshole. They end up going to a golf driving range, so Dad can see Barry in action where he gives golf lessons. The pressure is too much and Barry’s dad loses his temper, which eventually causes Barry to break down. This scene, and the character of Barry, is very, very hard for me to watch. Having known someone who suffered from schizophrenia, I can say that Leonard’s performance really hits home, he’s simply amazing. Actually, even just thinking about it is difficult, so I’m gonna stop. Were this not a TV movie, this probably would’ve been no. 1 with a bullet.
5. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Out of the many, many inspiring and touching moments in the LOTR trilogy, my saddest scene stands out like a beacon: the death of Boromir, Son of Gondor. “But he was an asshole for most of the film!” I hear you cry. Well, yes and no. Why this particular death scene is so dear to my heart is because of his character which I find so interesting, and so human. Sure, Aragorn is human, but he’s so noble, with all his resisting-the-power-of-The-One-Ring and whatever.
So, wanting to repent and give Frodo a chance to escape, Boromir (Sean Bean) summons his courage during the final battle scene and calls attention to himself and takes down as many servants of Sauron as he can. Until that one Uruk-hai shows up. But Boromir won’t go down without a fight, and it takes three (!) arrows before he finally collapses. Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) gets revenge on the Uruk-hai, before falling to Boromir’s side. Knowing he is dying, Boromir apologises for his weakness. Aragorn gives him assurances, promising to protect their people. You can visibly see a weight lifted from Boromir’s shoulders, knowing Aragorn now remembers he is a part of the race of Men, and finally says his last words (possibly my favourite line in the whole trilogy): “I would have followed you my brother. My captain. My King.” And then he dies, and me right along with him. I really can’t clearly articulate why I love his character so much. Maybe it’s because he’s flawed, but he comes through in the end. Maybe it’s because he’s just trying to save his people. Whatever the reason, it’s a heartbreaking scene, and one of my favourites from the whole trilogy.
4. The Neverending Story
They say that movies you watched as a kid don’t hold up when you revisit them as an adult. Well, whoever “they” are who said this are obviously complete idiots, as I have many DVDs in my collection of films from my childhood that I continue to enjoy today. This is one of them. There are some sad scenes that make you cry for your mum as a kid, and make you smile as an adult, and there are some that just punch you in the heart no matter how old you are. The death of Artax falls into the latter category.
It’s still fairly early on in the film, and Atreyu (Noah Hathaway) and his trusty steed Artax haven’t really met anything all that treacherous yet. As they sludge through the Swamps of Sadness, our narrator Bastian (Barret Oliver) reads from the book, telling us that anyone who lets the swamp’s sadness get to them will sink. Atreyu valiantly trudges on, tugging on Artax’s reins through the increasingly-deep mud. Then all of a sudden, he feels resistance. He turns to find Artax stopped in his tracks. Atreyu keeps pulling, so he tries from a different direction. And then he understands. “Artax, you’re sinking!” Atreyu cries out, his voice breaking in realisation. He pulls and tugs, coaxes and pleads, but the horse silently and without struggle sinks ever deeper, until — he’s gone. I’ve seen this film countless times, and I know that after Bastian returns Fantasia to its former glory that Atreyu is going to be reunited with Artax, but this scene always gets me. Right. In. The Childhood.
3. Grave of the Fireflies (Hotaru no Haka)
Centred on a boy and his younger sister who try to survive on their own after an air raid ravages their town in Japan during World War II, this Studio Ghibli anime is the only film in my list that I’ve seen just the one time, but boy is once enough. The whole movie is practically one relentless series of sob-inducing scenes, and is notorious amongst anime fans for being one of the saddest films ever made, but one scene in particular has always stood out for me.
When older sibling Seita (voiced by Tatsumi Tsutomu) comes home one day with the happy news that he actually has food for the two of them, he finds little sister Setsuko (voiced by Shiraishi Ayano) laying on the floor of their hovel, slightly delirious and still. When he takes notice, he discovers that she is sucking on a marble, thinking it’s a lolly, and he pulls it out of her mouth. As he busies himself with the food, trying to get her attention, she pushes two round rocks toward him, having hallucinated in her starving and malnourished state that they are rice balls she has made for their dinner. “Oniichan, dōzo,” she whispers for him to eat, and even in her semi-unconscious state, is concerned when Seita doesn’t want to. Seita tries to coax her with some watermelon, not realising how far gone she actually is, then continues with his food preparations as Setsuko falls asleep… And never wakes up. The scene is so quiet and understated, and Setsuko’s small voice will just about kill you (and PS this really needs to be watched in the original language — the English dub doesn’t come anywhere near Shiraishi’s pure emotion). You think cartoons are for kids? Think again. If this little girl doesn’t make you cry, you have no soul.
2. The Shawshank Redemption
If I could ever decide on a list of my top ten favourite films, this would definitely be on it. I could go on and on about how much I love this movie, and my favourite scenes and lines, but for the purpose of this post, my focus is of course on one scene in particular. Old-timer Brooks (James Whitmore) has finally received parole — practically at the end of his life. Having spent most of his life behind bars, he doesn’t look forward to his release, but he finally resigns to his fate. He reluctantly frees his pet crow Jake and is off. An old man in a world he doesn’t recognise, he’s frightened, weak, unimportant, and lonely. Living in a halfway house and working at a supermarket bagging groceries, his life is bare and without purpose. No one cares about his fate, and with the despair of those who have nothing to live for, he hangs himself.
From the moment we see him on the bus, gripping the metal bar of the seat as he’s being transported to his new life, his fear of the outside world is evident. The simple matter of crossing a road is a confusing obstacle course, and bagging groceries is a tiring task. The moment where he sits in a park feeding birds, hoping that his old friend Jake the crow might come for a visit, I feel a knife in my chest every single time. Whereas Grave of the Fireflies is tragic because it pulls at our heartstrings at the suffering of a little girl gone too soon, Brooks’ death is tragic because of the controlled life that was all he knew, and the quiet desperation of the lonely and anonymous masses in this world of ours that he represents.
1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
This is still a recent addition, but after much deliberation (and admitting to myself that I cried while watching in packed cinemas), being such a fan of Harry Potter I feel this is valid. In a series such as this one, with beloved characters and an all-too-real sense of being there with them, there are many moments to choose from. And by moments, I mean Deaths. From Sirius to Dobby to freakin’ Hedwig (she’s just an owl! Did you have to kill an owl?!), all of them garnered a tear or twenty. But as all Potter fans know, none are as gut-wrenching as the death of Severus Snape. Reviled by both the characters and readers alike, it’s not until this moment that we realise Snape has been the biggest hero all along. Because no one knew he was one (well, apart from Dumbledore, but that dude has as many secrets as there are acromantula in the Forbidden Forest).
As Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione and Ron creep up to the boat house, they hear the tail-end of Snape (Alan Rickman) and Voldemort’s conversation. Voldemort curses Snape, who falls against the window, and is then attacked by Nagini. For fans of the books, we’re already welling up with this image of repeated brutality done towards Snape. When Voldemort leaves, the trio rush in. Harry holds his hand to Snape’s neck, trying to stop the blood. A lone tear falls down Snape’s cheek. Even in his last moments of life, he is helping them, advising Harry to use the tears in the Pensieve to see his memories. Snape has given his life, but it’s not over yet. When we finally see his memories, if you haven’t been shamelessly sobbing already, you will be now. We finally see his sad and lonely life, his one-sided affections for Lily, the choices he’s made and all those sacrifices, tough decisions, and dangerous situations he has braved. All because of his love for a girl who chose someone else. And though all of us who know what it is to be friendzoned may have a special affinity for Snape, it’s his courage, loyalty and honourable persistence — even when no one knows of them — that shines through and makes him such an amazing character. And truly devastating when he dies.
Honourable Mention – Terminator 2
Do you ever have that feeling while watching a film you’ve seen at least a dozen times over, where despite knowing every beat and plot twist looming in the distance, you still hold onto hope that maybe this time certain events will play out differently? To this day, that’s still how I feel when watching Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 may just be an emotionless killing machine sent back through time to protect Edward Furlong’s teenage John Conner, but the heart-warming bond he develops with the future leader of the human resistance blooms into that of a tender father-son relationship. This calculated death machine becomes a genuinely sympathetic being who despite its chilly demeanour, impossibly manages to develop an actual personality through interaction with John Conner. It’s all very sweet and touching, and then that’s when the film’s climax hits us like a ton of bricks.
After finally defeating the villainous T-1000, the T-800 reveals that the chip inside his head needs to be destroyed in order to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. So after an emotional farewell, John’s mother Sarah Conner slowly lowers the T-800 into a boiling pit of lava, erasing any trace of its existence. I’m already a little misty eyed by this stage, but just to run salt into the wound, with its last scrap of energy the T-800’s hand forms a thumbs up. A sweet farewell that easily could have easily been a cheesy good-bye, but it’s not. This scene ruins me emotionally every single time I see it. But it’s ok, because next time, next time the T-800 will survive…
5. I Am Legend
Before my credibility as a lover of good films is destroyed, allow me to reveal that I don’t think I Am Legend is actually a good film. I still believe that the first half of it is a masterfully crafted post-apocalyptic thriller, but the moment the creatures lurking in the darkness are finally revealed in full, everything goes to hell. So yeah, I Am Legend is something of a muddled mess, but there is a single sequence featured in its confused depths that crushed me upon viewing it. Allow me to paint a picture. It’s the near future and the world has collapsed. Roaming the abandoned streets of New York is Robert Neville (Will Smith), one of the few survivors who hasn’t been transformed into a violent abomination by a mysterious plague that swept over the world. However he’s not alone. By his side is his faithful canine companion, a German Shepherd by the name of Samantha, Sam for short. Sam is Neville’s only source of companionship and so he treats her the same way he would a human, including holding long one-sided conversations with her. She’s an adorable, faithful companion, so you just know that the film is going to have to kill her off…
Following on from an impromptu attack courtesy of some vile infected dogs, it’s clear that Sam has been infected with the same virus that has decimated the planet. Neville cradles Sam in his arms, eyes moist, watching as she little by little shows signs of infection. Suddenly, her temperament changes, she begins snapping at her long-time companion’s face, but as Neville’s devastated expression reveals, this was expected. His grip around her neck tightens as the camera creeps in on his tearful eyes, the sounds of Sam’s final anguished moments only heard off-screen until at last, silence. It’s a devastating sequence the above all shows how it’s possible to make the audience shed more tears over a single dog than the death of millions of human beings.
I hate to use such a clichéd term, but I think calling Warrior an emotional rollercoaster is more than appropriate. This is a film that had me tense with anticipation as the characters fought their way through the central fighting tournament one minute, and then had me weeping openly as a result of the all too real character interactions the next. If there was ever a film made specifically to make men cry, this is it. However above all the moving moments featured throughout its runtime, the one particular scene that had me desperately fighting the urge to transform into a blubbering mess was the confrontation between indestructible fighting machine Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy) and his broken father Paddy (Nick Nolte).
It’s never fully revealed what atrocious acts Paddy committed years prior to garner hatred from both his children, but we know whatever he did, it was nigh unforgivable. But despite the cold shoulder Tommy gives him, Paddy is desperate to make up for the past and to prove he’s a different man. As his son readies himself for the upcoming MMA tournament, Paddy valiantly attempts to connect, offering supportive advice and trying to engage in conversation at every turn. However the emotionally stunted Tommy won’t have a bar of it. This all leads to a draining crescendo later in the film when Paddy, following on from another violent bout of abuse from his son, retreats to his hotel room and breaks his vow of sobriety. We finally get a chance to see the man he may have once been, a directionless wreck full of malice. It’s at this moment that Tommy finally shows pity upon this shell of a man. It dawns on Tommy that it was his constant stream of criticism that drove his father back to the drink again, so in a bittersweet moment, he at last embraces his father. Sniff…
3. The Lion King
Damn you Scar you son of a bitch! Why did you have to destroy my childhood! I’m all but positive anyone who who’s ever seen The Lion King will know exactly which scene from the classic Disney film I’m about to recall. It’s a memorable moment of Disney tragedy that no doubt caused children to sob noisily in theatres around the world. And for good reason, this was probably one of the first films many of us were exposed to in which one of the lead characters was murdered. Murdered by that bastard Scar!
The scene plays out as such; Simba, a young lion and next in line to be become king (hence the title) is playing in an isolated valley. Suddenly a low rumble is heard in the distance. Simba looks around slightly alarmed when in a mere moments notice, the low rumbling transforms into an ear-splitting roar of galloping hooves. Suddenly a stampede of a wildebeest fills the canyon, their frenzied charge aimed towards Simba. With only seconds to spare, Simba climbs up a nearby brittle tree and hangs on to dear life as the stampede tears the earth up underneath him. Simba’s father Mufasa hears the ruckus and leaps to his son’s rescue. He takes a beating but he manages to fulfil his fatherly duty and save his son. Struggling, he tries to scale a steep cliff face to escape to safety. He slips and slides but finally makes it to the top where he cries out to his brother Scar for help. Scar obliges him by piercing Mufasa’s paws with his claws, sending the once proud king to his death below. It’s a brutal scene for a kid’s film, but what makes it even harder to watch is the look of devastation in Mufasa’s eyes before he falls to his death. That’s the look of a lion that clearly does not want to die. Damn you Scar. Damn you…
2. The Wrestler
I love professional wrestling. Spit all the venom you like, I’ve heard it all before. It’s fake! They’re on steroids! It’s gaaaaay! I’ve never quite understood the bad stigma that came with being a wrestling fan, in a sense it’s a form of entertainment that shares a lot in common with the world of film. You’re watching a cast of ‘actors’ playing characters embroiled in crazy stories that have beginnings, middles and ends. Some of these stories even have sequels. But for those uninitiated who think the performers who populate the strange world of professional wrestling are weak phonies, then I urge you to seek out Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler for a brutally bleak and rather accurate look at the unforgiving life of a wrestler.
Most of The Wrestler’s runtime is full of despair as the life of Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson (Mickey Rourke) is most definitely not a happy one. Once a wrestling great who performed in front of sell out crowds, Randy has fallen from grace, hard. His career now amounts to performing in school gymnasiums, sometimes in matches that tear his already battered body to pieces. However much worse than the physical pain he endures is the emotional torment. The real world won’t accept him, his estranged daughter hates him and the one woman who has the power to save him has given up hope, so despite a debilitating heart condition, Randy decides nothing is going to stop him from competing in what will surely be his last match. Needless to say the results are unsurprising. At first his beaten body seems like it’s going to hold together, but as the match continues it becomes clear his damaged heart is not going to allow him to finish. But instead of throwing in the towel, Randy ascends the top rope, tears running down his eyes, where for the last time he performs his signature move, The Ram Jam. As the music reaches crescendo and Randy looks to see that even his one friend Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) isn’t present for his final moments, my eyes can’t help but to explode with tears.
Walking into Up I was expecting a fun, colourful story about an old man who ties balloons to his house and flies off on a wild adventure with a hyperactive child and a talking dog in tow. So into the cinema I trekked, high on life with the anticipation of a cheery ninety minutes to follow. Then the movie started… I can say with the utmost certainty that I have never cried so hard in any film in my entire life.
Almost immediately the film presents us with a montage of the lives of our central protagonist Carl and his one truelove, Ellie. In the space of just over four minutes we see this happy couple marry, plan their hopes and dreams, battle through tough times and generally embrace life to its fullest. However despite their love for one another, they never achieve their ultimate goal of one day travelling to Paradise Falls in South America. So as an old man, Carl finally decides to make this dream a reality. But before he can surprise Ellie with his proposition, without warning she passes away. We’re not even ten minutes into the movie and we’ve already watched true love give way to devastating sadness. The film does traverse happier planes after this shocking start, however a sombre tone still lingers in the air for the remainder of its duration.
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