The Greatest Tearjerkers of All-Time
||Movie Title/Year and Brief Tearjerker Scene Description
Of Mice and Men (1939 and 1992)
- one of the saddest scenes of all time - the mercy-killing
of child-like brute Lennie (Lon Chaney, Jr./John Malkovich) by his
best friend and guardian George Milton (Burgess Meredith/Gary Sinise).
Lennie had accidentally killed Mae (Betty Field/Sherilyn Fenn), the
wife of the ranch boss' son Curley (Bob Steele/Casey Siemaszko),
and George was faced with killing his friend to spare him from Curley's
wrath and a lynch mob.
- before a tragic and tear-jerking mercy killing in the
film's final scene, George promised his friend that they would finally
have a place of their own - he distracted him with the retelling of
their dream of a ranch of their own, before shooting him in the back
of the head:
George: We're gonna have a little place...We're gonna have a cow,
pigs and chickens. And then down on a flat, we're gonna have
a field of alfafa.
Lennie: ...for the rabbits...and I get to tend the rabbits.
George: You tend the rabbits.
Lennie: And we could live off the fat of the land.
George: Just keep lookin' across that river. (He turned Lennie around)
Like you can really see it.
George: Right there. Can't you almost see 'em?
Lennie: Where, George?
George: Keep lookin'. Just keep hopin'.
Lennie: Aw, I'm lookin', George. Aw, I'm lookin'.
George: It's gonna be nice, Lennie. There ain't gonna be no trouble.
No fights, there ain't gonna be nobody mean to nobody, steal from.
Things are gonna be right.
Lennie (excitedly): Yeah, I can see it. Right over there. George,
I can see it.
George: We're gonna get a little place...We're gonna have a cow,
and some pigs, and we're gonna have, maybe-maybe, a chicken. Down
in the flat, we'll have a little field of...
Lennie: Field of alfalfa for the rabbits.
George: ...for the rabbits.
Lennie: And I get to tend the rabbits...
Lennie's last pitiful words were about his oft-repeated
[Note: Memorably remade in 1992 with John Malkovich
and Gary Sinise (pictured).]
An Officer and a Gentleman
- the tough training of drill instructor Sgt. Emil Foley
(Louis Gossett, Jr.) - notably of naval candidate trainee Zack Mayo
(Richard Gere) who was powerfully determined to not quit his recruit
"I want your DOR...All right, then you can forget it! You're out!" Mayo: "I
ain't gonna quit...Don't you do it! Don't you - I got nowhere else
to go! I got nowhere else to g... I ain't got nothin' else. I got nothin'
- the tragic scene of Mayo's buddy Sid Worley (David
Keith) committing suicide by hanging (in the nude in a motel bathroom)
after a failed relationship with Paula Pokrifki's (Debra Winger)
manipulative work friend Lynette Pomeroy (Lisa Blount)
rousing romantic finale (often considered cheesy) in which Zack
kissed and then carried a surprised paper factory worker/girlfriend
Paula away from her job in his arms: (Lynette: "Way to go, Paula!
Way to go!") -
to the sounds of "Up Where We Belong" during the credits
The Old Maid (1939)
- the tearjerker sequences of
selfless old maid Aunt Charlotte Lovell (Bette Davis) 'almost'
telling her unknowing, free-spirited illegitimate daughter / love
child Clementina "Tina" (Jane
Bryan) the truth of her parentage on the eve of her wedding day to
handsome Lanning Halsey (William Lundigan) - Tina was being raised
by her sister Delia Lovell Ralston (Miriam Hopkins)
- Aunt Charlotte's tender words to
Tina at her bedside, about her strict love: "If I've been
severe with you at times, I haven't meant it. I love you very much"
the final scene of the new bride Tina's last kiss given to her special
Aunt, at the special request of Delia
Old Yeller (1957)
- the devastating scene in which young Travis (Tommy
Kirk) had to kill his faithful companion Ol' Yeller (trapped in
a barn) with a rifle (off-screen) after the dog contracted rabies
Los Olvidados (1950, Mex.) (aka The Forgotten
Ones, or The Young and the Damned)
- the travails of young gang member Pedro (Alfonso
Mejía) who prostituted himself to survive
- the poignant image
of a bloody-nosed, battered Pedro looking forlornly through a dirty
- the heart-breaking conclusion - the graceless disposal
of slain Pedro's body -- put in a sack and carried out of town
on a donkey's back to be dumped down a garbage-strewn cliff --
while Pedro's mother passed in the street, ironically searching
for Pedro and not knowing her son was dead
On Golden Pond (1981)
- the opening sequence when elderly Norman Thayer
(76 year-old Henry Fonda) became momentarily lost, fearful and
distressed over his failing physical and mental health, and spoke
with relief to his wife Ethel (Katharine Hepburn): ("You want
to know why I came back so fast? I got to the end of our lane,
I couldn't remember where the old town road was. I wandered a way
in the woods. There was nothing familiar. Not one damn tree. Scared
me half to death. That's why I came running back here to you to
see your pretty face. I could feel safe. I was still me");
she responded calmly: ("You're
safe, you old poop"); Ethel also offered comforting words:
to me, mister, you're my knight in shining armor. Don't you forget
it. You're gonna get back on that horse and I'm gonna be right
behind you, holding on tight and away we're gonna go, go, go!")
- the teary
confrontation and ultimate reconciliation between Norman and estranged daughter Chelsea Thayer (Jane
Fonda) at the dock: (Chelsea: "I think that maybe you and
I should have the kind of relationship that we're supposed to have....Well,
you know, like a father and a daughter....It just seems that you
and me have been mad at each other for so long..." Norman: "I
didn't think we were mad. I thought we just didn't like each other" -
ending with Chelsa's suggestion: "I
want to be your friend"); their conversation culminated with
Chelsea eagerly doing "a
real g-ddamned back-flip" off the diving board for an appreciative
- the final scene in which
Norman's wife Ethel was worried sick when aging
husband Norman collapsed due to angina on their front porch; she
first prayed: ("Dear God, don't take him now. You don't
want him. He's just an old poop"). Then she spoke about death:
is the first time that I've really felt that we were gonna die....When
I looked at you here on the floor, I could actually see you dead.
I could see you in your blue suit and white, starched shirt in Thomas's
funeral parlor on Bradshaw Street....You've been talking about death
ever since we met, but this is the first time I really felt it...Oh,
it feels odd. Cold, I guess. Not that bad, really. Not so frightening.
Almost comforting. Not such a bad place to go. I don't know!");
then in a lighter moment as he stood on the porch, he used
slang he had learned from 13 year-old Billy (Doug McKeon): (''Wanna
dance or would you rather just suck face?'')
- the film's final line of dialogue, when Norman noticed
that the loons had returned to the lake: "The loons, they've
come around to say good-bye. Just the two of them now. Their baby's
all grown up and moved to Los Angeles or somewhere"
Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969, UK)
- the famous ending in which
just-married James Bond (George Lazenby) lost his new wife Tracy
Di Vicenzo (Diane Rigg), when Blofeld's (Telly Savalas) henchwoman
Irma Bunt (Ilse Steppat) strafed their limousine with machine-gun
fire - missing Bond but killing Tracy. Bond ducked and avoided
being hit, and shouted twice: "It's Blofeld" as
he jumped into his car, but then realized that
Tracy had been hit in the forehead by a bullet through the windshield
and instantly killed. He cradled her in his arms, and at first denied
her death to a police officer on a motorcycle: ("It's alright.
It's quite alright, really. She's having a rest. We'll be going on
soon. There's no hurry, you see. We have all the time in the world").
- the heart-breaking scene and Bond's mournful words
were punctuated by Louis Armstrong's beautiful and ironic rendition
Have All the Time In the World"
On the Waterfront (1954)
- dockworker and ex-boxer Terry Malloy's (Marlon Brando) regretful
speech to his brother Charley (Rod Steiger) in the back seat of a taxi-cab:
("It wasn't him, Charley! It was you. You remember that night
in the Garden, you came down to my dressing room and said: 'Kid, this
ain't your night. We're going for the price on Wilson.' You remember
that? 'This ain't your night!' My night! I coulda taken Wilson apart!
So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors in the ball park -
and whadda I get? A one-way ticket to Palookaville....You was my brother,
Charley. You shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken
care of me - just a little bit - so I wouldn't have to take them dives
for the short-end money....You don't understand! I coulda had class.
I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum,
which is what I am. Let's face it (pause) ...... It was you, Charley")
Once Were Warriors (1994, NZ)
Tamahori's searing melodrama about domestic abuse and alcoholism set
in the Maori community in New Zealand
- the realistic, brutal, difficult-to-watch
domestic abuse scene in which Jake Heke (Temuera Morrison) savagely
beat his abused wife Beth (Rena Owen) when she refused to cook eggs
(she smashed them on the floor) - he
punched her repeatedly, slammed her against the living room wall and
mirror, kicked her, and threw her into the bedroom, and then raped
her (off-screen) (screaming: "YOU DO AS YOU ARE F--KIN' TOLD"), as
the four children, including 13 year-old writer Grace Heke (Mamaengaroa
Kerr-Bell), huddled and cowered together in a bunk bed listening to
- Grace's own rape in the middle
of the night by Jake's best friend "Uncle" Bully
(Cliff Curtis) in her own bedroom, as he told her: ("It's OK, Gracie.
Uncle Bully is gonna be gentle with you, as gentle as a lamb");
he excused himself by blaming her for turning him on ("Your mum and
dad are gonna be real angry at you turning me on like that, coming
downstairs in nothing but that flimsy little nightie. It's our secret,
hey, Gracie? You hear me, girl? Keep your mouth shut"); the next
morning, she attempted to scrub herself clean in a bathtub, and subsequently
committed suicide by hanging herself
Ordinary People (1980)
- the moving scene of suicidal
high-school student Conrad "Con" Jarrett's (Timothy Hutton)
breakthrough when he admitted his feelings of guilt and pain regarding
his older brother Buck's (Scott Doebler) accidental drowning (during
a sailing trip) in his late-night therapy session with the psychiatrist
Dr. Berger (Judd Hirsch); he finally acknowledged when asked: "And
was the one thing wrong you did?" - his answer: "I
hung on, I stayed with the boat." The therapist reassured him:
Berger: Now. You can live with that. Can't you?
I'm scared! I'm scared.
Feelings are scary. And sometimes they're painful. And if you can't
feel pain, then you're not gonna feel anything else either. You know
what I'm saying?
You're here and you're alive, and don't tell
me you don't feel that.
It is good. Believe me.
How do you know?
Because I'm your
I don't know what I would've done if you hadn't been here.
You're really my friend?
I am. Count on it.
- the climactic scene in which Conrad's compassionate
and warm-hearted father Calvin (Donald Sutherland) admitted his loss
of love for his cold and icy wife Beth (Mary Tyler Moore), who had
put all her love into her eldest son Buck: ("You're not strong.
And I don't know if you're really giving. Tell me something. Do you
love me? Do you really love me?...We would've been all right if there
hadn't been the mess.You
can't handle mess. You need everything neat and easy. I don't know.
Maybe you can't love anybody. It was so much Buck. When Buck died,
it was as if you buried all your love with him. And I don't understand
that. I just don't know. Maybe it wasn't even Buck. Maybe it was
just you. Maybe, finally, it was the best of you that you buried.
But whatever it was, I
don't know who you are. I don't know what we've been playing at.
So I was crying. Because I don't know if I love you anymore. And
I don't know what I'm going to do without that")
- the closing
scene before the credits in which Calvin reconnected with his son
- with pledges of love and a hug
Orphans of the Storm (1921)
- the scene in which Henriette Girard
(Lillian Gish) heard the voice of her blind, kidnapped half-sister Louise
(Dorothy Gish) singing in the street below - but was unable to get to her
from the balcony before she was arrested
- the tearful reunion scene
between the two sisters (and the miraculous restoration of eyesight
- the final scene of the reading
of a letter of one of the innocent victims lynched by a mob, Donald
Martin (Dana Andrews). The letter was read posthumously by Gil Carter
(Henry Fonda): ("...A man just naturally can't take the law
into his own hands and hang people without hurtin' everybody in the
world, 'cause then he's just not breakin' one law, but all laws.
Law is a lot more than words you put in a book, or judges or lawyers
or sheriffs you hire to carry it out. It's everything people ever
have found out about justice and what's right and wrong. It's the
very conscience of humanity. There can't be any such thing as civilization
unless people have a conscience, because if people touch God anywhere,
where is it except through their conscience? And what is anybody's
conscience except a little piece of the conscience of all men that
ever lived? I guess that's all I've got to say except - kiss the
babies for me and God bless ya. Your husband, Donald")