Greatest Tearjerkers
Scenes and Movie Moments
of All-Time


The Greatest Tearjerkers of All-Time
Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Brief Tearjerker Scene Description

Cinema Paradiso (1988, It./Fr.)


  • the scene of teenaged projectionist Salvatore (nicknamed Toto) (Marco Leonardi as teenager) of the local Cinema Paradiso movie theatre being advised when leaving the small Sicilian town of Giancaldo at the train station bound for Rome, to never return or look back, by his loving, blinded mentor/surrogate father Alfredo (Philippe Noiret): ("Don't come back. Don't think about us. Don't look back. Don't write. Don't give in to nostalgia. Forget us all. If you do and you come back, don't come see me. I won't let you in my house. Understand?"). Toto then thanked Alfredo: "Thank you. For everything you've done for me." Alfredo's last words were: "Whatever you end up doing, love it. The way you loved the projection booth when you were a little squirt."
  • also, the touching moment when middle-aged, world-famous Italian film director Salvatore Di Vita (Jacques Perrin as adult) returned to his peasant childhood Sicilian hometown of Giancaldo after 30 years to attend the funeral of Alfredo, whom he succeeded as the town's movie theatre projectionist after a devastating fire blinded him. He was given a gift of a reel of film by Alfredo's widow. When he returned to Rome, he projected the reel, watching the long montage of romantic ("pornographic") amorous screen kisses ordered spliced out of numerous films by the village priest Father Adelfio (Leopoldo Trieste) when he was a boy

See "The Censored Kisses and Scenes of Cinema Paradiso (1988): The Kissing Montage" (i.e., His Girl Friday, The Gold Rush, The Outlaw, The Son of the Sheik, The Adventures of Robin Hood, etc.)

City Lights (1931)

  • one of the greatest endings in cinema history, in which the now-wealthy Flower Girl (Virginia Cherrill) encountered the vagrant Little Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) in an accidental meeting for the first time since the Tramp selflessly sacrificed his own money to restore her sight -- when the Flower Girl recognized him, the Tramp's face showed a bevy of mixed emotions: shame, fear, bravery, pain, tentativeness, love, bliss and joy. At first, she appeared slightly dismayed and confused - he looked so completely different from what she expected - and then she was moved. The Tramp smiled and his eyes lit up when she recognized and accepted him for who he was

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

  • the finale in which the doors opened and humans who had been missing emerged - and young Barry (Cary Guffey) was reunited with his mother Jillian (Melinda Dillon)
  • the choosing of Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) - 'adopted' and taken into the 'mother-ship' alien craft; the final shot of Roy ascending into the wondrous, ethereal heart of the mothership
  • one of the aliens communicating 'farewell' with hand signals to UN scientist Claude Lacombe (Francois Truffaut) before the Mother Ship ascended and departed, as John Williams' score soared in triumph - incorporating "When You Wish Upon a Star" from Pinocchio (1940)

Cocoon (1985)


  • the sad scene of the reckless behavior of retirement home residents who unwittingly drained the life-giving qualities of the nearby magical swimming pool - and caused the death of one of the ancient Antarean aliens (one of the ground crew) in one of the cocoon pods
  • the heart-breaking scene of the death of Rose (Herta Ware) due to dementia and respiratory failure, discovered suddenly dead in her bed by husband Bernie Lefkowitz (Jack Gilford) - after which he carried her in his arms over to the non-functioning life-giving pool near the Florida retirement community and tried to revive her, completely stricken with guilt over earlier forbidding his wife to sample the pool's power out of fear and timidness; he asked the Antarean leader Walter (Brian Dennehy): "Can you help me? I have to do something for her. She - she's..." and was coldly told: "The pool doesn't work anymore, it's too late." Bernie vainly offered: "I'll give you everything I've got." Walter: "I'm sorry, Bernie, I wish I could help you, it's just too late." He sobbed over her: "Rosie, oh, Rosie!"
  • the poignant scene of Ben Luckett (Wilford Brimley) telling his grandson David (Barret Oliver) goodbye - while standing in knee-deep water fishing - and what he would miss on Earth (grandsons, fishing holes, hotdogs, baseball games, etc.) by going away forever to another planet - but also the benefits: ("When we get where we're going, we'll never be sick, we won't get any older, and we won't ever die")
  • and the finale in which the boat-load of seniors were transported upwards into a departing Antarean spaceship for the unknown planet and immortality

The Color Purple (1985)


  • the scene in which two sisters were separated: young Celie (Desreta Jackson) and her teenaged sister Nettie (Akosua Busia) - when Nettie was forcibly thrown off the farm by Celie's brutish husband "Mister" Albert (Danny Glover) after Nettie had painfully rebuffed Albert's sexual advances during an attempted rape - Nettie cried out asking: "Why? Why? Whhhhhyyyy?"; Celie urged: "WRITE!", and Nettie responded: "Nothing but death can keep me from her!"
  • the emotional scene in which juke joint singer Shug Avery (Margeret Avery), Albert's old sweetheart, sang "Maybe God Is Tryin' To Tell You Somethin'": ("Speak to me! Speak to me!") to her estranged preacher father Rev. Samuel (Carl Anderson) who hadn't uttered a word to her in decades, and her tears of absolute happiness when he returned her hug as she whispered in his ear: ("See, Daddy? Sinners have soul too")
  • the joyous reunion of a middle-aged Celie (Whoopi Goldberg as adult) with Nettie (who had emigrated back from Africa), beginning with Celie happily calling out "NETTIE!" - and followed by the kisses the sisters gave each other, barely daring to believe the other was real; and Celie's first introduction and heart-rending reuniting with her two adult children (a son and daughter); very improbably, Nettie had gone to Africa with a missionary and his wife who had adopted Celie's two children

Coming Home (1978)

  • the stark, violent breakup scene between housewife Sally Hyde (Jane Fonda) and her returning husband-vet Bob (Bruce Dern) (Sally: "It happened. I needed somebody. I was lonely..." Bob: "Bulls--t...if it's over with us, it's over...What I'm saying ISSSS I do not belong in this house. And they're saying that I don't belong over there")
  • wheelchair-bound Vietnam vet Luke Martin's (Jon Voight) impassioned speech to high school students about the futility of war: ("...And now I'm here to tell ya that I have killed for my country, or whatever. And I don't feel good about it. Because there's not enough reason, man, to feel a person die in your hands or to see your best buddy get blown away. I'm here to tell ya it's a lousy thing, man. I don't see any reason for it. And there's a lot of s--t that I did over there that I find f--king hard to live with. And I don't want to see people like you, man, comin' back and having to face the rest of your lives with that kind of s--t. It's as simple as that. I don't feel sorry for myself. I'm a lot f--kin' smarter now than when I went. And I'm just tellin' ya, there's a choice to be made here")


Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt (1989)

  • the six compelling, emotional stories told by the friends and families of AIDS victims (four gay men -- including film historian and AIDS activist/storyteller Vito Russo --a straight man and a hemophiliac boy) and the making of their personal quilts, accompanied by the news broadcasts following the development of AIDS from its euphemistic origin as GRID (gay-related immuno-deficiency disease) in 1980
  • the famous speech by 36 year-old victim Roger Gail Lyon: ("This is not a political issue. This is a health issue. This is not a gay issue. This is a human issue. And I do not intend to be defeated by it. I came here today in the hope that my epitaph would not read that I died of red tape")
  • the unfolding of the giant AIDS Memorial Quilt in Washington, DC composed of thousands of quilts, each a separate, personalized tribute to an individual AIDS victim -- all accompanied by jazz musician Bobby McFerrin's affecting a capella lullaby "Common Threads"

Contact (1997)

  • the heartwarming, poignant scene when agnostic scientist Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) saw her long-dead father Ted (David Morse) when she arrived on a beach on the planet Vega - after her mystical journey, he told her as a proxy for the alien beings: ("You're an interesting species, an interesting mix. You're capable of such beautiful dreams and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you're not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we've found that makes the emptiness each other")
  • the finale of Ellie's testimony about her quasi-religious experience: (" I... had an experience. I can't prove it, I can't even explain it, but everything that I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real. I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever. A vision of the universe..."); afterwards, she was greeted by thousands of supporters outside the court with signs saying "We Believe You", etc.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000, HK/US)

  • the tearjerking death of heroic warrior and martial arts master Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat), who was poisoned by arch-villain Jade Fox (Cheng Pei-pei) with the Purple Yin, and his final, long overdue declaration of his love for fellow warrior Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) with his dying breath: ("I've already wasted my whole life. I want to tell you with my last breath that I have always loved you"), followed by small, passionate kisses
  • Li Mu Bai's final romantic farewell to Yu Shu Lien: ("I would rather be a ghost drifting by your side as a condemned soul than enter heaven without you. Because of your love, I will never be a lonely spirit")

The Crying Game (1992, UK)

  • the tearful and vengeful "interrogation" scene between a gun-toting Dil (Jaye Davidson) and IRA volunteer soldier Fergus (Stephen Rea), whom Dil had tied to his bed after finding out he had been complicit in the accidental death of his ex-lover - British soldier Jody (Forest Whitaker), as the song "The Crying Game" played on Dil's tape deck. Fergus told Dil that he loved him, would do anything for him and would never leave him - with Dil responding, as he laid his head on Fergus' chest/shoulder: ("I know you're lying, but it's nice to hear it")
  • in the following scene, after Dil had killed IRA assassin/femme fatale Jude (Miranda Richardson) in his apartment, he turned the gun on Fergus, but admitted: ("I can't do it, Jimmy. He (Jody) won't let me"). Fergus reassuringly took the gun away when Dil put the gun in his mouth to commit suicide, and asked him with deep love and caring to run away - promising Dil he would see him again. After Dil fled, the police arrived on the street below - so Fergus took the gun, wiped Dil's fingerprints from it, and told Jody's smiling picture: "You should have stayed at home." He then sat down as he waited for the police to arrest him in Dil's place

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

  • the tearjerking, strained relationship ("under unusual circumstances"), in David Fincher's sweeping but overwrought historic recreation, between young childhood sweetheart and later youthful Broadway dancer Daisy (Cate Blanchett, or as younger Elle Fanning/Madisen Beaty) and reverse-aging miracle-baby Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt), when for a brief moment their lives intersected when they were both in their 40s
  • Button's decision to leave Daisy as a wanderlust when a child Caroline (young Joeanna Saylor, older Julia Ormond) was born to them out of wedlock in 1968, so as not to burden Daisy ("You can't raise the both of us") - and writing postcards each year about regretfully missing various important events in Caroline's life: (e.g., 2nd birthday: "Happy Birthday. I wish I could have kissed you goodnight," "Five - I wish I could have taken you to your first day at school," "Six, I wish I could have been there to teach you to play the piano," "I wish I could have been your father. Nothing I ever did will replace that," etc.)
  • Benjamin's words of life-advice for his daughter Caroline, as he roamed the world: ("For what it's worth, it's never too late or, in my case, too early, to be whoever you want to be. There's no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. And I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that will startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. And I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of. And if you find that you're not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again")
  • the instant of Benjamin's death as an infant in Daisy's arms in the spring of 2003: ("He looked at me, and I knew that he knew who I was. And then he closed his eyes as if to go to sleep")
  • the concluding coda after Daisy's last words: "Good night, Benjamin" - a poignant tribute to the characters in Benjamin's life: ("Some people are born to sit by a river. Some get struck by lightning. Some have an ear for music. Some are artists. Some swim. Some know buttons. Some know Shakespeare. Some are mothers. And some people dance")

Greatest Film Tearjerkers, Moments and Scenes
(alphabetical by film title)
Intro | A | B | B | C | C | D | D | E | F | F | G | G
H-I | J-K | L | L | M | M | N | O | P | P
Q-R | S | S | S | S | T | T | U-V-W | X-Z

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