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

A Tale of Two Cities (1935)

  • the final scene of Sydney Carton's (Ronald Colman) self-sacrifice to the French guillotine in order to save another life - holding hands with another victim - seamstress (Isabel Jewell) as they ascended the scaffold, highlighted by Carton's noble delivery of his last words: ("It's a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done. It's a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known...")

Terms of Endearment (1983)


  • Texas widow Aurora Greenway's (Shirley MacLaine) hospital scene when she panicked and shrieked over her 30 year-old daughter Emma Greenway Horton's (Debra Winger) terminal cancer and demanded that the nurses give her dying daughter (at past 10 o'clock) her overdue shot of morphine: ("I don't see why she has to have this pain....It's time for her shot, do you understand? Do something...My daughter is in pain! Give her the shot, do you understand me? GIVE MY DAUGHTER THE SHOT!!")
  • the most tearjerking scene of all - Emma's hospital goodbye scene with her children when youngest son Teddy (Huckleberry Fox) told off his bratty older brother Tommy (Troy Bishop): ("Why don't you shut up?! Shut up!") as she explained to them that she wouldn't be around for her family in the future, that reluctant Tommy should "be sweet" and how he would eventually admit that he loved her after she was gone: ("And stop trying to pretend that you hate me. I mean, it's silly...I know you like me. I know it. For the last year or two, you've been pretending like you hate me. I love you very much. I love you as much as I love anybody, as much as I love myself. And in a few years when I haven't been around to be on your tail about something or irritating you, you're gonna remember... that time that I bought you the baseball glove when you thought we were too broke. You know? Or when I read you those stories? Or when I let you goof off instead of mowing the lawn? Lots of things like that. And you're gonna realize that you love me. And maybe you're gonna feel badly, because you never told me. But don't - I know that you love me. So don't ever do that to yourself, all right?")
  • the nurse's words to Emma's awakened husband Flap (Jeff Daniels): ("She's gone"); and Aurora's piteous sobbing to Flap: ("I'm so stupid, so stupid. Somehow, I thought, somehow I thought when she finally went that - that it would be a relief. Oh, my sweet little darling. Oh dear, there's nothing harder! THERE'S NOTHING HARDER!")
  • the final scene of raunchy ex-astronaut neighbor Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson) providing needed support to the older boy Tommy following Emma's death

They Died With Their Boots On (1941)

  • the film's tear-inducing, poignant ending when infamous cavalry officer General George Armstrong Custer (Errol Flynn) gave a heart-rending farewell goodbye to his wife Elizabeth "Libby" Bacon (Olivia de Havilland) - she sensed disaster and had written about her fears in her diary (he reacted with astonishment to her written words) - the couple shared a few extended looks and kisses
    [Note: it was the stars' final screen pairing also!]
  • in their extended goodbye scene, she looked into his eyes as he told her before their final kiss: ("Walking through life with you, ma'am, has been a very gracious thing"). After he left, she stood against a wall and watched him go - and then collapsed in a faint to the floor, as the camera dramatically pulled back

They Live By Night (1948)

  • the relationship of a newly-married couple was ill-fated and doomed from the start in director Nicholas Ray's debut film - a film noir classic.
    [Note: It was an adaptation of Edward Anderson's 1937 Bonnie and Clyde-inspiring novel Thieves Like Us (later remade by Robert Altman as a film with the original title in 1974). Although a crime thriller, it was more an emotionally-told, melodramatic love story of a naive couple on the road and on the run.]
  • in the film's opening before the title screen, two lovers kissed, as the screen's words stated: ("This boy and this girl were never properly introduced to the world we live in. To tell their story...")
  • desperate 23 year-old fugitive criminal - an escaped convict named Arthur "Bowie" Bowers (Farley Granger), impulsively married young and naive Catherine "Keechie" Mobley (Cathy O'Donnell), the niece of one of his hardened criminal associates named Chickamaw 'One-Eye' Mobley (Howard Da Silva). He was forced to engage in more robberies, while struggling to attain their quixotic dream of living a normal life. They drove at night and stayed at various remote cabins to evade the convicts, when Keechie became pregnant
  • In the film's downbeat and tragic finale, Bowie was about to leave Keechie to pursue a new life for them (possibly in Mexico or elsewhere) before returning for her. He wrote a goodbye note, and then was persuaded by the one who had betrayed him to police, Chickamaw's sister-in-law Mattie (Helen Craig), to walk to the cabin where Keechie was sleeping and give it to her personally. After Bowie was gunned down outside the room, Keechie took the crumpled note from his hand and read it outloud as the film came to a melancholic close: ("Little old girl. I'm gonna miss you but I gotta do it this way. I'll send for both of you when I can. No matter how long it takes. I've gotta see that kid. He's lucky. He'll have you to keep him squared around"). She then turned and tenderly mouthed the words as the screen slowly darkened: ("I Love You. Bowie. Bowie").

This Is the Army (1943)

  • Kate Smith's (as Herself) moving, patriotic rendition of "God Bless America" during the World War II-era, morale-boosting film

Titanic (1997)


  • the heartbreaking moments after Jack Dawson (Leonardo Di Caprio) and the love of his life Rose DeWitt Butaker (Kate Winslet) had survived the Titanic's sinking, and he helped her onto a large floating piece of debris. She complained of the intense cold and her frozen body, but he encouraged her to not give up: ("Don't you do that, don't say your good-byes. Not yet, do you understand me?....Listen, Rose. You're gonna get out of here. You're gonna go on and you're gonna make lots of babies, and you're gonna watch 'em grow. You're gonna die an old... an old lady warm in her bed. Not here. Not this night. Not like this. Do you understand me?...Winning that ticket, Rose, was the best thing that ever happened to me. It brought me to you and I'm thankful for that, Rose. I'm thankful. You must, you must, you must do me this honor. You must promise me that you'll survive, that you won't give up, no matter what happens, no matter how hopeless. Promise me now, Rose, and never let go of that promise"). She promised, and he replied: "Never let go." She responded as she shivered: "I will never let go, Jack. I'll never let go." He kissed her hand before his corpse froze in the cold Atlantic Ocean, although they maintained their hand-grip
  • later during her rescue by a boat after summoning it with a whistle, she let go of Jack's hand, although repeated the phrase: ("I'll never let go. I promise") as he sank underwater
  • the scene of elderly Rose (Gloria Stuart) tossing the priceless "Heart of the Ocean" blue diamond necklace overboard that she had shared with her now-lost love Jack
  • the final dream sequence in which the young Rose imagined herself meeting - and kissing Jack at the top of the elegant Grand Staircase surrounded by an applauding audience of all those who died on the ship -- together forever

To Each His Own (1946)

  • a quintessential unrequited maternal love melodrama/weepie film of the mid-1940s, structured as a flashback
  • in the story, middle-aged American Miss Josephine 'Jody' Norris (Olivia de Havilland, who won the first of two Oscars for her role) made love to young flier Captain Bart Cosgrove (John Lund) - but he died soon after in combat. Becoming pregnant after their one night together, the illegitimate baby was delivered healthy (although she had contemplated a therapeutic abortion), and her plan to leave the baby at another's doorstep (and quickly adopt it) misfired. The foundling Gregory (nick-named 'Griggsy') was legally adopted by her ex-beau Alex Piersen (Phillip Terry) and wife Corrine Piersen (Mary Anderson), whose first child had just died
  • in the stirring, heart-rending conclusion (a wedding scene), the grown-up son Gregory Piersen (John Lund also), an air force pilot like his father, was told by his WAC newly-wed wife Liz Lorimer (Virginia Welles) about Jody's closeness to him: ("I saw the way she looked at you when you signed the register. Anyone would have thought you were her only son"). He recognized Jody as his real mother (he spoke haltingly to Liz: "I was her...Excuse me, darling")
  • in the closing line of the film, Gregory approached his mother: ("I think this is our dance, Mother")

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)


  • the scene in which small-town 1930s Alabama lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) listened to his children: Jem (Phillip Alford) and 6 year-old daughter Jean Louise "Scout" (Mary Badham) discussing their dead mother: (Scout: How old was I when Mama died? Jem: Two. Scout: How old were you? Jem: Six. Scout: Old as I am now. Jem: Uh huh. Scout: Was Mama pretty? Jem: Uh, huh. Scout: Was Mama nice? Jem: Uh, huh. Scout: Did you love her? Jem: Yes. Scout: Did I love her? Jem: Yes. Scout: Do you miss her? Jem: Uh, huh)
  • during mealtime, Atticus' touching speech about the responsibility his father taught him in using his first gun when he was thirteen or fourteen - and how it was 'a sin to kill a mockingbird' - a songbird that harmlessly existed only to give pleasure: ("I remember when my daddy gave me that gun. He told me that I should never point it at anything in the house. And that he'd rather I'd shoot at tin cans in the backyard, but he said that sooner or later he supposed the temptation to go after birds would be too much, and that I could shoot all the blue jays I wanted, if I could hit 'em, but to remember it was a sin to kill a mockingbird...Well, I reckon because mockingbirds don't do anything but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat people's gardens, don't nest in the corncribs, they don't do one thing but just sing their hearts out for us")
  • Atticus' moving closing court argument, urging the jury to look beyond race and prejudice: ("In the name of God, do your duty. In the name of God, believe Tom Robinson")
  • the scene of the blacks in the balcony of the courtroom standing to respectfully honor the defeated lawyer with Rev. Sykes' (William Walker) words to "Scout": ("Miss Jean Louise, stand up, your father's passin")
  • the moving coda in which "Scout" sat on the porch swing with the timid Boo Radley (Robert Duvall) (who had saved Jem and was found behind the bedroom door), and then walked - with his hand in hers - to the Radley gate and up their front walk, accompanied by Elmer Bernstein's melancholy music score and Jean Louise's narration as the adult Scout (voice of Kim Stanley):

    ("Neighbors bring food with death, and flowers with sickness, and little things in between. Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a knife, and our lives...One time Atticus said you never really knew a man until you stood in his shoes and walked around in them. Just standin' on the Radley porch was enough. The summer that had begun so long ago had ended, and another summer had taken its place, and a fall, and Boo Radley had come out. I was to think of these days many times. Of Jem and Dill and Boo Radley, and Tom Robinson - and Atticus. He would be in Jem's room all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning")

  • the camera pulled out of the window in Jem's room, where "Scout" was cradled in her father's arms, to a long shot of the Finch house

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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