If you often find yourself quietly (or loudly) sobbing at an emotional film, here’s a warning – get an extra box of tissues before watching the films mentioned in this article.
When US film critic Kevin Lee asked people to tell him “the hardest you’ve ever cried in a movie/TV show” on Twitter last week, he was unprepared for the onslaught that followed.
“Within the first six hours, the responses were unlike anything I’ve ever received before,” he says. “It was a little bit scary to tell you the truth.”
Film fans bombarded him with the titles that have left them in puddles of tears. He was even more surprised that some replies were accompanied by personal stories about why the films meant so much.
“The responses were very sweet and each one was so different,” he says.
The BBC has analysed 35,000 replies. The top two tear-jerking films are not sweeping epics or heavyweight dramas – they are family favourites that tug hard at the heartstrings.
Disney/Pixar’s Oscar-winning 2017 animation Coco tops the mentions, thanks to its powerful story of a Mexican boy who crosses to the Land of the Dead and uncovers his family secrets while following his dream of becoming a musician.
It is followed closely by 2008’s Marley and Me, in which Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston’s couple adopt an unruly Labrador, which accompanies them through their family life.
Those two films were some way above anything else. This is not a scientific survey of course, but here are the top 10 films mentioned in replies to Kevin Lee’s tweet.
Films to make you cry (according to Twitter)
1. Coco 2017
2. Marley and Me 2008
3. Schindler’s List 1993
4. Up 2009
5. Terms of Endearment 1983
6. Toy Story 3 2010
7. Avengers: Endgame 2019
8. The Green Mile 1999
9. The Notebook 2004
10. Beaches 1988
Lee, who writes for Film Inquiry and That Shelf, was not surprised to see Coco at the top of the list. “I adored that film, and it just gets better and better with every viewing,” he tells BBC News.
“It takes familiar messages like ‘pursue your dream’ but adds extra layers, such as understanding your heritage, how that shapes you, how you help that culture evolve, and it honours those traditions while still being progressive and moving forward.
“And the story is so emotional and the characters are so relatable – I think that is what got to many, many audiences.”
Three animations, all Disney/Pixar creations, are in the top 10. Up is another cross-generational story, while Toy Story 3 has been described by Buzzfeed as “probably one of the saddest movies of this generation”.
Lee says he is a “sucker” for animated films because it’s easier to be transported to, and immersed in, the worlds they create, he says.
“Animation is so free to create their own premise, have that premise elevate the story they want to tell,” he explains. “Because of that it’s so easy to disarm myself and let the story take me over.”
Overall, two types of emotional storylines kept cropping up in fans’ replies, he says.
“One is crying over a character dying, either because they’ve grown so emotionally attached to that character and it’s heartbreaking, or they’ll share a personal story about how they lost someone close to them,” he says.
One user got in touch to tell him he was particularly moved by Coco because his own grandmother had recently died. (The grandmother in Coco is pivotal to that film’s emotional punch.)
Best and worst of humanity
“The other common trait I saw were films that were based on real history,” Lee says. “You had Schindler’s List, Life Is Beautiful, Sophie’s Choice, Saving Private Ryan, Grave of the Fireflies…
“There are a lot of historical films that show the darkest chapters of human history [and] that really gets to people.
“And when it comes to the darkest chapters of human history, that’s when you see the worst of humanity but you also see the best of humanity, so it’s both devastating but really moving as well. You’re not quite sure if you’re crying sad tears or happy tears.”
Many of the films unsurprisingly involve (spoiler alert) death or departures in one form or another.
The other top picks ranged from female-led 1980s dramas Terms of Endearment, Beaches and Steel Magnolias to 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, which had its fair share of gut-wrenching moments between the superhero action.
Lee believes his original tweet touched such a nerve partly because of the current coronavirus lockdown.
“My only theory is I touched on the zeitgeist of how everyone’s feeling at the moment,” he reflects.
“Everyone is way more isolated now, and there are a lot of folks out there who are alone in this lockdown.
“Perhaps this thread got a lot of people to want to just reach out and connect with others, and the current atmosphere has allowed people to open up with more personal stuff.”