55 Films That Will Bring Tears to Your Eyes

55 Films That Will Bring Tears to Your Eyes

June 7, 2024

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Sometimes a good cry is just what the soul needs, and these films are guaranteed to evoke a torrent of emotions. From heart-wrenching dramas to poignant love stories and powerful character journeys, it’s time to be moved, inspired, and deeply touched as we explore the films that have the power to bring tears to your eyes. Whether it’s tears of joy, sorrow, or profound empathy, these stories will leave an indelible mark on your heart, reminding you of the beauty and fragility of the human spirit. Grab your tissues and prepare for an unforgettable cinematic experience.

31. Breaking the Waves (1996)

best

8.1

Country

Denmark, France, Iceland

Director

Lars von Trier

Actors

Adrian Rawlins, David Bateson, Dorte Rømer, Emily Watson

Moods

Challenging, Character-driven, Dark

While being known for co-writing the Dogme 95 manifesto, Lars von Trier’s first film after breaks his rules with built sets and music added in post. Still, Breaking the Waves has plenty of von Trier’s thematic preoccupations, challenging the notions between faithfulness and sexuality by positing a married couple who cannot indulge in marital pleasure, due to being paralyzed. While the premise leads to explicit scenes, it’s more harrowing than sexy, really. It’s terribly heartbreaking as Bess does all she can for her marriage, first by praying for her husband’s return, and then following his perverse wish, partly from guilt, but partly from pleasure, even when it goes contrary to her repressive church and community. Breaking the Waves may not be an easy watch, but regardless of what you personally feel about the morality of Bess’ actions, von Trier will nevertheless bring you to empathy.

32. Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015)

best

8.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Chloé Zhao, Female director

Actors

Cat Clifford, Derrick Janis, Eléonore Hendricks, Irene Bedard

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Emotional, Slice-of-Life

This slow-burning drama is set in an Indigenous reservation in South Dakota, where Johnny is a teenager who dreams of moving to L.A. with his girlfriend. He would have to leave behind his little sister, who is just grappling with the recent loss of their father. 

Director Chloé Zhao (The Rider, Nomadland) worked with amateur actors whose lives mirror the characters, often adapting the script to the actors’ stories. She filmed 100 hours of footage that she then distilled into an hour and a half. 

The result is a film shot from the outside but which is grounded in local stories. And these stories are rough, sad, complex – but so important to listen to and understand. It’s an incredible feat to make an observational film that’s so grounded in reality – only a genius could: that’s Chloé Zhao, and this mature work is -somehow- her first feature film.

33. The Father (2020)

best

8.0

Country

France, United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Florian Zeller

Actors

Anthony Hopkins, Ayesha Dharker, Brian Rodger, Evie Wray

Moods

Depressing, Tear-jerker, Thought-provoking

The Father is a compelling inner look at the ways dementia distorts memories. By occupying the unstable headspace of 80-year-old Anthony (Anthony Hopkins), the film allows us to experience his frustration and confusion firsthand. We, too, are unsure about the ever-shifting details we’re presented with. Conversations are circular and time seems inexistent. The faces we know are swapped with names we don’t know. Even the tiniest elements, such as the wall tiles and door handles, are constantly changing in the background. We grasp for the slippery truth with Anthony but always come up empty and unsure.

In a thoughtful move by director Florian Zeller, we also get a glimpse of the lives surrounding Anthony. The daughter Anne (Olivia Colman), in particular, is often the victim of her father’s tirades, but she takes care of him still, conflicted as to where to draw the line between his needs and hers. 

With its fluid editing, subtle detail-swaps, and empathic portrayal of characters, The Father is just as technically impressive as it is movingly kind.

34. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (2021)

best

8.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Dean Fleischer-Camp

Actors

Andy Richter, Avan Jogia, Blake Hottle, Brian Williams

Moods

Dramatic, Easy, Emotional

There’s a lot of good to be found in the charming, poignant, and endlessly quotable Marcel the Shell With Shoes On. It follows a documentarian named Dean, who has as his subject the one-inch talking shell that is Marcel. Marcel looks after an empty house along with his grandma Connie, and together they run a delightfully intricate system subsisting on electric mixers, tennis balls, and the occasional human hair.

Despite his small size, Marcel unwittingly makes big observations about life and the world around him, often moving Dean (and this writer) close to tears. It’s a simple film with a grand message, with lots to say about the importance of participating in life as opposed to merely observing it. But ultimately this is a movie with a precocious talking shell at the heart of it all, so really, what’s not to like?

35. Marona’s Fantastic Tale (2019)

best

8.0

Country

Belgium, France, Romania

Director

Anca Damian, Female director

Actors

Annie Mercier, Bruno Salomone, Georges Claisse, Isabelle Vitari

Moods

Heart-warming, Lovely, Original

Marona’s Fantastic Tale is a rich story about life and death and everything in between, told entirely through the eyes of a dog. With breathtaking visuals and unmatched empathy, the film implores us to think about what might count as joyous and heartbreaking for our four-legged friends. Told normally and in any other way, we might not care as much, but in a story as artful and compassionate as this, we can’t help but listen. 

Unlike other films about pets, Marona’s Fantastic Tale isn’t cutesy—its art is dizzying and demanding, but beautiful nonetheless. And isn’t afraid to confront tragedy (in fact, it begins with it). But it buoys reality with dreamy art sequences and even finds humor along the way. All in all, it’s a mature film that poses big existential questions that will intrigue adults as well as kids.

36. The First Wave (2021)

best

8.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Matthew Heineman

Actors

Al Sharpton, Andrew Cuomo

Moods

Challenging, Depressing, Discussion-sparking

Focusing squarely on two families and a select few health workers, The First Wave gets intimate access to the fears and anxieties of individuals trying to contend with the effects of the initial outbreak of the coronavirus in New York. That these characters also tend to belong to already vulnerable sectors in the United States isn’t a superfluous detail—as director Matthew Heineman illustrates (without the use of detached talking heads interviews) how proper responses to a global pandemic like this one are still hampered by capitalist interests, and racist and xenophobic institutions built into American society. All of these obstacles make every setback and every moment of progress in these characters’ lives feel absolutely crucial, making for an emotionally overwhelming experience.

37. Blue (1993)

best

8.0

Country

United Kingdom

Director

Derek Jarman

Actors

Derek Jarman, John Quentin, Nigel Terry, Tilda Swinton

Moods

Depressing, Emotional, Intense

Part documentary yet part surreal daydream, director Derek Jarman’s final film is one last rallying cry into a blue void. Against an unchanging screen of International Klein Blue, most of the film is Jarman’s voice, drifting through various subjects, from day-to-day complications of AIDS to contemplations about the color blue. Some of his frequent collaborators chime in. Choirs singing about damnation occasionally pop up too. While essentially a radio drama, the combination of voices, foley, and scores all merge together into an ethereal, haunting soundscape, that sticks in your head long after the film ends. Mirroring his partial blindness, Jarman’s last experiment leaves an impression of his own experience. It’s absolutely devastating.

38. The Eight Mountains (2022)

best

8.0

Country

Belgium, France, Italy

Director

Charlotte Vandermeersch, Felix Van Groeningen

Actors

Alessandro Borghi, Elena Lietti, Filippo Timi, Gualtiero Burzi

Moods

Emotional, Slow, Tear-jerker

Spanning over decades and continents, The Eight Mountains depicts the kind of childhood friendship that remains central to one’s whole world. While city boy Pietro (Luca Marinelli) treks from the Alps to the Himalayas, the mountain pasture of Grana remains special as his father’s old refuge and as the hometown of childhood best friend Bruno (Alessandro Borghi). When they were younger, the two struck a summer friendship as the only two boys in the small town. However, their friendship isn’t the kind formed through day-to-day, routine interactions. Instead, each moment they share is fleeting, cut short by circumstances, but therefore, all the more precious. Co-directors Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch slowly and patiently craft intermittent moments that form a lifelong friendship. And at the end, when they last bring us back to Grana, these moments are all we have left of this profound, meaningful connection.

39. The Straight Story (1999)

best

8.0

Moods

Character-driven, Emotional, Slow

A family-friendly, Disney-backed movie is not something you’d expect from cinema’s surrealist master, but The Straight Story marks a surprisingly winning stylistic departure for David Lynch. It tells the true story of Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth), an ailing 73-year-old who, upon hearing that his estranged brother has suffered a stroke 240 miles away, decides it’s time to patch things up. Unable to drive due to poor eyesight, Alvin modifies a ride-on lawn mower and sets off on the six-week-long journey it will take to reach his brother while traveling just five miles an hour.

Lynch’s film is set at a similarly patient pace: contemplative shots of Mid-Western America’s cornfields fade in and out as Alvin chugs along and experiences profound, fleeting connections with the strangers crossing his path. Alvin refuses to accept any offers of a ride: he wants to finish this pilgrimage on his own terms. Angelo Badalamenti’s elegiac score emphasizes just how much this journey means to Alvin — who, in his last chapter of life, uses it both to reflect on all that’s come before and treasure every experience, big or small, that the present offers. The sense of this being a swan song for Alvin is always palpable, making The Straight Story deeply moving down to its bones.

40. The Saint of Second Chances (2023)

best

8.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Jeff Malmberg, Morgan Neville

Actors

Agnes Albright, Bill Veeck, Charley Rossman, Charlie Day

Moods

Easy, Feel-Good, Heart-warming

You don’t need to know a lot about baseball to appreciate The Saint of Second Chances. It has enough going on to keep you hooked from start to end, beginning with Jeff Daniels’ inimitable voice as the narrator and Charlie Day’s inspired casting as the younger Veeck, all the way down to the Veecks’ fascinating ties with American sports history and Mike’s inspiring and heartwarming second-chance philosophy. It all gets a bit too much at times, as if the filmmakers themselves were overwhelmed with their abundant material and creative decisions, but it’s executed with so much care and love that it seems as if this is the only way it could’ve come out: a wonderful mess. 

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