Home Entertainment Top List Thursday – Top 10 Saddest Moments in Movies

Top List Thursday – Top 10 Saddest Moments in Movies

6 min read

WARNING: There will be tears!

There are a helluva lot of mediocre movies out there; movies that you’ll probably have completely forgotten less than 24 hours after watching them because they left absolutely no impression. Then there are those movies that claw deep into your chest and triumphantly rip out your heart Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom style. Today’s Top List Thursday pays tribute to the latter – films that contain some of the saddest moments of all time. I guarantee you will have choked up at least once by the time you reach the end of this post.

P.S. Make sure to send the till slips for your bulk tissue and handkerchief purchases to The Movies c/o The Foundry Complex, P.O Box 14954, Wadeville, Gauteng, 1422.



Yeah, it became all the rage to mock Titanic. But for all the snickering about Celine Dion’s wailing and Kate Winslet selfishly hogging the flotsam, this box office and awards behemoth is still an incredibly sad movie. Its emotional poignancy lies less in the class-bridging romance of Jack and Rose though, and more in the little moments involving unnamed, unimportant passengers – the mother telling a story to her children; an old old couple spooning on their bed as the cabin fills with water… *gulp*

I Am Legend

I could have filled this entire Top 10 with scenes involving canines (e.g. Marley and Me, Eight Below, Hachiko: A Dog’s Story, Old Yeller), but this is an especially poignant moment in a film where you really don’t expect to find it. In this sci-fi thriller, Alsatian Samantha is the loyal companion of lone survivor Robert Neville (Will Smith). She is also the last link he has to his dead family. After Sam is infected saving Robert’s life, and he is forced to euthanise her, he isn’t the same afterwards. Neither is the film as a whole. Or the audience for that matter.

The NeverEnding Story

Children of the Eighties are sure to remember this traumatic tear-triggering scene, which remains one of the most “hardcore” to ever feature in a children’s fantasy film. A metaphor (just as it was in Michael Ende’s book) for living with someone who suffers from severe depression, what makes this scene – set in the Swamp of Sadness, duh – so brutal is the fact that the camera just doesn’t cut away until the very end.

The Green Mile

As a whole, Stephen King adaptation The Green Mile is a beautiful, supernaturally-tinged tearjerker. But the untimely passing of actor Michael Clarke Duncan makes these final moments of John Coffey’s life even more poignant. And boy is it an emotional send-off for this gentle, gifted giant. The stoic prison guards aren’t the only ones blubbing at this point, believe me.

The Lion King

The Lion King offers a particularly harsh lesson about the consequences of disobedience. Misbehave and your dad is going to die saving your ass. How many hearts around the world crumbled during that moment Simba nudges the lifeless body of his father Mufasa? See also Bambi and The Land Before Time for similarly traumatic parental losses. Or even Ice Age for the inverse – a distraught father powerless to save his family.


Powerful lifelong love, everyday life getting in the way of dreams, and learning to let go… That’s all pretty heady stuff for an animated family film that on its poster and box art seems to be a whimsical tale with talking dogs and floating houses. But the first 5 minutes of Up go a long way towards explaining why this 2009 Pixar release became only the second ever animated film nominated in the Best Picture Category at the Oscars (the film won 2 of the little gold men, for the record).

The Notebook

Here’s another heartbreaking movie about love into old age. Although most will remember this Nicholas Sparks novel adaptation as a star-crossed romance that made stars of Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, the film’s most emotionally devastating scenes actually centre on James Garner’s determined efforts to remind Gena Rowlands of their great love for one another. Her escalating Alzheimer’s Disease, however, is making it harder and harder. See also Amour and Iris for a similarly good “losing the love of your life” bawl.


Early on in Ridley Scott’s Ancient World epic we saw Russell Crowe’s Roman General Maximus collapse in snot-en-trane when, gravely wounded, he races back to his home… only to find that his family has been murdered. After much vengeance-swearing and carnage, he is eventually reunited with them in death. Hans Zimmer’s score elevates the scene to the next level of poignancy. See also Braveheart for a very similar moment.

The Passion of the Christ

Mel Gibson isn’t the most subtle filmmaker at the best of times, and this scene is undeniably manipulative, designed to play your heartstrings like a guitar. This doesn’t mean, however, that these few minutes of Mel’s torture porn Bible epic don’t still deliver one major emotional wallop. He may be humanity’s saviour but to his mother Mary (Maia Morgenstern), Jesus Christ (Jim Caviezel) is still her little boy. You don’t have to be a parent to feel her pain here.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day

1991’s Terminator 2 earns a special spot on this list for its unexpected emotional impact. The audience came for the explosions, liquid metal effects, miniguns and all-round badassery of James Cameron’s action sci-fi blockbuster. They proceeded to leave the cinema all teared up over the complicated surrogate father relationship that develops between a boy and a cyborg. Thumbs up, James!

For the record, the following films also made the shortlist for heartbreaking moments:

My Girl, E.T., King Kong, Love Actually, Four Weddings and a Funeral, the Clint Eastwood double of Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino, the Brad Pitt double of Legends of the Fall and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Watership Down, Dumbo, The Iron Giant, The Fox and the Hound, The Sixth Sense, Cast Away, Life is Beautiful, My Sister’s Keeper, The Pianist, Schindler’s List and The Champ. (Out of interest, this last one actually contains the “scientifically proven” saddest film scene of all time.

Last Updated: August 22, 2013

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