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10 Best Tearjerkers for When You Need an Emotional Release

Sometimes all you need is a good cry. Grab your box of tissues and take a look at these films that will bring you that much-needed catharsis. (Spoilers galore!)

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‘Terms of Endearment’ (1983)

Debra Winger and Shirley MacLaine make the perfect mother-daughter team. They drive each other crazy, but they’re also total besties. MacLaine won the best actress Oscar for her performance as a passionate, overbearing mother. In her acceptance speech, she famously quipped, “I deserve this.” Boy, did she. It’s sad enough when her daughter finally passes, but I dare you not to sob during the scene when she yells at the nursing staff to bring her daughter that pain medication—stat! Winger also gives a great performance. Good luck keeping it together during the hospital goodbye scenes.

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‘Dead Poets Society’ (1989)

Robin Williams is at his finest as the passionate English Professor John Keating who inspires his students to march to their own drum. But like all free thinkers he finds himself in the midst of controversy when one his students takes it too far. His students grieve a friend’s suicide in beautiful scenes shot in snow. But the real tearjerker moment happens when their beloved Keating, recently fired, comes back to the classroom one last time. One by one, his students step up on their desks and call out the famous line, “Oh Captain, my Captain!” Some of them can’t hold back the tears and neither will you. (Don’t miss these Robin Williams quotes that show his heart and wit.)

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‘The Fault in Our Stars’ (2014)

Hazel Grace and Gus are two teens who meet in a support group and crack jokes about the perks of having cancer. You know this can’t end well. They fall in love with each other and with a novel that inspires them to take a once-in-a-lifetime journey to Amsterdam for a meet-up with their favorite author. He turns out to be cranky and mean. But that disappointment can’t stop them. Neither can find the “fault” in their stars—the fate they can’t control. Their story is tender and touching and relatable—and you can expect to cry throughout their last act. (Here are things you should never say to someone with cancer, by the way.)

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‘Philadelphia’ (1993)

Tom Hanks and Antonio Banderas star as gay men in love and it totally works. Denzel Washington plays the attorney Andy (Hanks) hires to sue the law firm that fired him for contracting AIDS. Have a hanky handy for the hospital scene at the end when Andy says goodbye to his family and his longtime companion. It’ll already be tear-stained by that time anyway, as you empathize throughout the movie with the suffering of not only disease, but the cruelties of discrimination.

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YouTube/Movieclips Trailer Vault

‘E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial’ (1982)

This Steven Spielberg classic is the mother of all tearjerkers. You’ll be weeping long before the mothership flies away in at the end. Young Elliot befriends the short little botanist from outer space and they bond over Reese’s Pieces—who wouldn’t? Steady yourself for the last few scenes when Elliot and his best pal E.T. are hanging on for dear life. Then they have to escape the bad guys—all those pesky grown-ups. One problem. That means saying goodbye. But not for good. As E.T. puts it, with his glowing finger pointed right at your heart: “I’ll be right here.” (Here’s the best life advice Steven Spielberg ever received.)

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‘Shadowlands’ (1993)

The real-life love story of C.S. Lewis, the guy who wrote The Chronicles of Narnia (which is one of these books you absolutely should have read by now) , is a total sob-fest. Anthony Hopkins plays the famous author and he will end up crying in front of the wardrobe that inspired the famous book series. Don’t worry, you’ll start heaving too. It’s a heartbreaker when the love of his life, played by Debra Winger (who already broke your heart in Terms of Endearment!,) gets a rare bone cancer. The English country side is just as lush as the love story, which comes as a small comfort.

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‘Imitation of Life’ (1959)

Lana Turner plays a single mom who climbs to stardom with the help of her faithful maid and BFF, Juanita Moore. Talented director Douglas Sirk knew how to lay the irony on as thick as the glitz. Sandra Dee shows up as Lana’s daughter in the second half, and at one point, begs her mom to “Quit acting!” It’s melodramatic, soapy, and sequined. Nevertheless, you won’t be able to hold back the tears when Mahalia Jackson busts into song at a funeral fit for a queen.

8 / 10
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‘Steel Magnolias’ (1989)

Sally Field is an acting titan in this play turned movie about a group of best girlfriends who bond over hairstyles and gossip. Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton, and Olympia Dukakis round out the cast who broods over Julia Robert’s sad illness. The doctors told her that she shouldn’t have a baby, for her health. Mom Sally Field also told her. But she goes ahead and does it anyway. You just know it’s going to end badly. Sally acts her heart out in a funeral scene that will turn on your waterworks. Big time.

9 / 10
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‘Sense and Sensibility’ (1995)

This Jane Austen drama stars Hugh Grant and Emma Thompson as an ill-fated couple who take a backseat to all that drama going on with Kate Winslet and her terrible choices in boyfriends. The dashing Alan Rickman finally wins Kate’s heart and just when you think that’s your happy ending, you get surprised with an even better one! Sobbing, messy, can’t-hold-em-in tears of joy really hit the spot at the end of this gorgeous romance.

10 / 10
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‘The Champ’ (1979)

Science has figured out that The Champ is the saddest movie of all time—even sadder than Bambi. John Voight plays a boxer with a little boy (Ricky Schroder) who idolizes him. Schroder should have won an Oscar for the scene when his dad, um, “falls asleep.” Forever. None of the grown-ups in the room can keep it together, and neither will you. “Wake up Champ . . . wake up.” Tears will roll, so be prepared. Only watch this when you really want to cry your heart out—and then mop it up off the floor.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest