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The Most Heartbreaking Cinematic Moments of All Time

You’re going to wish the tissue box for this trip down memory lane.

Sickness. Sacrifice. Grief. Protection. Acceptance. These are a mere fraction of the abundant themes that contribute to probably the most heartbreaking cinematic moments: the on-screen spectacles that leave viewers in shambles, tears running down their faces, saturating the popcorn of their laps. So, for those who need a great cry — an excuse to let loose all of the strife you’ve been shoving down — listed below are the movie moments to look back on.

“You can have their future” | ‘Stepmom’ 1998

Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts star across each other on this melodramatic film that unapologetically bypasses subtlety on the road to sappy (but we’re not mad about it). Sarandon plays Jackie — who’s “mother earth incarnate,” in accordance with Roberts. She’s the instinctive caretaker. She knows her children’s quirks and desires, their wants and desires as in the event that they were her own. Roberts is the stepmom, Isabel — with unorthodox parental methods that add a little bit of flair to the old-school formulas. Yet, when Jackie gets cancer, she must accept that Isabel will develop into her children’s primary caretaker, culminating in an unforgettable moment of acceptance and vulnerability.

Isabel reveals her best fear — that on their daughter’s wedding day, the pure bliss the young bride should feel might be dampened, as she wishes her mom was there. And Jackie, in a moment of unparalleled vulnerability, reveals her best fear — that her daughter won’t even be interested by her. The moment ends with a sagacious line of dialogue, during which Sarandon says, “I even have their past, and you’ll be able to have their future.”

Shirley MacLaine delivers a scene so iconic as Aurora in Terms of Endearment that it was even parodied by Fran Drescher in The Nanny. It’s easy: her daughter is sick and dying, and it’s time for the nurses to offer the shot that helps along with her pain. MacLaine’s character cannot save her daughter. And, at this moment, she grabs onto one motion she has any semblance of control over. 

She cannot change the long run, but she will be able to make these last moments as painless as possible. And, when the nurses don’t immediately hop into motion, she screams with fervor, blowing the roof off the hospital until she sees them are likely to her daughter. The pretense of decorum that she maintains as a chilly and polished woman finally evaporates. It doesn’t help that the duo have a sophisticated past — a relationship marked by Aurora’s passing judgments, snide asides, and unreachable expectations. Can she right all of the flawed she has done as her daughter lay in a hospital bed?

No parent should ever should select which of their children deserves to live, and that is precisely what a Nazi forces Sophie (Meryl Streep) to do in Sophie’s Choice. He tells her, “You may keep certainly one of your kids.” She holds on tightly to her baby girl and son, explaining that she cannot select. How is a mother alleged to send certainly one of her children to their immediate death via gas chamber? Yet, if she doesn’t select, she loses each. She fights. She begs. She pleads. She panics. Tears bubble in her eyes, because the Nazi verbally berates her, threatening to take each, and, ultimately, the words slip out of her mouth: “Take my little girl.” 

Toni Collette wailing in agony | ‘Hereditary’ 2018 

Hereditary could also be a horror movie, but its dramatic undertones and portrayal of grief warrant its place on this list. Toni Collette, upon discovering her daughter has died — her head decapitated by a telephone pole, and what stays of her body left within the automotive — accesses a level of authentic agony rarely seen on screen.

In an Oscar-worthy, yet utterly snubbed performance, she wails, her voice cracking with disbelief, “Oh god! It hurts an excessive amount of,” she yells. A combination of grief, shock, and an inability to assume a life without her daughter surge to the surface, as she utters, “I just have to die.” It’s a jaw-dropping performance. A tearjerking moment that instantaneously supplants the film’s former eerie atmosphere with certainly one of deafening loss. Within moments, the tone shifts seamlessly from suspense to sorrow. And it’s all due to a heartwrenching Collette. 

“I’m nice! I can jog all of the approach to Texas and back, but my daughter can’t. She never could…I wanna know why. I wanna know why Shelby’s life is over…” Parents aren’t alleged to lose their children — it’s not the order of things. You call someone who loses their spouse a widow, a toddler who loses their parent an orphan. Yet, there stays no word for a parent who loses their child, and that’s since it is an act against nature. A brutal loss one cannot prepare for.

In this scene, Sally Field wails in agony on the day of her daughter’s funeral. “It’s not alleged to occur this fashion,” she says, “I’m alleged to go first.” She would climb into that coffin and take her daughter’s place if she could, but she is left on this earth to hold on. Expected to proceed living, but how? Field effortlessly transitions from sadness to anger — just as grief plays out in various ways — so does Field’s Golde Globe-nominated performance. In one moment, tears run down her face as her body seems lifeless. Seconds later, her fury bubbles as her body becomes jittery with the adrenaline of her rage.

What would you do to shield your innocent child from the horrors of a concentration camp? What would you do to preserve his wonder and innocence within the face of unbridled cruelty and abuse? Would you concentrate on convincing him that it’s all a game? Guido makes his son, Goisue, consider that they earn points by adhering to strict rules, performing tasks, and hiding from the guards. Guido’s relentless optimism — his feigned sense of nonchalance and jocularity is without delay awe-inspiring and tragic. He is deathly afraid but keeps his fear from his child. 

In the top, Guido puts on one final performance for his son. He walks to his death. He winks before employing an exaggerated, circus-like gait. He knows he’s about to be shot, but he can’t let his son (who’s peeking out from his hiding place) see him falter. The movie shows the sacrifices a parent will make — and the strength they will summon — when their child’s spirit is on the road. 

“I hate you!” | ‘Room’ 2016

A small room along with his mother. In captivity. A day by day regimen of exercise and straightforward meals. Conversations only ever between two. It’s all Jack knows. Ma (Brie Larson) has protected him from the reality – from the fantastic thing about the skin world. She doesn’t want him to know they’re trapped — being held captive by his mother’s kidnapper. Yet, when he comes of age, so does the reality, as he’s going to assist them escape. 

Ma concocts a plan. She will make their captor consider Jack has died and wrap him up in the world rug on the ground (for him to remove). Once within the truck, Jack will roll out of the rug, jump out when the automotive stops, and start to yell for help. Yet, for this to work, the 2 should practice rolling him up real tight. They do it over and once again. He’s moving an excessive amount of. Not still enough. Not stiff enough. She gets offended. He gets offended. And finally, those dreadful words, as tears roll down his face, come out of his mouth — “I hate you!” Yet, this “I hate you” is so way more loaded than the angsty teenager’s you-don’t-get-me-esque-spiel. Jack doesn’t understand the depth of the situation. He isn’t sufficiently old to see that this isn’t a passing phase for his mother, but a last-ditch effort to create a life for the 2 of them. His innocence and aggravation combined along with her commitment and protective instinct ia simply an excessive amount of to face up to. Prepare for waterworks. 

“Every day I get up, and I hope you’re dead” | ‘Marriage Story’ 2019 

“Every day I get up, and I hope you’re dead. Dead like if I could guarantee Henry could be okay, I’d hope you get an illness after which get hit by a automotive, and die.” Bitter divorces bring out the worst in people. Divorces with years of bags on the helm — unspoken grievances, festering disappointments swept under the rug, parental conflicts never resolved. That’s what’s at play in Marriage Story. 

Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson), who once had probably the most tender relationship, have develop into enemies on the fray. They’ve each hired top-notch lawyers to drown the opposite. It’s malicious. It’s petty. It’s vindictive. And, at this moment, Charlie has had enough, and he utters words he can never take back. At this moment, he desires to inflict probably the most pain conceivable on his ex-wife, and while he may not mean these words, he’s seeing red and merely yearns for her undoing. He sees a path to “win” this battle they’ve each already irreversibly lost, and he takes it. 

This scene is less tear-jerking in its sadness and more shell-shocking. You stare on the screen frozen. Unable to process any dialogue that follows suit. Your eyes bulge on the extent of the vitriol spewed. It’s soul-shaking poignancy via Noah Baumbach’s deft dialogue and Driver’s authentic mixture of depletion, anger, and sorrow. 

For an animated children’s movie, Disney really tugs on the heartstrings with this one. Mufasa falls to his death in slow-motion, after his brother Scar aids in his destruction. Mufasa used all his strength and power to climb to the sting of that cliff, as Scar looked on with condemnation and disdain. Scar then contributes to his brother’s demise before snarkily uttering, “Long live the King.” Yet, it’s Simba’s response to his father’s death that’s unbearable.

Simba goes to search for his father, yelling “dad” among the many fog, only to come across Mufasa’s lifeless body.  Simba nestles his head into his father’s nose, and begs him to “stand up,” but nothing happens. He pulls on his ear. He cries for help, until finally accepting his father’s death and cuddling up next to him before Scar’s inevitable arrival. A baby mustn’t lose a parent before they arrive of age. Who is alleged to teach him to be king? Who might be his father now? 

Honorable Moving Mentions:

    • Up (2009): The opening scene, during which you watch a person fall in love with and lose his beloved wife all in montage format.
    • A Monster Calls (2017): When Conor, whose mother has been sick for quite a while, finally admits to himself that he just yearns for his agony to be over (virtually admitting that his mother’s death would bring some peace from the tragic anticipation). 
    • Jojo Rabbit (2019): When Jojo finds his mother hanging for her crimes and grabs her legs, squeezing on tight to the right mom he has lost. He tries to tie her shoes but fails, for he still needs her. He’s still not grown. 
    • Marley & Me (2008): When the dog dies (this needs no further explanation). 
    • Avengers: Endgame (2019): When Hawkeye and Black Widow fight over who will sacrifice themselves AND when Tony Stark sacrifices himself to bring back half of humankind. 
    • Beaches (1988): When Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings” plays as Hillary dies on the beach. Whether it’s the music, the moment or each is anyone’s guess. 
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