Movie Tearjerkers: What’s the Saddest Scene in Cinema?

According this fascinating piece in The Smithsonian, Franco Zeffirelli’s 1979 weepfest The Champ is the most consistently effective tearjerker in the history of film. It’s also the tearjerker most often used in scientific studies of grief and sadness:

The Champ has been used in experiments to see if depressed people are more likely to cry than non-depressed people (they aren’t). It has helped determine whether people are more likely to spend money when they are sad (they are) and whether older people are more sensitive to grief than younger people (older people did report more sadness when they watched the scene). Dutch scientists used the scene when they studied the effect of sadness on people with binge eating disorders (sadness didn’t increase eating).

We would have gone with either the last scene of West Side Story or that devastating 1989 Negro College Fund commercial with the pennies. Feel free to post your own candidates in the comments.

via Neatorama

Sheerly Avni is a San Francisco-based arts and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Weekly, Mother Jones, and many other publications. You can follow her on twitter at @sheerly.

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Comments (11)
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  • Michaela says:

    Bette Midler’s Beaches is my guaranteed cryfest movie

  • NetstaOz says:

    Old Yella….nuff said

  • Sharon says:

    Steel Magnolias,Terms of Endearment, Diary of Ann Frank, Schindler’s List

  • llacigart says:

    sophie’s choice~thought the acting was off the charts but only watched it once, can’t do it again ;(

  • Teri says:

    I always seem to cry when Bruce Willis character dies in Armaggeddon. I don’t know what it is…. first time I saw the movie I couldn’t believe there wasn’t a twist where he would live!

  • Adam says:

    Three words, Brooks Was Here

  • Bernard Wolf says:

    The last scene in Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights” where he comes face to face with the blind flower girl who can see now because of his efforts that she didn’t know about until this moment…..
    it’s a killer.

  • Dennis in Ohio says:

    It was Sophie’s Choice for me. I was inconsoulable for about an hour. The whole audience was in tears – anyone with children would have to have inhuman to not be brought to tears. Of course I loved Streep in her role – it was perfect as usual – the rest of the cast not so much, but my God, did I cry like a baby and just thinking about it for weeks afterwards would get me going again!

  • Lucie says:

    400 Blows

  • jeff says:

    sorry but life is beautiful wins!!!

  • Liz says:

    I’ve done mood induction research in my lab and used the Champ. Very effective sadness induction. I also agree with a previous post on Steel Magnolias as a good alternative. Shelby’s funeral scene Malynn recount’s her daughter’s passing…classic. That said, the separation scene b/w Celie and Nettie in the Color Purple has got to be one of the saddest 2 minute film clips available. Really outstanding.

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