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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