There’s a way to do sadness in film, and there’s a way to make sadness all about you. Many of our favorite films feature a heartbreaking scene or two that tug at the emotions ever so gently, but there are some that take that premise and run with it all the way to the cry bank by using the supreme talents of their actors and their abilities to tear-up like there’s no tomorrow.
Can you scrunch up your face and look like death’s just arrived?
Excellent, Claire Danes, we’ll see you tomorrow. From Danes to Brando, here are some truly impressive cry faces.
Tommy Wiseau in The Room (2003)
Tommy Wiseau’s masterpiece is known for many things: his insistence at clothing every character in the bargain bin from Express circa 1995; the incessant tracking shots back and forth across the Golden Gate Bridge to inform audiences that yes, this film takes place in San Francisco; the need to get up in the middle of conversations and just play some good old fashioned catch sometimes; and the remarkable ability of Lisa’s mother to have breast cancer one minute and never speak of it again. But it’s the gut wrenching scene when Johnny, the future-husband of the diabolical tramp Lisa, has finally discovered that she’s been carrying out an affair with his best friend, Mark, that solidifies why this film resonates so soundly with the cult set.
Johnny retreats to his bedroom after his ruined birthday party to wallow in his misery, smashing everything he can find in his path — breakups are hard, dude. On his way upstairs he stops to sob and yell and sob some more, sniffing a dress here, flinging a TV there. It’s the ugliest cry that ever cried, and it ends ever so dramatically. He’s fed up with this world.
Tom Hanks in Cast Away (2000)
It should be noted, firstly, that whenever Tom Hanks cries, the world cries with him. He’s America’s dad. It’s like watching a bald eagle cry. So naturally, anything the man makes that features even the slightest chance of an emotional subplot is fair game. But Cast Away is somehow the most effective, if only because it’s the strangest.
Who knew that one of the most touching friendships ever recorded in film would be carried out between one troubled man and his trusty volleyball? The relationship between Chuck and Wilson the volleyball was steady throughout the castaway’s time on the island, and became the only strength he had to keep him going when he found the courage to try to escape. When the time for that great escape came and Chuck headed for the open ocean, the situation turns even more dire when Wilson drifts away from the raft. Lose a chance for survival or the best friend he’s had in years? It’s Sophie’s choice, and Chuck’s anguish is exceedingly evident as he yells and sobs over WILSONNNNNN.
Noah Hathaway in The NeverEnding Story (1984)
In what is still probably the most traumatizing part of any child’s (or adult’s), film repertoire, the scene in which our intrepid hero Atreyu attempts to coax his horse out of the Swamp of Sadness is just devastating. If you’ve ever had nightmares about losing your pet, then you’ll recognize the despair and panic Atreyu is experiencing trying to pull Artax out of the muddy, oily swamp.
It’s an earnest and desperate cry that turns into begging; that horse is sinking and there’s no amount of persuasion that his tears will stop it. It’s like every old Lassie short combined with a lesson from Child Acting 101.
Anna Chlumsky in My Girl (1991)
There’s probably not a soul alive who can get through this film without a couple tissues, and if you can, I commend you (or maybe we should all avoid you?), because it’s emotional napalm in several categories: father-daughter relationships, girls and coming of age stories, first loves and unrequited crushes, beautiful friendships, unprecedented Macaulay Culkin deaths and the danger of hornets. Not even once, kids.
You know the drill: little bespectacled Thomas J. (Macaulay Culkin) goes off to the woods to search for Vada’s (Anna Chlumsky) mood ring and gets stung by hornets, and he dies from the subsequent allergic reaction and breaks our hearts forever. At his funeral, it’s little Vada’s ugly, raw sorrow and insistence that someone should “Put on his glasses! He can’t see without his glasses!” that makes this more than sad; it’s definitive. Picture that tiny, wailing child. Are you sad, or are you Vada Sultenfuss grieving Thomas J. sad? That’s what I thought.
Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
There’s nothing quite aesthetically ugly about Marlon Brando’s crying face, but everything Stanley Kowalski stands for in his iconic scene when he calls for his wife one last time is truly repugnant. He’s drunk, brash, crude and angry; having gotten what he’s wanted the whole film — to finally get Blanche out of their lives — he’s now set on Stella going back to their apartment to resume her role as his dutiful wife once again.
But she’s seen what he’s done, and fearing for herself and their unborn baby, she’s more hesitant this time to answer to his every beck and call. “STELLA, HEY STELLA” is iconic for a reason; it’s pathetic and immature, the Peter Gabriel boombox of flimsy apologies. Now if only the Simpsons musical version existed in real life.