EDITORIAL: The Elusive "Guy-Cry" Movies
I was recently swept up in a conversation about when, as a man, I've ever cried at a movie. I happily admitted that I'm a softy and have cried at plenty of movies, but still draw the line for some that are supposed to make us men cry. It got me to asking my friends, doing some thinking, and digging up some research on this much-debated topic of what makes for a good "guy-cry" movie.
It's been a fun debate because, while there are some universally sad movies (see the CIVIL AND HISTORICAL ATROCITIES section below), what makes men cry at a movie and women cry at a movie are very different things. Different memories and emotions are called upon for both sides. The reasons why men and women cry at a movie and when they feel comfortable to do so are also different too.
In all of my research, I found that from a mentality standpoint the most sarcastically simple example of the difference between men and women crying at a movie is this two-sided diatribe from Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson in Sleepless in Seattle (now a happily married Hollywood couple). Boiling it down, it's as simple as this conversation. Check it out. See what I mean? So, for more of that debate and a plethora of examples and questions, please come on in and read on. However, I must warn you: ***MANY SPOILERS AHEAD!***. Below, I have categorized the kinds and genres of movies that make us men cry. I present the chapters of guy-cry movies:
WAR AND PATRIOTISM
Since Tom Hanks' Sam Baldwin character brought it up, one of the chief culprits to press the tears out of grown men are the hardships, loyalty, sacrifice, and brotherhood of war and heroics in the name of patriotism and one's country. Here are some military guy-cry examples:
The Dirty Dozen-- The Sleepless in Seattle scene outlined it best, even with sarcasm. Go back to that first clip.
Black Hawk Down-- Several death scenes hit the mark in this Ridley Scott classic based on the true story of American conflict in 1993 Somalia, but the most poignant is the sacrifice by Randy Shugart and Gary Gordon (nice video tribute, including scenes and music from the movie).
The Patriot-- Mel Gibson sells anguish in a lot of his movies, but he has some winning cuts here. When he has urge his clearly-too-young-to-fully-comprehend sons to fight and rescue their brother while tears stream down their faces (clip) is right there with the death of Heath Ledger later and the church burning scene. Even Mel rolling onto the final battlefield with that American flag waving can hit a patriotic chord.
Braveheart-- Mel's best still resides right here. It always will.
Gladiator-- "Go to them..."
Independence Day-- That impromptu July 4th airfield speech from President Lonestarr... err... Whitmore got more than a few of us men riled up.
Clear and Present Danger-- There's a subtly layered scene depicting the death of American soldiers combined with a 21-gun salute funeral for the James Earl Jone character that fits nicely into this category.
Glory-- From the moment Colonel Shaw steps out and we get a spirited "Give 'em hell, 54th" all the way to the final charge and mass burial, the emotions run incredibly high thanks to the haunting vocals of the Boys Choir of Harlem.
Grace is Gone-- Not just men serving their country can tug the heartstrings, but women can do it to us men too. Check out the trailer to this little-known John Cusack gem.
By far, the second biggest and most successful genre of films to get us men to cry are sports films. From the camaraderie of teammates, to the thrill of victory, and the comeback and underdog stories that everyone loves, these movies leave men in puddles:
Field of Dreams-- For every boy who's every played catch with his father and for those who never got the chance.
Brian's Song-- It may have been just a TV movie, but it has reached legendary guy-cry status.
Rudy-- If you can't get hyped when Rudy Reuttiger finally gets into the game, then you don't have a pulse. A movie for everyone who was never big enough to play sports.
Rocky-- Even before the final round, final bell, and all that "Adrian!!!!!," this is the quintessential underdog story. Don't bother with any of the sequels and go straight to the last one from 2006 and you've got a great young/old/beginning/end life story.
Million Dollar Baby-- The moment when our guy Clint Eastwood tells Hilary Swank what "mo chuisle" means before doing what he was asked to do will hit you harder than any right or left hook (a clip I sadly can't find online).
8 Seconds-- When Tuff Hedeman takes that last bull ride twice, once for him and once for his fallen friend, Lane Frost, your country heart will stir more than just mashed potatoes. The director of Rocky gets it right twice.
The Natural-- The sparks from the lights aren't the only things streaming down on that last Robert Redford home run.
The Pride of the Yankees-- Gary Cooper doing his best Lou Gehrig echo is one for the old school.
Remember the Titans-- Gotta love the Disney touch and good history!
Hoosiers-- The Rocky of basketball movies is well worth its place on this list. That final shot will have your on your feet the way Rudy does.
The Express-- Much like Bang the Drum Slowly, this true story of the first black Heisman winner succumbing to terminal illness before playing in the pros is an underrated addition to this list. It's not as good as Brian's Song, but worth a look.
Miracle-- Come on! That amazing 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team makes this list.
The Blindside-- A small contender with the big boys above it, but it started a few sniffles.
The Karate Kid-- The new 2009 film amplifies the mentor-student relationship from the original and generates just as good stand-up-and-cheer tears as Hoosiers.
Sometimes, even those cult classic movies of nerd-dom carry a few scenes that get even the Comic Book Salesmen from The Simpsons to cry:
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan-- Spock sacrificing himself and saying goodbye to Kirk.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day-- Arnold saying goodbye to a tearful John Connor wasn't too bad, either.
The Return of the Jedi-- Darth Vader saving his son and looking upon him for the first time squeezed a few out of the fanboys.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King-- Viggo Mortenson was clearly taking lessons from Mel Gibson and, just when you think it's all for Frodo, Samwise shows that Rudy Reutigger's still got it. After all, they bow to no one.
CIVIL AND HISTORICAL ATROCITIES
I call these the "automatics." There is no gender bias. These movies hit hard for everyone, not just men, for their sheer power and true stories. The toughest of the tough can't hold back tears to some of these:
Schindler's List-- The Holocaust could be it's own category, but the list starts here with Steven Spielberg's masterwork. The entire movie redefines somber, sorrow, and hope but few scenes punctuate that better than the red dress amongst the black and white and Liam Neeson's final regrets.
The Pianist-- It can't compete with Schindler's List, but a good montage right here makes the list.
Amistad-- I can't even in good conscience post the slave boat scenes, but they pack a punch.
United 93-- Even when you know the result that is coming, the harrowing final seconds raise a fleeting hope that maybe they will just make it after all. Instead, the silence that created heroes lingers.
Hotel Rwanda-- If the terrible scenes of genocide don't strike a nerve, reuniting family in the end sure will.
The Passion of the Christ-- The whole film had people sharing tissues, but one scene that stuck out in this reviewer's mind was Mary watching Jesus fall and remembering back to his youth.
Driving Miss Daisy-- Finding friendship in the time of bitter southern segregation works here as well.
MAN'S BEST FRIEND
Sometimes, man or a boy's closest friend is his dog or pet (and this works on women too). These make for some classic guy-cry scenes:
Old Yeller-- The long-standing original of this field that changed generations of young boys. Who can forget the crackle of that musket?
Marley and Me-- A modern entry into the loving pet department that most men are trying not to admit that they teared up too. All it takes is five seconds (insert sarcasm).
Turner and Hooch-- So not on the level of the first two, but seeing Hooch die got to a few men.
Dances With Wolves-- While Two Socks was a wolf and not a dog, his kinship with Kevin Costner's Dunbar was unique and it was sad to see him go.
Prison is an unlikely place and face to find sentimental tears, but these three here make for a esteemed gold, silver, and bronze podium of powerful guy-cry moments:
The Shawshank Redemption-- That hug on the beach had no overtones to it at all. If you saw the movie (as I'm sure you have, 137 times before on TNT), you would understand completely.
The Green Mile-- When gentle giant John Coffey is forced to "ride the lightning," he goes out with a self-sacrificing grace and fear little seen elsewhere. "Cheek to Cheek" may just haunt you like it does me when you hear it.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest-- The slow deterioration of the enigmatic McMurphy throughout the final act makes our quiet Chief's final act all the more powerful and profound.
MACHO FATHERS, BROTHERS, AND SONS
Just as with soldiers, athletes, prisoners, and pets, another deep level of compassion, camaraderie, loyalty, and love within men is the role of being a father, brother, or a son. To a young boy, his father is his first hero and his big brother is his first friend and idol. When tragedy strikes these relationships, you can open the male flood gates.
Backdraft-- Whether it gets you at the beginning with a father's heroic death or with a brother's heroic death at the end, you will gain a new-found respect for fireman. The Chicago funeral scene is epic. Want more? "You go, we go!" and "That's my brother..."
Ladder 49-- While the movie can't hold a firehouse to Backdraft, it pulls of it's own respectful drama quite well. Take a look.
The Pursuit of Happyness-- Will Smith showing the lengths a father will go to create a livelihood for his family (including his own son, Jaden) is incredibly powerful.
John Q.-- Speaking of lengths a father will go for his son, I dare you not to get swept up in Denzel Washington's outstanding strength and determination to get his son a heart transplant.
Con Air-- While this could fall a little bit under the same category as Armageddon, listening to a great Trisha Yearwood song and watching a beat-up and exhausted Nicolas Cage hand over a dirty rabbit stuffed animal to the daughter he is seeing and meeting for the first time might just trick a few tears out if the bad Cage accent doesn't get in the way.
Forrest Gump-- Perfect alongside the touching display of the handicapped in I Am Sam, watch Tom Hanks meet and subtly worry about his own shortcomings affecting his son in an overlooked, yet nice scene from Forrest Gump. To me, this is the scene where he won his Oscar for this part. And look how cute Haley Joel Osment used to be!
Good Will Hunting-- While Robin Williams' professor isn't Matt Damon's father, he certainly qualifies as a father figure to a man who lacks one. Great stuff!
Dead Poets Society-- Teachers can be father figures as well! Carpe diem!
With Honors-- Or teachers who aren't exactly teachers too!
Shane-- Speaking of father figures, our little Joe calling out for Alan Ladd to come back when he might just riding to his death makes for one of the poignant western scenes of all time.
Big Fish-- Here's a great example where a son looks up to and tries to live up the potential of his father his whole life, yet has to see him go out on his terms.
Life as a House-- In another case of terminal illness pushing a father to reconcile and change his ways, Kevin Kline and Hayden Christensen surprise in this little-seen movie from 2002.
A River Runs Through It-- A nice story for brothers who, may be opposites but, are always bound by the upbringing and home they shared as youths.
In some cases, the movies that got a boy to cry when he was young might still get to him as an adult, especially if it clicks with a memory from his youth or envisioning still being a child. Take these family films:
The Fox and the Hound-- This 1981 classic touched the hearts of the 70's generation.
E.T.-- This got every young boy of the 80's. So many good scenes!
The Lion King-- Mufasa's death got every young boy of the 90's.
The Iron Giant-- Who knew a weaponized robot who think he's Superman could get us choked up.
Wall-E-- Speaking of robots, this little heroic and lovestruck trash compactor was the cutest robot to almost not make it since Johnny 5 in Short Circuit. I particularly like the scene when Eva sees how much Wall-E watched and looked after her while she was down.
The Bridge to Terabithia-- Childhood friendship reflecting loss at it's best.
Up-- I dare anyone, guy or not, to make it through the first ten minutes and "married life" montage with dry cheeks.
FINALLY, THE CHICK FLICKS, THE ONES MEN WILL NEVER ADMIT TO!
This is it! These are for the ladies. This the category that contain films that few men are likely to admit to shedding a tear to, yet many likely have in secret. These movies are the quintessential "chick flicks" and are a gray area for men. This is where the "maybes" and question marks come up. So, for each, we pose the question, gentleman: "Did you or didn't you?"
Sleepless in Seattle-- For the same reason we started this, did the ending here do anything for you?
The Way We Were-- So much woulda-coulda-shoulda in this Barbara Streisand/Robert Redford classic, but is it enough for the guys to fall for it too?
Harold and Maude-- Classic sad ending in an oldie, but goodie.
Pretty Woman-- Prostitute with a heart of gold or a millionaire who actually has a heart?
Sommersby-- Richard Gere calling out before getting hung and having Jodie Foster call back makes this list on it's own without the rest of the movie.
Ghost-- "I love you. Ditto!"
Romeo + Juliet-- Befor Leonardo DiCaprio was breaking hearts as Jack Dawson, he was practicing here updating Shakespeare thanks to visionary director Baz Luhrmann.
Message in a Bottle-- Nicholas Sparks could have his own category within the category. Go ahead and throw on A Walk to Remember, Dear John, and Nights in Rodanthe in for good measure.
Return to Me-- Great underappreciated drama/comedy about a widower who falls unknowingly for the woman received his dead wife's heart in a transplant. It sound preposterous, but it is truly touching and funny.
The Cider House Rules-- Little Fuzzy stole the show from all the abortion angles, especially when we lose him.
Stepmom-- Guys will cry for fathers, but few will admit to crying for mom too.
The Notebook-- 800lb gorilla #2 and Nicholas Sparks working it. Kissing in the rain or James Garner and Gena Rowlands doing their best work? Or both? Don't lie. When you're done admitting it, go buy yourself a swell t-shirt.
The Lake House-- No man will admit to crying when Keanu "Neo" Reeves almost bites it.
P.S., I Love You-- It joined The Notebook as an almost instant Kleenex classic. It's best tear-jerking moment might just be a little-seen deleted scene from the DVD consisting of the only time you see Gerry sick.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button-- There's a sweet little moment in a montage of Benjamin's final days growing younger where his 2-3 year-old body stops while holding Daisy's hand walking and reaches up to kiss her. On the surface with no context, it's innocent, but knowing the characters' history, it echoes their deep connection and impending loss.
Australia-- In another Baz Luhrmann flick, reuniting a family saved from the bombing Japanese and Aboriginal racial segregation gets the ladies and might have gotten the guys too. If Hugh Jackman can cry, why can't you too? That's consent right?
Well, what do you think? Men, did I miss any movies that you care to admit to? Ladies, did I cross any lines? Share and comment your thoughts, moments, and favorites after this article! Thanks!