When people think about tears, they usually associate them with sadness. But once in a blue moon, one sees something so hopeful and cathartic that they start to cry. From It's A Wonderful Life (1946) to Babe (1995), these movies have moments of pure joy that bring viewers to tears.
1. Big Fish (2003)
Big Fish is a fantastical Tim Burton film about a journalist who returns to his ailing father's side before the older man's death. While there, the journalist's father tells far-fetched stories about his life that his son never took seriously. But once his father passes, he uses his investigative skills to dig deeper into the stories. He reveals a shocking and heartwarming truth about his family that brings many viewers to tears.
2. Cinema Paradiso (1988)
Cinema Paradiso is a tale of an intergenerational love of cinema that could make even the most hardened film buff shed a tear. It follows a young man struggling to cope with the war overtaking his Sicilian hometown. His only escape is the local cinema, where he finds a mentor in the projectionist. Years later, the young man takes over as projectionist, but his mentor urges him to follow his dreams of becoming a filmmaker.
3. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Little Miss Sunshine is a heartwarming tale about a family who comes together to support the youngest member's dreams, no matter the cost. When the youngest daughter of a family decides to compete in a pageant, her mother, father, brother, and other extended family members band together to transport her across the states to compete. On their journey, their van constantly breaks down, and the family has introspective discussions that make the audience emotional.
4. It's A Wonderful Life (1946)
This holiday classic has made audiences cry with joy for over 70 years. Struggling with a barrel of problems that feels like it's about to overflow, a man considers taking his own life as Christmas fast approaches. But just as he climbs a bridge to finish his tragic task, his guardian angel appears, bringing him on a whirlwind journey through his past good deeds and showing him what the world would look like if he'd never been born.
5. Pick of the Litter (2018)
Movies about dogs often make people cry, but this time, it's not because the adorable pup dies. Pick of the Litter is a documentary about a litter of puppies on track to become guide dogs for the blind one day. The film follows the puppies from birth through their two years of training until they get matched with the perfect owner.
6. The Color Purple (1985)
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker, The Color Purple takes an unflinching look at racism, abuse, and hope. It's about a Black woman in the early-20th century South, spanning over decades of abuse from her father and husband. The story places hope at the forefront. Despite her terrible situation, the woman never stops dreaming of connecting with her sister in Africa.
7. Erin Brockovich (2000)
Erin Brockovich is a biographical drama based on the life of its titular paralegal environmental activist. In a tight spot, her lawyer takes pity on her and hires her as a paralegal assistant. While working on a case, she discovers a gas company's attempts to cover up a deadly chemical leak in a town's drinking water. Refusing to back down, the woman does whatever it takes to bring the company down and find justice for the people they hurt.
8. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
When a single father with deep financial struggles gets evicted from his apartment, he and his young son have nowhere to stay and no way of paying for a room. The father never gives up as challenge after challenge comes into his path. Eventually, he finds a job as a door-to-door salesman to make enough money to house him and his kid. The ending will cause even the most hardened cynic to burst into tears.
9. Babe (1995)
Babe is an endearing tale about a farmer who buys a piglet to raise to put on his family's dinner plates but decides to wait until after placing him in the county fair's prize pig contest. While on the farm, the pig befriends a bright border collie who teaches him how to herd the sheep. Can the pig's unique talent save his life, or will he become a ham after the county fair contest?
10. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
When an innocent man gets sentenced to two consecutive life sentences, it feels like all hope is gone. But over nineteen years in prison, he meets other inmates that change his life forever. By the film's end, you will surely shed a few tears from sadness, anger, and joy.
11. Contact (1997)
This powerful sci-fi film examines what could happen if we contact an alien life force that is much more intelligent than humanity. When a space scientist receives a message from space and confirms it's an alien life force, she also detects a code that could contain a secret message. At the film's end, she gives a heartfelt speech to convince her superiors to let her continue the mission, which makes many fans cry because of her inspiring words.
12. Jojo Rabbit (2019)
Is there a Holocaust film that doesn't cause its audience to burst into tears for one reason or another? Jojo Rabbit takes place in Germany at the end of World War II and follows a young boy who joins his local Hitler Youth group and becomes imbued with fascist ideals. When the child happens upon a Jewish girl his mother hid in their attic, he begrudgingly befriends her despite his hateful views. As he contends with his beliefs, his imaginary friend version of Adolf Hitler helps him think through his ideals and what truly matters to him.
13. Won't You Be My Neighbor? (2018)
This documentary takes a detailed look at the life of the beloved Fred Rogers, star of the children's series Mister Rogers' Neighborhood (1968-2001). An in-depth examination of this empathetic, kindhearted man will make some viewers shed a tear of joy.
14. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
Taika Waititi's lesser-known film Hunt for the Wilderpeople deserves more recognition for its ability to make audiences laugh and cry soon after without missing a beat. When a boy moves in with a new foster family, he bonds with the woman while her husband stays out of the way. But when the woman passes, the boy burns down the house and runs away. The man follows him into the brush, setting off a police search when the authorities believe the man kidnapped the boy.
15. Rudy (1993)
Rudy is an inspiring biographical drama based on the life of talented football player Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger. After his best friend dies in an accident at the steel mill Rudy's father — and most of the men in town — work at, Rudy becomes determined to escape a life living paycheck to paycheck, working a dangerous job. But his hopes of earning a scholarship to Notre Dame to play football fall flat because his dyslexia prevents him from doing well in school. That is until a life-changing mentor helps Rudy overcome his challenges and earn a spot at the coveted university.
16. Lion (2016)
Based on a true story, Lion tells the touching tale of a five-year-old Indian boy named Saroo who gets separated from his family on a train that takes him across India to Kolkata, far from his family home. There, he learns to scavenge on the streets before an Australian family adopts him. When Saroo becomes an adult, he can't stop thinking about the foggy memories of his first family and tries with all of his might to reunite with them.
17. Field of Dreams (1989)
Field of Dreams is a sports fantasy film that explores and dispels some human fears about death, making many fans tear up as they watch. After a farmer hears a ghostly voice instructing him to build a baseball diamond on his farm, he follows the instructions. Despite everyone calling him crazy, his plan works, and the baseball diamond brings the spirits of dead baseball players back to life on the field for one final game.
18. CODA (2021)
CODA takes place in a coastal city where a seventeen-year-old girl lives with her family and plans to join the family fishing business full-time after graduation. Her parents and older brother are deaf, so she is the only hearing member of her family. As she helps out with the family business, she signs up for choir on a whim and discovers a passion for singing. This tearjerker of a film grapples with finding the balance between supporting your family and following your dreams.
19. Your Name. (2016)
This heartwarming anime follows a girl who lives in rural Japan and one day wakes up in the body of a teenage boy who lives in Tokyo. It turns out the two swap bodies and return to their own at night when they sleep. The two become friends as they help each other overcome life's challenges. But what happens when they finally meet up with one another in person?
20. Coco (2017)
Movies with themes about following dreams and overcoming generational trauma tend to make people tear up, and this philosophy applies to the animated Disney film Coco. Generations back in a boy's family, his great-grandmother banned music because her husband abandoned her and her child to start a music career. Years later, her great-grandson secretly harbors a passion for music before he accidentally wanders into the realm of the dead. There, the spirits help him uncover secrets about his family's past as he attempts to return to the world of the living.
21. Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002)
This classic, family-friendly animated film follows a wild stallion who leads his herd. But when humans find the horse, they capture and try to tame him. As the stallion resists all attempts to break him, he falls in love with a mare and tries to convince her to follow him back to the wild. But his human captors refuse to back down until the bitter end. Spirit's epic quest takes the viewer on an emotional rollercoaster that will cause a few tears to fall.
22. Fly Away Home (1996)
When a teenage girl's mom dies in a tragic accident, she must move to Canada to live with her estranged father. Struggling to connect with her dad, she finds a nest of abandoned goose eggs and convinces her dad to care for them and teach them how to migrate south for the winter. As the two work together on this challenge, they realize they have more in common than they thought.
23. Good Will Hunting (1997)
Good Will Hunting follows an impeccably intelligent young man who works as a janitor at MIT due to his lower-class upbringing. But he catches a professor's attention when he quickly solves a challenging proof on a whiteboard outside a classroom. After the man punches a police officer, the professor manages to keep him out of prison by getting him a therapist, who ultimately helps him overcome his profound self-esteem issues and pursue a happy life.
24. Moonlight (2016)
This heartfelt coming-of-age drama presents three chapters of a young man's life as he grows up in Miami's harsh, impoverished areas. As he struggles with his sexuality and watches the people around him succumb to drug addiction, he struggles to come to terms with his identity and beliefs. Each chapter of the film contains hopeful moments that make viewers cry.