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by Indiewire Staff
July 29, 2011 2:28 AM
37 Comments
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Smithsonian Names "The Champ" the "Saddest Movie Ever." Here's Our Alternatives.

Franco Zeffirelli's 1979 boxing tearjerker "The Champ" has officially been named "the saddest movie of all time", not by an internet poll, but rather by a 23-year scientific study by psychologists Robert Levinson and James Gross as noted in Smithsonian.

The climactic scene, in which Jon Voight dies in the ring in front of his son, played by a sobbing Ricky Schroeder, has been used in psychological experiments to see if depressed people are more likely to cry than non-depressed people, among other things. Surprisingly, "Kramer vs. Kramer" took second place.

Now, "The Champ" may be the saddest movie ever, because as a film website, we're not going to argue with science. But as an indie film website, who knows more about sad movies than the indies? So we thought we'd offer a dozen of our favorite tearjerking (mostly indie) alternatives. Get your hankies out!

"Away From Her," directed by Sarah Polley

This Canadian indie garnered Oscar nominations for actress Julie Christie and writer/director Sarah Polley. It's basically an indie version of "The Notebook" that gets rid of the sappy adolescent romance but keeps the Alzheimer's-afflicted woman forgetting the love of her life.

"Au Hasard Balthazar," directed by Robert Bresson

This is another animal picture, but in many ways, it's also a Christ biopic. Robert Bresson's crowning masterwork is a restrained emotional epic that follows the tragic lives of a donkey named Balthazar and Marie, his angelic caretaker. Yes, Balthazar dies as an innocent victim of persecution, but unlike the normal dead pet movies, there are no overwhelming musical cues and no close-ups of crying faces. It's a simple tearjerker but it's definitely effective.

"Blind," directed by Frederick Wiseman

This Frederick Wiseman documentary is an unlikely addition to any list, but it could be the most inspiring tearjerker of all. Wiseman's camera follows blind children at the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, and if a ten-minute unbroken shot of a confident, unaccompanied blind toddler carefully making his way up and down flights of stairs doesn't melt your heart, nothing will.

"Boys Don't Cry," directed by Kimberly Pierce

One of the all-time great American indies, Kimberly Pierce's "Boys Don't Cry" boasts a gut-busting screenplay and brutally violent climactic scenes played to perfection by Chloe Sevigny, Peter Sarsgaard and - best of all - Hilary Swank, and the filmmakers' fury about Brandon Teena's murder is on the surface throughout.

"Dancer in the Dark," directed by Lars von Trier

Speaking of manipulative, this polarizing Lars von Trier film is the epitome of heavily constructed cinematic torture, but that hasn't stopped any of us from sobbing over the devastating fate of Bjork's Selma Jezkova. The final half-hour of "Dancer in the Dark" will repeat itself in our nightmares until von Trier makes a sadder film, which is pretty unlikely.

"Ikiru," directed by Akira Kurosawa

This is another film about the elderly, and Akira Kurosawa's small-scale masterpiece is - pun intended - the granddaddy of them all. When an old man finds out he will die of stomach cancer, he realizes he hasn't properly enjoyed his life and decides to funnel his savings into a playground. It's a classic.

"Kes," directed by Ken Loach

Ken Loach, the other master of bleak British "kitchen-sink realism," has a more uneven career than Mike Leigh, but its centerpiece, "Kes," is the ultimate film about a beloved pet. It's about an abused Yorkshire lad and his friendship with a falcon. The bird dies and everybody cries. The End.

"Make Way For Tomorrow," directed by Leo McCarey

This 1937 Leo McCarey film was forgotten for decades until last year's Criterion release. It's the story of an elderly couple, separated by financial woes and placed into the homes of their ungrateful children. Orson Welles said the film "could make a stone cry," and the film's final shot, in which the couple says their final goodbyes, is thoroughly heartbreaking without being manipulative.

"The Merchant of Four Seasons," directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder

This one is an underrated Rainer Werner Fassbinder classic. It's a simple morality tale about a lonely, alcoholic fruit seller and his achingly slow downfall. It was the first of Fassbinder's Sirk-inspired melodramas, which used insignificant people and their emotions to create big drama.

"The Son," directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne

The Dardenne Brothers have made some of the finest heartbreakers in recent years in their signature, minimalist style. This one is the morally ambiguous but nonetheless compelling story of a lonely carpenter who hires the teenager who murdered his son as his apprentice.

"Terms of Endearment," directed by James L. Brooks

It starts out a bit comedic, but descends into a heart-wrenching hypnosis. Terms of Endearment won multiple Oscars inlcuidng Best Director and Screenplay back in 1983. Would Hollywood have the guts to make this story-driven film about a mother-daughter relationship today?

"Vera Drake," directed by Mike Leigh

Someone needs to throw Mike Leigh a surprise party to cheer him up. The British auteur has crafted countless bleak visions of British working class life, but few are more devastating than 2004's "Vera Drake," the story of an illegal abortionist with a heart of gold, played by the great Imelda Staunton.

These were a dozen that iW came up with. Please share your "saddest movies ever" in Comments below.

37 Comments

  • Ellen | October 16, 2011 1:40 AMReply

    Old Yellar, without a doubt! Day of the Dolphins.
    Love Story

  • Manfred Le Baron | August 28, 2011 10:36 AMReply

    I have seen ‘The Champ’ @ least 30 times and I must say I never get bored watching it again when it is on TV...John Voight who played the down and out boxer trying to bring up his son the best way he could, Ricky Schroeder who played his son was absolutely brilliant. If actors can touch your mind and emotions then they have succeeded in showing the audience to why they had to do just that. I have wept many a times, wishing I could have been that child playing that part...I recommend this movie to anyone who loves to get the tissues out...I give the movie 10/10

    ‘The Elephant Man’ with John Hurt as John Merrick the elephant man was outstanding, one could feel the pain of John Merrick being treated as a freak. John Hurt was brilliant as always, sitting in the cinema I could hear the awe’s of the audience and also showing empathy for the character that Hurt, played so superbly.

  • allison_28560 | August 4, 2011 2:06 AMReply

    Without a doubt - Elvira Madigan - if you haven't seen it - you should - besides the music is the most beautiful ever written - Mozart Piano Concerto 21

  • J. T. Price | August 3, 2011 5:19 AMReply

    The diary of Ann Frank is a sad, sad movie.

  • Griz | August 3, 2011 4:54 AMReply

    Wit, with Emma Thompson and Christopher Lloyd.

    This movie has been used to teach doctors how NOT to interact with patients.

  • Mike | August 2, 2011 7:21 AMReply

    Philadelphia. and if you are a parent, Toy Story 3!

  • Brynne | August 2, 2011 5:20 AMReply

    Two of the saddest movies ever American history X end scene, and Alpha Dog when the real family is introduced also I am Sam is pretty sad

  • Rose | August 1, 2011 11:32 AMReply

    Mine Definately is Pay it Forward

  • Dr.Mike | August 1, 2011 2:37 AMReply

    The House of Sand and Fog

  • bwg | July 31, 2011 9:27 AMReply

    Has no one of the here seen "Old Yeller"? The saddest without a doubt.

  • Aron | July 31, 2011 6:27 AMReply

    One if the ones that always got me when I was younger, was "Where the Red Fern
    Grows"

  • Cydney | July 31, 2011 5:47 AMReply

    Brian's Song is the only movie that EVER made my brother cry, so I pretty much have to go with that, and Million Dollar Baby ....

  • Joan | July 31, 2011 5:34 AMReply

    Thought of another...
    "The Cider House Rules"

  • Joan | July 31, 2011 5:31 AMReply

    My Life Without Me.

  • k | July 31, 2011 3:42 AMReply

    Never seen any of these movies ....

  • Cryer | July 31, 2011 3:19 AMReply

    "The Other Side of the Mountain" with Marilyn Hassett and Beau Bridges

  • john of sparta | July 31, 2011 2:40 AMReply

    indie tearjerkers?
    ok. i'll play.
    here goes:
    The Boy With Green Hair.
    Imitation of Life.
    yes, b/w can cry.

  • J. Richards | July 31, 2011 2:17 AMReply

    The first time I saw Grave of the Fireflies the end was so wrenching I thought I was having a heart attack. I couldn't breathe. I had read that one shouldn't see it alone, but I thought I could handle anything.

  • jnolley | July 30, 2011 12:28 PMReply

    Umberto D.
    Heavy

  • Chemosh | July 30, 2011 11:07 AMReply

    All mine to give, Brokeback Mountain, Schindler's List

  • VoodooChild | July 30, 2011 5:26 AMReply

    No question: The English Patient.

    Almazy leaves his lover Catherine (who has just been severely injured in a plane crash) in the Cave of Swimmers to try and make the 3-day walk out of the desert to get help. He makes it through the desert but is immediately arrested by the British who mistake his Hungarian name for a German one. They're sending him to a POW camp when he manages to escape and - many days later - get back to the cave for Catherine, knowing of course that when he arrives she will have died during his overlong rescue mission - because of his vaguely German sounding name.

  • krop | July 30, 2011 5:24 AMReply

    Cinema Paradiso!!!

  • Carlos T. Jackal | July 30, 2011 3:34 AMReply

    "The Day The Clown Cried"

  • MKWOA | July 30, 2011 3:29 AMReply

    Love* story ever)

  • MKWOA | July 30, 2011 3:28 AMReply

    If "WALL-E" hadn't of had the happy ending, I am fairly confident I would have gone home and considered killing myself (also, used the film as a minor thesis paper in Film and Lit as greatest lose story ever).
    Not really a good movie, but "The United States of Leyland" left me in a horribly depressed way for several days. Really drives home the insignificance of everything, and that there is nothing but pain and sadness.

  • Laura | July 30, 2011 3:16 AMReply

    Schindler's List, especially at the end where the real families are introduced.

  • pamom | July 30, 2011 2:52 AMReply

    "Gone Baby Gone", "The Color Purple" -- and I concur with Brian's Song, the "couple" montage of Up, Boy in the Striped Pajamas, and Sophie's Choice.

  • jnik | July 30, 2011 2:48 AMReply

    "Imitation of Life".
    "Sophie's Choice".
    "Titanic"; last 15 minutes.

  • crazeeferret | July 30, 2011 2:28 AMReply

    The original "Sweet November" with Sandy Dennis...I NEVER cry at movies, but that one got me.

  • Vic | July 30, 2011 1:53 AMReply

    Brian's Song??????

  • marko27 | July 30, 2011 1:18 AMReply

    "Gallipoli". The best war - and anti-war movie ever......

  • Notananimal | July 29, 2011 12:53 PMReply

    The Elephant Man hands down...

  • Nic | July 29, 2011 12:51 PMReply

    "grave of the fireflies"
    "they kill horses, don't they?"
    "up" first fifteen minutes

  • hihi88 | July 29, 2011 12:51 PMReply

    Biutiful should be right up there with Au Hasard Balthazar. Honestly I don't know how you would include Boys Don't Cry. It's sad, but not on a deeply-kill-me-now type of way. Everything else makes you tear at your heart.

  • SmartyPants | July 29, 2011 10:02 AMReply

    How about "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas"? Or "Sophie's Choice"?

  • Steven Flores | July 29, 2011 8:06 AMReply

    Hello! "Bicycle Thieves"?!!!! That's what I'm saying. "The Elephant Man" is one hell of a weepie.

  • Erik | July 29, 2011 6:41 AMReply

    um, Bicycle Thief??