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10 Impressively Anguished Cry Faces in Film

By  · Published on June 3rd, 2014

Claire Danes Cry Face

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 of 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.

Brad Pitt in Se7en (1995)

We’re all aware of what’s in the box. A little too aware. But before Detectives Mills (Brad Pitt) and Somerset (Morgan Freeman) arrive at their gruesome, final destination, they’re on a quest to uncover a serial killer’s seven deadly sins-related murders. Everyone loves a theme party, right? Except, when the duo finds out that the very last nodule in the killer’s plan involves something very personal, something…in a box…Mills loses it.

His crying, incoherent babbling (errrghhhhwhatsinthabox?) and need to wave a loaded gun around are all understandable in the moment. So is firing his gun at the person who wrapped the box, because man, is it messed up. He’s a man in the midst of a psychotic break, and he plays it strikingly well.

Mark Carlton in Heathers (1988)

Veronica Sawyer’s teenage angst had a body count thanks to her dreamy yet damaged new boyfriend, JD, and therefore they had a lot of funerals to attend. While there were many a protracted crying scene to choose from in this sobfest – whether or not anyone is actually sad isn’t a real concern – the best comes in the form of a character who doesn’t even really have a name.

He shows up for a brief moment to pay a touching tribute to his son, the football hero who was found (naked) in the woods with his best friend (in a compromising position) surrounded by some of their favorite items (sparkling water). It’s a slobbery, jumbled, but ever so dad-like nod to his kid: “I love my dead, gay son!” Maybe it’s the delivery, maybe it’s the fact that the boys are in twin caskets wearing their full football uniforms that makes it so absurd.

Claire Danes in Romeo + Juliet (1996)

There is nobody who has mastered the art of the ugly cry like Claire Danes. From her days pining after Jordan Catalano on My So-Called Life, to her time alternating between interrogations and casually bursting into tears on Homeland, Danes has got the cry face down to a science. It’s something to behold, really. The chin goes first. It’s a little quiver, then the furrowed brow, then the voice starts to waver. The waterworks start after that and they can’t be held back. In Baz Luhrmann’s Shakespearean adaptation, teen Danes turns on her faucets when Romeo drinks his poison after believing her to be dead – moments before she awakens from her prolonged sleep. Crazy kids and their hormones.

Sylvester Stallone in First Blood (1982)

When Vietnam veteran John Rambo has flashbacks to his time as a POW while in a sleepy but strict Washington town, it isn’t good news for anyone involved. The result of his warpath is a standoff in the local police station, where the authorities have told him that it’s the end of the line – he’s got to give it up or die. Rambo stops his current war and recalls the horrors of his previous fights, seeing a friend die brutally at the hands of the Viet Cong, and witnessing the ravages of a terrible war. He weeps while he recants this story, but since this is Sylvester Stallone, so it’s mostly unintelligible mumbling dotted with poignancy.

Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give (2003)

Diane Keaton is a strong, sensual women who doesn’t need no man, but in this rom-com full of surprisingly depressing little tidbits about life post-marriage and kids, her Erica apparently needs Jack Nicholson’s Harry more than life itself. Their on again, off again relationship, which is sparked after he has a fling with her daughter and neither of them find that creepy at all, comes to an end finally when Harry decides to sow his wild oats.

It’s apparently too much for Erica to handle, so she goes on a casual three-day crying jag to compensate. Cue an endless montage of heaving, racking sobs, mounds of tissues and the screwed-up face of a person with nothing left to lose. For about two whole minutes. Calm yourself, lady.

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