Scientists reveal saddest movie scene in history

Franco Zeffirelli’s 1979 movie The Champ, a remake of the 1931 movie of the same name, is considered to contain the saddest scene in the history of film, according to the Smithsonian website. The film stars Ricky Schroder as a grief-stricken boy who watches his father, played by Jon Voight, die in front of his eyes. Scientists have used the scene in psychological tests to determine whether depressed people are more likely to cry than non-depressed people when watching the clip; whether sad people are more inclined to spend money and whether older people are more likely to feel sadness when watching the scene than younger people. The film became a benchmark to use in scientific studies in 1988 when University of California psychology prof Robert Levenson and his graduate student, James Gross, asked film buffs, critics, colleagues and video store employees to tell them which movie scenes had moved them the most, to determine which short film clip would elicit a strong emotional response in laboratory settings. They evaluated more than 250 films. Ricky won a Golden Globe for his outstanding performance, which can be seen below in the emotional clip used by the scientists. Watch it and tell us what you think — is it the saddest movie scene you’ve ever seen? If not, which other scene from a movie made you cry the most?

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Comments & Discussion

  1. Angela • July 28, 2011 @ 12:25 AM

    I saw that movie when I was a kid and I remember crying and crying after that scene. Another one that made me cry was The Notebook.

  2. eric • July 28, 2011 @ 12:20 AM

    I disagree. Its much more sad to see a parent bury their child than for a child to lose their parent. The Green Mile is the saddest movie Ive seen.

  3. anonymous2 • July 28, 2011 @ 2:15 AM

    I think what happpened to the dog at the end of Marley and Me was the saddest.

  4. Germain • July 28, 2011 @ 7:38 AM

    I see what your saying Eric but if you have seen this movie, you’ll know that his dad was everything to him, kids will usually have someone to comfort them like his mother, sister, brother, uncle and so on but this kid had no one else. His dad was his hero, mentor, friend. I remember seeing this movie when I was a kid, it was the first time a movie made me cry and I realized how powerful they can be. In that context, this was one of the most poignant and sad movie scene, especially when you just watched the rest of the movie but watching the scene just now, I chocked up again.

  5. Jason • July 28, 2011 @ 7:42 AM

    I think “the land before time” was pretty sad when little foots mom dies.

    Also the scene from passion of the christ where Mary is running to help Jesus up was a real tear jerker.

  6. Keltial • July 28, 2011 @ 8:01 AM

    Million Dollar Baby was by FAR the saddest movie I’ve seen.

  7. Helen • July 28, 2011 @ 8:51 AM

    anonymous2: totally agree about Marley and Me. Three of us were bawling in the theatre at the end! I haven’t seen The Champ though.

  8. Amanda • July 28, 2011 @ 9:50 AM

    I think context is so important when evaluating scenes like these ones. I can only assume that the test subjects were familar with the movie and therefore the scene when the scientists came up with this result. I, on the other hand, have never seen the movie and have only watched this clip. I’m a person who normally cries at everything including commericals, yet did not shed a single tear in this clip. I think it has to do mostly with context. I thought it was sad that the boy was running around the room begging for help, but I agree that the other movies listed had me crying much more (then again I watched those films in its entirety). It would be neat to discover more about what other choices were given to the test subjects or at least whether the test subjects had seen the film previously.

  9. Bee • July 28, 2011 @ 9:56 AM

    I haven’t cried like that since Titanic!

  10. TheTruth • July 28, 2011 @ 10:19 AM

    That’s sad, but ain’t no Bambi!

  11. c_0638 • July 28, 2011 @ 11:15 AM

    My Sister’s Keeper, The Notebook, and Simon Birch are THE saddest movies ever!

  12. Karyn • July 28, 2011 @ 11:29 AM

    Truly Sad Movie!! Titanic is on my list as well as Pearl Harbour,The Color Purple, Schindler’s List, Dying Young and when I was a young gal Old Yeller made me cry alot too.

  13. MayBelle • July 28, 2011 @ 11:59 AM

    Sad but I agree that Million Dollar Baby was even more sad. Also, as weird as it may seem, Edward Scissorhands. Sad enough that neither my husband nor I will ever watch it again. The saddest I’ve seen though was an episode of a show called Ballykissangel where the priest, who’s in love with a woman he is going to give up the priesthood for, watches her die right in front of him. He has to administer the last rites even though he knows she may not have believed in it. Very gripping scene and particularly gut-wrenching when you see a man cry! Maybe you have to have been watching the show to understand the full impact though – like others were saying, context.

  14. Casey • July 28, 2011 @ 12:42 PM

    Brokeback Mountain.

    “Jack, I swear” #Tear #SobForever

  15. Kris • July 28, 2011 @ 1:27 PM

    Definitely the scene from Patch Adams in which he is on the hill pouring his heart out to God in anger because HE allowed his girlfriend to be killed by the psychopath. Afterall, why do good in the world when you are rewarded with extreme pain. Oh damn it, where is the tissue!

  16. Heather • July 28, 2011 @ 2:48 PM

    Shane, The Colour Purple and The Lion King are also worth mentioning.

  17. Brenda • July 28, 2011 @ 4:05 PM

    Same era… “Where the Red Fern Grows”… still refuse to watch it again to this day. Many movies made me cry – there are lots of good ones listed above, but I also think of “Message in a Bottle”, “Beaches”, “Life of David Gale”, “Crash”, “A Walk to Remember”, “Philadelphia”… I could go on and on… anything that deals with PEOPLE and the things that can go wrong!

  18. Ben • July 28, 2011 @ 4:13 PM

    Lion King was a sad movie

  19. Pete • July 28, 2011 @ 4:38 PM

    ARMEGEDDEN the ending killed me. And Crash when his son dies

  20. Pete • July 28, 2011 @ 4:54 PM

    ARMEGEDDEN the ending killed me. And Crash, when the guys kid gets shot, that was terrible to see.

  21. Karen Munro • July 28, 2011 @ 5:15 PM

    Angela’s ashes sad and dark. Also a black and white movie from the 60’s …Imatation of Life..I was 12 when I saw it and it still effects today!Steel Magnolias..And he could forget Ole Yeller!

  22. Just Me • July 28, 2011 @ 5:30 PM

    Old Yeller….nuff said

  23. romeo123 • July 28, 2011 @ 6:10 PM

    No one has mentioned “Bridges of Madison County” -the scene where it’s pouring rain and she’s in the truck while her husband goes into the store and she sees the photographer start to walk across the muddy street towards her, ….the scene continues, then,as he leaves town she so badly wants to get out of truck and jump into his but doesn’t. I’m sorry but lumps come to my throat and sobs follow. Kleenex please.

  24. Ann • July 28, 2011 @ 8:12 PM

    The Joy Luck Club! My friend who said he hadn’t cried for 10 years started crying 10 minutes into the film, and then at the end everybody in the theatre cried, the movie ended abruptly and the lights went on while people were still crying….

  25. Joey Jo Jo Jr. • July 28, 2011 @ 8:17 PM

    The saddest movie ever is easily Booty Call. All they wanted was to get laid.

  26. Germain • July 28, 2011 @ 8:18 PM

    American Pie when he drank the beer with the sperm, I cried, it was painful to watch. 🙂

  27. Kirk • July 28, 2011 @ 8:46 PM

    When Spock died at the end of Wrath of Khan and When Kirks father died at the beginning of star trek 2009

  28. Rob • July 28, 2011 @ 9:36 PM

    I remeber seeing the champ and practically tripping over Kleenexs from all the crying at the end. Awesome movie.

  29. Debbie M • July 28, 2011 @ 9:58 PM

    OK I have never seen that show but
    it made me cry. You can tell A show is well done when it
    brings about the strongest emotions. not so much the guy dying as much as the child’s heartfelt plea for him to wake up. good little actor on this show, he really knew how to touch you.

  30. Meg c • July 28, 2011 @ 10:54 PM

    The end of Cold Mountain…..cried like a baby

  31. Amy • July 28, 2011 @ 11:23 PM

    Terms of Endearment – now that was a sad movie.

  32. crys • July 29, 2011 @ 12:10 AM

    Stepmom makes me cry everytime so does steel magnolias

  33. Tayderhead • July 29, 2011 @ 1:29 AM

    Monster was a saddie. Since when did scientists become authorities on what is the greatest degree of sadness? Different people relate to levels of sadness according to how they relate to the story in their own lives I think. This is just a publicity article so everyone will run out and watch it to see if it really is the saddest movie ever.

  34. sydney • July 29, 2011 @ 1:37 AM

    i think the saddest movies i have seen are the notebook , walk to remember, my sisters keeper there was a part in the back-up plan and the final harry potter that made me cry also

  35. Nurse Kathy • July 29, 2011 @ 1:57 AM

    Wow there are so many movies that brought us to tears.
    Island of the Blue Dolphin I watched as a child & cried.
    Old Yeller, I am Sam, Fireproof, Titanic, Dying young, my sister’s keeper, Patch Adams when the Dr. is killed,I will think of many more I am sure after I post this:) I never did see the Champ however.
    Like it was mentioned though, anything that is related to our lives and when something happens that is sad it can bring us to tears. We may cry with viewing joy and relief as well.Happy viewing everyone!:)

  36. Emily • July 29, 2011 @ 2:08 AM

    This was definitely sad…the little boy reminded me of my son and I couldn’t bear to think of him alone in the world.

    Another sad movie is Somersby…not well known, but the end had me bawling for hours. And yes, the Notebook and Bambi are top contenders too…

  37. Nurse Kathy • July 29, 2011 @ 2:09 AM

    Okay I just watched the clip of The Champ. Oh my goodness, very touching, sad and well acted by the young fellow. Tearful for sure!

  38. Melody • July 29, 2011 @ 2:32 AM

    Melodys Top 10 Sad Movies

    * THE MIST (i cant even say cause i will cry.)

    * Notebook (when they died knowing each other in love and peacefully)

    * Passion of the Christ (when they where beating him and when he died saying father dont hurt them)

    * Million Dollar Baby(when he let her go and told her what her nickname was)

    *Selena (when the family was crying for her and everyone with candles)

    *Ghost (omg..when she saw him )

    *Romeo&Juilet (leo&claire verison. when he died of poisioning and she shot herself all in the name of love)

    *Gia (when angie died at the end and they were putting makeup on her and she walked away into heaven)

    *The Last Song (only the part when her died dad that made me so sad cause i love my dad so much)

    *Titanic…(i dont remember it too much but im sure i would cry lol ! )

  39. Marilyn • July 29, 2011 @ 4:53 AM

    When I was a wee lass, the Wizard of Oz made me cry because the mean which was so awful and ugly I could barely look and cried quietly, soaking my dad’s shoulder.

    There are many others, some of which have been mentioned but the one I watched recently was
    The Stoning of Soraya M. God how I cried, so awful, so sad. {:O(

  40. Sagweezer • July 29, 2011 @ 5:08 AM

    One movie that I really found sad was Misunderstood. I don’t think very many people have seen it. I can’t find it anywhere but boy did I cry!

  41. Naomi • July 29, 2011 @ 8:50 AM

    Robin williams was in a movie called What Dreams May Come and it is the all time saddest movie.
    Man and woman meet and are soul mates, marry, have two children.
    Children both die in a car accident, husband dies after children then wife kills herself.
    Husband goes to heaven and is reunited with his children and their dog and finds out his wife is in Hell so he makes a deal with the powers that be and goes to try to free her.
    This is definitely not your typical Robin Williams movie!

  42. n/a • July 29, 2011 @ 9:02 AM

    While Ricky is too cute in that clip, I have to agree with Amanda’s comment. I didn’t see the whole movie. If I had, I may have bawled, but I didn’t even get teary eyed watching this clip. I thought it was strange that Ricky was crying even before his dad died, like during the fight, and after Champ won. I was like, “okay, calm down kid.” He said he was happy, but absolutely sobbing. I found The Notebook, Bambi, The Lion King, Old Yeller, and all those Disney Nature films more emotional than what I just saw. Toy Story 3 was kind of sad too.

  43. Anita • July 29, 2011 @ 9:45 AM

    If you have ever seen “house of sand and fog” with Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly, you will roll into a ball and want to sleep for 3 days, and wake up crying every time. It is so depressing, so so very depressing. If you don’t believe me, I honestly challenge you to see it, without feeling that there is nothing good left in this world at the end of the movie. If you believe me, DON’T see it. I don’t want to be the cause of the onset of your depression. It was originally a book on Oprah’s book club list, and as many of you know, she LOVES the depressing stuff.
    Also, Joey Jo Jo Jr’s comment is hilarious! 🙂

  44. Vittoria • July 29, 2011 @ 9:51 AM

    First of all Germaine, you are an idiot.
    Although this scene made me cry when I was younger and still does, another one that I can’t seem to forget is Sophie’s choice. The scene where she has to choose which child to give up kills me. I did watch that when I was younger and it was horrible to watch, but now as a mom of two young boys, I don’t think I can ever watch that movie again.

  45. Vittoria • July 29, 2011 @ 9:54 AM

    n/a: the reason the child was crying before his dad died is because he was getting the snot kicked out of him and I believe that would be difficult for a child to watch…think about that.

  46. quinn • July 29, 2011 @ 1:05 PM

    There is a 1960’s movie called Madame X. Also this movie called Imitation of Life. Both had heart breaking scenes.

  47. Chris • July 29, 2011 @ 1:47 PM

    Wow, a boxer dies and a kid screeches….doesn’t even make my top 500 saddest scenes. And scientists picked THIS? Must be medical profesionals. You know, the ones that said mercury was good to drink, arcenic is good for your skin and thalidimide is good for pregnant women to releave craps.

  48. Ryan • July 29, 2011 @ 2:04 PM

    No one has mentioned the funeral scene in My Girl? You animals.

  49. susan • July 29, 2011 @ 2:56 PM

    There are many sad movies.One that I will never forget was movie that is based on true story.It’s called Nichola’s gift. About a family that took a trip in Italy and their son got killed by mafia(accidentally). Family decided to donate boy’s organs. Movie that is MUST SEE and I cried for long time. That was amazing true story that breaks your heart.Jemie Lee Curtis was in that movie(little boy mother).

  50. clb • July 29, 2011 @ 3:26 PM

    Aww there are many. Ones that I can watch many many times and still sob my heart out from the beginning to the end because I just know my heart is going to be broken:
    Stepmom, Beaches, Lorenzo’s Oil, Patch Adams

  51. Kim • July 29, 2011 @ 10:04 PM

    The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is also a vey sad movie, read the book and saw the movie – cried both times

  52. Germain • July 30, 2011 @ 12:44 PM

    Vittoria on July 29, 2011 9:51 AM
    Why am I an idiot? what it is with you people calling people idiots just because you disagree?

    What, because I made a joke with American Pie? Just though this thread was a little on the depressing side I thought I’d slide in a funny one. What’s wrong with that?

  53. yonzie • July 30, 2011 @ 2:51 PM

    saddest movie that made me cry was Old Yellar

  54. PacificaPq • July 31, 2011 @ 2:04 AM

    The ending scene in Sommersby with Richard Gere coming back from the war and impersonating Jody Foster’s deceased husband. He fixes up her life and works hard to rebuild her farm and becomes a true partner to her loving her the way her husband never really did.
    She falls in love with him more than she ever could with her real husband and at the end, when Richard Gere is hanged for a crime that the husband he is pretending to actually did, you feel so sad for Jody Foster and you wish that he would fess up and tell everyone he is not Sommersby so that they can stay together, but he is too proud to publicly humiliate her and it is heartbreaking to see her lose him.

  55. Aden • August 1, 2011 @ 6:31 AM

    Boys Don’t Cry, Rent, Seven Pounds and Requiem for a dream are the saddest movies I have EVER seen. I normally cry when I watch these movies! It can’t be helped!

  56. Gabi • August 1, 2011 @ 9:29 AM

    Yes, I remember watching that scene in The Champ with my mom. I believe we were both in tears. But also for me, the first ten minutes of Sling Blade made me weep unexpectedly. When Billy Bob Thornton’s character is released from prison and there’s no one there to meet him… I found it incredibly sad that this man of somewhat limited mental capacity was being sent back to the town he had been born in, with no family there to support him and help integrate him back into society. The solitude of it all was so heart breaking.

  57. Linda SKillings • August 1, 2011 @ 9:59 PM

    I was 15 when I saw this movie. I got off the bus and sobbed all the way home. Another tear jerker was Beaches and Stepmom.

  58. Tayderhead • August 2, 2011 @ 1:14 AM

    Germain, your comment to: “Vittoria on July 29, 2011 9:51 AM
    Why am I an idiot? what it is with you people calling people idiots just because you disagree?” indicates that you must have forgotten that a mere two weeks ago you called me an idiot on another thread because you disagreed with my opinion.
    Sorry, I just couldn’t pass this one up.

  59. Debi • August 5, 2011 @ 10:48 PM

    A lot of movies have been mentioned and so many of them have made me sob. One of my favourite movies is Hair. I simply cannot watch it anymore, because the scene of the lead character mistakenly going off, un prepared, to Vietnam, is followed by his funeral scene. You love the character and it is heartbreaking.

  60. mandee • August 9, 2011 @ 6:50 PM

    terms of endearment, my sisters keeper, step mom, what dreams may come, a walk to remember, ps i love you, freedom writers

  61. amfriesen • August 10, 2011 @ 2:13 AM

    i think all of my fav sob stories are here:

    romeo and juliet – leo and claire version – gets me during the wedding scene because you know what’s going to happen

    what dreams may come – sad and joyful tears because of the love story and conquering death

    the passion of the christ – physical pain tears because you know it’s ok in the end

    fools rush in – wasn’t mentioned but made me cry the first time in theatres – love stories always get me

    never seen this movie or clip before and it was sad but i believe context but physical pain and loss doesn’t really do it for me, love sadness is more my style

  62. cheryl • August 22, 2011 @ 6:32 PM

    I know it’s the saddest movie scene EVER when my big, tough grandfather who fought in WW2 needs a tissue or 3 to get through that tearjerker. When I rented it on video I just handed out the kleenex before the scene started because I knew they would be needed and they were!(By everyone!!)

  63. damour • November 25, 2013 @ 8:34 PM

    The never ending story. . . She watched her horse sink while tryint her best to pull him out

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