Guy Cry Cinema

5 Psych Ward Movies to Make Guys Cry


DISCLAIMER: This is not a series dedicated to proving men shouldn’t cry, or to suggest ONLY women cry and are therefore inferior. The goal of this series is to dispel the pre-established (yet flawed) notion that being “manly” and being disconnected from your emotions go hand-in-hand. Even the most macho of men enjoy and even shed a tear at films, and the sooner we can admit that the sooner the concept that one sex is better than the other can go away. While the approach to these articles is one of light-hearted comedy, the emotional core is valid. While men might be more hesitant to admit it, movies often times have the potential to make us cry, for example:

“Psych Ward Movies”

In the history of cinema, psych wards have been treated very differently based on the respective era. Sometimes they are to be feared, full of psychotic criminals too crazy to be in jail. Other times they are unregulated “Abuse-R-Us” factories, running experiments on who could be the worse human being to a captive audience. More recently they are somewhat subdued, places of healing where people with fantastical stories are kept until the protagonist can convince everyone that they are, in fact, the Easter Bunny (I would think the ears would give it away). A location and a character in its own right, whether used for healing or for horror, the psych ward has been visited by many a film. Here’s a list of five of the best, and why we can’t stop crying when we watch them.

1. K-PAX
This is my favorite example of a movie where the ending is ambiguous and left up to the audience to decide what was true or not, with Inception being the other. K-PAX is either the story of an alien visiting Earth for the lolz, possessing the body of Kevin Spacey, and then taking a mental patient back with him for future adventures OR it’s a story about Kevin Spacey having a psychotic break, getting lucky on a few character and astronomy observations, and then ending up in a catatonic state. Take your pick. As his story of being an alien in a possessed body is not taken at face value, Spacey spends his time in a psych ward. Everyone is kind, if not disbelieving of him, but there are enough facts to go either way. I prefer to think he was telling the truth.

The part that burns my eyes is when the doctors try regression therapy on Spacey. Now whether they were unlocking repressed memories of a human sans alien or memories of a human currently hosting an alien, the fact remains that the memories they unearthed were traumatic. Seeing Kevin act through them was tear-jerking indeed.

2. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
This is one of the first films that popped into many of your heads when you saw the title. Jack Nicholson playing Jack Nicholson in a psych ward that’s more focused on being afraid of the abusive head nurse than they are about becoming functional members of society. This film is very similar to Cool Hand Luke in respect to having a charismatic lead who refuses to be beaten down by the oppressive “Man.” Unfortunately it has the same ending, where the lead loses, leaving only his affected friends to live on by his example. Jack may not have been a perfect person, but this film explored the social dynamics of deciding one’s own fate within a facility that decides it for you.

The moment that we see Jack’s lobotomy scar is where many hearts sink, especially since earlier in the film we see him survive an ECT treatment in stride. Bittersweet when his friends live on, and heartbreaking when one of them puts Jack out of his misery.

3. Shutter Island
After Titanic, Leonardo DiCaprio was considered a boyband fluke. Boy did he prove us wrong, with so many critically acclaimed films with him as the lead. Shutter Island is one of his smaller roles, of a detective investigating a missing patient. The entire plot is one big mystery with a pretty decent payoff, and due to the film’s enjoyable pace and quality I won’t spoil it here. The themes of locked off wards, dangerous patients, and experimental treatments are all played with and the film is just fun to watch.

There’s a part at the end (as I tiptoe around spoilers) where a patient fakes regression into insanity to avoid having to be accountable for his actions. It’s sad because if the motivation to heal means feeling more pain, many of us would choose not to.

4. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
This film answered the age-old question asked in all Freddy movies: What if you take control of your dreams and fought back against Freddy using whatever you can imagine? Unfortunately the answer is “Well then you get murdered in very imaginative ways,” but it’s still a super fun horror movie. Ironically this film is actually two psych ward movies in one. Freddy was created when his mother was accidentally locked in with 1,000 maniacs in an insane asylum, and now he’s attacking a group of troubled youths in a psych recovery ward. Various teens attempt to use their dreams to attack Freddy, with not the best success rate. Robert Englund is at the top of his scary/funny game, and the gore is still prosthetics so it still holds up.

The kill that bothers me just a little bit is the puppet maker. Freddy rips out his tendons (in the dream) and turns him into a living puppet, walking him off the edge of a building. There were awake people trying to convince him to stop, but he wasn’t exactly moving of his own free will. The idea of seeing your death coming but not being able to stop it is just unnerving.

5. Gothika
Halle Berry gets possessed by a ghost and does bad things, gets committed. That’s the start, and it gets weirder from there. Initially this film irritates the viewer with the little amount of answers juxtaposed with a mountain of questions presented, but as the plot progresses that equation balances out. A good mix of pure ghost horror and the fear of being locked in a psych ward with a potential killer, it’s a solid scary movie.

Unfortunately the only way you can get possessed by a ghost is if there’s a ghost to start with, which means someone had to die. We have to watch that death on tape, and it’s somewhat sad given the age of the victim. At lease Halle Berry is the new ghost whisperer, right?

About the author

Daniel Epstein
Father, filmmaker, and writer. Once he won an Emmy, but it wasn't for being a father or writing.