The Oscar-Winning Movies That Cause Big, Manly Tears

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:

“Oscar Winners”

In my mind there are two different groups of movies that win Oscars: the movies that are only released to the bare minimum of theaters to even qualify for an Oscar but hold no entertainment value to the masses, and the group that exemplify the pinnacle of cinematic greatness and truly deserve their prestigious award. Since I hate the former group with a passion, this list will focus on the latter. These films are so good they’ve cemented themselves in the cultural zeitgeist, becoming fixtures of our awareness of time. “What year did I do that thing?”…”Well Ghostbusters just came out, so it must have been 1984.” For whatever reason Ghostbusters failed to win an Oscar, but the films below were luckier. Powerful, manly, and emotional, these five films are why we go to the movies…and sometimes cry.

1. The Godfather
Often ranked one of the best films of all time, right up there with Citizen Kane. This film, unlike the Orson Welles masterpiece, doesn’t require a film degree to excite. It’s the story of a mob family and the one guy who wanted to stay out of it and be legitimate ending up the mob boss through a series of suspenseful and dramatic events. The acting power in this film could turn Jupiter into another sun, but instead it was used to craft some of the most iconic cinema ever made, and truly deserved the Oscars it won.

In terms of what parts make guys cry, there’s not so much one part as a particular situation that bookends the film. Both Marlon Brando and Al Pacino are at family events that should be extremely happy; Brando at his daughter’s wedding, Pacino at his nephew’s baptism. In both situations, these men have to pretend (or highly compartmentalize) their joy of the occasion with the murder-business that they’ve set in place. This false-face of happiness that these men have to put on to hide the hardships they’re dealing with is one of the core stereotypical tenants of being manly: hiding your feelings. That type of repression and internalization is torture, and regardless of how good you are at it you eventually break.

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2. Platoon
A war movie with Charlie Sheen before we lost all respect for him, and Johnny Depp before he became a walking cartoon character? Yes please! This is often referred to as one of the best war movies ever made. Set during the Vietnam War, the plot is basically “everyone kills everyone and then the surviving wounded goes home,” until you look closer.
The really sad part about this film is that everyone keeps trying to injure themselves to get out of war. On guy sprays bug repellent on his feet, another stabs his own leg…really the enemy doesn’t have to do anything but wait for our guys to keep friendly-firing and self-injuring themselves. The horror of war being so bad that these men lose their minds, commit self-harm, kill each other for seeing them kill still others…it’s horrifying.

And the overarching theme of the film tends to be, “the better you are at war, the less human you become.” No wonder it got Oscars, with that kind of nihilism.

3. Unforgiven
When you picture Clint Eastwood in his prime, stubble on his face, poncho and hat, as manly as he can be…you’re probably picturing this movie. This revisionist western was produced, directed AND starring that grizzled Clint, who still would play a perfect old man Logan if ever they would let him (and if he wasn’t busy talking to chairs). The plot concerns a group of former gunfighters seeking a bounty on a couple of miserable bastards who disfigured a woman. Along the way old grudges, old reputations, and the old men losing their taste for violence contribute to lots of horror and misery That could get old quickly, but when you throw Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman in for good measure, the entire movie is exactly how we modern city slickers imaging the old Wild West to be. Or is it?

The entire theme of the film is that the Wild West is not what anyone imagines. The Schofield Kid realizes that killing for money makes him sick. Munny, the character played by Eastwood, knows damn well that he has to sacrifice his “good guy” persona to provide for his kids. And one old gunfighter brings along a biographer who learns how many legends of the west are outright lies told by the victors and survivors. That’s…bleak.

4. The King’s Speech
Nothing more manly than a man who is forced into kinghood. Colin Firth plays the younger son of the crown who is suddenly given all the responsibility ever when the rightful heir, his brother, abdicated the throne. One problem: a king can’t have a stammer, and he’s got a big one. Luckily, Captain Barbossa shows up to fix his speech and his confidence.

The real heartbreaker here is how one of the most powerful men in the world at the time fails to read aloud to his children (one of whom is future Queen Elizabeth). He is a loving father, but without the ability to show it because he cannot speak to his children more than two words at a time. Bugger.

5. Rocky

It’s Rocky, what more is there to say? It’s to Stallone what The Terminator is to Schwarzenegger. As triumphant sports movies go, it’s solid. As movies that launch franchises go, it’s gold. As movies that people actually enjoy watching while being so critically-acclaimed that it won Oscars, it’s got that too. It basically hijacked the entire city of Philadelphia. Sure, Robocop did that for Detroit, but not in the way you want it to.

Why does it make us cry? Is it because Rocky has a dream but spends most of his life not reaching it? Is it because Rocky actually loses the big final fight? Is it because it’s unclear how much brain damage was acting on behalf of Sylvester? Maybe all of the above my friend. But there’s nothing more touching than Rocky’s heartfelt confession to Adriane that he doesn’t think he can win. Plenty is said about courage (namely that courage is not a lack of fear, but persistence in the face of fear). Rocky shows that courage is the will to stand up and fight even in the face of certain defeat, in the name of respect.

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