50 most heartbreaking movie moments

Pass the hanky

Its weird to think we can enjoy being sad, but sometimes films can cause the tears to flow, and we willingly give ourselves up to moment. Whether its an unexpected death, a tragic parting, a missed opportunity or the end of an affair, the violins kick in and the tissues come out. Its a tricky feat for a director to pull off, because touching and emotional can so easily fall over into sentimental and mawkish. But the masters of the craft can orchestrate our feelings with the skill of conductor. Warning: you may want to remove any contact lenses or mascara.

50. Avatar (2009)

The Moment: Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang) launches an attack on holy Na'vi territory in order to clear the land for mining operations.

Get Your Tissues Ready: The Na'vi Hometree--a central hub for Pandora's natural neural network--is felled.

If It Was Played For Laughs: The Na'vi fashion the tree's branches into massive clubs and smackdown the humans Captain Caveman-style.

49. Moulin Rouge! (2001)

The Moment: Dying Satine (Nicole Kidman) breaks script to sing secret love song 'Come What May,' prompting Christian (Ewan McGregor) to risk being shot by joining her on stage.

Get Your Tissues Ready: The performance is too much and Satine, plagued by tuberculosis, dies in Christian's arms.

If It Was Played For Laughs: Satine's death literally brings the house down, because her collapse triggers a Mousehunt-style ripple of destruction across the stage.

48. Billy Liar (1963)

The Moment: Billy Fisher (Tom Courtenay) arranges to leave his Northern town to travel to London with vivacious Liz (Julie Christie).

Get Your Tissues Ready: Billy jumps off the train to fetch milk but, fearful of the unknown, hesitates before getting back aboard and it departs without him.

If It Was Played For Laughs: He manages to get back on time...but he's boarded the train to Glasgow, not the one to London.

47. Gran Torino (2008)

The Moment: Grizzled war veteran Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) pays a visit to the gang who have terrorised his neighbours, and is shot and killed.

Get Your Tissues Ready: It is revealed that the silver object Walt was carrying wasn't a gun, but a lighter. He deliberately allowed himself to be killed to ensure the gang was arrested for murder.

If It Was Played For Laughs: Walt would be carrying a Pez dispenser.

46. Stand By Me (1986)

The Moment: Remembering his childhood, the adult Gordie Lachance (Richard Dreyfuss) reveals that best mate Chris Chambers was later stabbed and killed.

Get Your Tissues Ready: Gordie chokes up as he tells us, "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?"

If It Was Played For Laughs: The camera pans to reveal that Gordie's current friend is with him and saying, "Well, thanks a bunch.

45. Cinema Paradiso (1989)

The Moment: Film director Salvatore Di Vita (Jacques Perrin) pays a visit to the Cinema Paradiso, the movie theatre he frequented as a child.

Get Your Tissues Ready: He watches a reel of movie kisses cut by the village priest but secretly spliced together by the cinema's late projectionist, Alfredo (Philippe Noiret).

If It Was Played For Laughs: The film is a compilation of people falling over.

44. Don't Look Now (1973)

The Moment: John Baxter (Donald Sutherland) chases a red-coated figure which he thinks is the spirit of his dead daughter along the canals of Venice.

Get Your Tissues Ready: It's not his daughter. It's a knife-wielding midget serial killer. Uh-oh.

If It Was Played For Laughs: It really would be his daughter, and she'd tickle her dad with a feather.

43. The Iron Giant (1999)

The Moment: When the Army launches a missile to destroy the Iron Giant (Vin Diesel) that would also blow up the town of Rockwell, he flies off to intercept it.

Get Your Tissues Ready: Remembering the lessons his friend Hogarth told him, the Iron Giant pretends to be Superman as the missile blows him to bits.

If It Was Played For Laughs: He really would become Superman, and swat the missiles away.

42. Limelight (1952)

The Moment: Calvero the clown (Charlie Chaplin) suffers a heart attack after his triumphant comeback performance with his old partner (Buster Keaton).

Get Your Tissues Ready: The show must go on. As Calvero dies, his muse Terry (Claire Bloom), a ballerina, has to take the stage.

If It Was Played For Laughs: The obvious tribute, as Terry's dancing starts to become Chaplinesque until she falling onto her arse more often than she is pirouetting.