Best SF Tearjerkers

31 moments from SF and fantasy guaranteed to make even a cyberman cry

SF and Fantasy’s 31 Greatest Tearjerkers

Kleenex at the ready folks as SFX guides you through some of SF’s most emotionally gruelling moments. Yeah, sure, SF and fantasy’s a genre usually more associated with high concepts, hardware and FX eye-candy, but that doesn’t mean it can’t grab a hold of your heart as well as your mind occasionally.

This was a feature we originally posted last year, created with the help of reader nominations. Since then, there have been a few more candidates, which we’ve inserted into the list based on the kind of reaction/outcry they created in the SFX forum.

SPOILER WARNING: But be warned – by its very nature, a poll like this will contain some spoilery material. However, most of the films, shows and books here are old enough that we’d be shocked if the entries reveal anything new to you. But don’t say you weren’t warned.

Anyway, let the countdown commence, folks!


31 Up
The opening sequence

Okay, Toy Story 3 had its blubby moment, but there was nothing quite so moving as the sublime opening sequence of Up – a perfectly-pitched montage of one man’s perfect life with a loving wife, ending with her early death and his withdrawal into himself. It’s an astonishing piece of storytelling in any medium, but especially bold coming right at the start of a children’s movie. It’s amazing how much it makes you care about the old guy in just a few, economical brushstrokes of storytelling.

Blublines: “Thanks for the adventure. Now go have one of your own.”


Theoden mourns his son

Peter Jackson’s Rings trilogy feels a little under-represented in this list, but that’s because it suffered from split-vote syndrome. There are so many tearjerking moments, fans had too many from which to choose (including all five endings to The Return Of The King, and the bit where Pippin sings for an unconcerned Denethor as his men ride out on a suicidal attack). Perhaps this moment won through, though, because unlike the grand melodrama on display elsewhere, the despair of losing a child is something we can all more easily identify with – if it hasn’t happened to us, then we probably know someone to whom it has. That, and the fact that Bernard Hill gives such a magnificent performance.

Blublines: “Simbelmynë. Ever has it grown on the tombs of my forebears. Now it shall cover the grave of my son… no parent should have to bury their child.”


29 DOCTOR WHO “Earthshock”
Adric’s Death

It’s amazing this had the emotional impact that it did, considering most fans would have cheerfully throttled the irritating Adric given half a chance. But his death was wonderfully judged, so that even his most vehement detractors had a lump in their throats. Part of the tragedy comes from the fact that he doesn’t need to sacrifice himself – the space ship he’s trying to save was always destined to crash (it was what killed off the dinosaurs), making his death particularly pointless. The coup de grace is having the graphics roll by in absolute silence. But you can’t help thinking it’s a far more noble epitaph than the annoying scrote deserved.

Blublines: “Now I’ll never know if I was right.”


28 ANGEL “Not Fade Away”
Ilyria lies to Wesley

In a poignant reversal of the events in “A Hole In The World” this time it’s Illyria who has to comfort a dying Wesley (he’s just been skewered). Being an emotionless demon creature, you wouldn’t think it was a job she’d be best suited to, but in a heartrending display of sensitivity she offers to shapeshift into Fred – Wesley’s tragic old flame – so that he can say goodbye. Sobbing is not just acceptable; it’s the only decent course of action.

Blublines: “You’ll be dead within moments.”
“I know.”
“Would you like me to lie to you now?”
“Yes, thank you… yes.”


Harry Stamper breaks his promise

Roughneck astronaut Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis) sacrifices himself to save the Earth from an oncoming meteor, saving the life of his daughter’s boyfriend in the process. From his little spacecraft, he speaks to her back at base in Huston, telling her he ain’t coming home. She reaches to the monitor screen to touch his tear-stained face. He mumbles something about children being roses in winter. A bunch of grizzled astronauts and ground control staff go bleary eyed. The string section of the orchestra is in danger of meltdown. Michael Bay has created Onion-O-Vision.

Blublines: “Grace, I know I promised you I was coming home.”
“I… I… don’t understand.”
“Looks like I’m gonna have to break that promise.”