There’s no formula for making moviegoers cry. But when I think of tragic moments that brought audiences to tears (okay, fine, me to tears — are you happy now), the ones that jump to mind are usually the deaths of beloved film characters. Simba standing over the body of Mufasa in The Lion King. Tony Stark snapping his fingers in Avengers: Endgame. Jack freezing in the water at the end of Titanic because Kate Winslet did not want to share that damn door with him.

It’s rarer — though in some ways even more tear-jerkingly satisfying — when a movie makes you cry without the death of a character. In this piece, I’m celebrating precisely those scenes: The saddest moments in cinema that are not death scenes.

Some are about characters coming to grips with trauma. Others are about parents being separated from their kids. (Spoiler alert: As a dad, these scenes really upset me!) Some deal with the inexorable passage of time (which, from a certain point of view, sort of makes them death scenes by proxy). All of them have one thing in common: They made us sob. (Okay, fine me! They made me sob! I cry at movies! AND I AM NOT ASHAMED ABOUT IT!)

NOTE: A lot of these scenes are endings, so if there is a film on the list that you don’t want spoiled, it’s best to skip that entry and move on to the next, lest you learn the precise way the film will crush your soul should you decide to watch it at a later date.

The Saddest Movie Scenes That Aren’t Death Scenes

These scenes are absolutely devastating — and none of them draw their emotional power from the deaths of beloved characters.

Watch the Saddest Movie Scenes That Aren’t Death Scenes

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Gallery Credit: Emma Stefansky

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