Top 10 Animal Film Tearjerkers

Join Top 10 Films as we celebrate the greatest (and cutest) animal tearjerkers. From Marley and Me & Black Beauty to Free Willy & Fly Away Home these films promise to melt the heart

Youtube has proved it – if you stick an animal in front of a camera, you’re guaranteed more ‘awww’s than you can fit in your average comments box. ‘Cute Animal’ returns over 531,000,000 Google results. We simply can’t get enough of them: videos; memes; birthday cards – endless animal variations exist solely to melt even the stoniest of hearts (which is presumably why so many of us share our homes with the furry things). Yet the undisputed king of pop culture cuteness is the dog, with ‘Cute Dog’ returning a frankly staggering 800,000,000 results (that’s almost 20 times more than Ryan Gosling – a human upstart who last year mounted a failed attempt to supplant the animal in the internet-validated adorability stakes). Simply put, the dog is King – and nothing warms the cockles quite like a wagging tale.

Hollywood has known this for a long time. However, there’s no Disney equivalent of ‘Funny cats in water’ (yet), instead filmmakers have consistently taken a more macabre approach, utilizing our animal friends to tug at audience heartstrings. From Old Yella onwards, for every comic critter like Meet the Parents’ Mr. Jinks (and even he gets drowned in a toilet), there’s been at least two ready to leave us weeping. We’ve seen a tragically enslaved gorilla in King Kong, Geese orphans in the lip-trembling Fly Away Home (playing this half term on Sony Entertainment Television), and the Citizen Kane of Animal Tearjerkers, Bambi. But with the likes of The Fox and The Hound, Lassie, and My Dog Skip all showing us the puppy eyes, it’s clear that the pooch is top dog when it comes to this particular subgenre.

2008’s brilliant Marley and Me broke new ground (and hearts). Fooling audiences worldwide with a whimsical poster featuring smiling American sweethearts Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston goofing around next to their playful pup, none could predict the tears to come. An impossibly powerful ending left kennel-sized lumps in throats, and sent animal lovers rushing from the cinema to hug their pets extra tight, and slip a few extra treats into the food bowl.
Schindler’s List – easy; Ghost – cakewalk; but a film containing a loveable elderly golden retriever made us all start reaching for the tissues. Marley and Me 2: The Puppy Years makes its UK Premiere on Movie Mix this half-term, and promises to be a much less traumatic experience for all involved, capturing the Reggae-loving pooch in his trouble-making heyday, but the first time we see the young rascal’s tail wag it’ll still be difficult to suppress a quick sob.

So join us in paying tribute to Marley with our Top 10 Animal Tearjerkers. It won’t just be those with allergies who’ll need a good tissue after this lot…

More Top 10s that you might like: Top 10 Greatest Animal Film Stars | Top 10 Traditionally Animated Films | Top 10 Family Films Of All Time

10. Free Willy

FreeWilly_animal-tearjerkersKiller Whales shouldn’t be this cute. Free Willy became a box-office smash thanks to its picture perfect portrayal of the relationship between boy and animal. Beginning with the heart-wrenching sadness of seeing a baby orca taken from his pod by opportunistic whalers, the film soon draws tears of a different kind as troublemaking pre-teen Jesse, sent to do community service at the theme park Willy eventually finds himself in, swiftly forms an attachment with the equally uncooperative orca. The final image is pure cinematic gold, with Willy making his big break for freedom as Michael Jackson launches into the brilliant ‘Will You Be There’. It will get you every time.

9. King Kong

king-kong_peter-jackson_animal-tearjerkersThe tale of a proud creature imprisoned and sent to a world in which he simply doesn’t belong, King Kong resonates – begging questions about slavery; race; and desire in a tale that is destined to repeat as a big-budget picture each generation. Peter Jackson’s 2005 effort is particularly effective, wonderfully drawing out the emotional connection between the giant gorilla and Naomi Watt’s Ann Darrow. Performance capture-genius Andy Serkis’ performance leaves you reeling, and his epic bid for freedom will have you beating your chest in approval, even as you choke back the tears.

8. Marley and Me

marley_and_me_animal-tearjerkersBased on the novel of the same name this adaptation is highly regarded as a modern-day tear-inducer. The adorable Marley is the heart and soul of the family and the mischievous pet that we as the audience instantly grow to love. The film captures beautifully the tender moments he enjoys with the family which many have found very close to home. The ending is an emotional tidal wave, and when John (a never better Owen Wilson) pleads with Marley to tell him when he’s read to move on even dye in the wool cat-fanatics will shed a tear.

7. Black Beauty

black-beauty_animal-tearjerkersThe heartbreaking tale of Black Beauty is one which has been told and seen by many generations and continues to break hearts on a constant basis. We’ve seen various adaptations on the silver screen but the Caroline Thompson directed feature is the most memorable. Narrated by Alan Cumming, the 1994 adaptation unflinchingly shows the brutality and cruelty that poor Beauty had to suffer throughout his life, including the injury received at the hands of a drunken Ruben Smith. Ginger’s own fate in the film is an equally tearful saga. But it’s the reunion between Beauty and Joe that will really open the floodgates.

6. Lassie

Lassie_top10filmsDogs are fondly said to be man’s best friend and this message doesn’t come any truer than in the timeless 1943 classic Lassie Come Home. The loving relationship between adorable Yorkshire school boy Ruddy and his much loved collie Lassie is the stuff of legends. We’re torn when the depression-hit Carraclough family are forced to sell Lassie – leaving both Roddy and his faithful companion inconsolable at their mutual loss. Lassie faces up to many harsh perils including evil dog-catchers and a violent storm in her search to be reunited with Roddy and our hearts sink with the beloved canine until she’s back in safe hands. A triumph: more effective than a peeling a dozen onions.

5. Fly Away Home

fly-away-home_animal-tearjerkersA much loved family classic starring child star and Oscar-winner Anna Paquin, this film sees a father bond with his traumatized young daughter by helping her lead a band of orphaned Canadian Geese back to their home before the hostile winter closes in. The power lies in the developing bond between Paquin and co-star Jeff Daniels, and the role the vulnerable young birds play in allowing the girl to rebuild her life. An incredible true story, the final shots of Daniels in an ultralight aircraft showing the flock the long way to safety are enough to move anyone to tears – especially when you learn they returned to their adopted family the following summer.

4. Lion King

The Lion King, Disney, FilmOne the greatest childhood films of all-time. We’ve all grown up with Disney’s The Lion King, a film that always pulls at the heart strings no matter how many times we’ve seen it. Whether it’s the devastating demise of Simba’s beloved father Mufasa or the Machiavellian Scar horribly convincing Simba that it was his entire fault, the film always manages to tear you up inside. Elton John’s poignant music and the tribulations that innocent Simba has to face up to, combine to ensure that only a chuckling hyena could avoid welling up in the face of all that leonine emotion.

3. Old Yeller

old-yeller_animal-tearjerkersThe original animal tearjerker. Disney’s first film about a boy’s love for his beloved dog is not just regarded as classic Disney but also as an all-time American classic. This tragic family drama hits the tenderest of spots each and every time, especially with the shocking and heartbreaking conclusion – often regarded as one of the most powerful scenes in cinematic history, and one that really brought the phrase ‘old yella’ into our cultural language. This tearful film highlights the strong bond that brings man and dog together and is bound to leave you blubbering.

2. Watership Down

waterhsip-down_animal-tearjerkersA rite of passage in every Briton’s childhood. The animated tale of rabbits on the run has been leaving kids of all ages in tears for 35 years now. Voiced by a first rate cast including John Hurt and Nigel Hawthorne, Watership Down is, like so many of the others on this list, a film about marginalized outsiders seeking a home. Hazel’s emotional journey through the forest with the enigmatic Black Rabbit is a particular highlight, and is guaranteed to have the mascara streaming down your cheeks. It strikes a new chord with every viewing, and continues to enchant – recently being ranked within the top-50 British Films of All-Time.

1. Bambi

Bambi, Film

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Was there ever any doubt? Always topping the tear-jerker polls (animal-based or otherwise) and just about the saddest film in history, it’s the great Disney classic Bambi. The young deer’s story continues to touch generations of young fans long after its 1942 release. The heartbreaking moment comes when Bambi’s mother is shot by hunters and Bambi’s fathers lingering words “Your mother can’t be with you any more” are said as they both walk off into the snow together.No matter how many times you watch it, you are bound to leave your sofa with a lump in the throat, or for the more emotionally-inclined, sobbing for hours, which is why Bambi steals our hearts and fully deserves its spot as our No.1 Animal Tearjerker.

UK readers can watch Fly Away Home on Sony Entertainment Television on Friday November 1st at 2pm.

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  1. Evan Crean Reply

    Another great list guys. These are definitely guaranteed to cause waterworks. Bambi is definitely right up there at number one. I’ve always found The Lion King to be kind of overrated. I’m well-aware that I’m in the minority on that one. For the ones I haven’t seen, there’s a good reason. I have a hard time watching these kinds of movies. Not my speed.

  2. Pete Turner (@ilovethatfilm) Reply

    Jeez I can’t handle these kind of movies. Marley and Me left me a complete mess so luckily I haven’t seen too many more of these!

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