10 Emotional Childhood Movies That Still Bring Tears to Our Eyes

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Image Credit: Universal Studios.

While movies meant for children are often lighthearted and amusing, there are also a great many who deal with a more serious subject matter or have intense or sad moments.

Whether to allow kids to watch them depends on their sensibilities and what you think would be an essential film for them to see. A popular online forum discusses the types of films that will make a young child cry. Every kid is different, of course, but some films rife with emotion will have a lasting impact on them.

1 – The Neverending Story (1984)

Image Credit: Warner Bros.

The Neverending Story is not so much a children’s movie as it is a tale of an existential crisis and an exploration of depression. Bastian is a bullied young boy who takes refuge one stormy day and begins reading a book about the mythical land of Fantasia. And soon, he finds himself communicating with the characters.

With settings like the Swamp of Sadness and a threat to Fantasia’s existence called “The Nothing,” The Neverending Story is one of the darkest and most emotional family films ever.

2 – The Land Before Time (1988)

Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

Animated films are generally whimsical fare. The Land Before Time has its fair share of humor and light. But it’s also filled with scary and sad moments. The young dinosaurs trying to reach The Great Valley face many dangers on their journey, not to mention tear-jerking moments.

One viewer remembers watching this film vividly and losing it during the film’s most significant death: “I was sobbing when Littlefoot lost his mom.” I still recall the tears I shed watching this as a child.

3 – Charlotte’s Web (1973 & 2006)

Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

The 1970s animated film and 2000s live-action version are worthy adaptations of E.B. White’s children’s book. They also will surely bring tears to a child’s eyes.

This profound story follows a spider named Charlotte who spins words of praise in her webs to save the pig Wilbur’s life. Charlotte’s Web is truly a story about the natural order of things, the innocence of the young, and the learning to deal with grief. The end will move anyone, especially a young child with an open heart.

4 – Bridge to Terabithia (2007)

Image Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

Although this one may be a bit mature for a six-year-old, Bridge to Terabithia is also a beautiful and significant story every child should see. It’s natural to want to shield children from the darkness of the world, including death. But it’s also vital for them to cope with and understand it. One fan describes its purpose and asserts, “the book was written to help children cope with the reality of death.”

As a child, I saw a classmate perform the role of Jesse in a play of Bridge to Terabithia and was brought to tears by its impactful nature. When my mother was a child, her best friend passed away, and she did not attend the funeral because her parents wanted to shield her from the sadness.

Understandable as that is, it also did not allow her to grieve properly. Bridge to Terabithia profoundly gives its viewers a chance to learn to do so and with sensitivity.

5 – Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993)

Image Credit: Walt Disney Pictures.

Children often have a strong love and attachment to animals, especially if they have a pet. Consequently, Homeward Bound will profoundly affect any kid like this. The film follows two lost dogs and a cat who embark on a journey to reunite with their family.

Every child is different, but the tears will likely flow throughout the film for many. A lover of the movie recalls watching the film at school and that they “had to be taken into the hallway to calm down.” It’s understandable. The cat almost drowns, a porcupine strikes one dog, and at the end, we’re not sure if the golden retriever, Shadow, survives. A terrible fan theory says he does not, to which I say- how dare you!

6 – A Little Princess (1995)

Image Credit: Warner Bros.

A Little Princess is a film that will surely make young ones emotional. During WWI, Sara Crewe attends a girl’s school while her father fights in the war. When it’s thought he died, she’s stripped of everything and becomes a servant at the school. It’s a story of perseverance and maintaining kindness when life beats you down.

But the end, when Sara sees her presumed dead father, and he doesn’t recognize her, brings the most tears. My eight-year-old nephew told me how he cries at that moment when Sara cries out to him and when her father remembers and embraces his daughter. The thought of a parent not knowing them will deeply affect anyone, but most certainly a young child.

7 – E.T.- The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Image Credit: Amblin Entertainment.

For many reasons, Steven Spielberg’s film about the adorable alien E.T. and the kids who help him return to his home is a classic. It’s also famously known as a tearjerker. Friends even has a hilarious scene where the characters cry when Elliot and E.T. say goodbye. Except for Chandler because they amusingly say, “he’s dead inside.”

Nevertheless, this movie is funny and exciting but most notably moving. It’s Spielberg’s take on the effects of divorce on kids, being brave, and learning to let go.

8 – All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989)

Image Credit: Goldcrest Films.

What is it with certain films of the 1980s? It is like every filmmaker had a memo instructing them to make a movie as sad as possible. All Dogs Go to Heaven is as heart-wrenching as they come. It’s a dark tale about a dog who cheats death to seek revenge and the orphaned girl he grows to care for.

The most sensitive child will either learn from this movie or be traumatized by it. One fan claims, “That movie literally taught me what grief and overwhelming sadness feels like for the first time in my life.” That is undeniably impactful.

9 – The Fox and the Hound (1981)

Image Credit: Walt Disney Productions.

The Fox and the Hound is the saddest movie from Walt Disney Animation. It’s the story of two unlikely pals whose friendship goes through the wringer. A fox and a hound dog are natural enemies, but all Todd and Copper want to be are playmates.

There are multiple intense and other heartbreaking moments in this movie. It is a teaching film in every way. It may become a favorite for the child who enjoys somber tales.

10 – Old Yeller (1957)

Image Credit:
Walt Disney Productions.

Old Yeller is the most infamous film about the downfalls of the natural animal world. Indeed, children have a strong affinity for animals and pets, making this film about a sweet, loyal dog a deeply profound one. This is because dogs are an exceptional breed.

Old Yeller is not for the faint of heart. A loving pet that becomes rabid and a shell of its former self is heartbreaking. But as sad as Old Yeller is, it provides the opportunity to expose a child to death and grief that will allow them to learn about coping and acceptance.

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Written by Marianne Paluso

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