If you go to the movies this week, you might notice something strange – scores of cinema-goers emerging from the theatre red-faced and trembling with a wet sheen under their eyes and a forlorn look on their faces.
These bleary-eyed moviegoers have most likely just watched The Fault in Our Stars, a hotly-anticipated young adult film that can reduce even the most stoic of audience member to a quivering puddle of emotion.
Based on a novel, the movie follows the fledgling romance between two teen cancer patients – like a modern-day Romeo and Juliet just way, way sadder.
It’s not cruel and uncessary torture, it’s box office gold. In it’s opening weekend, TFIOS made $48.2 million at the US box office, easily surpassing competitors like the action-packed Tom Cruise flick Edge of Tomorrow and Angelina Jolie’s star turn in Maleficent.
The numbers prove it: people like to sob in a dark room full of strangers.
So why do we do it to ourselves?
“Movies offer us that opportunity to completely escape and weave your own relationship with the characters of the story,” says counseling psychologist Christine Bagley-Jones.
“You let your guard down.”
But crying at the movies doesn’t mean you’re soppy, it just means you might have some things to think about.
“Even the most emotionally detached people may get triggered,” says Ms Bagley-Jones. “Your subconscious mind has its own story about what matters in life and a movie can symbolise those things.”
Basically, when you’re crying over the fate of a fluffy animal, you’re actually thinking about an unresolved issue in your past or a major fear for your future.
“It’s not because it’s well-acted or a touching story,” says Ms Bagley-Jones, “It’s because it reminds us of things and it’s a more sanctioned way of releasing built up feelings.”
Thankfully, a good cry is great for your mental health.
“Crying can often release serotonin allowing us to relax and remove tension,” says Ms Bagley-Jones.
More importantly, it can reveal how we’re coping with everyday life.
“We are sometimes so busy we become emotionally unintelligent. [Sad movies] are like barometers that let us know how we’re tracking,” Ms Bagley-Jones explains.
A drastic emotional response to a film may signify that you are over-stressed or anxious and need to slow down.
How sad is too sad? While some sad movies like TFIOS might have a silver lining, others are just plain bleak – are they still good for you?
Yes – if you can handle it.
“Armageddon-type movies tend to be a drag on the senses and you have to be pretty buoyed in your own nature to go back to daily life without catastrophising everything,” says Ms Bagley-Jones.
However, witnessing doom and gloom on screen can inspire us to be better people and endeavor to make a difference in our personal relationships and elsewhere.
Just pick carefully: the aim is to leave the cinema feeling pensive and touched, not just plain miserable.
12 movies to watch when you crave a good cry
Shadowlands: “The love story between confirmed bachelor C.S. Lewis, author of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and his brash American wife, Joy Davidman, is a tearjerker at its best. Sad yet sweet.
Stepmom: Guaranteed to tug on the heartstrings of any mother, a compelling family drama with added complications.
My Dog Skip: A shy boy is aided on his journey through adolescence by his best friend and constant companion, a Jack Russell named Skip.
Legends of the Fall: Young Brad Pitt heads this two-hour epic about love and family.
The Notebook: Possibly the best love story of the 20th century and a chick flick classic with a strong backbone.
Bridge to Terabithia: a tearjerker for the little ones about young neighbours who create a fantasy world with a twist.
Steel Magnolias: Starring Julia Roberts in her breakout role before Pretty Woman, every woman should see this film about five Southern dames who stick together through thick and thin.
Dead Poets Society: “Oh Captain! My Captain!.” Robin Williams as English teacher John Keating transforms a group of students’ lives in this wonderful film from Australian director Peter Weir.
Watership Down: A group of adorable bunnies search for a new home and simultaneously double as a political allegory. Not your average animation.
The Sum of Us: An Aussie drama following the sweet relationship between a young gay man and his father – funny and touching.
P.S. I love you: Man writes letters to his wife for her to read after his impending death. Need we say more?
Bridges of Madison County: Long considered the weepiest of weepies, this film teams Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood together as time-pressed lovers.