Need a good cry? This could help.
The above clip is from the 1979 remake of the movie The Champ, starring Jon Voight as a boxer and a tiny Ricky Schroder as his son. The end of the film features a scene (found in the last minutes of the above clip) where Voight’s character, Champ, dies in front of his son, and it’s predictably emotional. The movie received little long-term fanfare, but there are two notable legacies from The Champ: 1) Ricky Schroder and 2) a scene that has proved so sad that scientists have been able to use it in myriad experiments on people’s mental health.
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The Smithsonian reports that back in 1988, a psychology professor from the University of California-Berkeley, Robert Levenson, and a grad student, James Gross (who’s since become a professor at Stanford), set out to find short movie clips that could prompt strong emotional reactions from test subjects in psychological experiments. After years of wading through hundreds of recommendations, then testing them on undergraduate students, the researchers were finally able to select 16 clips from movies that consistently sparked key emotions (sad, as well as disgust, contentment, anger and others) in viewers, with The Champ scene taking the top spot for eliciting sad emotions.
The clip has since been used in experiments that range from testing the tearful responses of depressed people, elderly people and people with eating disorders to tracing the spending habits of sad people.
However, over at Slate it’s been pointed out that the definitive list of clips was settled on in 1995–and plenty of great, emotional movie scenes have come and gone since then. They’re taking suggestions for more recent sad movie scenes and the study’s original researcher, Levensen, will be putting his two cents in on the contenders.