10 Broken-Heart Movies from the ‘80s Worth Crying Over

Somewhere in Time (1980)

The late Christopher Reeve broke a lot of hearts with this film about a lovelorn playwright named Richard who becomes obsessed with a hotel’s aging photo of an actress (Jane Seymour) from the turn of the century. Through self-hypnosis, he’s able to return to the year 1912 to meet her. (We can debate the science of that another time!) A love connection is made instantly and all is well until – well, whatever you do, don’t think about the year 1980 again, Richard! A lush and unforgettable music score by John Barry – punctuated by Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini – envelopes our lovers’ sad story. Even the setting of the story – at the epic Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan, is a tourist attraction for fans of the movie. How’s that for true love from total heartbreak?

Last America Virgin (1982)

Now doesn’t that title sound like every teenage rom-com from the ‘80s? Last American Virgin follows the sad tale of Gary (Lawrence Monoson) and his pals as they seek to shed their “virgin” status. One small snag: Two of them fall for the same girl (played so icily at times by actress Diane Franklin). It doesn’t take a genius to realize that Gary loses, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house – oh, let’s face it … we all watched this on HBO, not in theaters – when the end credits roll as Gary drives away alone crying.

Sophie's Choice (1982)

Meryl Streep won her second Oscar for her portrayal of a Polish immigrant struggling with a painful past during World War II and an unthinkable decision she was forced to make to save her life. The late film critic Roger Ebert gushed in his four-star review of Sophie’s Choice: “There is hardly an emotion that Streep doesn't touch in this movie, and yet we're never aware of her straining. This is one of the most astonishing and yet one of the most unaffected and natural performances I can imagine.” Co-stars (and then newcomers) Kevin Kline and Peter MacNicol also opened a lot of eyes with their performances.

The Verdict (1982)

In The Verdict, the heartbreak happens inside and outside the courtroom for poor Frank Galvin (Paul Newman), a powerful attorney forced into a career of ambulance chasing. When he lands a can’t-lose case and a girlfriend at the same time, you just have to know nobody’s luck is that good. (It turns out she’s a mole for the opposing lawyers.) For Frank, though, heartbreak brings clarity and – ultimately – victory in the courtroom. The ending moments of The Verdict are gut-wrenching as the ex-girlfriend drunk-dials Frank to beg for forgiveness. That’s right, Frank – don’t answer it.

Terms of Endearment (1983)

Heartbreak doesn’t always come in the form of a man and woman. In Terms of Endearment, it’s delivered in the relationship between parents and their children. Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger caused handkerchiefs to fly out of pockets and purses in this five-time Oscar winning weeper about love and loss. Winger’s departing words to her disapproving son still send stomachs somersaulting: "I know you like me. I know it. For the last year or two, you've been pretending like you hate me. I love you very much. I love you as much as I love anybody, as much as I love myself. And in a few years when I haven't been around to be on your tail about something or irritating you … you're gonna realize that you love me. And maybe you're gonna feel badly, because you never told me. But don't – I know that you love me. So don't ever do that to yourself, all right?"

Witness (1985)

Though their on-screen chemistry was undeniable, everyone had to know that a relationship between a Philly police detective (Harrison Ford) and Amish widow (Kelly McGillis) – and her adorable son (Lukas Haas) was never going to work out. And yet the movie – which frames their inevitable romance with heart-pumping scenes of violence – delivers. The Washington Post wrote: “In Witness, McGillis has to show the audience the slow welling of her heart without ever showing the same thing to the other characters — if they knew, they'd ‘shun’ her. It's an enormously difficult task that she pulls off effortlessly.”

Fatal Attraction (1987)

There’s a lot of heat – and very little romance – in the ill-conceived weekend affair between Michael Douglas and Glenn Close in this movie that probably saved hundreds of marriages when it hit the big screen in the late ‘80s. Nobody in the plot – or the audience – emerges from this movie fully intact – especially not the rabbit.

Big (1988)

Big is best remembered for the duet keyboard performance at FAO Schwarz – and for the then-overdue realization that Tom Hanks was the funniest guy in film. But it’s the sweet “romance” between grown-up Josh Baskins (Hanks) and Susan (Elizabeth Perkins) that deserves a little love too. (Yes, it’s also a little creepy if you over-analyze it.) The look on their faces as they say goodbye – with Josh pleading with Susan to join him too as a child – is soul-crushing. (There’s even an urban legend that an alternative ending was filmed with Perkins transformed into a kid, seen sitting in Josh’s classroom as the credits roll. Oh Hollywood, how dare you dash our dreams!)

Beaches (1988)

Hearts are heavy all up and down the boardwalk in this tear-jerker about the love between two lifelong best friends (Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey). Critics bashed Beaches as contrived and predictable – it maintains a dubious 39 percent “fresh” rating on the review site Rotten Tomatoes – but fans flooded the box offices anyway. Did Midler crush more hearts with her character’s constant destruction of relationships or with her soaring performance of Wind Beneath My Wings in the film’s final moments? (Pssst … the answer is the song, which won Grammys for record of the year and song of the year and also scored an Oscar nomination.)

Always (1989)

People forget about this gem by Steven Spielberg, who had long dreamed of directing a remake of 1943’s A Guy Named Joe. Richard Dreyfuss plays a risk-addicted aerial firefighter whose antics worry his longtime girlfriend (played by the radiant Holly Hunter). Not-such-a-spoiler alert: He does indeed die in a crash toward the beginning of the story, but his ghost returns as the spiritus – “divine breath” – to help inspire young pilots. The trouble is, the young pilot he must inspire and his old girlfriend are falling in love. If you think your heart can’t ache when you’re dead, Always is here to prove you wrong.