Holding back the tears during “Steel Magnolias,” “Beaches” and other chick flicks is easy for most fellows. The machinations of such films just don't uncork male emotions, which is not to say that men are always dry-eyed when the credits role. Consider these seven movies that are guaranteed to have even the coolest dudes reaching for the Kleenex.
“Dead Poets Society” (1989)
Nothing like an inspirational-teacher flick to make a guy misty. Robin Williams shelves his wackiness to play John Keating, offbeat English teacher at a buttoned-down prep school. Spouting Whitman, Thoreau and Horace (“Carpe diem!”), Keating and his eager students embody the pleasures of learning and the enthusiasm of youth. So when Neil, played by Robert Sean Leonard, commits suicide rather than live the life his father demands, his death hits hard. Neil will never fulfill his potential, and viewers are forced to consider what price they've paid to survive in this cruel, cruel world. Total bummer.
“Gladiator” (2000)There could not be a more masculine movie. Russell Crowe, in his scowling, muscled prime, stars as Maximus, meanest fighter ever to grace the Coliseum. Heck, his family was murdered; he's got nothing to lose. Shot in sober gray tones by director Ridley Scott, “Gladiator” won kudos, including the Oscar for best picture, for its visceral depiction of a very violent tale. All of which means that the lump in male throats when Maximus dies, with his honor intact, is testosterone induced. “At my signal, unleash hell ...” and tears.
“Legends of the Fall” (1994)
As a rule, men don't get the appeal of Brad Pitt. “Legends of the Fall,” in which every woman's favorite actor plays the wild one among three frontier brothers, is the exception. When Pitt's character, Tristan, falls in love with his younger bro's fiancée (Julia Ormond), the once-unquestioned bond between siblings becomes rather messy. Further complicating matters, all three men then enlist in World War I, breaking their antiwar father's heart (Anthony Hopkins). Like Wild West flicks of earlier decades, “Legends” explores primal themes, underscored by Pitt's tough yet, gulp, sensitive performance.
“The Notebook” (2005)
Does the romance between Allie (Rachel McAdams) and Noah (Ryan Gosling) produce more sap than a maple forest? Yes. Is the script, based on Nicholas Sparks' bestseller of the same name, crammed with such manipulative touches as Alzheimer's disease, class differences and a Ferris wheel ride? Yes. Will director Nick Cassavetes employ every corny trick in the book: soaring score, misty flashbacks, birds flying into a sunset? Yes. And do men who watch “The Notebook” secretly sop up tears with the sleeves of their hoodies? You know it.
“Rudy” (1993)Talk about fantasy football. Not only does Rudy (Sean Astin) lack the smarts to get into Notre Dame, he's short several inches and many pounds to play for the Fighting Irish. But our heroic underdog refuses to let his shortcomings defeat his dream, and with the help of a kindly groundskeeper and a kindly priest, not to mention the world's most patient girlfriend (Lili Taylor), he scores a place on the college's storied gridiron. Despite such a hackneyed setup, “Rudy” rises above other hardscrabble sports flicks, because director David Anspaugh rarely stoops to schmaltzy tactics. Like Rudy, he earns every teardrop.
“Saving Private Ryan” (1998)Rare is the war movie that doesn't numb its audience with endless violence. Although Steven Spielberg, who won a best director Oscar for this film, punctuates “Saving Private Ryan” with ultra-real battle sequences, he keeps the sepia-toned focus on the characters. As a result, the audience is engaged, hearts and minds, in the mission of Capt. Miller (Tom Hanks) and his men, and Spielberg is able to evoke complicated emotions with his overarching question: Is war worth it?
“Titanic” (1997)Kate Winslet's Rose isn't the only one smitten with Leonardo DiCaprio's Jack. Guys, too, enjoy the lively chap's company. We admire his sense of adventure, stowing away on a steamship bound for America. We cheer as he courts a girl who was out of his league. We admire how he suggests nude modeling as an excuse to get naked. So when Jack plunges to his death, an uncontrollable flood of tears sinks our composure. That is until Celine Dion's “My Heart Will Go On” has us rolling our eyes.