My Top Ten Tear-Jerking Moments in Science Fiction

GeekMom TV and Movies

Traditionally, science-fiction revolves around action rather than drama, humour rather than tragedy. Whilst deaths are commonplace in a genre filled with space battles and horrifying creatures, truly emotional moments are much harder to come by, but that’s not to say they do not exist: far from it. Below is my personal top ten tear-jerking moments in science-fiction, I’ve had to cut many more out as this could easily have been a top fifty.

Warning: big spoilers contained herein.

  1. Men in Black: Agent K tells Agent J that he is Agent K’s replacement, rather than his partner. However what really tugs the heartstrings is the tortured voice in which he instructs J to remove all his memories of his time as a Man in Black because “I’ve just been down the gullet of an interstellar cockroach, kid, and that’s one of a hundred memories that I don’t want”.
  2. Independence Day: President Whitmore leaves the hospital room at Area 51 after his wife dies, shortly after they were reunited. He walks silently along the corridor, to join his very young daughter who is sitting alone on a plastic chair. She look at her father then asks simply “is mommy sleeping now?” to which he sadly agrees.
  3. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of The Sith: On the orders of the new Emperor, “Order 66” goes into operation throughout the galaxy, causing the clone army battalions on every planet to turn and mercilessly slay the Jedi they have fought alongside for so many years. The sheer cold-hearted brutality of the act is enough to bring a tear to the most hardened of eyes.
  4. Star Trek (2009): Captain George Kirk makes the ultimate sacrifice to save all aboard the USS Kelvin. At the same time, he talks to his wife as his baby is born on one of the ship’s evacuation shuttles. I watched this at the cinema whilst pregnant and blubbed the whole way through, I even had to leave the room when we re-watched the film at home.
  5. WALL-E: An increasingly frantic EVE desperately tries to rebuild WALL-E and restore his memory as the other faulty robots look on. It is a tribute to Pixar’s creative team how beautifully this scene works as you find yourself holding back tears when WALL-E’s memory initially appears to have been wiped.
  6. Futurama – Jurassic Bark: What is it about animals that gives us the weepies every time? This is the only episode of Futurama that I simply cannot watch; the ending sees a time lapse of Fry’s dog Seymour waiting in vain for twelve years for the return of his master to the refrain of “if it takes forever, I will wait for you”. It just doesn’t get any  more heartbreaking.
  7. Buffy the Vampire Slayer – The Body: Buffy discovers her mother lying dead in their living room having suffered a sudden brain aneurysm. The episode is frequently cited as one of the most accurate portrayals of death ever broadcast in any genre and Anya’s speech articulates the loss, confusion and anger at such a tragic time: “I mean, I knew her, and then she’s… there’s just a body, and I don’t understand why she just can’t get back in it and not be dead any more. It’s stupid.”
  8. Dr Who (New Series) – Doomsday: The 10th Doctor burns up a star in order to say an incredibly emotional goodbye to Rose Tyler before the gateway between the separate universes they have been forced into closes forever. He is only a projection and their inability to touch one another during their last moments together adds to the grief you feel on their behalf.
  9. Moon: Sam Bell discovers that he is only one of many clones with life-spans of a mere three years – his pre Moon memories copied from an original human “Sam Bell”.  Having worked his three year stint alone on the Sarang Moon base, Sam finally learns that he is destined to never return to Earth and his family who have moved on without him, his wife having died years ago.
  10. The X-Files – Closure: FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder finally discovers the truth about his sister’s disappearance, bringing closure to the story-arc that had carried the show for almost seven seasons. As he leaves the site of his revelation, he says to a worried Special Agent Dana Scully: “I’m fine. I’m free.”

This is my personal Top Ten, I know there are many classic moments of emotional science fiction not listed, so tell me, what are your favourite tear-jerking moments?

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56 thoughts on “My Top Ten Tear-Jerking Moments in Science Fiction

    1. I think Geekmom missed one of the most heart-breaking, tear-jerking moments of ANY science fiction film. The moment in A.I. when David’s (Haley Joel Osmet) adoptive mother (Frances O’Connor) dropped him off in the woods because her human child had come out of his coma and he stood there calling for her as she drove away. That killed me. Still makes me want to cry just thinking about it.

  1. No books? Sigh …

    – “The Pool of Fire” in The Tripods trilogy by John Christopher includes the moment when Henry realizes that the bombs that the humans are dropping on the Masters’ city are bouncing. So he jumps from a balloon and cradles his bomb as its timer counts down, sacrificing himself to save the world.

    – “The City on the Edge of Forever” from the original Star Trek series has to be included. When Kirk stops McCoy from saving Edith Keiller and McCoy demands, “Do you know what you just did?” leaving Spock to deliver the mind-blowingly powerful (and human) line, “He knows, Doctor.”

    – In the original “Battlestar Galactica,” when Zac is killed and President Adar asks Commander Adama, “What was that?” it falls to Adama himself to reply, “That was my son.” The movie provides many moments, but I’ll stick with that one.

    – In “Stargate SG-1,” the episode “Singularity,” which introduces the little girl Cassie, who has been made into a Naquadah bomb by Niirti. Capt. Carter is supposed to leave her in the bottom of a missile silo to explode, but then realizes that the girl is awake. If you can watch that elevator ride without crying, no matter how many times you’ve seen it, I question the condition of your heart. Really.

    – Again from “SG-1,” the episode “Learning Curve,” in which a little girl volunteers to go back home and have (as Col. O’Neill put it) her brain sucked out. The episode ends with Jack coloring with her.

  2. For Dr. Who, I would have picked the last bit of “The End of Time” where he goes back and visits all of his friends one last time. I usually choke down a tear or two when he saves Sarah Jane’s kid from being hit by a car, and I’m full on tears by the time he finishes talking to Rose.

  3. It’s not quite a teary moment, but I like the scene in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” when Linda Hamilton is quietly watching young Edward Furlong “play” with T. Arnold Schwarzenegger, like the father he never had.

  4. I was maybe 10 when I first saw “Silent Running” and I cried my eyes out at the end when the little robot is left all alone to tend the last forest from Earth.

  5. When the original Enterprise is destroyed in Star Trek III.

    Or more importantly when Spock dies in Star Trek II.

    Also, the Doctor and Rose being separated by universes.

    1. The transposition between Spock and Kirk between Star Trek II & III.

      Wrath of Khan:
      Were I to invoke logic, however, logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.
      Kirk: Or the one.
      Spock: You are my superior officer. You are also my friend. I have been and always shall be yours.

      Search for Spock:
      Spock: My father says that you have been my friend. You came back for me.
      Kirk: You would have done the same for me.
      Spock: Why would you do this?
      Kirk: Because the needs of the one… outweigh the needs of the many.
      Spock: I have been and ever shall be your friend.

      1. Personally, I’m going to go with two of my more lighthearted moments…

        Star Trek IV:
        Sulu – “…I’m counting on the Excelsior.”
        Scotty – “The Excelsior? Why in God’s name would you want that bucket of bolts?”
        Kirk – “A ship is a ship.”
        Scotty – “Whatever you say sir.” pause “Thy will be done.”
        The shuttle they’re all riding in spacedock crests over the Excelsior…and the music comes to a crescendo…as the Enterprise, NCC 1701-A, comes into view.
        Kirk – “My friends?” pause “We’ve come home.”
        ALWAYS brings a tear to my eyes…

  6. Farscape. The death of Zotoh’Zhaan. That one should be a no-brainer, and I’m shocked to not see it in the list.

    Also, Wash’s death in Serenity, as mentioned by a previous commenter.

    Seriously, why are these two missing?

  7. Batty: I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain… Time to die.

    1. This is the first one I thought of as well, Bladerunner.

      Also, no one dies, but I always cry during the episode of Star Trek TNG when Picard and the stellar cartographer are playing the music from “The Inner Light” in the most acoustically perfect place in the ship. It sounds so absolutely beautiful and the fact that it’s cut off by a deeply emotional moment (them kissing) makes me bawl every time.

      I can’t disagree more with number 3, but that’s because I, II, and III don’t exist in my world, heh.

      The Futurama one gets me every time. I also avoid that episode because of that.

      I’m sure there’s more, but I can’t think of them right now!

      1. The Inner Light gets me every time. When it first came out, I cried. Then almost every time thereafter, I cried. If my daughter, Jillian (named after the cetologist in ST IV) had been born a little later, her name would be Mirabor. (She’s glad she isn’t.)

  8. I defiantly cried during Serenity when Wash died. That was so heart breaking! But the 1- 10 scenes depicted were pretty emotional.

  9. I wholeheartedly agree with number 4. I’ve watched that movie four times and it gets me every single time.

    Another that gets me is the death of Ianto Jones on Torchwood. Gah.

  10. The whole film of Silent Running had me upset and on the verge of tears. Almost 40 years later and I still have a tough time watching it.

  11. All three main deaths in Torchwood get me teary, but especially Ianto.

    I also think that the end of season 4 of Doctor Who when The Doctor has to wipe away all of Donna’s memories is the most heartbreaking part of Doctor Who.

  12. Wow, all that and yet the word “spoiler” doesn’t appear once near the top. Having seen “Moon” and loved it, I can say that I’m not sure I’d enjoy it after reading your capsule text that perfectly spoils everything great about the story.

    1. Wow! Lots of comments here, I’ll try and respond.

      Ramone – The original formatting of this post had “Spoilers” clearly marked, hence why the majority of the post is hidden behind a cut. The formatting must have somehow been lost when the post was published. I’ll speak to the editors to make sure this doesn’t happen again, very sorry about that and thanks for bringing it to my attention.

      Kenleonard – I began adding books into the list (Asimov’s Ugly Little Boy being top of my list) but it rapidly got out of hand so I decided to restrict it to TV/Movies on the basis that more people would have seen them.

      Andrew – I was trying not to duplicate in any one show/movie series so I had to choose between The End of Time and Doomsday. The latter won out as it stays sad to the end whereas after the regeneration, the former becomes funny. Very tough choice though!

      Serenity/Wash’s Death – This came so close to the final top ten! The only reason it missed out is that the death was so sudden, I felt it more shocking than tearjerking. I didn’t actually cry because I was in shock, and I cry at most things!

      Silent Running – Not a film that I have seen myself so I can’t comment on it, however as I wrote this my husband admitted that it is the only film that has ever made him cry as a child. The fate of that robot seems to have affected a lot of people!

      Everyone – This is a personal Top 10, that’s why a lot of moments considered classic are missing. I personally haven’t seen Wrath of Khan so I don’t feel that I can put it on a list of my personal tearjerkers. I know I should watch it but honestly, I’m not that much of a Trek fan! *prepares to hand over GeekMom membership*

  13. There are many tear-jerky moments in the new Doctor Who series, but the winner by far is the Vincent van Gogh episode from last season. It’s a happy/sad 2-hit combo that makes me sniffle just thinking about it to write the comment.

  14. “Just for once, let me look on you with my own eyes.”

    That exchange between Luke and Anakin gets me every time.

    I also concur with the Death of Spock in in Wrath of Khan. Watching those two say their good-byes was amazing.

  15. is “E.T.” not considered sci-fi? “I’ll be right… here.” And the shot of the mom crying?

    or, geez, “Close Encounters”? C’mon!

    1. And Fred’s death/transfiguration as Illyria in “A Hole in the World”.

      “Wes … why can’t I stay?”

      Catatonic, every … single … time.

  16. To everyone complaining about moments that are missing, it is a PERSONAL list to Sophie. What one person finds emotional, others may not. Plus not everyone has seen every Sci Fi/Geek film around.

    Personal list people, personal.

  17. – Anakin’s betrayal of Padme on Mustapha
    – Can Toy Story be called SciFi? If so, Andy playing with his old friends at the end of the TS3
    – Wash’s sudden departure
    – ET’s “death” and departure

  18. If you’re including animated stuff, I can’t watch the ending of The Iron Giant without crying. Same for my brother. Something it being animation makes it more powerful for me than watching someone act.

  19. “Time After Time” when HG Wells begs Jack the Ripper to spare the woman he loves.

    Babylon 5 “Confessions and Lamenations” where Delenn, having witnessed the death of an entire species, embraces John Sheridan, saying his name over and over again.

    The Green Mile

    Superman The Movie. Funny, the part that tears me up is not when he holds Lois, finding her dead. It’s the part where he sees her again, and she’s complaining and oblivious. And he just gratefully bows his head in relief.

    Escape from the Planet of the Apes, when Zira dies.

    Star Trek, TOS, Edith Keeler’s death.

    I disagree with Wesley’s death from Angel. While I definitely cried and cried, the bigger tears from me were when Fred died, leaving Wesley alone.

    And thanks for those who mentioned: Bladerunner, Stargate Naquedah girl, and of course, Wash. While TNG is not a favorite, I do tear up at the end of Inner Light.

    I definitely agree with Buffy: The Body, Futurama, and Doomsday.

    Nice topic for discussion, though.

  20. The only thing I would disagree with: Buffy and Star Wars are fantasy, not Science Fiction. If you include Fantasy, I’m all about LOTR.

    (Star Wars is Science Fantasy. Sure, there’s tech, but there’s also magic.)

  21. So many good moments on that list! Two of my personal tear-jerker moments are from Gattaca – the most obvious being Jerome’s actions in the apartment as Vincent is preparing for his flight ( I won’t spoil it, but if you’ve seen the movie you know what I’m talking about). The other is kind of weird, considering what the two characters are doing – but when Dr. Lamar starts talking to Vincent/Jerome about his son, and gives the go-ahead, it breaks my heart. I <3 that doctor.

  22. In Will Smith’s I Am Legend, when he had to kill his infected dog, after the dog has saved his life. I can’t watch that movie again because of that scene.

  23. As a kid I used to never really cry at shows or movies but the first show that really would make me cry from some of the things that happened was Babylon 5. There were many episodes that would make me cry and still do when I watch them.

  24. I know I am stretching the limits of science fiction but any man who can get his house to fly with some ballons is combining some science with some fiction (and I believe there was a space ship later in the movie).

    My ‘always cry’ moment is in the animated movie ‘UP’ in the first ten minutes where they recount the lives of two kids from fun to friendship to romance to marriage to old-age to death.

    I cannot not cry.

  25. Oh my…the ones that pop into my head almost all come from the Whedonverse (Joss loves to make us cry!). Spike’s “every night I saved you” speech. Buffy killing Angel. Cordelia’s death on Angel. Oz leaving Willow. Wash’s death. I even cried watching Angel and Buffy dance at the prom.

  26. When ET is laying in the floor of their bathroom sick, when he dies, and when he leaves Elliot. ET is a tear jerker!

  27. This design is incredible! You obviously know how to keep a reader entertained. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Excellent job. I really loved what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it. Too cool!

  28. These got me thinking of real -life tear jerkers.

    The Japanese Last Fifty …left at the Nuclear reactor to minimize the damage for the rest of society.

    and SO many heroes on 9-11, the firefighters, the passengers on United Airlines 93…. and countless others

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