Top holiday tearjerkers

With all the forced seasonal cheer, sometimes the holidays can be more stressful than enjoyable. I mean really, does anyone actually enjoy cramped traveling during the busiest time of the year or their Aunt Beatrice's homemade fruitcake (which could double as a murder weapon)? Thought not. Yes, the winter holidays are a time for friends and family to gather and rejoice together, but there's a reason booze is generally involved. So how can you make the most of the season without a category-five hangover? The answer: sad movies.

You could also do yoga, meditation, exercise, or any number of things to reduce stress, but those all take effort. A sad movie requires zero effort, and those tears you shed are a surprisingly satisfying release for pent-up holiday angst. As an added bonus, you get to curl up on the couch in your jammies and a cozy blanket to watch television for a few hours in the name of stress reduction. Hello no-guilt pastime! Here are four of the most beloved faves:

It really is a wonderful life

Box office bomb to classic holiday traditionSource: Wikipedia/RKO Pictures

Let's start with a heavy hitter:It's a Wonderful Life. Based on a short story titled The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern, this iconic holiday classic has enough tear jerker moments to make even the grinchiest cold-hearted soul mist up. If you haven't seen the movie, the plot revolves around a central character, George Bailey, who has dedicated his life to helping others, yet considers committing suicide after a series of mishaps threaten to land him in jail and destroy his business. A guardian angel swoops in to show him what life would be like the for residents of his town without him, ultimately leading him to realize his life has incredible meaning. Despite its initial poor performance at the time of its release, It's a Wonderful Life has become a staple holiday film enjoyed by millions annually during the Christmas season. Just try and keep the tears from leaking out during the end when the townspeople start singing Hark! The Herald Angels Sing to George and his grateful family.

You can depend on Hallmark

The family in happier times

If you're a fan of the estrogen-infused made-for-tv movies that Hallmark cranks out, you'll love thisultimately uplifting film about a family struggling to cram in all the holidays they can before their eight-year-old dies of cancer. Uplifting, right? The parents decide to observe all the holidays early, celebrating Halloween with a party (much to the delight of the daughter, who has been thus far prevented from having a normal social life due to her illness), Thanksgiving, and even Christmas in rapid succession. Get your Kleenex ready for the scene where the family arrives home after a particularly harrowing hospital visit to find that the townspeople have decked out their house in magnificent holiday décor. Don't miss November Christmas for a weep-fest with (spoiler alert!) a happy ending.

It's love, actually

It's like 15 movies in oneSource: Universal Pictures

Love Actually is an ensemble cast style movie featuring vignettes of seemingly disparate characters who are all related in some storyline or another. To name a few: the ever-endearing Colin Firth retreats to his summer cottage after finding out his wife has cheated on him, only to fall in love with his Portuguese housekeeper who doesn't speak English; Alan Rickman plays a philandering spouse of the long-suffering Emma Thompson; Liam Neeson (in a rare role in which he does not play someone will willingly kills people with his bare hands) is the despairing widower who cannot connect with his son after his wife dies; Laura Linney gets an opportunity to act on her long-held feelings for her boss after a holiday party, only to have her mentally ill brother once again spoil her chance for happiness. While most of the stories have happy endings, you'll be hard-pressed to remain stoic after Emma discovers her husband's affair or even suppressing happy tears when Colin proposes to his adorable love interest.

Don't be a Scrooge

Take that you creepy ghosts!Source: TNT

Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in a desperate bid to pay off ruinous debts; in doing so, he unwittingly created a memorable holiday classic that would go on to be one of the most well-known Christmas stories of all time. If you are unfamiliar with the parable, it follows a stingy, despicable character by the name of Ebenezer Scrooge who is visited by three ghosts and his dead business partner, Marley, the night before Christmas. Marley informs Scrooge of his own fate––to walk the Earth forever weighed down with heavy chains and money boxes––and warns him that Scrooge will suffer the same fate if he continues down his miserly path. Luckily for Scrooge, Marley tells him that he still has one chance to avoid this gloomy destiny and will be visited by three ghosts to whom he must listen or suffer the consequences of his actions.

The first spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Past, shows him scenes of his childhood and early adulthood, where you learn that Scrooge once had a fiancée who deserted him after his poor treatment. He is also exposed to some unflattering descriptions of his character that cut him to the bone. The next ghost is the Ghost of Christmas Present, who shows Scrooge scenes from his employee Bob Cratchit's holiday festivities and informs him that his Bob's seriously ill son Tiny Tim will die if Scrooge doesn't change his ways. The last spirit is the most ominous: the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. He shows Scrooge a depressing future in which no one mourns his passing and Bob's family is inconsolable over the untimely death of Tiny Tim.

Scrooge wakes up the next day a changed man. He does a complete 180 and becomes a caring, compassionate employer and person, ultimately saving Tiny Tim's life and improving the lives of countless others. This holiday classic has been re-imagined hundreds of times through theatrical productions and movies, most recently via the animated film starring Jim Carrey. While the Jim Carrey incarnation may not bring you to tears, with its black and white footage and bleak scenery the 1938 version is sure to necessitate a few tissues, especially during the scenes of Scrooge's impending future.

A lighthearted holiday movie with a seriously sad ending

It's all fun and games until someone reveals a sad secretSource: Universal Pictures

If you're a fan of The Best Man, you'll enjoy its bittersweet follow-up, The Best Man Holiday. It follows the lives of the original characters, 14 years after the wedding that brought them together in the first movie. While they all have their individual struggles (which are teased out in between comedic moments, like when one of the characters finds a YouTube video of his wife stripping for money at a frat party), the real waterworks start near the end when––spoiler alert––a beloved character dies of cancer. Taye Diggs speaking at the funeral service has to be one of the saddest holiday scenes of all time. Happily for you and your tissue box, the movie has enough levity to balance the grief so you aren't left bereft with a serious case of Christmas blues as the credits are rolling.

Campy and terrifying yet tragic

Your worst nightmare come true/your dad in snowman formSource: Warner Bros

What's worse than having your dad die right before Christmas? Possibly his reincarnation as a seriously creepy snowman. Welcome to Jack Frost, a movie starring Michael Keaton during his I'll-act-in-anything period (post Batman and pre Birdman). Poor Michael/Jack Frost dies in a car accident at the beginning of the movie (sniff) and the bulk of the movie is set one year later, when his son is understandably miserable and withdrawn as a result.

All hope is not lost: before he died Jack gave his son a harmonica, which, wouldn't you know it, turns out to have MAGIC powers. After playing it one night, his son wakes up to find that his dad's spirit has inhabited a scary-looking snowman he built in the yard. Hijinks ensue, but the tearjerker ending when Jack has to leave the snowman's form is surprisingly touching. It may not have the most realistic plot line, but Jack Frost sure pulls on your heartstrings.

So, fire up iTunes, Amazon, or even the DVD/Blue-ray player, grab a big 'ole box of tissues and settle in for a stress-releasing sob fest. After you've treated yourself to a good cry (thanks to one of these iconic movies), you'll have a fresh appreciation for the holiday. Just make sure to wear waterproof makeup.

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