News Thoughts

The Saddest Movie Scene of All Time?

The Smithsonian magazine recently reported that The Champ (1979) contains the saddest movie scene of all time.

Although you might think that such a claim was the result of a reader poll or a subjective list by journalists, it turns out to have a basis in science.

Franco Zefirelli’s boxing drama starring Jon Voight, Faye Dunaway and Ricky Schroder has a special place in the hearts of scientists, who have used a scene from the film (spoiler alert if you click through) to gauge subject’s emotions.

Richard Chin writes in the current issue:

The Champ has been used in experiments to see if depressed people are more likely to cry than non-depressed people (they aren’t). It has helped determine whether people are more likely to spend money when they are sad (they are) and whether older people are more sensitive to grief than younger people (older people did report more sadness when they watched the scene). Dutch scientists used the scene when they studied the effect of sadness on people with binge eating disorders (sadness didn’t increase eating).

It dates back to research conducted by the University of California in 1988, when psychology researchers were looking for movie scenes that triggered a single emotion at a time.

The emotions and films used to trigger them were as follows:

After numerous tests it was found that the pivotal scene in The Champ triggered sadness exclusively more than any other film they screened (Bambi was second).

Since then the three-minute clip has been cited in hundreds of scientific articles and even been used as a humane way to make test subjects sad in other studies.

But of course, emotions triggered when watching a film can be acutely personal and sad scenes can easily lapse into sentimentality.

With that in mind, here are some of the saddest movie scenes I can think of which don’t fall into cliché.

There is the montage sequence from Up (2009):

This scene from The Elephant Man (1980):

I’ve Tried So Hard to be Good
The Elephant Man at

Then there is this scene from Terms of Endearment (1984) – spoiler alert if you haven’t seen it:

Emma’s Goodbyes
Terms of Endearment at

Then of course, there is the pivotal flashback scene from Sophie’s Choice (1982), which deserves a category all of its own (major spoiler warning for that one).

Any other suggestions?

> Original article in The Smithsonian
> The Champ at the IMDb
> PDF of the original study ‘Emotion Elicitation Using Films’ by James J. Gross and Robert W. Levenson in ‘Congition and Emotion’ (1995)


House from Pixar’s Up Now Exists

A working version of the floating house from Pixar’s Up has been created by the National Geographic Channel.

As part of their series “How Hard Can It Be?” engineers built a basic house structure and lifted it into the air for over an hour using 300 weather balloons.

More photos can be seen below and at My Modern Net:

[via Brainpicker and My Modern Net]

> Find out more about Up at IMDb and Wikipedia
> National Geographic Channel
> Sad but moving story about a young girl who wanted to see Up

blu-ray DVD & Blu-ray

DVD & Blu-ray: Up

Up (Disney): The latest animated film from Pixar continues their extraordinary run of success with a superbly crafted odd-couple adventure which deservedly reaped huge critical acclaim and box office success.

Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner) is a widowed ex-balloon salesman who, at the age of 78 and threatened with eviction, decides to go on an adventure by tying hundreds of balloons to his house and flying off to South America.

When he discovers mid-flight that a persistent young Junior Wilderness Explorer named Russell (Jordan Nagai) is on board, they embark on a journey which takes them to the jungle, where they encounter various creatures and a mysterious explorer (Christopher Plummer) from the past.

Pixar have become so good at feature length animation that it’s easy to take their brilliance for granted: the visuals are vibrant, imaginative and beautifully rendered; the characters are wonderfully crafted – from the contrasting leads to the supporting cast of exotic birds and talking dogs – and the expert pacing makes the 89-minute running time fly by.

Directed by Pete Docter, who was also behind ‘Monsters, Inc.’ (2001) as well as co-writing ‘Toy Story’ (1995) and ‘WALL-E’ (2008), it is the second highest grossing Pixar film (after Finding Nemo).

Much of the appeal was almost certainly cross-generational, with much of the comedy coming from the clash between grumpy old Carl and the naively innocent Russell.

The use of colour, from the balloons to the creatures and plants in the jungle, is as good as any Pixar film and gave it a captivating quality well suited both to 3D in the cinema and Blu-ray in the home.

The physical comedy, especially scenes involving a bird named Kevin and a talking golden retriever called Dug, is also a real treat, providing a lot of laughs and charm.

There is also a wordless sequence near the beginning which is among the most perfect I’ve ever seen in a mainstream film: over just five minutes, a whole marriage is portrayed with incredible economy and deep reserves of emotion.

Michael Giacchino’s score is his best yet for Pixar, with the melodies and instrumentation managing to complement the energetic set pieces and quieter moments with considerable skill and class.

If I had one complaint, it would be that when the film enters into the final act, it evokes a feeling of deja vu with the action seeming a little formulaic (e.g. characters fighting, getting out of scrapes in the nick of time).

The transfer for the Blu-ray is also a marvel to behold. Animated films benefit from coming from a digital source, which means unlike some of their celluloid counterparts, there is no digital noise, grain or flaws to speak of.

Gary Tooze at DVD Beaver has posted some screen grabs here.

Disney are releasing it on DVD and Blu-ray in the following packages:

DVD Deluxe

  • Theatrical Short, Partly Cloudy
  • Exclusive Short, Dug’s Special Mission
  • Home Theatre Maximizer
  • Director Commentary w/ Pete Docter & Bob Peterson
  • Feature Documentary, Adventure is Out There
  • Alternate Scene, The Many Endings of Muntz
  • Learn How to Take Your Favourite Movies on the Go

Blu-ray Disc One

  • Cine-Explore
  • Easter Egg, The Egg

Blu-ray Disc Two

  • Global Guardian Badge Game
  • Documentaries:
  • Geriatric Hero
  • Canine Companions
  • Russell: Wilderness Explorer
  • Our Giant Flightless Friend, Kevin
  • Homemakers of PIXAR
  • Balloons & Flight
  • Composing for Characters
  • Alternate Scene, Married Life
  • Promo Montage
  • Trailer #2
  • Trailer #3

> Buy Up at Amazon UK on DVD or Blu-ray
> IMDb Entry

blu-ray DVD & Blu-ray

UK DVD & Blu-ray Releases: Monday 15th February 2010



Up (Disney): Pixar’s latest animated film is the tale of a retired balloon salesman named Carl (Ed Asner) who, at age 78, decides to use his balloons to finally go on a trip down to South America along with an unexpected young stowaway named Russell (Jordan Nagai). [Read the full review here]

The Go-Between (Optimum): A Blu-ray only release for this 1970 adaptation of L.P Hartley’s novel, directed by Joseph Losey and adapted by Harold Pinter. Set over a Norfolk summer in 1900, it sees a young boy become a pawn in the illicit relationship between an aristocratic woman (Julie Christie) and a local farmer (Alan Bates). [Read the full review here]

Pierrot Le Fou (Optimum): A Blu-ray only release for one of the iconic films of the French New Wave, which is Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 film about a couple – Ferdinand (Jean-Paul Belmondo) and Marianne (Anna Karina) – who get caught up in a mysterious gun-running scheme involving Marianne’s brother (Dirk Sanders). [Read the full review here]

The Ladykillers (Optimum): A Blu-ray only release for this classic 1955 Ealing comedy directed by Alexander Mackendrick. It stars Alec Guinness stars as criminal mastermind who leads a group of thieves about to commit the perfect crime and rents a room from sweet and harmless old lady (Katie Davies) in her crooked London house. [Read the full review here]

The Leopard (BFI): Luchino Visconti’s classic 1963 adaptation of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s best-selling novel, which stars Burt Lancaster as the head of an ageing  Sicilian family coming to terms with the emerging unified Italy in the 1800s. Finally released on Blu-ray – a fitting format for one of the most sumptuous epics ever made. This is the complete and uncut version released by the BFI in collaboration with Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, Inc.



Cirque Du Freak – The Vampire’s Assistant (Universal) [Buy it on DVD | Buy it on Blu-ray]
Life on Mars: The Complete Series (Fox) [Buy it on DVD]
Ong Bak: The Beginning (Sony) [Buy it on DVD | Buy it on Blu-ray]
Pandorum (Icon) [Buy it on DVD | Buy it on Blu-ray]

The Best DVD and Blu-ray releases of 2009
UK cinema releases for Friday 12th February including The Wolfman, Ponyo and A Single Man

Amusing Viral Video

Up (in the Air) Mashup

This mashup of Pixar’s Up and George Clooney’s monologue from Up in the Air is simple but surprisingly effective.