A great love story can totally grab your heartstrings. But you know what is guaranteed to make you start sobbing like a drunken longshoreman? Friendship. Science fiction and fantasy are full of platonic relationships that punch you in the gut. So in no particular order, here are the 17 friendships most guaranteed to make you cry.
Note: A couple of these are sort of ambiguously romantic, like there are hints of romance, but people still seem to consider them friendships, for the most part.
These are sort of the most obvious choices. Samwise is the most steadfast and loyal friend a Hobbit could ever hope to have, and the ending of Return of the King will pretty much bring tears to the eyes of anybody who hasn’t had their tearducts surgically removed. Seriously.
There was a painful crush at one point, and this friendship went through some serious ups and downs. But the moment at the end of season six when Xander basically saves the world through his platonic love for Willow is... there just aren’t any words. Other than “breaky crayon Willow.”
E.T. is almost the best “boy and his dog” story ever (where the “dog” is an alien with telepathic, telekinetic and healing powers.) And the movie’s final half hour is just crammed with moments that will make almost anyone weep giant tears, because the bond between these two has become so intense and beautiful over the course of the movie.
Here’s one of the relationships that could be a friendship, or a love story. Depends on just exactly how you view relationships between robots. But I kind of think of them as having an intense bond that defies our human categories of relatedness. And as much as other Pixar movies have made us cry (see below), this one just turned the waterworks all the way on. These robots mean everything to each other.
The relationship between a boy and a giant robot has never been more intense and moving than in this book by Ted Hughes and the movie adaptation by director Brad Bird. Like a lot of the other stories here, the proximate cause of the tears is an amazing act of self-sacrifice. But the underlying cause is the bond between these two.
The impulsive, sometimes overly dramatic captain of the Enterprise, and his logical, analytical second in command... they start out at loggerheads, with Spock insisting that Kirk must kill his best friend Gary Mitchell. But then they have each other’s backs so many times, and they share so many adventures. It’s not just Spock’s fate in Wrath of Khan that brings the tears, but everything Kirk goes through in The Search for Spock to get him back.
Speaking of “boy and his dog” stories... the second Terminator film is kind of amazing in how it makes the killer robot from the first movie not just understandable but lovable. We literally get inside the Terminator’s head, and he gets to grow and change while being John Connor’s surrogate dad. Until he knows why John cries.
This movie is hilarious, but it also has a really sweet friendship at its center. And the ending, in which not even a really horrible outcome can stop these two being friends, is the most “sorry-something-in-my-eye” moment ever.
Harry Potter’s godfather goes through tremendous hardships and miseries for Harry, even getting locked up in Azkaban and accused of a crime he didn’t commit. Sirius Black finally even gives his life for Harry, after first showing him the kind of family loyalty he never got to experience from his own parents.
The only one of the Doctor’s 21st century companions who never even has any hint of romance with the Time Lord, Donna is the best mate that an ageless alien time traveler could ever want. And then... tragedy strikes and the floodgates of tears open. Also, the Doctor’s friendship with Donna’s grandfather Wilf is one for the ages. The Doctor-Wilf scenes pretty much save David Tennant’s swansong.
When Kenzi turns out to be Bo’s “heart,” it makes all the sense in the world. Kenzi is the human who’s always there for the non-aligned succubus in this Canadian TV show. And there are a few moments when Kenzi tears our heart out, including her final departure.
We mentioned there would be more Pixar on this list, right? Bing Bong and Joy bond over their shared love of Riley, the girl whose head they live inside. But while Joy is an integral part of Riley’s personality—at least, unless things go terribly, tragically wrong—Bing Bong is just Riley’s old imaginary friend. Which makes what happens between them even more remarkable, and terribly sad.
Doc inadvertently helps Marty to improve his own life tremendously, thanks to his time machine. And in return, Marty saves Doc from certain death not once, but twice. Marty’s frantic concern for Doc’s continued breathing is one of the emotional anchors of this trilogy, and it absolutely gets you where it counts.
They can kill off Robin a hundred times. They can even send Ace the Bathound to the pet cemetery. But whenever Batman’s butler and best friend Alfred is in danger, or decides he can no longer stay with the Caped Crusader, it’s automatically super sad. A teary Alfred finally leaving Master Bruce was one of the things that saved The Dark Knight Rises from just being a silly mess.
These two sworn companions stuck together through death (a few times), trials and endless discovery. And along the way, they made us bawl our eyes out on so many occasions.
We couldn’t leave these two out—the uplifted raccoon and his living plant friend are two of the greatest movie characters in the past decade, thanks in part to Bill Mantlo’s beautiful writing in creating Rocket. And their bond is one of the main sources of feels in this movie, especially when Groot makes a potentially career-ending decision at the end.
Here’s another pairing that could, just possibly, turn into romance—we’ll see when the show returns for its fifth (and hopefully not final) season. Root and Shaw are both psychos who needed to learn to value human life, and when they first met, Root tortured Shaw. But they’ve developed a beautiful bond, until Root was willing to risk the fate of the Machine—and the world—for Shaw. All the feels.
What did we leave out?
Charlie Jane Anders is the author of All The Birds in the Sky, a novel that features a super intense relationship that is mostly a friendship. Here’s what people have been saying about it. Follow her on Twitter, and email her.