In the 1993 profile of Clint Eastwood in The Washington Post, the interview began with a startling opening statement by writer Martha Sherrill: “He — [Eastwood] — cries in his new movie.” The movie she was referring to was In the Line of Fire, where Eastwood plays a guilt-ridden Secret Service agent, and yes, Eastwood does indeed cry in it. The sight of the eternal tough guy in tears was so startling back in the early 1990s that many people believed it was the first time he’d ever cried on screen. This — as I’ll illustrate below — isn’t true. But the point still stands that in Eastwood’s nearly 70 years of acting, we’ve almost never seen him shed a tear.
Which, of course, is what makes the title of Eastwood’s new movie — Cry Macho — so ironic. Naturally, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to look back on Eastwood’s very few crying scenes and rank them by just how much he blubbers.
7) Possible Tears in the Rain in The Bridges of Madison County (1995)
Why He’s Turning on the Waterworks: He’s saying goodbye to Francesca — played by Meryl Streep — after their four-day love affair comes to an end when her husband returns.
Sizing Up His Sobs: Along with the crying he does during In the Line of Fire, this is the most famous Eastwood crying scene. Here’s the thing though — you can’t tell if he’s crying in it! I mean, he’s probably crying; after all, he’s standing in the pouring rain, letting go of his soulmate, but you can’t be sure.
That said, according to clinical psychologist Lauren Bylsma — whose expertise includes studying human emotion — the rain may actually be helpful in letting him have an emotional release. “I encounter lots of reports of people crying in the shower and the rain might be similar. It may feel safer because people can’t notice your tears if it’s raining,” she explains.
Still, while he’s probably crying, it cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, which is why this lands at the bottom of Eastwood’s sobbing scenes.
6) Turning Away from the Camera in The Bridges of Madison County
Why He’s Turning on the Waterworks: He’s arguing with Francesca, and come on, who hasn’t been brought to tears by Meryl Streep?
Sizing Up His Sobs: In this scene, Eastwood turns away from the camera and briefly cries during their argument. Per IMDb Trivia, which isn’t always reliable, Streep asked Eastwood why he did this, and he explained that it worked better not to see him cry directly because his character would hide his emotions. He may even have told Streep, “People don’t want to see me cry on screen.” All in all, he definitely cries here, but his turning away makes it tough to discern how much, which is why this one also gets a low ranking.
5) Crying for Kennedy during In the Line of Fire (1993)
Why He’s Turning on the Waterworks: He’s a Secret Service agent who has spent 30 years feeling guilty over the assassination of JFK, so he’s probabaly overdo for a good cry.
Sizing Up His Sobs: As mentioned above, when In the Line of Fire came out, many believed it was the first time Eastwood had cried on film. It wasn’t, but it was just the second time, which is astounding when you consider that he began acting in the 1950s. This movie — along with the emotional, but not-quite-crying scenes in Unforgiven the year before — seemed to signal a shift in how much emotion Eastwood was willing to show. Shortly after this, there was The Bridges of Madison County, and in the 2000s, Eastwood would show more and more tenderness. Sometimes he choked the tears back — like at his wife’s grave in Trouble with the Curve — but other times he allowed himself to shed visible tears.
As for In the Line of Fire, he doesn’t turn entirely away from the camera as he confesses his guilt to Rene Russo, but he does remain in profile, which disguises things a bit. Bylsma explains that Russo’s role is key to Eastwood’s crying here, as “some of the research around crying suggests that it’s a social signal that helps to elicit support from others and her holding his hand may help to release those feelings of guilt.”
4) A Single Manly Tear in Gran Torino (2008)
Why He’s Turning on the Waterworks: His neighbor, a young girl, was attacked by neighborhood punks, so he smashes the shit out of his kitchen and then sits in his recliner and releases a single manly tear from his eye.
Sizing Up His Sobs: I’ll leave this one to Urban Dictionary, which explains the phenomenon of the “Manly Tear” perfectly: “A single outlet of restrained emotion. A manly tear, if used sparingly, is so powerful, so profound, that everyone around you is moved by your undeniable badassery. It is a show that a beast, no matter how savage, has a heart that is capable of feeling. A Manly Tear (so awesome it needs to be capitalized) demonstrates the control, and the precision of a man’s character, as he is willing to skirt the lines of tasteful shows of emotion and uncontrollable babbling. Lesser men are incapable of such restraint, and therefore cannot shed a Manly Tear.”
3) A Second Manly Tear for His Family in Cry Macho
Why He’s Turning on the Waterworks: I haven’t seen Cry Macho yet, but I was able to confirm that Eastwood does cry in the film when he lets out a tear for his dead wife and child as he drifts off to sleep. (I guess it makes sense; it’s not like the movie was named Cry Ugly.)
Sizing Up His Sobs: Once again, the single manly tear makes an appearance, and since this one isn’t preceded by a badass, punch-the-shit-out-of-your-kitchen scene, I’ll give it a spot above Gran Torino.
2) Weeping in the Chapel during Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Why He’s Turning on the Waterworks: He’s a boxing trainer and his star pupil — played by Hilary Swank — has been paralyzed following a fight. She asks him to end his life and he’s conflicted about it, so he turns to his priest and sheds tears during their conversation.
Sizing Up His Sobs: “Crying helps to process your emotions because it causes you to focus on whatever it is you’re crying about,” Bylsma explains. Given that, Eastwood’s tears here may be helping him realize that he should relieve Swank’s suffering, even if his priest says otherwise. He really lets the tears flow in this one too, putting it second to only one other film.
1) Letting It All Out in The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
Why He’s Turning on the Waterworks: He’s a Missouri farmer during the Civil War whose family is murdered by Union soldiers. So, yeah, let the man cry.
Sizing Up His Sobs: Unlike his restrained tears in other films, Eastwood breaks down in this movie with a big-time show of super raw emotion. While Eastwood has spent most of his career showing us how tough he is, 45 years ago he also illustrated how vulnerable he’s willing to be. Like I mentioned earlier, that kind of display didn’t start to come back around again until the last two decades (once Eastwood hit his 70s) — and even now (and even with a movie with the word “Cry” in the title), it’s yet to reach the level it did in The Outlaw Josey Wales.