Updated 21 February 2017

SEE: This movie scene is so sad it’s used in depression studies

The final scene of 'The Champ' has become a must-see in psychology laboratories around the world when scientists want to make people sad.


Most of us like a good cry during a movie every now and again. You almost can’t help not shedding a tear when Mufasa dies in The Lion King, or when Rose is separated from her true love, Jack, in Titanic.  

But what do scientists say is the saddest movie scene in the world? And what is the unusual link to depression studies? The answer: the final scene from The Champ has become a must-see in psychology laboratories around the world when scientists want to make people sad.

The Champ has been used countless times in psychological experiments to determine a variety of findings. Are depressed people more likely to cry than non-depressed people? Does a watching sad movie affect the mood of a depressed person? (By the way, the answer to both of these is “no”.)

Depression studies

According to the Smithsonian Magazine Prof Robert Levenson from the University of California started soliciting movie recommendations from colleagues, film critics, video store employees and movie experts with the aim to identify scenes that could reliably elicit a strong emotional response in laboratory settings.

In a study, published in Cognition and Emotion, containing information from hundreds of movie scenes and based on the responses of a diverse group of participants, The Champ’s tragic scene was chosen as the saddest of them all. 

Conducted in 1988, the research has been cited more than 300 times in other scientific articles, and it’s still used in depression studies today. Modern research uses it as a tool to differentiate between the behaviour of depressed and non-depressed people. 

The famous clip

Even though The Champ is not really critically acclaimed (it got a 40% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes), the 1979 movie about a beat-up boxer and his boy is considered the classic tear-jerker.

In the final scene the boxer’s child stands by as his father dies. “Champ, wake up!” sobs an inconsolable T.J., played by nine-year-old Ricky Schroder. The performance would win him a Golden Globe Award.

So, if you're looking for a mood-lifting movie, this is probably not the one to watch.

Read more: 

‘My depression went undiagnosed for almost 20 years’

Depression may be 'in the genes'

What a little-known brain region can tell us about depression


Ask the Expert

Depression expert

Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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