We hope you have some tissues handy, because TVLine is celebrating the most tear-proficient actors and actresses on the small screen.
It’s a performer’s job to emote and make viewers feel their character’s heartache, but some stars just excel at unleashing the waterworks in ways that are heart-wrenching (extreme sobbing) or impressively executed (see: Jensen Ackles’ marvelous Single Perfect Man Tear).
Our roundup of TV’s Best Criers includes all-stars like Claire Danes, who’s been wowing us with her trademark chin quiver for three decades, and Jane the Virgin‘s emotional MVP Gina Rodriguez. And of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without Mae Whitman and Sterling K. Brown, both of whom were required to do plenty of crying on the tearjerker series Parenthood and This Is Us, respectively.
Plus, we’re basking in the waterworks of One Tree Hill‘s Sophia Bush, Buffy and How I Met Your Mother alumna Alyson Hannigan, Breaking Bad‘s meme-worthy Aaron Paul and multiple Grey’s Anatomy vets.
All in all, the 26 performers highlighted below do their fair share to keep Kleenex in business.
Review our picks for TV’s Best Criers, then hit the comments to let us know who you think shines when it comes to delivering the tears.
His anguished weeping at the hands of Walter White on Breaking Bad (“He can’t keep getting away with it!”) was so iconic, it became a meme. (C’mon, you’ve seen it.) Paul has a distinct knack for channeling the pent-up emotions of angry young men, most notably as Breaking Bad‘s recovering junkie Jesse Pinkman, his eyes turning red and veins popping out of his forehead as the waterworks flow. He’s since carried that skill for sobbing with him to The Path and Westworld. Lucky for us, he can keep getting away with it.
On paper, everything that happened to SEAL Team‘s Clay in Season 6 was tragic. And worthy of tears. But Alona Tal’s ability to depict Stella’s distress upon learning of Clay’s near-death and leg amputation, and then later drum up the indescribable anguish of a new mom who has been so randomly widowed, delivered the season’s hardest-hitting gut punches.
When Hannigan turns on the waterworks, you can guarantee your heart will be shattered to pieces. Look no further than Buffy‘s Season 4 episode “Wild at Heart” (aka, the one where Oz left Sunnydale, totally devastating poor Willow in the process) for proof of that. The actress’ crying prowess was also on full display in How I Met Your Mother, when Lily had to break the news to Marshall that his dad had died. Absolutely gut-wrenching.
Over the course of his nine-season run on AMC’s apocalyptic drama The Walking Dead, the English actor got to perform a whole Whitman’s Sampler of crying techniques. But his specialty is the full-body, wracking-sobs method. In fact, he deployed it so wholeheartedly when Rick Grimes learned that wife Lori had died after giving birth to baby Judith in Season 3, there was nothing to do at the end of the scene but collapse on the ground.
Candice Patton & Grant Gustin
This one was a coin-flip, seeing as The Flash‘s Iris has been given so many reasons to sob over nine seasons, while Barry wears his heart on his sleeve like no other TV superhero. The fact is that when the moment calls for it, either of the show’s leading actors can be the fastest tear-producers alive.
The Supergirl and Grey’s Anatomy vet did a great deal of impressive crying on the aforementioned dramas as her alteregos, Alex and Lexi, faced everything from an emotional coming out to her own heartbreaking death (R.I.P., Lexi). So you would think that maybe Leigh was all cried out, but no, the actress reminded us of just how good she is at letting her character’s feelings flow through her tears on Hallmark Channel’s recent series The Way Home.
If there were a royal court of TV criers, Danes would surely reign supreme as the undisputed queen. From the teen angst of My So-Called Life through the torturous spy games of Homeland and just recently as an unhappily divorced mom on Fleishman Is in Trouble, the Emmy winner has perfected the art of crying on screen over the past three decades, her chin quivering before her whole face crumples into a spectacularly soggy mess. It’s to the point where we fully expect her characters to cry, but at the same time, it never feels forced… because she’s so damn good at it.
Over the course of Orange Is the New Black‘s seven-season run, Brooks’ Taystee evolved from comedic sidekick to emotional linchpin. We’ll never shake the sight of Taystee wailing once she realized Poussey’s life had been cut short by an untrained correctional officer using excessive force. Heck, we can hear this picture. It required big tears, and Brooks delivered.
There is plenty to weep about in the dystopian, misogynistic world of The Handmaid’s Tale, which is likely why Moss’ June works so hard to keep herself together most of the time: Once she gets started, how would she ever stop? Indeed, that’s the feel Moss gives the moments in which June has let down her guard and given in to her ever-present sorrow, anger and fear: a desperate attempt to hold everything down until it floods out of her in an all-consuming (and very affecting) torrent.
A master of the quivering bottom lip, Olsen is sensational at conveying her characters’ heartache, and her turn as the MCU’s grieving Wanda Maximoff has put that ability on display time and again. The WandaVision scene pictured here was an especially devastating one — and when you consider that Olsen was talking to a lifeless android head, while conjuring imaginary magic with her fingers, her emotion is even more impressive.
Shameless vet Emmy Rossum earned her spot on this list because her rare crying scenes as feisty Fiona Gallagher always felt very real and raw. Let’s face it, no one really cries with a single tear running down their cheek like many Hollywood shows and films want us to believe. It’s the runny nose, frog-in-the-throat, blurry eyes, just straight-out ugly crying that makes any performance feel more authentic, which Rossum nailed.
It’s a wonder that the actress’ eyes aren’t still red-rimmed after three seasons of Showtime’s brilliantly bleak period piece, Penny Dreadful. She wasn’t called upon to cry buckets as embattled Vanessa Ives but whole pools, and she did so time and time again with a level of commitment that could’ve moved a stone to empathy. Even all these years later, it remains an infuriating mystery how Green was never nominated for an Emmy.
It’s no surprise that the Good Doctor star is a three-time TVLine Performer of the Week. And each performance we singled out involved tears. Angry tears! Boohoo tears! Deeply overwhelmed tears! And he’s as good at giving puppy dog eyes as he is at contorting his face and giving you a truly ugly cry. Challenge Dr. Murphy’s qualifications as a surgeon and watch. him. go.
As a telenovela, Jane the Virgin definitely required a lot of its star when it came to the emotional spectrum, and Rodriguez always delivered. But it was when the actress let the waterworks fly that Rodriguez truly shined, like when Jane’s whole body practically shook with sobs upon learning that her husband Michael had died.
Growing up on a soap opera like Guiding Light was good tear-duct training for a young Panettiere, whose ability to crumple into a soggy, upset mess is as impressive as it is affecting. Exhibit A: Her work as Nashville‘s troubled Juliette, whose bad decisions and impulsive actions (coat-closet sex with the sleazy Jeff Fordham, anyone?) often led to her making tearful pleas for forgiveness — like the one above, which Jonathan Jackson’s Avery promptly rejected, leading to even greater waterworks.
The actor’s ability to unleash a perfect tear on Supernatural was so legendary that the series crafted an entire original song around it, titled “A Single Man Tear,” for its musical 200th episode. And the show certainly gave Ackles’ Dean plenty to cry about: Whether talking about his time in literal Hell or witnessing his brother Sammy have to sacrifice someone he cares about, watching Ackles break down was always gut-wrenching.
A lot of things that happened in HBO’s sublime supernatural drama The Leftovers required us to suspend our disbelief; its leading man’s crying jags were none of them. As beleaguered Kevin Garvey, Theroux seemed to sob from the inside out, grounding the often-mystifying goings-on in emotions that didn’t just feel real but painfully real.
Katherine Kelly Lang
One of The Bold and the Beautiful‘s two remaining OGs, Brooke Logan’s portrayer stands head and tear ducts above daytime’s many, many weeping wonders not just because she’s sobbed so much — “Cry me a river” isn’t merely a saying to her, it’s a viable suggestion — but because she’s done so so spectacularly well. Can you name another actor who can cry on cue out of just one eye — either eye? Didn’t think so.
For some actors, it’s a full-body effort to squeeze out just one tear. Not for Weil! The Gilmore Girls alum can go from zero to red-eyed, stuffy-nosed sobbing in seconds — a skill that served her well not only in key Gilmore scenes, but throughout her six seasons as How to Get Away With Murder‘s deeply traumatized Bonnie Winterbottom.
Given the amount of waterworks on NBC’s Parenthood, we have to assume “effortless crier” was part of the casting requirement. It certainly describes Whitman, who doesn’t just bring the tears in her emotional scenes, but delivers her dialogue with an authentic tremor in her voice. Case in point: Season 5, Episode 10 of Parenthood, just before Ryan reveals to Amber that he’s re-enlisted in the military. Breaks us every time!
Melody Thomas Scott
Any daytime actor can cry, right? But far rarer are the ones who can make watching them weep a visceral experience for the audience. Scott, The Young and the Restless‘ longest-serving cast member, is among that rare breed. When she opens the floodgates as stripper-turned-society dame Nikki Newman, we can almost feel the bitter sting of her tears.
One needn’t look any further than The Affair‘s penultimate Season 1 episode to see why Wilson deserves a spot on this list — specifically, when Allison visits the family doctor and sobs over the possibility that she could’ve done more to prevent the secondary drowning that killed her 4-year-old son Gabriel. Her trauma was so convincing we thought she was going to pass out and fall directly into a puddle of tears on the floor.
Scrubbing on for nearly a decade on ABC’s long-running Grey’s Anatomy gave the much-missed alum a gazillion chances to turn on the waterworks as April Kepner (often accompanied by a rant that was as bitter as the tears). But her tour de force came in Season 11, when the doctor and then-husband Jackson Avery tried to wrap their heads around the grim fate that awaited their unborn son.
Despite her undeniable comedic flare, Bush is first and foremost a drama queen, and the nine seasons she spent as One Tree Hill‘s Brooke Davis gave her plenty to cry about. Who could forget the look of devastation on her face when Lucas first cheated on her? Or when she pleaded with him to open up at Nathan and Haley’s wedding? Or when she told Julian she couldn’t have children? You get the idea. One Tree Hill put this poor woman through the wringer, but she and her superhuman tear ducts were always up to the challenge.
Sterling K. Brown
Show us a greater master of man tears — we’ll wait. But you can’t, because the This Is Us star can do it all. Stoic, quiet crying as an emotion slowly ups its intensity? Full-out, code red-level sobbing that accompanies a life-altering breakdown? The rueful wiping of the eyes as a moment with the kids gets a little too misty? Over the course of six seasons on the NBC family drama, Brown proved the Kleenex king.