100 best romantic movies (timeout london)by notCRAZYenough | created - 08 Sep 2013 | updated - 09 Sep 2013 | Public
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1. Brief Encounter (1945)
Not Rated | 86 min | Drama, Romance
Meeting a stranger in a railway station, a woman is tempted to cheat on her husband.
You’d think that Lean’s tale of stiff-upper-lip emotion would be frightfully and unwatchably old-fashioned today. A married woman falls in love with a married man and they do the decent thing. And…? Unlike ‘Casablanca’, the future of civilisation isn’t hanging on the outcome. Just the happiness of two families. And not to mince words, they’re an unglamorous pair.
She’s Laura (Johnson), a not especially pretty housewife. He’s Alec (Howard), an earnest doctor. So why do we continue to find Lean’s much-loved classic so unbearably moving? Because it’s still thrilling to watch the continents of emotion beneath Laura and Alec’s icy properness. Celia Johnson is like a silent movie star with her huge eyes, showing so much emotion with barely a rustle of an eyelash.
Adapted from a Noël Coward play, ‘Brief Encounter’ is a brilliantly crafted film, beginning with a goodbye in a railway café – the end of an affair that never really was. From there, Lean flashes back to the lovers’ first meeting in the same café. Laura has grit in her eye. Alec gallantly removes it. Later, they run into each other in a restaurant. They have luncheon (this is the 1930s), take a trip to the cinema, drive in the countryside. He borrows a flat for the afternoon for them to meet in, but embarrassment takes over and they don’t make love.
It’s all so very innocent. We listen to her innermost thoughts – as she narrates a kind of an imaginary confession to her sweet but dull husband: ‘I’m an ordinary woman. I didn’t think such violent things could happen to ordinary people.’ Laura and Alec know in their heart of hearts that leaving their families and running off together will not make a happy ending. And so they must part. He accepts a job in South Africa. Our hearts stop with the lovers’ when a busybody crashes their last few precious minutes together. Unforgettable.
2. Casablanca (1942)
PG | 102 min | Drama, Romance, War
In Casablanca in December 1941, a cynical American expatriate encounters a former lover, with unforeseen complications.
Votes: 435,645 | Gross: $1.02M
Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into his. Humphrey Bogart’s choice between the woman he loves and doing the honourable thing is one of the most wrenching you’ll ever see on screen. Seventy years on, it gets the heart racing every time.
Bogey is Rick, a hard-drinking American in Casablanca, a city full of refugees fleeing the Nazis. Most of them wash up in Rick’s bar, including his great lost love Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman). With her is a Czech Resistance leader who’s escaped a concentration camp.
‘Casablanca’ is full of famous lines, but my favourite is Rick’s description of himself heartbroken and abandoned on a train platform – ‘a guy standing in the rain with a comical look on his face, because his insides are kicked out.’
3. In the Mood for Love (2000)
PG | 98 min | Drama, Romance
Two neighbors, a woman and a man, form a strong bond after both suspect extramarital activities of their spouses. However, they agree to keep their bond platonic so as not to commit similar wrongs.
Votes: 90,902 | Gross: $2.73M
No one understands the ache of love like Wong Kar-Wai, and ‘In the Mood for Love’ is his masterpiece. In 1960s Hong Kong, two of the most glamorous leads ever to grace the screen – Leung and Cheung – move next door to each other. His wife is cheating on him with her husband, and out of this betrayal a friendship develops. Should they have an affair of their own?
Leung, impossibly handsome, is a study in reserved pain. Cheung is unutterably elegant. Honestly, they make the ‘Mad Men’ cast look like scruffy students. At the heart of this muggy, sensual story is the feeling that love is a matter of timing – that a moment missed can never be recaptured. And Leung whispering his secret into the ruins of a wall is an exquisite image of pain and yearning.
4. Annie Hall (1977)
PG | 93 min | Comedy, Romance
Neurotic New York comedian Alvy Singer falls in love with the ditzy Annie Hall.
Votes: 220,167 | Gross: $39.20M
Irrational, crazy and absurd. ‘Annie Hall’ gives us love in its all its messy glory. It’s the anatomy of break-up. ‘Where did it all go wrong?’ asks Woody Allen’s neurotic comedian Alvy Singer after his split from scatterbrain singer Annie (Diane Keaton, enjoying a killer fashion moment in boyish slacks and a fedora).
Allen has said that ‘Annie Hall’ was his first film to go ‘deeper’. And at its heart is the sad message that finding your soulmate doesn’t guarantee a happy ending. Or, as an old woman tells Alvy: ‘Love fades.’ But for all that, ‘Annie Hall’ is hands down the most hilarious film ever made about love, hysterically funny and packed with gags.
5. Harold and Maude (1971)
PG | 91 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance
Young, rich, and obsessed with death, Harold finds himself changed forever when he meets lively septuagenarian Maude at a funeral.
The hippy era was full of movies that attempted to confront square society, to shock viewers into some undefined form of action. How many of them are still effective today? But ‘Harold and Maude’, the gentle flipside of the revolutionary dream, is every bit as charming, affecting and surprising as it must have been on its first release.
Partly this is because none of its themes have gone out of date: we still live in a world of empty privilege and rigid hierarchy, petty authority and relentless conformism. So the idea of a teenage boy (Cort) shacking up with a batty old woman (Gordon) is still a challenge to social norms. Best of all, ‘Harold and Maude’ is also still devastatingly romantic: a story of soulmates, in the most literal sense.
6. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
R | 134 min | Drama, Romance
The story of a forbidden and secretive relationship between two cowboys, and their lives over the years.
Votes: 282,295 | Gross: $83.04M
Lee’s adaptation of E Annie Proulx's short story is a desperately sad account of gay love beaten into submission by society’s attitudes and conventions. Jack (Gyllenhaal) and Ennis (Ledger) are two ranch hands in early 1960s Wyoming who spend one glorious summer out in the wilderness falling in love and sleeping with each other.
It’s a golden age – a long-lost arcadia – that can never be recovered by this unlikely romantic pair as the years go by and Jack and Ennis live separate lives (though they occasionally meet up for secretive fishing trips to rekindle their passion). As they age, Jack is more successful at holding down an everyday life with a job and family, but Ennis seriously struggles, and his story is all the more tragic for it. It’s a brilliantly acted film, and Lee finds time to celebrate and explore the love at the core of his story as well as creating space to mourn its fallout.
7. The Apartment (1960)
Not Rated | 125 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance
A man tries to rise in his company by letting its executives use his apartment for trysts, but complications and a romance of his own ensue.
Votes: 126,422 | Gross: $18.60M
Romance-wise, there’s never been anything quite like ‘The Apartment’. Reuniting director Billy Wilder, scriptwriter Iz Diamond and star Jack Lemmon just one year on from the seemingly unbeatable ‘Some Like It Hot’ (1959), Shirley MacLaine’s melancholic heroine Fran Kubelik was the perfect bittersweet counterpoint to Marilyn Monroe’s Sugar Kane, a strong black coffee after dizzying champagne.
Not many romances could get away with a suicide bid by the leading lady in the second act and succeed in turning it all around for a perfectly-pitched ending without feeling phoney, but Wilder pulls it off. It’s no surprise the film continues to influence advocates ranging from ‘Distant Voices, Still Lives’ director Terence Davies to ‘One Day’ author David Nicholls.
8. Stairway to Heaven (1946)
PG | 104 min | Comedy, Drama, Fantasy
A British wartime aviator who cheats death must argue for his life before a celestial court.
Trust Powell and Pressburger to find a way of exploring love that is teasing, heartfelt and totally imaginative – while also being timely for an audience recovering from six years of war, separation and strain. When Niven’s pilot plunges to the ground, we enter two worlds: one of them celestial (in monochrome) and one of them real (in colour), although the distinction is in fact much more playful.
After narrowly cheating death (or did he?), will Niven remain on Earth with his new love, Hunter? Or must he succumb to fate? In the end, Powell and Pressburger’s idea is age-old and simple: love conquers all. But they explain this with the bonkers-brilliant concept of putting this idea on trial in no less than a heavenly court. The climax couldn’t be more stirring.
9. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
R | 108 min | Drama, Romance, Sci-Fi
When their relationship turns sour, a young couple undergoes a medical procedure to have each other erased from their memories.
Votes: 756,490 | Gross: $34.40M
You might see this extraordinary film, a joint career peak for Michel Gondry, writer Charlie Kaufman and its improbably but perfectly matched leads, described in generic DVD catalogues as a romantic comedy. It’s a term that seems wholly unequal to its dizzying conceptual acrobatics, not to mention the profound sadness in its absurdist excavation of post-romantic trauma.
But a rich, tragedy-tinged comedy it is: Kaufman has essentially given a scruffy sci-fi makeover to a ‘Philadelphia Story’-style farce of second chances and destiny denied, without letting the film’s beating screwball heart get overly chilled by its wintry New York cool. No longer just the hipster’s choice, it’s become the go-to love story for an entire generation of, to paraphrase Kate Winslet’s Clementine, *beep* girls – and guys – looking for their own peace of mind.
10. Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
R | 95 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance
A psychologically troubled novelty supplier is nudged towards a romance with an English woman, all the while being extorted by a phone-sex line run by a crooked mattress salesman, and purchasing stunning amounts of pudding.
Votes: 122,296 | Gross: $17.84M
How lovely it is to see Anderson’s unsettling, unpredictable, completely unique romantic comedy in the top 10. Descending from the emotionally draining dramatic heights of ‘Magnolia’, Anderson micro-sized his world, zooming down to two characters adrift in a dream of love, escaping reality through one another.
Sandler proves definitively that he can act (he’s since proven that he’d rather not, if he can avoid it) as the frustrated-to-the-point-of-mania white-collar warehouse worker who falls – truly, madly, weirdly – for Watson’s fragile jetsetter. The result is a gloriously unhinged and mesmerising film, a window into another world, where gravity isn’t quite as powerful and the regular rules – about romance, family, work, aggression, competition entries – don’t seem to apply.
11. WALL·E (2008)
G | 98 min | Animation, Adventure, Family
In the distant future, a small waste-collecting robot inadvertently embarks on a space journey that will ultimately decide the fate of mankind.
Votes: 824,211 | Gross: $223.81M
Can a near-silent portrait of a love between two robots, WALL-E and Eve, really be that romantic? Well, Pixar found a way with this daring story of a lonely robot on Earth in 2700, a time when the planet has been abandoned by life and WALL-E has only piles of junk and a copy of Gene Kelly’s ‘Hello, Dolly!’ for company. WALL-E is a creaky, awkward creature and when the more sleek, iPod-like Eve turns up in his life, he naturally falls head over heels for her.
The film’s great achievement (if we forget its more boisterous and less successful second half) is that its silence and calm draw us in and allows us to appreciate small gestures and the little things in life. It’s the most touching robot-on-robot relationship since the bickering bromance between C3PO and R2D2 in ‘Star Wars’.
12. Gone with the Wind (1939)
G | 238 min | Drama, History, Romance
A manipulative woman and a roguish man conduct a turbulent romance during the American Civil War and Reconstruction periods.
Votes: 241,835 | Gross: $198.68M
Why should we still give a damn? Because after more than 70 years, ‘Gone with the Wind’ still does it bigger and better. At nearly four hours long it’s the ultimate rainy-day-in-bed-with-the-flu movie and features maybe the greatest ever screen lovers. Every actress in Hollywood was screen-tested or considered for the role of spoiled Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara. In the end, it went to the hardly-known British actress Leigh, with Gable cast as infamous ladies’ man Rhett Butler.
Scarlett knows exactly what kind of man Rhett is the moment she meets him – the kind of who has a pretty good idea what a girl looks like in her petticoats. Years later, after toughing out the Civil War, Scarlett notches him up (or is it vice versa?) as husband number three. And their stormy marriage gives us one of cinema’s greatest unanswered questions. Can she win him back? Is tomorrow another day?
13. 'I Know Where I'm Going!' (1945)
Not Rated | 91 min | Drama, Romance
A young Englishwoman goes to the Hebrides to marry her older, wealthier fiancé. When the weather keeps them separated on different islands, she begins to have second thoughts.
Once again, Powell and Pressburger found a sideways, lively and thoroughly modern way of celebrating and exploring simple truths: that money can’t buy love. A young woman about town, Joan (Hillier) knows what she wants: she's heading to the Hebrides to marry a reclusive tycoon. But nature and wise folk conspire to teach Joan a thing or two.
A storm stops her crossing to the island where she's to marry, so she bunks up with Scottish naval officer Torquil (Livesey) and friends while waiting for the weather to improve. The big lesson is that logic and ambition only get us so far, especially in love. Much more attractive are the rewards of chaos and communal experience.
14. Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948)
Not Rated | 87 min | Drama, Romance
A pianist about to flee from a duel receives a letter from a woman he cannot remember, who may hold the key to his downfall.
‘Letter from an Unknown Woman’ is about the death of love, a yearning so intense that the heart breaks into pieces. From one point of view, the film has no place on this list: love turns to loss, hope to despair. But, in a way, isn’t unrequited love the purest kind, with none of that dirty reality and compromise getting in the way?
If that’s true, then this might be the most romantic film of all, a story of reckless, undimmed, lifelong passion, against all odds and common sense. It’s the peak of Ophüls’s career as a visual stylist. As the camera swoops and swoons, as the characters waltz and wander through high-ceilinged ballrooms and jangling cafes, it’s impossible not to be drawn, like the heroine, into this dream of impossible infatuation.
15. Badlands (1973)
PG | 94 min | Crime, Drama
An impressionable teenage girl from a dead-end town and her older greaser boyfriend embark on a killing spree in the South Dakota badlands.
Boy meets girl. Boy kills girl’s family. Boy and girl run away together. Like ‘Natural Born Killers’ (1994) and ‘Kalifornia’ (1993), ‘Badlands’ was inspired by the eleven killings committed by young couple Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate in 1958.
Unlike those films, there is a dreamily lyrical romanticism to ‘Badlands’, with Sissy Spacek’s detached, child-like narration giving us the dragonflies a-humming, leaves a-rustling, doves a-cooing version of events, even as Malick presents us with the blasé brutality of what’s really going on. Maybe psychopaths can’t truly experience love, but as ‘Badlands’ shows us, they sure like to play at it sometimes.
16. Wild at Heart (1990)
R | 125 min | Comedy, Crime, Drama
Young lovers Sailor and Lula run from the variety of weirdos that Lula's mom has hired to kill Sailor.
Votes: 69,029 | Gross: $14.56M
No one does romance quite like David Lynch: just think of Sandy and the robins in ‘Blue Velvet’, or Henry and the radiator lady in ‘Eraserhead’. There are those who write him off as an ironist, but this uniquely intense and unabashed worship of love as an otherworldly, all-consuming and dangerous state of higher consciousness is anything but detached.
Lynch loves love, and he loves lovers, none more so than Sailor and Lula, the star-crossed, whisky-fuelled, sex-crazed, emotionally scarred couple that are the wild heart of his madcap kaleidoscopic road movie. This is all-American love reimagined as a carnival show: brutal and beautiful and completely barmy.
17. Beauty and the Beast (1946)
Not Rated | 93 min | Drama, Fantasy, Romance
A beautiful young woman takes her father's place as the prisoner of a mysterious beast, who wishes to marry her.
Votes: 20,866 | Gross: $0.30M
The miracle of ‘La Belle et la Bête’ is how its tricks are still so magical – even in today’s age of CGI. Director Cocteau was a poet first and foremost and he brings to the traditional ‘Beauty and the Beast’ fairy tale pure movie poetry: Belle crying tears of diamonds; the castle lit by disembodied human arms holding up candelabras.
It’s unforgettable, although you might side with Greta Garbo on the ending. Legend has it that when she watched ‘La Belle’ with Cocteau she cried out at the end, as the curse is lifted and Beast is restored to his princely self: ‘Where is my beautiful Beast?’ Garbo, like Belle, had fallen for the matinee idol Beast – and the smarmy-looking prince left in his place doesn’t quite cut it.
18. True Romance (1993)
R | 120 min | Crime, Drama, Romance
In Detroit, a lonely pop culture geek marries a call girl, steals cocaine from her pimp, and tries to sell it in Hollywood. Meanwhile, the owners of the cocaine - the Mob - track them down in an attempt to reclaim it.
Votes: 177,952 | Gross: $12.28M
There are few more blatant examples of personal wish fulfillment in the movies than Quentin Tarantino’s script for ‘True Romance’. A comic store clerk and exploitation movie nerd (hey, write what you know) meets a gorgeous, sweet-natured hooker who immediately falls madly in love with him. They head off on the run, taking in all the sights from Hollywood directors to bloodthirsty gangsters, all the while exchanging dynamic repartee and having great sex.
It’s thanks to Scott’s unwillingness to indulge the script’s excesses that ‘True Romance’ works as well as it does: avoiding both smugness and sentiment, this is a breeze of a film, coasting on terrific dialogue, charming performances, pacy plotting and sheer, coke-fuelled joie de vivre. Sure, it’s a teensy bit shallow, but damn it’s entertaining.
19. Manhattan (1979)
R | 96 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance
The life of a divorced television writer dating a teenage girl is further complicated when he falls in love with his best friend's mistress.
Votes: 115,417 | Gross: $45.70M
There’s so much in ‘Manhattan’ that’s familiar from Woody Allen’s other films, not least Woody himself playing a writer, Isaac, with endless hang-ups and a variety of women in his life. Here, those women are his 17-year-old girlfriend, Tracy (Hemingway); another love interest, Mary (Keaton); and his ex-wife, Jill (Streep).
For Woody, romance is fluid, complicated and alive. Yet by far the biggest romance in ‘Manhattan’ is Woody’s affair with the city itself. New York is often the backdrop for Woody’s films, but here a sense of place is more important than ever. There are those famous montages of the Manhattan skyline, lent a rare beauty by Gordon Willis’ loving black-and-white photography, and at the film’s climax we see Isaac running through the streets that have shaped him – and Woody Allen – and continue to do so.
20. L'Atalante (1934)
Not Rated | 89 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance
Newly married couple Juliette and a ship captain Jean struggle through marriage as they travel on the L'atalante along with the captain's first mate Le père Jules and a cabin boy.
The French are famed as a romantic nation, but for those of us raised in a more reserved culture, their occasional tendency towards sweaty-crotched Gitane-smoke-in-the-face Gainsbourg-isms can seem a little, well, aggressive. Not so ‘L’Atalante’: this is a love story with the lightest touch, managing to be spiritual, sensual, serious and strange all at the same time.
Its 29-year-old director famously died before his debut feature was completed, but there’s more in this one film than most directors manage in a lifetime: more meaning, more emotion, more intensity. Perhaps it’s the out-of-the-past setting – a narrowboat plying the canals of rural France – or the weirdly disconnected central couple, or even the presence of Simon’s crusty, irascible Pere Jules. But something in Vigo’s film is not quite of this earth, and to watch it is the closest we may ever come to experiencing someone else’s dreams.
21. Sunrise (1927)
Not Rated | 94 min | Drama, Romance
An allegorical tale about a man fighting the good and evil within him. Both sides are made flesh - one a sophisticated woman he is attracted to and the other his wife.
The shift in attitudes over time can make old movies unexpectedly shocking: we expect attitudes to race and gender roles to be different. But ‘Sunrise’ is a film in which a man attempts, fairly brutally, to strangle his wife – and yet by the end she (and we) have completely forgiven him.
Murnau’s masterpiece remains one of the most visually impressive films ever shot. And it’s in the disparity between that visual splendor and the intimacy of the central couple that the film’s power lies: as the quote above stresses, this is a film about anyone, and everyone. The sets and actions in the story may be big, Shakespearian, and occasionally unbelievable, but the emotions are close, human, familiar – ‘small’ in the best possible sense.
22. The Lovers on the Bridge (1991)
R | 125 min | Drama, Romance
Alex, who's homeless and addicted to alcohol, and Michèle, who's losing her sight, form a relationship while sleeping rough on Paris's Pont-Neuf bridge.
Votes: 9,859 | Gross: $0.12M
'Les Amants du Pont-Neuf' ('The Lovers on the Bridge') is Leos Carax's valentine to amour fou, Paris and his then-partner Juliette Binoche. And it's as rapturous and irrational as true love itself. Even the story of its production is something of a romantic tragedy: three years in the making and spiralling wildly over budget as Carax reconstructed Paris’s iconic Pont-Neuf Bridge in the south of France, it's the kind of grand artistic expression that must fail in order to succeed.
The simple love story – between two bohemian bums, one a derelict fire-eater and one a painter losing her eyesight – could be the stuff of silent melodrama, but Carax crams it with sound and colour to the point of delirious sensory ecstasy.
23. Up (2009)
PG | 96 min | Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Seventy-eight year old Carl Fredricksen travels to Paradise Falls in his home equipped with balloons, inadvertently taking a young stowaway.
Votes: 766,077 | Gross: $293.00M
It’s remarkable that ‘Up’ has managed to sneak into the all-time top 25 romantic movies on the strength of a single 10-minute sequence, but it’s also testament to the extraordinary power this Pixar classic possesses.
It could’ve been so cutesy, so saccharine: a geeky kid with coke-bottle glasses dreams of being an explorer. The girl down the street wants the same thing. They grow up, fall in love, years pass, and we see the highs and lows of their life together: marriage, family, work, sickness, eventually death – a tapestry of honest emotion and meaning (and this, lest we forget, is a kids’ movie). The rest of ‘Up’ is ‘only’ hilarious and smart – but that opening is romance itself.
24. Before Sunrise (1995)
R | 101 min | Drama, Romance
A young man and woman meet on a train in Europe, and wind up spending one evening together in Vienna. Unfortunately, both know that this will probably be their only night together.
Votes: 214,164 | Gross: $5.54M
Proof that you don’t need a plot to fall in love, ‘Before Sunrise’ sees strangers on a train Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) meet-cute, disembark in Vienna, and dance a verbal tango into the night as the deadline of Jesse’s flight home looms.
You’d say that Delpy and Hawke have never been better were it not for the 2004 sequel ‘Before Sunset’, which shows us what happens next, and the 2013 instalment ‘Before Midnight’, which revisits the pair as middle age encroaches. A classy antidote to the notion that passion is purely physical, it’s the sporadically articulate philosophising and spiky gender-focused sparring that glues these two chatterboxes together.
25. When Harry Met Sally... (1989)
R | 96 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance
Harry and Sally have known each other for years, and are very good friends, but they fear sex would ruin the friendship.
Votes: 165,479 | Gross: $92.82M
In 2012, the world lost a legend. True, Nora Ephron’s work may have declined over the years, but her screenplay for ‘When Harry Met Sally...’ remains a masterpiece of romcom construction. Embracing, upending and inventing clichés left and right, crammed with one-liners, goofy asides and enough valid life lessons to rival the scriptures, it’s one of the few movie scripts that works just as well on the page as it does on the screen.
And pretty much everything else about the film is perfect, too, from Crystal and Ryan’s just-this-side-of-smug central couple to Fisher and Kirby as the petri-dish of marital dysfunction, from Harry Connick Jr’s just-the-other-side-of-smug crooning to the gorgeous photography of New York through the changing seasons. Bliss.
26. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)
Not Rated | 91 min | Drama, Musical, Romance
A young woman separated from her lover by war faces a life-altering decision.
Votes: 18,253 | Gross: $0.02M
You'd need to have a sliver of ice lodged in your heart not to be moved by ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’ – a musical that has even hardened musical-haters melting into puddles. Not that it’s a musical in the belt-‘em-out tradition. Instead, every word is sung rather than spoken as 17-year-old Geneviève (Deneuve) falls sweetly and madly in love with car mechanic Guy (Castelnuovo).
‘Umbrellas’ is one of the most ravishing films ever made, wrapped in candyfloss colours to match the blush of first love. When Guy is drafted to fight in Algeria, Geneviève is certain she will die of grief. But time passes and Geneviève doesn’t die. Love fades. And that’s the bittersweet message inside this exquisitely sugar coated pill.
27. The Bridges of Madison County (1995)
PG-13 | 135 min | Drama, Romance
Photographer Robert Kincaid wanders into the life of housewife Francesca Johnson, for four days in the 1960s.
Votes: 60,448 | Gross: $71.52M
This classy adaptation of Robert James Waller’s bestseller is ‘Brief Encounter’ in another time and another place. It’s mid-‘60s Iowa and Italian housewife Streep, long wedded to a local farmer, starts thinking about the life she could have had when dashing National Geographic photographer Clint turns up to shoot the famed covered bridges nearby.
While the latterday framing device is somewhat clunky, the central middle-aged romance is exquisitely inscribed through tender looks, stolen moments, and much sultry jazz on the radio, building to a wrenchingly bittersweet conclusion that love’s liberating affirmation doesn’t always arrive when circumstances allow it to flourish. ‘This kind of certainty comes but once in a lifetime’ is the key line, and we believe it. Sigh.
28. Romeo + Juliet (1996)
PG-13 | 120 min | Drama, Romance
Shakespeare's famous play is updated to the hip modern suburb of Verona still retaining its original dialogue.
Votes: 184,037 | Gross: $46.35M
Baz Luhrmann had some cast-iron source material to work with in the form of Shakespeare’s story – but the Australian writer-director took the playwright’s romantic tragedy to another place entirely with this ultra-modern reworking. At the same, he never lost sight of the essence of Shakespeare’s tale of two young lovers doomed from the first time they lay eyes on each other.
The moment that Romeo (DiCaprio, so young!) and Juliet (Danes, so young too!) meet at a wild fancy-dress party is pure bliss to watch, just as Luhrmann’s staging of the final death scene is almost impossible to bear. There are guns, hip-hop, open-topped cars and characters so larger-than-life that the whole thing now, in retrospect, feels like Tarantino directing a season-finale episode of ‘Dynasty’. It’s mad, musical and immensely moving.
29. Before Sunset (2004)
R | 80 min | Drama, Romance
Nine years after Jesse and Celine first met, they encounter each other again on the French leg of Jesse's book tour.
Votes: 187,287 | Gross: $5.79M
Nine years after the tantalisingly open ending of ‘Before Sunrise’, Richard Linklater revisits the couple who crackled with such chemistry in 1995 to see where life has taken the thirty-something versions of Jesse and Celine. This time, actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy not only played but also co-wrote their parts, and the result is that rare sequel that betters the original.
Plausibly seasoned by life’s knocks but unwilling to let go of a deeply ingrained romanticism, this Jesse and Celine are older, wiser and – just maybe – more suited to each other. Will they let go and make that leap into love? The question presses harder as the film’s fleeting 80-minute runtime slips past with a resolution apparently no closer
30. The African Queen (1951)
PG | 105 min | Adventure, Drama, Romance
In Africa during World War I, a gin-swilling riverboat captain is persuaded by a strait-laced missionary to use his boat to attack an enemy warship.
Votes: 63,006 | Gross: $0.54M
We tend to think of movies about old folks shacking up as being a modern phenomenon, as producers pursue the newfangled ‘grey pound’. But it’s really nothing new: in fact, when the original script for ‘The African Queen’ was presented to the censors, the busybodies were shocked at the idea of two unmarried persons enjoying a late-in-life romance in the sweaty confines of a rickety old tramp steamer.
‘The African Queen’ is one of the great films about delayed self-discovery: brittle spinster Hepburn’s realisation of her love for crusty, good-hearted layabout Bogart isn’t just believable, it feels completely necessary. Wise, warm, witty, and with just the hint of a sly, subversive twinkle in its eye, ‘The African Queen’ is old-school Hollywood at its absolute finest.
31. Amour (2012)
PG-13 | 127 min | Drama, Romance
Georges and Anne are an octogenarian couple. They are cultivated, retired music teachers. Their daughter, also a musician, lives in Britain with her family. One day, Anne has a stroke, and the couple's bond of love is severely tested.
Votes: 79,209 | Gross: $6.74M
‘What will survive of us is love,’ wrote Philip Larkin, a poet equally known for being a cuddly old romantic as Michael Haneke, the writer and director of ‘Amour’. In his Paris-set film, Haneke examines what love means when we’re reaching the end of our lives. Haneke gives us Georges (Trintignant) and Anne (Riva), a couple in their eighties who struggle to cope when Anne falls ill from a stroke.
‘Amour’ isn’t romantic in any traditional sense of the word, but it’s steeped in ideas about living life as a couple. It’s deeply thoughtful – and thought-provoking – in relation to what it really, properly means to be with someone all your life, to the end of your life. It’s heartbreaking and totally free of false sentiment.
32. The English Patient (1996)
R | 162 min | Drama, Romance, War
At the close of WWII, a young nurse tends to a badly-burned plane crash victim. His past is shown in flashbacks, revealing an involvement in a fateful love affair.
Votes: 156,083 | Gross: $78.65M
Thanks to ‘Seinfeld’, Anthony Minghella’s Oscar-guzzling, two-planed love story became the butt of many a joke with harder-hearted viewers. But the film’s lingering impression in the public imagination as a kind of saturated desert swoon does a disservice to its subdued yet shimmering sense of melancholy.
For all its sweeping sequences of radiantly lit passion, this adaptation of Michael Ondaatje’s Booker Prize-winning novel is more a story of love’s withered aftermath, as the disfigured Count de Almasy, dying in an Italian monastery at the end of WWII, is ironically sustained by memories of a lethal liaison with patrician married beauty Katherine. For a supposed romantic throwback, it’s impressively bleak, yet tinged with rapture – not least in the matchless beauty of its three leads.
33. Vertigo (1958)
PG | 128 min | Mystery, Romance, Thriller
A San Francisco detective suffering from acrophobia investigates the strange activities of an old friend's wife, all the while becoming dangerously obsessed with her.
Votes: 287,431 | Gross: $3.20M
It has pitched up at number 33 on our Top 100 Romantic Films list. And Hitchcock's noirish psychodrama about a former policeman's obsessive love for a dead woman also recently ousted the apparently unimpeachable ‘Citizen Kane’ from the number one spot in Sight & Sound magazine's critics' poll of the Best Films of all time.
Perhaps that means this tale of a lover moulding his girlfriend in the likeness of the memory that haunts him is too sinister to rate higher as pure romance? Surely not – for what could be more romantic than an extreme makeover with vague necrophiliac undertones?
34. Blue Valentine (2010)
R | 112 min | Drama, Romance
The relationship of a contemporary married couple, charting their evolution over a span of years by cross-cutting between time periods.
Votes: 158,886 | Gross: $9.74M
The rough follows the smooth in this bittersweet US indie which flits back and forth from the dying embers of a five-year marriage to the first throes of heady passion. Cindy and Dean are tired, frustrated young parents, but not long ago they were dancing on the streets. Cianfrance gives us a frank portrait of where love can head if there are problems from the start.
It's a difficult and sad watch, but an invigorating one as we run along with the energy of Cindy and Dean's first meetings and then scratch our heads at where it all went wrong. What makes 'Blue Valentine' a smart summary of a faltering romance are the specifics of Dean and Cindy's problems: there's no cynical suggestion that all or most relationships head south with time. Instead, Cianfrance makes subtle suggestions as to why this one might not last the distance.
35. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)
Not Rated | 94 min | Drama, Romance
An almost accidental romance is kindled between a German woman in her mid-sixties and a Moroccan migrant worker around twenty-five years younger. They abruptly decide to marry, appalling everyone around them.
Many of cinema’s most exciting moments come about as a result of unlikely juxtapositions. Who would’ve thought that taking the structure and form of 1950s Hollywood ‘womens’ pictures’ and transplanting them to grim, urban 1970s Germany would result in one of the sweetest, most challenging and emotive romantic films ever made?
Mira plays Emmi, the solitary, spreading middle-aged cleaner who starts an affair with a Moroccan ‘gastarbeiter’ two decades her junior. What’s remarkable about Fassbinder’s film is that he takes these two diametric characters and makes their love completely convincing – not for a second do we wonder why the strapping Ali cares so much for crumbling Emmi, or vice versa.
36. All That Heaven Allows (1955)
Not Rated | 89 min | Drama, Romance
An upper-class widow falls in love with a much younger, down-to-earth nurseryman, much to the disapproval of her children and criticism of her country club peers.
The swooning Technicolor palette, the pristine costumes and the fairly standard odd-couple romance between a rich widow, Cary (Wyman), and a Thoreau-reading gardener, Ron (Hudson), only serve to make the social commentary in Sirk’s film all the more powerful.
‘All That Heaven Allows’ is a blistering exposé of how society’s attitudes serve to throw cold water on passion and keep our purer romantic instincts in check. Scenes of folk gossiping behind the couple’s backs or predatory men leaping on Cary are shocking and only make us root even more for Cary and Ron’s relationship (even if the film lacks a genuine spark between the pair).
The film proved an inspiration for two later inquiring romances, Fassbinder’s ‘Fear Eats the Soul’ and Todd Haynes’s ‘Far From Heaven’, both of which took Sirk’s interest in sexual repression and love-across-the-divide in very different directions.
37. Breathless (1960)
Not Rated | 90 min | Crime, Drama
A small-time thief steals a car and impulsively murders a motorcycle policeman. Wanted by the authorities, he reunites with a hip American journalism student and attempts to persuade her to run away with him to Italy.
Votes: 59,136 | Gross: $0.34M
As love stories go, 'Breathless' ('À Bout de Souffle') is not one for the ages. Jean-Paul Belmondo, playing a Parisian wideboy on the run after shooting a cop, and Jean Seberg as the hipster American newspaper girl who unwittingly shelters him, look impossibly beautiful together, smoking Lucky Strikes and debating existentialist theory in bed. But they seem entirely too cool to be in love.
Yet Godard’s groundbreaking New Wave take on the Hollywood B-movie is romantic almost in spite of itself. Its still-youthful jazz rhythms, its fresh exploration of Paris at its most invitingly chic and its sexy bedroom talk are what so many of us want romance to look and feel like. So we’re more than happy to indulge it, like the cinematic equivalent of a dirty weekend.
38. Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
Not Rated | 115 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance
A young New York socialite becomes interested in a young man who has moved into her apartment building, but her past threatens to get in the way.
It’s the role that Audrey Hepburn will forever be remembered for: the beautiful, bolshy city girl with a brittle edge in this handsome, well-dressed adaptation of Truman Capote’s novella. Of course, Edwards’ film deftly sidestepped the sadder, seedier aspects of Holly Golightly’s life in the book – working as a high-society escort in early 1960s Manhattan. Instead, the film prefers to indulge the on-off, will-they-won’t-they aspect of her relationship with Paul (Peppard), her dapper neighbour.
To be frank, the spark between Hepburn and Peppard is lacking, and there’s little about ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ that truly sets the heart ablaze. What’s fun, though, is the giddiness of Holly’s life and her dashes about town with Paul (to a strip club, a stuffy library and, of course, the famous jewellery store). What the film most bequeaths us is the romantic ideal of the witty, couture-clad, urbane, dark-haired beauty: the Hepburn that launched a thousand Audreys.
39. The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
R | 112 min | Action, Adventure, Drama
Three trappers protect a British Colonel's daughters in the midst of the French and Indian War.
Votes: 126,245 | Gross: $75.51M
Is ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ really a boy’s own adventure? No, of course not. It’s a romance cleverly disguised as a swashbuckler. The year is 1757, and the British and French are fighting for control of North America. Daniel Day-Lewis is Hawkeye, a white man raised by Native Americans who saves British general’s daughter Cora (Madeleine Stowe) from a murderous tribe.
But Cora is no helpless dame – watch her slip a musket into her pocket. There is no game-playing between these two. ‘What are you looking at, sir?’ she asks. ‘I’m looking at you miss.’ In that one moment, in their shy smiles, we know they are destined to be together. This is epic romance, and you can’t help being swept away – in spite of that Enya-ish soundtrack.
40. Titanic (1997)
PG-13 | 194 min | Drama, Romance
A seventeen-year-old aristocrat falls in love with a kind but poor artist aboard the luxurious, ill-fated R.M.S. Titanic.
Votes: 882,433 | Gross: $659.33M
Few films inspire as much passion as James Cameron’s epic would-be folly. Following a troubled production, when the film finally splashed into cinemas, it became the biggest money-spinner of all time, provoking an ocean of housewives’ tears and one of the biggest Oscar hauls in history. Then the backlash hit, like an iceberg in Arctic waters: wait a second, people pointed out, the dialogue’s godawful, the depiction of social class is farcical, and the romance is just join-the-dots Mills and Boon nonsense.
So which is true? Well, both, to be fair. ‘Titanic’ is an incredibly involving experience, especially once the ship hits the berg and all hell breaks loose. Sure, it’s about as intellectually valid as a Jilly Cooper novel, but if you’re looking for a high-concept crowd-pleaser with its heart firmly on its sleeve, they don’t come much bigger, sillier or more enjoyable
41. The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
Not Rated | 99 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance
Two employees at a gift shop can barely stand each other, without realizing that they are falling in love through the post as each other's anonymous pen pal.
You can’t blame a great film for the indignities it spawned. ‘The Shop Around the Corner’ was the inspiration behind both ‘Are You Being Served?’ and gooey romcom ‘You’ve Got Mail’, but that doesn’t dim the brilliance of Lubitsch’s original.
We tend to think of pre-war Hollywood as being a fairly insular, conservative sort of place. But here’s a mainstream comedy set in Hungary (already an Axis collaborator by the time the film was shot), pushing the idea that those benighted Europeans – a world away from middle America – had ordinary lives, loves and values of their own. The performances are perfect, the hate-to-love plotline painstakingly constructed, and the dialogue sparkles like diamonds.
42. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
PG-13 | 94 min | Adventure, Comedy, Drama
A pair of young lovers flee their New England town, which causes a local search party to fan out to find them.
Votes: 268,721 | Gross: $45.51M
Romance isn't the first thing you expect from a Wes Anderson film, but in this delightful 1960s-set tale, the American auteur employs all his usual tricks – hip soundtrack, arch dialogue, super-careful production design – in the service of a story about the chaos and madness of young love.
Sam and Suzy are 12-year-olds on the run. Suzy is precocious and independent; Sam is nerdy and serious. They don't get very far, but a mile's a long way when you're 12, and danger is never far away. What's lovely is how seriously Anderson takes Sam and Suzy's adventure, while also laying on the humour and the irony. By the time the pair steal a smooch on a deserted beach, we're totally smitten.
43. Dirty Dancing (1987)
PG-13 | 100 min | Drama, Music, Romance
Spending the summer at a Catskills resort with her family, Frances "Baby" Houseman falls in love with the camp's dance instructor, Johnny Castle.
Votes: 160,017 | Gross: $63.95M
She dreamt of studying the economics of underdeveloped countries and volunteering for the Peace Corps. He just wanted to dance the night away. Until one day she manhandles some watermelons into his backstage area (not a metaphor), and falls in love at first sight.
Filmed at the peak of Patrick Swayze’s handsomeness, with a healthy dollop of none-more-’80s style and a cracking jukebox full of irresistibly catchy numbers, a thousand clip shows would have us remember ‘Dirty Dancing’ as something of a minor classic. And, for once, they would be right on the money.
44. Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Not Rated | 102 min | Comedy, Family, Romance
While trying to secure a $1 million donation for his museum, a befuddled paleontologist is pursued by a flighty and often irritating heiress and her pet leopard, Baby.
Like its bumbling protagonist, Hawks’ archetypal screwball classic went from disaster to darling. The tale of a paleontologist (Grant), a society dame (Hepburn), a snappy terrier and a stray Brazilian leopard, ‘Bringing Up Baby’ ran seriously over budget and over schedule thanks to animal misbehaviour coupled with Grant and Hepburn’s inability to stop making each other laugh during takes.
It flopped disastrously on first release: Hawks’ contract with producers RKO was cut short and Hepburn was labeled ‘box office poison’ by a top exec. Two decades later, following a series of successful TV showings, the film was rightly recognised as the pinnacle of the screwball art: no film was ever so fast, so witty and so gorgeously irrational.
45. Weekend (II) (2011)
Not Rated | 97 min | Drama, Romance
After a drunken house party with his straight mates, Russell heads out to a gay club. Just before closing time he picks up Glen but what's expected to be just a one-night stand becomes something else, something special.
Votes: 23,159 | Gross: $0.46M
This British film, shot on a shoestring, captures in a lively and fresh style the first throes of attraction, passion and maybe even love between two men, Glen (New) and Russell (Cullen), who meet one night in a bar and spend a couple of days and nights together. They talk, they have sex, they size each other up. Glen is open and chatty, while Russell is more guarded and defensive.
Haigh’s film is marked by an immediacy and a sense of tentative exploration that’s rare in depictions of couplings, and by a keen awareness that we project one image on the world and hold another back for ourselves. Not a great deal happens in terms of big events, but the film’s honesty and realism mean that it’s a little film with a lot to say.
46. Pretty Woman (1990)
R | 119 min | Comedy, Romance
A man in a legal but hurtful business needs an escort for some social events, and hires a beautiful prostitute he meets... only to fall in love.
Votes: 239,594 | Gross: $178.41M
Roberts offered a very different shot in the arm to prostitutes everywhere with this ludicrous but undeniably charming romantic fantasy about a Hollywood streetwalker who falls for a stinking rich businessman (Gere) after he hires her for a week to be his companion at dinners and evening engagements, in between his epic workload of barking at lawyers.
Sure, the idea of a prostitute who’s as beautiful, clean, happy and glamorous as Roberts is absurd, but then Gere’s portrait of the archetypal 1980s business shark with a core of ice yearning to be melted is just as caricatured as her tart with a heart.
‘Pretty Woman’ is slushy, cheesy and so smoothly crafted that it succeeds as the very definition of romantic escapism. Roberts also has some winning comic moments, including her curtain-call quip to an elderly lady at the opera: ‘It was so good I almost pee’d my pants.’
47. Lost in Translation (2003)
R | 102 min | Drama
A faded movie star and a neglected young woman form an unlikely bond after crossing paths in Tokyo.
Votes: 352,460 | Gross: $44.59M
Two different souls, years apart in age, meet in the same upscale Tokyo hotel in which they’re staying and spend a chaste but intimate few days together sharing feelings and experiences. She (Johansson) is a young New Yorker whose husband is on a photographic assignment; he (Murray) is an actor making a whisky advert in the city.
They know nothing about each other. But they spend a weekend talking, walking and exploring Tokyo together, and it’s all the more romantic because it feels so transient and unlikely. It helps that Johansson is beautiful and has a youthful world-weariness and that Murray gives one of his very best performances, offering an endearing mix of damage and charm. The whole thing feels like a snatched dream.
48. Ghost (1990)
PG-13 | 127 min | Drama, Fantasy, Romance
After a young man is murdered, his spirit stays behind to warn his lover of impending danger, with the help of a reluctant psychic.
Votes: 167,859 | Gross: $217.63M
Screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin was initially dismayed to hear that producers planned to hand his heartbreaking supernatural romance over to ‘Airplane!’ director Jerry Zucker (‘I thought with this director that they were going to turn “Ghost” into some kind of comedy and it’d be horrible’), but in fact the move led to a skilfully put-together mixture of tearjerker and madcap farce, enabling Whoopi Goldberg to turn in an Oscar-winning Best Supporting Actress performance for her role as con artist/medium Oda Mae Brown.
Counting sexy pottery as a given, ‘Ghost’ is also romantically notable for the queer frisson of the scene where Sam's spirit possesses Oda Mae to share one final dance with Demi Moore's grieving Molly.
49. West Side Story (1961)
Not Rated | 153 min | Crime, Drama, Musical
Two youngsters from rival New York City gangs fall in love, but tensions between their respective friends build toward tragedy.
Votes: 80,556 | Gross: $43.66M
Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Romeo + Juliet’ may have made all the tweeners’ hearts melt (and scored a higher place on this list), but the real hep chicks and finger-poppin’ daddies know which version of Shakespeare’s play is the real leader of the pack.
‘West Side Story’ is like no other musical: sure, it’s sappy (‘Mariaaaaaaaaaa’) and slightly ridiculous, but it’s also brazenly political (‘if you’re all white in A-me-ri-ca!’), sneakily self-mocking (‘Hey, I got a social disease!’) and ferociously, aggressively emotional: the operatic finale is a masterclass in three-hanky audience manipulation. Also, the film contains perhaps the single best song ever written for the musical theatre: ‘Somewhere’, the ultimate romantic ballad for trapped and dreaming lovers.
50. His Girl Friday (1940)
Not Rated | 92 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance
A newspaper editor uses every trick in the book to keep his ace reporter ex-wife from remarrying.
You’ll need to hover your finger over the pause button of your remote to catch the one-liners in the fastest-talking screwball comedy of them all. Hildy Johnson (Russell) has just quit her job as star reporter on the Morning Post to marry a nice-but-dim insurance salesman. Trouble is her boss, Walter (Grant), who just so happens to be her ex husband, won’t let her go.
Adapting the hit Broadway show ‘The Front Page’ into a movie, director Howard Hawks made a stroke-of-genius change: turning it from a story about two male reporters into the tale of a former husband and wife couple. Naturally, they’re still crazy about each other. And Russell’s shoulder pads are almost as sharp as her wit as she fires off insults at Grant: ‘You’re wonderful in a loathsome sort of way’.
51. An Affair to Remember (1957)
Not Rated | 115 min | Drama, Romance
A couple falls in love and agrees to meet in six months at the Empire State Building - but will it happen?
A playboy (Cary Grant) and a chanteuse (Deborah Kerr) fall in love on a transatlantic liner. Both are already attached but when they dock at New York, they agree to meet at the Empire State Building in six months’ time. Such is the set-up for one of Hollywood’s most imperishable romances, which Leo McCarey first directed in 1939 as ‘Love Affair’ (starring Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne) and remade in 1957 as ‘An Affair to Remember’.
There’s another version, 1994’s ‘Love Affair’ – a tepid showcase for Warren Beatty and Annette Bening. But as any fan of ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ will tell you, the 1957 film is the most enduring, allowing Grant to play simmering passion beneath a debonair exterior, while Kerr suggests fervent yearning behind that reserved front. Hokey? Yes. Manipulative? Certainly. But we defy you not to blub like Meg Ryan.
52. Notorious (1946)
Not Rated | 101 min | Drama, Film-Noir, Romance
A woman is asked to spy on a group of Nazi friends in South America. How far will she have to go to ingratiate herself with them?
Votes: 80,204 | Gross: $10.46M
'Vertigo’ gets all the love from the critical fraternity, but Hitchcock’s earlier romantic thriller is equally potent in its passionate turmoil. Just after WWII, party girl Bergman has a chance to atone for her Nazi father’s sins by helping US secret service agent Grant uncover a nest of spies in Rio. They begin a torrid affair, yet her mission entails seducing her way into the house of sleek schemer Rains. Is Grant’s suddenly icy demeanour a reflection of professional responsibility? Or a spurned lover’s hauteur?
Churning emotions, deliciously complex and grown-up, run through an increasingly gripping suspense plot, and though it’s the star-powered glamour we remember, closer reacquaintance reveals an anguished undertow of guilty yearning and chastening self-denial that’s quintessentially Hitchcockian.
53. Edward Scissorhands (1990)
PG-13 | 105 min | Drama, Fantasy, Romance
A gentle man, with scissors for hands, is brought into a new community after living in isolation.
Votes: 392,170 | Gross: $56.36M
The scariest thing about Burton’s gothic fairy tale is reading the list of actors who were considered for the part of Edward, the man with scissors for hands created by a scientist. The studio insisted Burton meet Tom Cruise (who believed the story needed a ‘happier ending’). Michael Jackson badly wanted the part. Tom Hanks turned it down.
Finally, Burton got his way and cast Johnny Depp, who, like a Camden goth Charlie Chaplin, plays Edward with a dash of slapstick and sad-eyed loneliness (watch Edward’s scissor fingers twitch when he’s nervous). It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Depp and Burton, who’ve made seven films together since. Not such a happy ending for Depp and his co-star and then-girlfriend, Ryder. They split in 1993.
54. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
PG | 130 min | Drama, Family, Fantasy
An angel is sent from Heaven to help a desperately frustrated businessman by showing him what life would have been like if he had never existed.
Votes: 320,266 | Gross: $7.27M
Stewart put in a career-defining performance in this inverted Christmas Carol fable. He plays good-hearted but despairing small town family man George Bailey, who, in the ultimate Capra premise, is brought back from the brink by an angel showing him what would have happened if he'd never been born.
The first film Capra made after returning from World War II, the picture celebrates what Ken Loach's 2013 documentary identifies as ‘The Spirit of '45’ – communities doing the right thing for working families instead of relentlessly pursuing cold hard shiny profit. Perhaps it's indicative of how pie-in-the-sky these simple values seem to contemporary society that we're classing ‘It's a Wonderful Life’ as a romance.
55. Show Me Love (1998)
Not Rated | 89 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance
Two teenage girls in small-town Sweden. Elin is beautiful, popular, and bored with life. Agnes is friendless, sad, and secretly in love with Elin.
Votes: 45,273 | Gross: $0.17M
The original Swedish title of Moodyson’s gem-like début is actually *beep* Amal’, a declaration of sheer outrage at being teenage and ready for anything in a provincial backwater where nothing ever happens. Liljeberg’s mousy misfit harbouring unrequited feelings is almost a standard-issue protagonist in these circumstances, but Moodyson shows his insight by depicting blonde bombshell Dahlström, the object of her affections, as a time-bomb of hormonal and existential frustration herself – so creating tantalising romantic possibilities between them.
Spot-on in its registering of bitter class realities and affectionate regard for the sheer uselessness of the adolescent male, this is a funny, true and eventually stirring rallying call for anyone who’s ever thought or felt different. And it even makes Foreigner sound heart-pumpingly fab.
56. The Philadelphia Story (1940)
Not Rated | 112 min | Comedy, Romance
When a rich woman's ex-husband and a tabloid-type reporter turn up just before her planned remarriage, she begins to learn the truth about herself.
Look up ‘fizzy’ in a film dictionary and you’ll find a shot of Katharine Hepburn as Tracy Lord (no relation to the porn star), the snappy, snippy, self-regarding heroine of Cukor’s magnificent country house comedy.
Taking his cues from Shakespeare (it could comfortably have been retitled ‘Much Ado About a Midsummer Night’s Shrew-Taming’), playwright Philip Barry weaves a tangled web of delicious misunderstandings and deliberate misdemeanours as three mismatched men – sarky but self-improved ex-husband Grant, youthfully exuberant writer Stewart and dull, well-meaning fiancé John Howard – take it in turns to tilt at Hepburn’s hard-nosed heiress. And if there’s a sneaking suspicion at the end that she picked the wrong one – ‘Four Weddings’-style – that’s all part of the film’s restless, headspinning charm.
57. It Happened One Night (1934)
Not Rated | 105 min | Comedy, Romance
A spoiled heiress running away from her family is helped by a man who is actually a reporter in need of a story.
Here it is, ground zero, the birth of the modern romantic comedy. Not that there hadn’t been romances before, some of them fairly amusing. But ‘It Happened One Night’ was the one that codified the rules of engagement: mismatched lovers thrown together by circumstance; snappy, off-the-cuff repartee; grand, irrational gestures of devotion; endings so deliriously happy that nothing could ever go wrong again.
It had a troubled production – both Gable and Colbert found the script tasteless – but when the movie picked up all five major Academy Awards, their criticism understandably abated. It’s been endlessly remade (twice in Bollywood alone) and can count both Stalin and Hitler among its celebrity fans. But ‘It Happened One Night’ remains the genius genesis moment for the romcom – and Hollywood has never looked back.
58. An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)
R | 124 min | Drama, Romance
A young man must complete his work at a Navy Officer Candidate School to become an aviator, with the help of a tough Gunnery Sergeant and his new girlfriend.
Votes: 41,508 | Gross: $129.80M
‘Star Wars’ showed the movie business that audiences were ready for old-fashioned stories in shiny new packaging, and this mega-hit melodrama took a not-dissimilar approach. Old Hollywood might have pictured the local girl trying to keep her honour yet win the heart of a dashing navy recruit. Here, Richard Gere hogs the limelight as the would-be flyboy learning to love someone other than himself – while Debra Winger alternates good-girl and bad-girl moves.
It’s far from subtle, but certainly delivers more grit than a payload of weepy master Nicholas Sparks’ adaptations. And the big hit single made the image of uniformed Gere ubiquitous for a while – provided you could get goggle-eyed, windmill-armed vocalist Joe Cocker out of your mind.
59. The Way We Were (1973)
PG | 118 min | Drama, Romance
Two desperate people have a wonderful romance, but their political views and convictions drive them apart.
‘Scattered pictures from the corners of my mind…’ Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s lyrics and Marvin Hamlisch’s melody proved an Oscar-winning combination, bolstering the already considerable star power which has long made this a mums’ favourite. Barbra Streisand is a bolshy, strident Jewish lefty, Redford a WASP prince out to further his own literary career. They seem like chalk and cheese, but such is the stuff of romantic sagas.
That said, the movie never seems quite sure whether it’s unabashed retro-styled escapism or a serious look at the currents of US politics leading to the cultural strife of the ’50s – though the studio’s slashing cuts to the McCarthy-era footage certainly tip it towards the former. Like the song says, ‘Misty watercolor memories, of the way we were’.
60. (500) Days of Summer (2009)
PG-13 | 95 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance
An offbeat romantic comedy about a woman who doesn't believe true love exists, and the young man who falls for her.
Votes: 416,885 | Gross: $32.39M
A post-modern post-mortem of love – or something like it – ‘(500) Days Of Summer’ introduces us to Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel), a lady since invoked in countless discussions of that stock indie romcom character, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
A trainee architect working as a greetings card writer, Tom falls hard for the kooky charms of his boss’s new secretary, despite the advice of friends who warn him off and Summer herself, who tells him she doesn’t believe in love. Against all the odds, the couple bond over a shared affection for little-known balladeers The Smiths – and the rest is non-linear narrative history.
61. Secretary (2002)
R | 107 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance
A young woman, recently released from a mental hospital, gets a job as a secretary to a demanding lawyer, where their employer-employee relationship turns into a sexual, sadomasochistic one.
Votes: 73,349 | Gross: $4.06M
Before there was ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’, there was E Edward Grey (James Spader), a boss who exercises a penchant for strict discipline on new hire Lee (Maggie Gyllenhaal). In contrast to ‘Fifty Shades…’, which metastasised out of ‘Twilight’ fan fiction, the literary origins of ‘Secretary’ are more respectable: a short story by Mary Gaitskill, whose writings about BDSM go a bit deeper than the recent bonkbusters.
The skewed romance at the heart of ‘Secretary’ is beautifully played; the characters never come off as dabblers trying to spice things up a bit with fluffy-cuffed role-play, but as submissive and dominant to the core of their sexual identities.
62. Gregory's Girl (1980)
PG | 91 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance
Gregory is a normal teen who is infatuated with a classmate. He must work to win her affection.
Figuring out who we’re in love with is, of course, a key part of the romantic process. Too many films feature lightning-bolt moments, where the rightness of a match is obvious and irrevocable – cue happy ending. So it’s nice that there are a few movies out there saying, well, hang on a minute. Love at first sight is all very well, but isn’t that a rather shallow and reckless way to select a mate?
‘Gregory’s Girl’ starts with the lightning bolt – gangly Glaswegian Gregory spots leggy keepy-uppy expert Dorothy (Hepburn) – then patiently explains why, for someone as irrational and irregular as Gregory, that kind of perfect love probably won’t work. So why not try someone a little closer to home? The result is pragmatic, sure, but that doesn’t make it any less romantic.
63. The Crucified Lovers (1954)
Not Rated | 102 min | Drama, History, Romance
Ishun is a wealthy, but unsympathetic, master printer who has wrongly accused his wife and best employee of being lovers. To escape punishment, the accused run away together, but Ishun is certain to be ruined if word gets out.
Adapted from an ancient Japanese fable, ‘Chikamatsu Monogotari’ sees master director Kenji Mizoguchi prove his worth alongside the likes of Shakespeare and Thomas Hardy as an all-time master of the populist romantic tragedy. It’s the tale of a simple clerk, Mohei (Hasegawa), who does a slightly crooked but well-meant favour for the boss’s wife, Osan (Kagawa), and, in the ensuing fallout, is forced to go on the run with her, accused of adultery, for which the penalty in seventeenth-century Japan was public crucifixion.
So begins a thrilling, devastating journey through the hinterland, as the forces of propriety and tradition band together to frustrate the lovers’ happiness. Unabashedly sentimental but rich with meaning and subtle purpose, Mizoguchi’s film teaches us that one moment of reckless love is worth more than a lifetime of socially approved loneliness.
64. Jules and Jim (1962)
Not Rated | 105 min | Drama, Romance
Decades of a love triangle concerning two friends and an impulsive woman.
Truffaut’s freewheeling tale of a menage à trois burns as brightly today as it did in 1962, tripping along on playful New Wave energy. Moreau is unforgettable as force of nature Catherine, who steals the hearts of two young writers in 1910s Paris. Catherine is Jules’s girl. She’s not beautiful or intelligent, but she is a real woman, he says. The three skip around Paris together. Life’s a holiday.
One night, as the two men spout nonsense about a Strindberg play, Catherine hurls herself into the Seine. She’s unpredictable like that. Later, when she switches allegiances to Jim, Jules can’t bear to be apart from her. Let Jim have her, but let her stay in his life. The years can’t dim the warmth or humanity of Truffaut’s third (and best) film.
65. The Graduate (1967)
PG | 106 min | Comedy, Drama
A disillusioned college graduate finds himself torn between his older lover and her daughter.
Votes: 226,592 | Gross: $104.95M
How romantic is ‘The Graduate’, really? Are we talking about the affair between Benjamin Braddock (Hoffman) and Mrs Robinson (Bancroft), in which he’s driven by adolescent lust and gnawing boredom, and she by a desperate desire to revisit her youth, to feel something, anything for a change? Or do we mean the engagement between Benjamin and Mrs Robinson’s daughter Elaine (Ross), in which both characters appear to be marching through some sort of societally mandated courtship routine, without ever really meeting in the middle?
And yet, despite the cynicism and the ironic distance, despite that frankly terrifying closing shot of Ben and Elaine on the bus, miles distant, there’s still something bracing and heartfelt about ‘The Graduate’. Perhaps in showing us all this tragic emptiness, Nichols is encouraging us to confront it.
66. Betty Blue (1986)
Not Rated | 120 min | Drama, Romance
A lackadaisical handyman and aspiring novelist tries to support his younger girlfriend as she slowly succumbs to madness.
Votes: 14,939 | Gross: $2.00M
Amour fou: the French invented the term and this shows you why. In her very first movie, the 21-year-old Béatrice Dalle delivered a career-defining performance which transcends mere pouting petulance to embody a wide-eyed, crockery-smashing, blade-wielding, bush-flashing rage to live. Struggling writer Anglade does his best to provide the unconditional affection she craves, but will anything be enough to quieten Betty’s inner torment?
Quintessentially French, quintessentially ’80s, as ‘Diva’ auteur Beneix revels in an eye-popping palette of electric blues, neon yellows and lipstick crimson. Tellingly, it’s best experienced in the deliriously grandiloquent 186-minute director’s cut rather than the more familiar but deeply compromised two-hour release version, which struggles to make sense of Betty’s extreme psychology.
67. Moulin Rouge! (2001)
PG-13 | 127 min | Drama, Musical, Romance
A poet falls for a beautiful courtesan whom a jealous duke covets.
Votes: 241,081 | Gross: $57.39M
Baz Luhrmann takes the lavish staging of Bollywood, mashes up elements of the Greek myth of Orpheus together with Giuseppe Verdi's opera La Traviata, and throws it all into a kaleidoscopic blender along with some of the catchiest Western pop songs of the 20th century.
As with Luhrmann's inspirations, events are entirely passion-powered, as Ewan McGregor's ‘oh-so-talented, charmingly bohemian, tragically impoverished’ writer Christian conceives an amour fou for Nicole Kidman's courtesan Satine, serenading her with lines like ‘the greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return’. Of course, given the consumptive Satine is carrying more tuberculosis bacteria than your average badger colony, the greatest thing she's likely to have passed on to poor old Christian is a highly infectious lethal disease.
68. Wings of Desire (1987)
PG-13 | 128 min | Drama, Fantasy, Romance
An angel tires of overseeing human activity and wishes to become human when he falls in love with a mortal.
Votes: 52,915 | Gross: $3.21M
Long before his face became part of a thousand ‘Downfall’ memes on Youtube, Bruno Ganz played an angel in love with a mortal trapeze artist in West Berlin, in Wim Wenders’s romantic metaphysical fantasy. Employing a similar coded combination of colour and black and white to Powell and Pressburger's ‘A Matter of Life and Death’, the celestial perspective is purer but more remote, asking us to consider the appeal of everyday humanity from the outsiders' point of view.
Check out the loose Nicolas Cage remake ‘City of Angels’ if you'd like to see a Hollywood spin on the same big questions (‘Never date a man who knows more about your vagina than you do.’).
69. Singin' in the Rain (1952)
G | 103 min | Comedy, Musical, Romance
A silent film production company and cast make a difficult transition to sound.
Votes: 175,630 | Gross: $8.82M
The story of the transition from silent movies to the 'talkies' has created a sub-genre all of its own, including movies from 'Sunset Blvd' (1950) to 'The Artist' (2011). Here, it's a light-hearted affair set in the late 1920s as silent star Don Lockwood (Kelly) bumps into Kathy Selden (Reynolds), a chorus girl, when he leaps into her car and she pretends to be a serious actress.
It's a classic case of chilly antagonism thawing into true love as Don and Kathy finally fall for each other and become colleagues when his studio wants to make a talking picture and she has to step in to replace the unappealing voice of movie star Lina Lamont (Hagen). But more famous than any romance, surely, is the opening-credits song-and-dance sequence of Kelly and co performing the title tune?
70. Bright Star (2009)
PG | 119 min | Biography, Drama, Romance
The three-year romance between 19th-century poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne near the end of his life.
Votes: 22,985 | Gross: $4.44M
Sometimes the line between disaster and perfection is alarmingly fine. By all rights, ‘Bright Star’ should’ve been awful: a simpering love story between a fey poet and a bolshy society girl, all bulging bodices and whispered nothings. But then Jane Campion grabbed the reins as director, and produced perhaps the most intense and mesmerising romantic film of the century so far, a gorgeous, gossamer-light look at love as living poetry.
The Georgian trappings are beautifully designed, but they’re never allowed to overwhelm the story: this could’ve been shot in sackcloth on a sound stage and it would still have been deeply moving. The two leads are wonderful, but the real acting honours are unexpectedly stolen by Paul Schneider as Keats’ colleague Charles Brown, whose snappy Scots irascibility somehow allows the central romance to shine out all the brighter.
71. Head-On (2004)
R | 121 min | Drama, Romance
With the intention to break free from the strict familial restrictions, a suicidal young woman sets up a marriage of convenience with a forty-year-old addict, an act that will lead to an outburst of envious love.
Judging by his ravaged-rocker looks, Turkish-born, Hamburg-resident Birol Ünel is heading for oblivion by the scenic route – drink, drugs, sex, argy-bargy – and that’s before he drives his car head-on into a wall. The last thing he needs while recovering in a psychiatric unit is an offer of marriage from fellow patient Sibel Kekilli, another Turkish-German misfit of equally volatile temperament.
The mayhem which follows has a lot to say about the travails of growing up between two cultures – one ultra-liberal, the other repressive – but amid all the rage, blood and aggro of a truly headbanging storyline, there’s a profoundly moving recognition of the power of love to bring meaning and commitment where previously only existed substance-fuelled nihilism. A stone-cold modern classic.
72. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)
R | 171 min | Drama, Romance
In 1968, a Czech doctor with an active sex life meets a woman who wants monogamy, and then the Soviet invasion further disrupts their lives.
Votes: 29,493 | Gross: $10.01M
Some of the greatest love stories hinge on denial rather than devotion. Philip Kaufman's shiveringly erotic adaptation of Milan Kundera's 1968-set novel – which many thought too tangled up in its characters’ psychologies to be filmed at all – is remarkable for the romance it builds around a man with no desire to be in love.
Daniel Day-Lewis is ideally cast as Tomas, a young Czech surgeon whose pursuit of an emotion-free sex life is fostered and challenged, respectively, by Lena Olin's uptown artist and Juliette Binoche's sincerely adoring country waif. Between and beyond this brittle love triangle are some of the sexiest sex scenes ever put to celluloid, as the Prague Spring withers and the true cost of free love is learned
73. The Notebook (2004)
PG-13 | 123 min | Drama, Romance
A poor yet passionate young man falls in love with a rich young woman, giving her a sense of freedom, but they are soon separated because of their social differences.
Votes: 440,877 | Gross: $81.00M
The, er, literary oeuvre of Nicholas Sparks has been churned into an awful lot of insipid Hollywood schlock – nobody past puberty got misty-eyed over Miley Cyrus in ‘The Last Song’, and surely no one of any age remembers Kevin Costner in ‘Message in a Bottle’.
On the face of it, it’s hard to say why the aggressively sentimental ‘The Notebook’ is any different. But there’s something so earnest about the way this star-crossed teen romance – he’s a common country boy, she’s a beautiful heiress, you do the math – hits its clichéd marks that the film itself takes on the unassailable, idealistic purity of first love. Magic casting, too: here’s where the world’s love affair with Ryan Gosling started, before he got way too cool for this sort of thing.
74. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
R | 122 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance
After a stint in a mental institution, former teacher Pat Solitano moves back in with his parents and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife. Things get more challenging when Pat meets Tiffany, a mysterious girl with problems of her own.
Votes: 587,456 | Gross: $132.09M
You know that moment when you meet someone for the first time and something clicks? Maybe you bond over a mutual hatred of beetroot. Or love the same film? That’s exactly what happens to Pat (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) in ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ – except it’s anti-depressant side effects they bond over.
He’s recovering from a nasty manic episode. She’s been sleeping around since her husband died (‘I'm just the crazy slut with a dead husband!’) As romcoms go, this is awkward and messy, but motors on offbeat energy and a fast-paced wisecracking script. It’s a date movie with a beating heart, a story that believes in love. A happy pill of a film.
75. City Lights (1931)
G | 87 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance
With the aid of a wealthy erratic tippler, a dewy-eyed tramp who has fallen in love with a sightless flower girl accumulates money to be able to help her medically.
Votes: 127,927 | Gross: $0.02M
Essentially one of the first romcoms, as well as an undisputed silent era highlight, ‘City Lights’ sees Chaplin’s Little Tramp fall for a blind flower girl and accidentally-on-purpose lead her to believe he’s a millionaire.
Shenanigans ensue, with plenty of the kind of old-timey gags beloved of ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘Family Guy’ cutaways, some of which have dated, and some of which still seem as fresh as any Frat Pack set piece (a frenetic drunk driving sequence boasts the immortal exchange: ‘Watch your driving!’ ‘Am I driving?’). But it’s the rom more than the com which keeps us coming back to ‘City Lights’ – the quite literally touching finale is undiminished.
76. Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
R | 117 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance
Over the course of five social occasions, a committed bachelor must consider the notion that he may have discovered love.
Votes: 118,060 | Gross: $52.70M
Yes, it’s all a bit safe and cosy, but it’s the touch of chaos and the breezy sense of truth running through Richard Curtis’s neatly-structured romcom that makes it so appealing and enduring. It’s also so very British, from the vicar (Rowan Atkinson) with a penchant for Spoonerisms when conducting marriages to the cringey best-man speeches and the delicious caricatures of wedding guests.
At its heart is Grant’s winning portrait of a man unlucky in love, and it’s impossible to imagine another actor in the role. It may sound silly nearly 20 years on, but respect to Curtis, too, for putting an uncomplicated gay relationship at the heart of such a mainstream film – and ensuring there’s not a dry eye in the house when that WH Auden poem is read at the funeral of Simon Callow’s character.
77. Holiday (1938)
Not Rated | 95 min | Comedy, Romance
A young man in love with a girl from a rich family finds his unorthodox plan to go on holiday for the early years of his life met with skepticism by everyone except for his fiancée's eccentric sister and long-suffering brother.
If you love ‘The Philadelphia Story’ then do catch Hepburn in this previous adaptation of a Philip Barry play as an independent-minded young woman stymied by her conservative family. She senses a kindred spirit in youthful Grant’s Johnny Case, who plans to leave his self-made career behind and travel the big, wide world. The complication is that he’s engaged to her alluring sister Nolan.
Yes, the theatrical origins are only too obvious, but glittering dialogue and sparkling star turns pave the way to a surprisingly affecting ending. Grant is unusually goofy, skillfully masking his character’s contradictions, while Hepburn’s trademark display of determined intelligence remains the key to a film that thrives on the notion of liberating elopement.
78. Once (2007)
R | 86 min | Drama, Music, Romance
A modern-day musical about a busker and an immigrant and their eventful week in Dublin, as they write, rehearse and record songs that tell their love story.
Votes: 100,608 | Gross: $9.44M
On paper, everything about this microbudget Irish folk musical sounds insufferably precious: on the streets of Dublin, a struggling thirtysomething busker meets a shy Czech flower seller and they form an immediate bond over his songs, from which a chaste will-they-or-won’t-they flirtation evolves as they proceed, quite literally, to make sweet music together.
Yet there’s a rare authenticity and sincerity to this intimate miniature that never so much as grazes the gag reflex, from the gentle chemistry of the non-professional, refreshingly non-pretty leads (collaborators and lovers in real life) to the naked emotional candour of their songs (one of which won a deserved Oscar) to the heartbreaking matter-of-factness with which the film resolves their ambiguous relationship. A wisp of a love story, but a perfect one
79. Splendor in the Grass (1961)
Not Rated | 124 min | Drama, Romance
A fragile Kansas girl's love for a handsome young man from the town's most powerful family drives her to heartbreak and madness.
Votes: 14,930 | Gross: $8.72M
Rural Kansas, 1928, when ‘nice’ girls were supposed to hold out until the wedding night. Every fibre of her being is telling high-schooler Natalie Wood she wants alpha male Warren Beatty right now, but his oil magnate dad has decided she’s too ordinary for marriage. Welcome to a world before contraception, as acclaimed playwright William Inge’s Oscar-winning script puts in place a devastating conflict between fundamental human desires and layers of obfuscating social hypocrisy.
Both in their early twenties at the time, Beatty and Wood make a sensual couple, as director Kazan constructs a pristine vision of Americana, played against a coruscating narrative where yearning slides uncontrollably into hysteria. Wood’s startling performance deserved an Oscar but got only a nomination.
80. Amélie (2001)
R | 122 min | Comedy, Romance
Amélie is an innocent and naive girl in Paris with her own sense of justice. She decides to help those around her and, along the way, discovers love.
Votes: 602,764 | Gross: $33.23M
It’s the movie that launched a thousand mini-breaks to Paris. ‘Amélie’ charmed the world’s socks off in 2001, a surprise international hit. Audrey Tautou is irresistible as lonely waitress Amélie, who discovers her purpose in life: to make other people happy with anonymous acts of kindness.
A whimsical fairytale, it’s filled with playful, funny touches. The best is Amélie standing on a balcony overlooking Montmartre wondering how many people are having an orgasm at this second. The answer is 15 – director Jean-Pierre Jeunet shows them. He originally cast the British actress Emily Watson in the lead. When she quit, he’d all but given up hope of finding his Amélie, until he spotted Tautou on a film poster in the street. Now it’s impossible to imagine any other actress in the role.
81. Waterloo Bridge (1940)
Passed | 108 min | Drama, Romance, War
During World War I, believing her fiance to be dead, a young ballerina loses her job and is forced to turn to prostitution. From there, things only get worse for her in this tragic, heart-wrenching, love story.
The young Vivien Leigh will always be remembered for her indomitable Scarlett O’Hara in ‘Gone with the Wind’. But she also displayed heartbreaking fragility in this famous version of Robert E Sherwood’s play, an ill-starred romance ’twixt soldier and ballerina set against the chaos of war.
As WWII breaks out, colonel Taylor finds himself on Waterloo Bridge, assailed by memories of his whirlwind love affair in the same city during the Great War. Cue triple-strength schmaltz in the golden-age Hollywood manner as fate comes between the radiant couple, though not before they’ve shared an all-time classic clinch on New Year’s Eve, breathily smooching as lights are extinguished round a darkening dancefloor. Passion and foreboding in potent harmony.
82. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
G | 84 min | Animation, Family, Fantasy
A young woman whose father has been imprisoned by a terrifying beast offers herself in his place, unaware that her captor is actually a prince, physically altered by a magic spell.
Votes: 356,734 | Gross: $218.97M
No, not Cocteau’s 1946 masterpiece (you’ll find that at number 17). This is Disney’s magical cartoon, made in 1991 but harking back to the studio’s glory days. Unlike the golden oldies, however, this fairy tale features a plucky heroine, Belle, who braves slathering wolves to rescue her dad from the Beast’s terrifying gothic castle.
In fact, the Beast is a young prince turned into a monster for his cruelty by the curse of an enchantress. Only three little words can break the spell. It’s impossible not to be swept along by the gorgeous Broadway-style song and dance numbers and by what one philosopher called the fairy tale’s ‘great message’ – ‘that a thing must be loved before it is lovable’.
83. Juno (2007)
PG-13 | 96 min | Comedy, Drama
Faced with an unplanned pregnancy, an offbeat young woman makes an unusual decision regarding her unborn child.
Votes: 446,533 | Gross: $143.50M
On release, first-time scriptwriter Diablo Cody’s Oscar-winning unplanned teen pregnancy comedy ‘Juno’ was all-but obscured by one debate: was it a pro-lifer tract deceptively gussied up in indie clothing?
The film’s abortion issues are still up for debate; leaving that aside for a moment, what’s left is a sweetly funny romantic comedy about relationships both teen- and middle-aged, and love of many kinds: parental, romantic and platonic. And sure, the teen-speak might bear about as much resemblance to real teenage slang as the actors in ‘Grease’ did to actual teenagers, but Ellen Page and Michael Cera’s performances remain pitch perfect.
84. Say Anything... (1989)
PG-13 | 100 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance
A noble underachiever and a beautiful valedictorian fall in love the summer before she goes off to college.
Votes: 72,157 | Gross: $20.78M
Cameron Crowe’s directorial debut may be remembered for That Scene With the Ghettoblaster, but there’s so much more to it than moody John Cusack and his synth-scored adolescent angst.
For one, there’s Ione Skye as his posh-kid paramour, who may suffer from occasional dream-girl tendencies but shows enough spark to justify John’s obsession. There’s also a terrific supporting cast including Frasier’s Dad John Mahoney, Joan Cusack, Jeremy Piven and a magnificently brash and spiky Lili Taylor.
But it’s the sweet, thoughtful, zinger-studded script which explains why, for one brief moment, we actually believed that Crowe could be the next Woody Allen, only with more New Wave hair and classic rock references. Oh, what might have been… T
85. Chungking Express (1994)
PG-13 | 102 min | Crime, Drama, Romance
Two melancholy Hong Kong policemen fall in love: one with a mysterious female underworld figure, the other with a beautiful and ethereal server at a late-night restaurant he frequents.
Votes: 47,002 | Gross: $0.60M
Wong Kar-Wai’s third feature remains a perennially fresh declaration of his unique aesthetic, where the accretion of voiceover, music cues, faces and places creates an immersive mood more significant than whatever passes for a plot.
In this instance, that involves two sets of would-be lovers – policeman Kaneshiro falls for shady lady Brigitte Lin, while his colleague Leung circles around winsome kebab-stall girl Faye Wong. Still, the idea of actually getting it together is much less headily intoxicating than the sweet ache of a broken heart, or the woozy rush of unconsummated possibility. Meanwhile, Wong’s stop-go camera captures the restless bustle of pre-handover Hong Kong, and the melancholy sway of the original ‘California Dreaming’ sets the seal on an off-hand masterpiece.
86. Pierrot le Fou (1965)
Not Rated | 110 min | Crime, Drama, Romance
Pierrot escapes his boring society and travels from Paris to the Mediterranean Sea with Marianne, a girl chased by hit-men from Algeria. They lead an unorthodox life, always on the run.
This anarchic romance was made by French New Wave filmmaker Godard at the height of his powers and starred his then-girlfriend Karina and Belmondo, the thick-lipped, brooding star of his earlier ‘Breathless’. It foreshadows ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ in its story of a beautiful, lawless couple leaving polite society behind and going on the run, from Paris to the Med, pursued by gangsters.
It’s a cluttered burst of colours, ideas and emotions – a frantic essay on real life and movie life that overflows with energy and heady thoughts. It looks and feels like an outlaw romance, with Karina and Belmondo bringing style and attitude to the table, but it’s also a strongly experimental work made by someone determined to shake up cinema and the world. That itself is pretty romantic, no?
87. Tabu (I) (2012)
Not Rated | 118 min | Drama, Romance
A restless retired woman teams up with her deceased neighbor's maid to seek out a man who has a secret connection to her past life as a farm owner at the foothill of Mount Tabu in Africa.
Passionate exploration becomes possessive colonisation in both an African plantation and a series of romantic relationships in this playful two-act (plus prologue) tragicomedy from former film critic Gomes.
‘Tabu’ insures itself against the risk of coming across as insincere or twee via the cunning expedient of first showing us what will become of its gorgeous leads at the hands of that old inescapable: time. No amount of arch sound design, renegade crocodiles and fish-out-of-water doo-wop bands can offset the foreknowledge of the eventual destinies of steamy star-crossed couple Aurora and Ventura in contemporary Lisbon.
88. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
Not Rated | 131 min | Drama
A bitter, aging couple, with the help of alcohol, use a young couple to fuel anguish and emotional pain towards each other.
Mike Nichols' acid-drenched adaptation of Edward Albee's stage play isn't everyone's idea of a great screen romance, but there's a reason we haven't called this list 100 Great Date Movies.
Yes, rarely has a Hollywood film depicted a marriage more bitter than that of George and Martha, an academic couple who wind up drunkenly airing their very dirty laundry in front of younger colleagues at a drinks party. But it's also an unusually truthful and compassionate study of the lies and defence mechanisms that keep even unhappy couples together. And casting Burton and Taylor as George and Martha – their own famously fraught marriage bleeding into the one they're acting out – was a masterstroke.
89. Let the Right One In (2008)
R | 115 min | Drama, Horror, Romance
Oskar, an overlooked and bullied boy, finds love and revenge through Eli, a beautiful but peculiar girl.
Votes: 186,484 | Gross: $2.12M
Just because a romance is between two twelve year olds, one of whom has been twelve for a really, really long time, doesn't mean it's not a romance. And so what if your new girlfriend a) isn't exactly a girl and b) feasts on the blood of innocents? At least you've got a girlfriend.
Oskar meets Eli at a difficult time in his young life, and quickly learns that the path of true love ne'er did run smooth, nor faint heart win fair maiden. This chilly Scandinavian take on vampire mythology is a pre-teen supernatural romance you can really get your teeth into – and there’s not a sparkly dreamboat in sight
90. Some Like It Hot (1959)
Not Rated | 121 min | Comedy, Romance
When two male musicians witness a mob hit, they flee the state in an all-female band disguised as women, but further complications set in.
Votes: 198,773 | Gross: $25.00M
The romance in ‘Some Like It Hot’ is very much of the anything-goes, outsider sort. Wilder’s brilliant, high-energy transvestite comedy is a celebration of folk from the other side of the tracks dressed up as a madcap farce in which Curtis and Lemmon spend most of the film disguised as female musicians and on the run from the Chicago mob in 1929. It’s also, of course, a vehicle for Monroe’s beauty, charm and amply-platformed cleavage (seriously, check out her dresses in her two musical numbers).
Most of the fun lies in gender-bending games of mistaken identity that would make Shakespeare proud. But there’s also some real feeling here, both between Curtis and Monroe and, most bizarrely if fleetingly, between Lemmon and an ageing playboy. Delightful and giddy.
91. Submarine (2010)
R | 97 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance
15-year-old Oliver Tate has two objectives: To lose his virginity before his next birthday, and to extinguish the flame between his mother and an ex-lover who has resurfaced in her life.
Votes: 75,047 | Gross: $0.47M
15-year old Oliver Tate (Roberts) is desperate to lose his virginity to indifferent pyromaniac Jordana Bevan (Paige). He attempts to convince her with three good reasons: 1. You are fatally in love with me. 2. Best to do it before legal. 3. Bound to be disappointing, so why wait?
Writer-director Ayoade does a superb job of taking Joe Dunthorne's darkly comic debut novel and, rather than turning it into the Brit-com one might expect from somebody so integral to shows like ‘The IT Crowd’ and ‘Garth Marenghi's Dark Place’, he creates a lithe and oddly elegant deadpan romance that recalls the French New Wave at least as much as it does its other clear ancestor, the Adrian Mole books.
92. Roman Holiday (1953)
Not Rated | 118 min | Comedy, Romance
A bored and sheltered princess escapes her guardians and falls in love with an American newsman in Rome.
It was the film that made Hepburn an overnight star at the age of 22. She fizzes as tomboyish Princess Ann, who is bored to tears of dreary ambassadors’ balls and hobnobbing with crusty old majors with walrus moustaches.
On a state visit to Rome, Anne slips away to see how the other half live. Peck is the American reporter who can’t believe his luck, picking up a real-life runaway princess. Sure, he tells her, he’ll show her the sights… On the sly he’s cooking up the scoop of the century. Of course they fall in love. Swoon at its near-perfect ending, with its tender message that a moment’s happiness can last you a lifetime
93. The Fly (1986)
R | 96 min | Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi
A brilliant but eccentric scientist begins to transform into a giant man/fly hybrid after one of his experiments goes horribly wrong.
Votes: 133,522 | Gross: $40.46M
Wait, isn’t that the one where the guy mutates horrifically into an insect? The origin of the phrase ‘Be afraid, be very afraid?’ What could possibly be romantic about that? Well, kind of everything.
The opening is a flawless meet-cute – ballsy reporter meets mad scientist, love blossoms – helped along by the fact that real-life partners Goldblum and Davis are a screwball couple to rival Grant and Hepburn. Then, when disaster strikes in the form of a teleportation accident, she’s forced to make a choice: stick by the man she’s fallen in love with despite his terrifying, irrational transformation, or flee for the sake of her unborn child. Cronenberg’s masterpiece may be grotesque, but it’s as heartfelt, honest and endearingly human as any film on this list.
94. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
R | 111 min | Action, Biography, Crime
Bonnie Parker, a bored waitress falls in love with an ex-con named Clyde Barrow and together they start a violent crime spree through the country, robbing cars and banks.
From the start you know this can only end badly. Bonnie Parker has been dreaming her whole life of getting out of Texas. Then along comes Clyde Barrow, a small-time thief – the kind of man momma warned against. Bonnie and Clyde commit their first robbery before they’ve even stopped to find out each other’s name.
Were the real-life Depression era outlaws (whose robbing spree left at least nine policemen and several civilians dead) really as glamorous as Beatty and Dunaway in gangster chic? No, of course not. But as veteran critic David Thomson once wrote, ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ was a film as much about the 1960s as it was about the 1930s: ‘The picture caught the mood of the late 1960s, with kids angry at society.’
95. Cyrano de Bergerac (1990)
PG | 137 min | Comedy, Drama, History
Embarrassed by his large nose, a romantic poet/soldier romances his cousin by proxy.
Votes: 19,562 | Gross: $15.14M
Russia’s most celebrated film talent since Eisenstein – the inimitable Gérard Depardieu – achieved the unusual feat of securing an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a foreign language film for his portrayal of France’s answer to the Elephant Man.
Despite his unconventional looks, Cyrano is a spectacular lover – at least on paper, writing letters that cause sexy cousin Roxane (Anne Brochet) to fall deeply in love with the man from whom she erroneously believes she’s received the billets-doux – the dashing but inarticulate Christian (Vincent Perez). Unlike José Ferrer, who did win the Oscar for his 1950 portrayal of Cyrano, Depardieu didn’t take home the little gold statue in the end, but it’s probably his take on Cyrano that’s become the more iconic.
96. Doctor Zhivago (1965)
PG-13 | 197 min | Drama, Romance, War
The life of a Russian physician and poet who, although married to another, falls in love with a political activist's wife and experiences hardship during the First World War and then the October Revolution.
Votes: 60,665 | Gross: $111.72M
David Lean’s super-sized epic of love lost and found – several times over – across a half-century of tumultuous Russian history may seem to have fallen slightly out of fashion these days. But you need only have counted the not-so-subtle references to its florid aesthetic in Joe Wright’s recent ‘Anna Karenina’ to see how it captured the imagination of more than one generation. Not for nothing was Maurice Jarre’s swirling ‘Lara’s Theme’ a Top 10 hit in its day, after all.
Still, the lush sound and iconography of ‘Zhivago’ – that wedding-cake ice palace, those fashion-spread furs – has rather superceded the knotty, compromised politics of its love story, a cruel triangle in which different viewers may find themselves sympathising with different sides.
97. The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989)
R | 114 min | Drama, Music, Romance
The lives of two struggling musicians, who happen to be brothers, inevitably change when they team up with a beautiful, up-and-coming singer.
Votes: 19,143 | Gross: $16.82M
He knows he shouldn’t. She knows she shouldn’t. But they can’t help themselves. For decades, talented but feckless Jeff Bridges has been working hotel lounges in an easy-listening piano duo with his steady-Eddie brother (and real-life sibling) Beau, but when the work dries up they take on a vocalist – Michelle Pfeiffer’s Susie Diamond, a world-weary former escort seeking the showbiz spotlight.
Suddenly, the trio’s a hit, but there’s something in the air between Jeff and Michelle, which could break the act apart if they choose to respond to it. First-time writer-director Steve Kloves matches awkward adult emotions to razor-sharp dialogue, so naturally Hollywood picked him to adapt the ‘Harry Potter’ saga (!). Still, we’ll always have the Airport Ramada…
98. A Song of Love (1950)
Not Rated | 26 min | Short, Fantasy, Romance
Two prisoners in complete isolation, separated by the thick brick walls, and desperately in need of human contact, devise a most unusual kind of communication.
Jean Genet had already been discharged from the French Foreign Legion for indecency, bummed around Europe as a thief and rent-boy, and forged a strong literary reputation before he made this silent, clandestinely-shot 26-minute short in 1950. It’s a potent combination of the raw and the poetic, as male prisoners writhe under the lustful eye of a peeping guard, dreaming of encounters metaphorical and corporeal.
Its explicit gaze is still pretty eye-popping by conventional standards, and in 1966 a California court banned ‘Un Chant d’Amour’, pronouncing it ‘cheap pornography calculated to promote homosexuality, perversion and morbid sex practices’. Needless to say, it became an underground sensation (though nowadays it’s on Youtube), and a touchstone for future film-makers including Kenneth Anger, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Todd Haynes.
99. Buffalo '66 (1998)
R | 110 min | Comedy, Crime, Drama
After being released from prison, Billy is set to visit his parents with his wife, whom he does not actually have. This provokes Billy to act out, as he kidnaps a girl and forces her to act as his wife for the visit.
Votes: 40,220 | Gross: $2.38M
Nothing about Gallo's winningly strange debut feature approaches romance in a fashion most viewers are likely to recognise, or even desire. Stockholm Syndrome is a tricky concept at the best of times, and when the captor is Billy, a maladjusted, abusive ex-con played by Gallo, it's fair to say our perceptions of love's limits and limitations are being tested.
Yet as Layla, the zoned-out tap dancer Billy kidnaps so she can pose as his wife at his ghastly parents' house, gawkily luminous Ricci somehow persuades us that there's something to be saved in this lonely wastrel – though probably not in their bizarre relationship. It's a love we can believe, even if we can't quite believe in it.
100. Out of Sight (1998)
R | 123 min | Crime, Drama, Romance
A career bank robber breaks out of jail, and shares a moment of mutual attraction with a U.S. Marshal he has kidnapped.
Votes: 76,191 | Gross: $37.56M
It's got to be the sexiest meet-cute in the movies. Clooney is a bank robber who’s just bust out of prison. Lopez is the federal marshal who gets in his way. We already know she likes a bad boy, so when he bundles her into the boot of a getaway car, sparks fly.
The chemistry between Clooney and Lopez is smokin’ hot in Soderbergh’s down-and-dirty adaptation of Elmore Leonard's novel. Sandra Bullock was originally tested for the marshal role, but it’s impossible to believe she would have sizzled like J-Lo. ‘Out of Sight’ will also go down in history as the movie that finally made TV pin-up Clooney a bona fide Hollywood star