From Strangers to Soulmates: 20 Films with Slow-Burning Love Stories

Moviegoers love to watch a new romance unfold on-screen. In honor of that, a recent online discussion asks for films “where the protagonist doesn't intentionally seek romance” and “a movie where at least one person falls for the other based not on just their appearance.”

Here are the 20 best examples of such films.

1. You've Got Mail (1998)

Youve Got Mail 1998 Warner Bros MSN
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Nora Ephron directs Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in this remake of The Shop Around the Corner. Hanks is Joe Fox of the chain store, Fox Books, and Meg Ryan is Kathleen Kelly, of the small children's bookstore, The Shop Around the Corner. They are rivals in business but unknowingly are email pen pals who are developing real feelings for each other. This love story definitely is not love at first sight. In fact, the film takes place over many, many months and is a true delight.

2. Palm Springs (2020)

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Photo Credit: Hulu.

Palm Springs is about two wedding guests who are stuck in a time loop and keep reliving the same day over and over again. Sarah is the lonely maid of honor who humiliates herself with a drunken toast, and Nyles is the offbeat guest she is charmed by because of his cynicism. A romance develops but each day is different until they gets things right and be completely honest with themselves and each other. This quirky comedy stars Andy Samburg and Christin Milioti.

3. The African Queen (1951)

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Image Credit: United Artists and Horizon Pictures.

This classic film is set in Africa during WWI. Rose Sayer is a missionary who seeks passage aboard a riverboat with captain Charlie Allnut. She wishes to avenge her brother's death at the hand of German soldiers and target a gun boat down the river. The two very different people clash immensely, but on their journey love develops based on mutual respect and understanding. This exiting and entertaining film stars two of the most legendary actors ever, Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn.

4. Groundhog Day (1993)

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Image Credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

A smug, self-center weatherman named Phil Connors is forced to relive the same day over and over again in this 90s comedy. The day in question is Groundhog Day, and each time the day starts over again, Phil attempts different things to get him out of this time loop. It's only when he begins to treat others better, in particular the woman whom he falls for, Rita, that things change. This unconventional romance develops over the many days, each time Phil learning an imperative lesson. Groundhog Day stars Bill Murray and Andi MacDowell.

5. When Harry Met Sally (1989)

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Image Credit: Castle Rock Entertainment.

When Harry Met Sally was the most frequent response and for good reason. The film follows Harry Burns and Sally Albright, two people who keep meeting over the years and eventually become best friends, and then fall in love. They have differing opinions on just about everything and had no intention of becoming romantically involved, but love had other plans. The film is written by Nora Ephron, directed by Rob Reiner, and stars Billy Crystal, Meg, Ryan, Carrie Fisher, and Bruno Kirby.

6. Emma (2020)

Image Credit: Focus Features.

Jane Austen's classic story follows the sweet, but naïve and spoiled Emma Woodhouse who insists on playing matchmaker with her friends. Little did she expect to fall in love with her oldest friend, Mr. Knightly, who disproves of her matchmaking, but holds a candle for her that burns brightly. The 2020 version stars Anya Taylor-Joy and Johnny Flynn and is worth checking out. But one should also check out the superior 1998 version with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam, and the equally lovely miniseries that stars Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller.

7. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

10 Things I Hate About You Touchstone Pictures
Image Credit: Touchstone Pictures.

This teen comedy is based on William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew and follows two sisters who are completely different. Kat is tough and independent and Bianca is naive and wants to fit in. Knowing Bianca is not allowed to date until Kat does, a plan is hatched to pay the bad boy Patrick to date Kat. This is one of the funniest teen comedies ever with some surprisingly thoughtful moments. And the romance definitely develops begrudgingly and over a period of time.

8. A Walk To Remember (2002)

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Image Credit: Warner Bros.

This tender tearjerker follows bad boy Landon Carter who is forced to participate in a school play as punishment for being involved in a terrible accident with another student. There he spends time with sweet Jamie Sullivan who makes him promise not to fall in love with her. But lo and behold, he does just that. But Jamie has a tragic secret that threatens their budding romance. This film stars Mandy Moore and Shane West and features one of the best depictions of young love that develops slowly.

9. The Wedding Singer (1998)

Image Credit: New Line Cinema.

The first film that co-stars Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore is this wacky comedy set in the 1980s. Robbie Hart is a wedding singer who is left at the altar. Julia is a waitress who becomes his friend as he helps her plans her wedding to a first rate jerk. The two grow close over time and soon realize that love should be someone you respect, can have fun with, and especially want to grow old with. This wacky comedy is filled with laughs and 80s nostalgia. Romance wise, it more than fits the criteria.

10. The Remains of The Day (1993)

Image Credit: Columbia Pictures.

If there ever was a slow-burn romance, it would be this one between butler James Stevens and head housekeeper Miss Kenton in this rich period drama. Many years are depicted between these two co-workers, but most especially those leading up to WWII where their employer's possible ties to the Nazi Party makes Steven, especially, question all his years of loyalty and servitude. This is a slow building and understated romantic story.

11. The Sound of Music (1965)

The Sound of Music
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

The classic musical starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer is known for its breathtaking visuals and fantastic songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein. It is also known as a family dramatic musical about a governess who is sent to take care of the seven children of a stern Naval Captain. But as user bellestarxo says, the romance between Maria and Captain VonTrapp is “kind of hot.” Indeed it is. Maria captures the hearts of the children early on, but it takes longer for the Captain's heart to open. Meanwhile, Maria, who thinks she is meant to be a nun, fights her feelings for him. This is a classic in every way.

12. The Bridges of Madison County (1995)

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Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

The Bridges of Madison County has the shortest film on this list. But it still is an appropriate response. In the movie, a lonely housewife gives directions to a photographer passing by, but quickly agrees to show him around all of the bridges from the town. Over the course of four days the two open up to each and find a sense of understanding and connection. It is a bittersweet love story that stars two acting legends, Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood.

13. Bridget Jones' Diary (2001)

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Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

This movie is a loose, modern adaptation of the Jane Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice. Bridget Jones is a perpetually single woman in her 30s who starts a diary to keep track of her daily life and help her achieve her goal of a life where she is healthier and no longer single. She navigates complicated relationships with her playboy boss, Daniel Cleaver, and the stuffy but goodhearted barrister, Mark Darcy. Over time, the feelings for both men evolve with extremely funny results. This film stars Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth, and Hugh Grant.

14. Pride & Prejudice (2005)

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Courtesy of Focus Features.

While on the theme of Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice is one of the most timeless and beloved love stories of all time. The 2005 version, which stars Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen, is just as loved. The story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, two people from different classes in life who meet, argue, and exhibit moments of both pride and prejudice is a classic tale that has been told many times. But this version is one of the most beautiful and is a perfect representation of a love that builds slowly and gradually, and from two people who had no intentions of falling for each other.

15. Someone Like You (2001)

Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

This movie follows a woman who is dumped by her boyfriend with no warning, and then pretends to be an older relationship expert on the dating habits of men. The trouble arises when she begins to use her roommate Eddie as a case subject for her research and the two develop feelings for each other. Like most romantic comedies, there are many misunderstandings and deceptions that complicate things. But Someone Like You definitely qualifies as a slow love story that is not sought after, nor at first sight. The movie stars Ashley Judd, Hugh Jackman, Greg Kinnear, and Marisa Tomei.

16. Always Be My Maybe (2019)

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Image Credit: Netflix.

This movie represents the friends-to-love trope seen in many romances. Best friends Sasha and Marcus had been inseparable since they were children, but lose touch after high school. When they reconnect as adults, old and unresolved feelings rise to the surface. Not only is this a relationship that spans many years, but it depicts two people who only sought friendship with each other. Neither expected to fall in love. The movie stars Randall Park, Ali Wong, and Keanu Reeves as a very funny exaggerated version of himself.

17. While You Were Sleeping (1995)

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Image Credit: Hollywood Pictures.

This romantic comedy is about a kind but lonely woman named Lucy who saves the life a man named Peter she pines for after he is pushed onto a railroad track. After a misunderstanding at the hospital, his family thinks she is his fiancée, and she cannot bring herself to tell them the truth. With Peter in a coma, she then starts to spend time with Peter's brother Jack, as well as the rest of the family. Taking place the weeks during the Christmas holiday, this is a sweet-natured and very funny film that stars Sandra Bullock, Bill Pullman, and Peter Gallagher.

18. Phantom Thread (2017)

Phantom Thread
Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

This film is set in post-war London in the 1950s and follows an acclaimed dressmaker. He dresses anyone from royalty to socialites, but no woman has ever completely caught his eye. He is a consummate bachelor. But when this very particular and in control fashion designer meets a independent and strong woman, he finds his life complicated and uncontrolled, as she becomes his muse and lover. This is a slowly developed love story between two very stubborn individuals. This stylish movie stars Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, and Lesley Manville.

19. Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

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Image Credit Studio Ghibli.

From the animation Studio Ghibi and director Hayo Miyazaki, is a thoughtful and whimsical film based on a children's book of the same name. The fantasy story follows a young woman named Sophie who is cursed by a witch and given the body of an old woman. She seeks help with the spoiled and self-indulgent wizard who lives in a strange castle with mechanical legs in this one of a kind love story. This animated film made in Japan is a thought-provoking and story about love overcoming curses both magical and mortal. The real curse is often selfishness. The American-dubbed version of this film features the voice talents of Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer, Lauren Bacall, Billy Crystal, and Jean Simmons.

20. Six Days, Seven Nights (1998)

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Image Credit: Touchstone Pictures.

This is an adventure movie that blends action, comedy, and romance. The story follows a crass pilot and uptight magazine editor whose helicopter crashes onto an island in the South Seas. The two spend the beginning of their relationship doing nothing but fight and bicker. But over time, feelings change and they must learn to survive against the elements and other threats such as pirates. The fighting-to-romance trope is in full force in this movie that stars Harrison Ford and Anne Heche.

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Marianne Paluso is a freelance writer and artist and holds a Masters Degree in English and Children’s Literature. Inspired by her favorite films, television, theme parks and all things pop culture, she especially loves Disney, classic films, fairy tales, period dramas, musicals, adventures, mysteries, and a good rom-com. She joined Wealth of Geeks in 2021, and has also contributed to The Nerd Machine, Catholic News Agency. She writes on her own website, creates art that is sold on Redbubble and Etsy, and also partakes in the occasional Disneybound, cosplay, and YouTube video