As Valentine's Day grows closer, now is the time for spending moments with that special person in your life and doing all the holiday essentials: having a candle-lit dinner, buying them that special gift you've had mentally bookmarked for months, and of course, watching a romantic movie or two next to a fireplace (or space heater, if you're in short supply).
As you might imagine, there is no shortage of fantastic romantic films worth watching this holiday. There are historical epic romances (Titanic, Atonement), coming of age romances (Call Me By Your Name, Juno), romantic musicals (La La Land, Singin' in the Rain), and literally dozens upon dozens of romantic comedies.
With February 14th nearly here, we thought it'd be nice to highlight some of the most romantic movies of all time, spanning those multiple romantic subgenres.
Criteria: With this list, we tried to focus on the quality of each film's relationship and the passion and emotion involved. Some of them may be tragic, but each movie undeniably illustrates the powerful love between the main characters.
Is it any surprise that Titanic, the modern-day equivalent of Gone with the Wind, is on this list? Aside from Cameron's sci-fi epics, it's probably his best film, portraying a heartfelt romance in the midst of one of the most infamous tragedies in recent historical memory.
Jack Dawson (Leonardo di Caprio) is a poor American artist who wins steerage tickets for the luxurious, transcontinental passenger liner, the RMS Titanic. Onboard, he meets the upper class, unhappy Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet).
The two soon engage in a passionate love affair that is cut short when the Titanic hits an iceberg in the Arctic Ocean and slowly sinks, claiming the lives of 1,500 passengers. Though the story itself may be fictional, the movie does a phenomenal job portraying the real-life sinking of the Titanic, juxtaposing the emotional weight of the main couple's romance with the tragic fate of so many passengers who were lost at sea.
Titanic is still considered one of the most successful movies of all time in regards to critical recognition and financial gross. It was the first movie to earn over a billion dollars at the box office, and was the highest-earning movie for 13 years, until it was surpassed by Cameron's later film, Avatar, in 2010.
It's also the movie that holds the record for the most Oscar nominations at 14 (along with All About Eve and La La Land) and is similarly tied for winning the most Academy Awards (tied with Ben-Hur and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King). Like The Godfather or Star Wars, it's a movie that pretty much everyone has seen or, if they haven't, should be watched at least once in a person's lifetime.
Streaming on Showtime, Hulu, Prime Video, and The Roku Channel (premium subscriptions required for Hulu, Prime, and Roku)
It's almost cliché to have something as famously melodramatic as The Notebook on this list, but there's no denying how well-loved this 2004 Nicholas Sparks adaptation is. Set in a modern-day nursing home, an elderly man (James Garner) recalls the story of a poor lumber worker (Ryan Gosling) who falls for a rich woman (Rachel McAdams) in 1940s South Carolina, as told to a fellow resident (Gena Rowlands). Together, they share a passionate romance that nearly becomes undone by their differing social classes.
Admittedly, like many movies based on Sparks' work, The Notebook isn't exactly a masterpiece of modern cinema. It tends to be a little overly dramatic for its own good, but thankfully, the performances of Gosling and McAdams and crisp, natural cinematography help it stand apart as the best Sparks adaptation to date.
It would earn mostly mixed reviews from critics and moviegoers, but won several awards, including multiple Teen Choice Awards, a Satellite Award, and an MTV Movie Award. Since its release, it has gained a strong cult following as well.
Streaming on HBO Max
Pride & Prejudice (2005)
As you might expect, there have been many adaptations based on Jane Austen's classic 1814 novel. Most of them are certainly worth watching and boast their individual strengths. However, it's the most modern remake of Austen's novel–director Joe Wright's 2005 version–that is perhaps the one most worth watching.
In a story largely faithful to Austen's source material, Pride & Prejudice follows the complicated lives of the landowning Bennett family, comprised of five sisters whose lives are turned upside down by the arrival of a wealthy bachelor (Simon Woods) and his best friend, Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen).
On the surface, you might think any movie based on a novel written in the early 1800s would be somewhat dry, but Wright's version of the movie includes some slight changes to help translate the text over for modern audiences. (Such as moving the time period to the late 1800s to abandon the perceived cleanliness of Regency-era England.)
In a bold move, the movie was also marketed specifically towards younger audiences, focusing on family and romance issues among different social classes. In the end, Wright's debut was a huge success, winning rave reviews and nominations for four Academy Awards: Best Actress (Keira Knightley), Best Art Direction, Best Original Score, and Best Costume Design.
Streaming on HBO Max
Beauty and the Beast
“Love” can be considered Disney's bread and butter, with everything from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to Frozen containing a romantic subplot of some kind. There's really no wrong answer when it comes to the perfect Disney movie to watch on Valentine’s Day; Aladdin, Tangled, The Princess and the Frog, and The Little Mermaid are all strong choices. But arguably the best and most romantic of their films is 1991’s Beauty and the Beast.
Belle (Paige O'Hara) is a bookish young woman looking for her father, who has somehow gone missing while venturing through the deep woods. Her journey takes her to a castle inhabited by a reclusive, mean-spirited prince (Robby Benson) who has been transformed into a hideous, beast-like monster by a sorcerer's curse.
Kidnapping Belle and holding her prisoner in his castle, the prince slowly begins to fall in love with her, with Belle similarly learning to look past the prince's outer flaws and accept him for the man he is at heart. A favorite of children and adults everywhere, Beauty and the Beast was the movie that cemented the Disney Renaissance of ‘the 90s, a period where the studio began releasing some of their most critically and commercially successful movies of all time.
Beautifully animated and containing some of the finest music ever produced for a Disney film, it contains an essential lesson for every person, young and old, when it comes to true love: it's never about looks, but what's inside a person that should matter most.
Considered one of Disney's greatest movies to date, Beauty and the Beast became the first animated movie to win the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy) and the first animated movie to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture (it won for Best Original Score and Best Original Song for its titular song).
Streaming on Disney+
So far, we've highlighted a few movies that show two individuals from different social groups attempting to maintain their romance. On the other hand, a film like Loving details a far greater, more inspirational struggle, focusing on the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, the interracial couple whose marriage helped overturn state laws that barred citizens from marrying outside their races.
Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) is a white construction worker in 1960s Virginia who falls in love with his family friend, Mildred (Ruth Negga). After Mildred gets pregnant, the two decide to marry in secret due to Virginia's law prohibiting interracial marriages.
When they are eventually arrested, the couple's case winds up in the Supreme Court, resulting in one of American history's most important landmark Court decisions. The power in Loving lies in its basis in actual fact, chronicling the Lovings' initial meeting, to their appearance in front of the Supreme Court, to their struggle to live among their prejudiced local community.
As seen with the Lovings, love makes us all do brave things, even at the cost of our social standing or our reputations (but, as was also seen with Loving, who cares what your racist neighbors think when you find the love of your life).
Like nearly every movie on this list, Loving was a huge critical success, competing for the Palme d'Or at Cannes. Edgerton and Negga’s performances were also praised, with Edgerton earning a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor and Negga earning an Academy Award and Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress.
Streaming on Netflix
A movie in a similar vein to Loving (albeit far more depressing, given its ending) Brokeback Mountain examines the homosexual relationship between two cowboys in 1960s Wyoming. Based on Annie Proulx's short story of the same name, Jack (Jake Gyllenhall) and Ennis (Heath Ledger) are two young men hired to work on a sheep farm during the summer.
Eventually, the two begin to develop romantic and sexual feelings for each other, though Ennis tries to move beyond this relationship when the summer ends. The film then details each of their emotional struggles to accept who they are and the powerful love they continue to feel for one another even as they try to deny said feelings.
As you might expect, Wyoming in 1963 wasn't exactly the most forward-thinking place in the US, nor has the Western genre truly focused on the potential homosexual relationships that could exist between male cowboys. When it was released in 2005, Brokeback Mountain was praised for handling such sensitive subject matter as homosexuality in a big-budget film. (It was controversially banned or censored in several countries, including China.)
Despite this perceived “controversy,” it earned overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics, resulting in the movie being nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score at the 78th Academy Awards.
Today, it is recognized as one of the movies that pushed the standards for the mainstream ***** cinema movement we know today.
Not currently streaming, but available to rent online
The Before Trilogy
If you've seen any of Richard Linklater's other movies—Boyhood, Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some!!–you know the director loves making films with a unique presentation of time.
Boyhood famously depicts the life of a young boy who grows into adulthood over the course of 12 years (filmed by Linklater from 2002 to 2013). Everybody Wants Some!! follows a college freshman who spends the week before classes learning to adapt to university life.
Like Linklater's past films, the Before trilogy similarly presents the passage of time in a highly original, creative way. Spanning three movies (Before Sunset, Before Sunrise, and Before Midnight) the Before trilogy follows the budding romance between a young man (Ethan Hawke) and a young woman (Julie Delpy) who meet in Europe and subsequently fall in love.
While the central romance at the heart of each film remains a strong enough reason to watch each of the three movies, it's the trilogy as a whole that stands apart as a very different sort of romantic project. Filmed in nine-year intervals, Linklater routinely checks in on the couple's relationship as it continues to evolve, depicting from their initial meeting in 1995 to their reunion in 2004, to their lives as middle-aged parents in 2013.
It's a beautiful, fascinating look into the lives of ordinary people, presenting a gentle illustration of how we as individuals and our relationships change over time. It also won several noteworthy award nominations, including the Oscar and the Writers Guild Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (in 2004 and 2013, respectively).
Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are not currently streaming but can be rented online; Before Midnight is streaming on Prime Video
The grand-daddy of historical romantic drama movies, Casablanca is also one of the most classic movies ever made. Despite being made in 1942, it still retains so much of his emotional resonance, remaining a perfect, engaging, and hopeful film 80 years later.
Set during the height of World War II, an American expatriate and self-professed cynic Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) runs a popular nightclub in Vichy French-controlled Casablanca, attracting numerous European refugees looking for passage to neutral America.
Everything changes for Rick when his former lover, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), arrives with her husband, a Czech resistance leader (Paul Henreid), looking for a way to flee Casablanca.
Casablanca is one of those films that has a surprisingly complex take on the romance between Rick, Ilsa, and her husband. The movie chronicles their passionate love affair amidst the **** invasion of France, and the subsequent chaos that engulfed Europe as it looked like Germany would likely win the war. (Remember, this was 1942, when a **** victory was a very, very real possibility.)
Through it all, though, Rick and Ilsa continue their romance, displaying their genuine love for another even in the grim surroundings they find themselves in.
It's a compelling film, easily one of the finest and most famous made during the Second World War, as well as containing perhaps the most oft-quoted ending to any movie there is.
Streaming on HBO Max
Like the aforementioned film, Atonement would similarly be recognized as one of the most romantic war films ever made, earning numerous awards and several prestigious nominations across the globe.
Based on Ian McEwan's critically acclaimed 2001 novel of the same name, Atonement follows Briony (Saoirse Ronan), an aspiring writer and member of a wealthy English family, who misinterprets the romance between her older sister (Keira Knightley) and the family's groundskeeper (James McAvoy) as something far more sinister.
After Briony accuses the groundskeeper of sexual assault, the family's lives as well as the groundskeeper's are thrown into turmoil, with the film tracking how the incident affects each of them over the course of World War II. Like many other movies on this list, especially Titanic, Atonement is far more upsetting and tragic in nature than your typical romance film.
Through the years, even as the couple's situation worsens, they remain devoutly loyal to each other, imagining the perfect future together in each other's arms when they’re at last together again. It's a devastating film, but it presents as perfect, complex, and tender love affair as Rose and Jack's in Titanic or Scarlett and Rhett's in Gone with the Wind.
It won the BAFTA for Best Film and Production Design, the Golden Globe Award for Best Picture (Drama), the Academy Award for Best Original Score, Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actress for Ronan.
Not currently streaming, but available to rent online
It may seem strange seeing such a famous romantic comedy like Annie Hall on this list. Still, in terms of its poignancy and bittersweet portrayal of a romantic relationship, it seemed fitting to include it on this list. Director and writer Woody Allen stars as neurotic New York comedian Alvy Singer, who falls for the quirky but charming Annie Hall (regular Allen collaborator, Diane Keaton).
Years after their relationship has ended, Alvy reflects on the couple's time together, trying to make some sense of why the romance never worked out. Nowadays, Annie Hall tends to be overshadowed by the recent allegations against its lead actor and director. Looking at the quality of the film itself, however, Annie Hall is an incredibly enjoyable movie, both side-splittingly funny as it is heartfelt and emotional.
It contains many signature elements found in numerous Allen movies: Allen's anxiety, neuroses, and constant existential worries. Yet, unlike Allen's earlier slapstick comedies (Bananas; Sleeper; Love and Death), Annie Hall marks Allen's first foray into more dramatic projects, alternating between comedic scenes and more subtle, reflective inner dialogue.
At the end of the movie, it also shows that, even if you don’t end up with the person you thought you’d spend your life with, that doesn’t mean the time spent with them was wasted.
Out of all the films in Allen's lengthy filmography, Annie Hall is the most celebrated, winning the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Actress (Keaton). It is now listed as number 31 on the AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies list and fourth on their 100 Years…100 Laughs list.
Not currently streaming, but available to rent online
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