You’ve had to sit through enough viewings of The Notebook for one lifetime (it’s OK, we know you secretly enjoyed it… the first two times). But as Valentine’s Day falls on a Monday this year, for those of you planning to stay home, we’ve got a list of 22 truly great romantic movies you’ll both want to watch. As a bonus, your partner won’t have to pry your eyes open with toothpicks a la Clockwork Orange—which, incidentally, did not make this list.
AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN (1982)
There have been entire documentaries dedicated to Debra Winger’s early hiatus from Hollywood, as she was easily one of the most natural actresses of her time (and of any time). But before bowing out, she was on a roll, starting with Urban Cowboy, then followed by this romantic military drama, for which she received her first Oscar nomination (one of three throughout her short career). Add Richard Gere at his height of Richard Gere-ness, and it’s hard to take your eyes off the two of them.
“We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die!” Moonstruck is one of the most perfectly strange films ever made. Filled with idiosyncratic characters and small, intimate moments that feel supernaturally true to the oddity of life. A love story as obsessed with death as it is with love. And as embroiled with the inevitability of family as that of fate itself. One would be hard pressed to imagine more inspired casting than Cher and Nicolas Cage, and the pairing can never be replicated.
GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1998)
Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow truly at their most appealing. Despite the Dickens of it all, this modern take on the classic novel, directed by Alfonso Cuaron, is dripping in yearning and sensuality. In addition to its great supporting cast—Anne Bancroft, DeNiro, and Chris Cooper, what stands out is its vivid use of the color green (courtesy of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezk and Production Designer Tony Burrough), a metaphor for the narrator’s subjective memory.
BAREFOOT IN THE PARK (1967)
It’s mind blowing how well the humor in this newlyweds classic, based on the Neil Simon play and adapted by the master himself, still lands over half a century later—thanks in large part to the comedic charm of an irresistible Jane Fonda and an in-his-prime Redford. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong, and watching these two navigate the realities of post-honeymoon bliss will have you in stitches.
A MOMENT TO REMEMBER (2004)
While Korean films are mostly known stateside for making some of the greatest revenge and horror films, they actually make some of the best love stories due to their unflinching realism. Unlike many American romantic dramas, this is a love story you can really believe in, and that’s what makes it so heart-wrenching.
Despite a Best Picture nod, this wonderful movie about working class Irish (Saoirse Ronan) and Italian (Emory Cohen) immigrants falling in love in 1950s Brooklyn, has been woefully overlooked. Funny, sweepingly romantic without an ounce of corn is what director John Crowley and writer Nick Hornby consistently do best, and their work together here does great justice to the stunning yet understated novel it’s based on from Irish-born writer Colm Tóibín.
Barry Jenkins’ visually poetic and eloquent film is widely considered a masterpiece. A vital exploration of one boy through three pivotal phases of his life, with themes that feel at once universal and intricately particular to its characters, and the ways that human connection carries us through. A crucial and lyrical portrayal of sexuality, identity, and love.
THE ENGLISH PATIENT (1996)
The cast alone. Fiennes, Scott Thomas, Binoche, Dafoe. All in their prime. All very tan and beautiful and delivering career-bests. This film deserved every one of its 12 Oscar nominations (and nine wins). It’s impossible to fault this layered, evocative, doomed-love story from one of the all-time great directors, Anthony Minghella, based on the Michael Ondaatje novel, and produced by the legend that was Saul Zaentz (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus, The Unbearable Lightness of Being). Easily one of the most sweepingly romantic love stories in British film history.
TRUE ROMANCE (1993)
An Elvis fanatic comic-book nerd and a prostitute fall in love. This is Tony Scott and Tarantino’s idea of romance and it’s fun, sexy, and mad as hell, yet surprisingly tender, and no movie couple could be more iconic than Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette’s Clarence and Alabama Hurley (just ask the Halloween crowd). It’s hard to remember another instance when such an epic ensemble of actors was put to such great use. The most ultra-violent pop culture laden romance ever told.
I AM LOVE (2009)
Before director Luca Guadagnino gave the world Call Me by Your Name, he made this exquisite feast of a film, set at the turn of the millennium in Milan to the imposing tone of composer John Adams’ unnerving score. An erotic, elegant, and sumptuous drama about the suffocating power of aristocracy and tradition, and the passionate love affair that threatens to upend the dynamics of this family dynasty (pre-Succession, mind you). Tilda Swinton, who learned to speak Italian with a Russian accent for the role, is the perfect Guadagnino muse; the pair having collaborated on three other films, but never as finely matched as they are here.
ABOUT TIME (2013)
This movie from Love Actually director Richard Curtis seems to have been regrettably marketed to a dumbed-down version of McAdams’ The Notebook audience, which couldn’t have been more of a disservice to this fantastic, odd little British gem. Rom-com resistant men may be hesitant, but are guaranteed to fall hard for its charms (prepare to have “something in your eye”). As much of a father-son love story as a time travel romance, it leans surprisingly art-house and serves as an ironic reminder about living in the moment. Domhnall Gleeson makes for an unexpected romantic lead, and the always great Bill Nighy as his father (such a national treasure at this point he ought to be knighted by now) will absolutely wreck your heart.
THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940)
One of the greatest American films of all time, with three of the greatest actors in film history. It revitalized Katherine Hepburn’s career after a slump and won James Stewart his only Academy Award (itself a sacrilegious oversight, but that’s an argument for another day). And Cary Grant, of course, is at his most Cary Grant, and that’s never a bad thing.
STATE OF GRACE (1990)
It doesn’t get cooler than Sean Penn and Gary Oldman as old best friends from Hell’s Kitchen in this Irish-American crime boss drama. But also doesn’t get much more romantic than watching Penn and former wife Robin Wright falling in love before our very eyes—in real life and on screen. The two met here, and are absolutely heartbreaking in every one of their scenes, their chemistry raw and palpable. Far from a sweeping romance (more of a violent mob movie), their understated, star-crossed love is undeniable. A supporting cast including Ed Harris, John Turturro, and John C. Reilly makes it an often-overlooked classic, complete with a musical score from the master Ennio Morricone. Sadly, you won’t be able to get it on any streamers, but it’s well worth pulling out the ole’ DVD player for.
JERRY MAGUIRE (1996)
It’s hard to imagine a writer/director who has written more quotable dialogue than Cameron Crowe, and most of it is here (“You had me at hello”, “Show me the money”, “You complete me”). This one has it all. Sports. An Adorable kid. Cuba Gooding Jr. stealing every scene he’s in. Renée Zellweger becoming an overnight star before our very eyes. Tom Cruise at his best with nary an action scene in sight (although it wouldn’t be a proper Cruise flick without one great existential sprint in the rain). Add one of the all-time great soundtracks, and you’ve got classic Cameron Crowe at the height of his brilliance.
COLD WAR (2018)
Boy, love hurts; passion ever more so, and never more than in Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski’s ode to his real-life parents’ love story. Both exquisite looking (the cinematography! Its stars!) and sounding (the jazz!), it will fill your heart then shatter it, then rinse and repeat. A flawless, tragic, reverberating, romantic, historical saga about impossible love that should go down as one of the great masterpieces.
BEFORE SUNRISE TRILOGY (1995)
Very few pen dialogue quite like Richard Linklater. And while his other films are littered with young, future movie stars, Before Sunrise is carried by just two actors, Ethan Hawke and the exquisite French actress Julie Delpy, doing little but walking and talking through the streets of Vienna. As a stand-alone film, Before Sunrise, upon its release, seemed as simple as it was charmingly romantic. As a trilogy (including its sequels Before Sunrise and Before Midnight, each shot decades apart) it serves as an opus-scaled thesis on the natural trajectory of long-term relationships.
They don’t come tougher than Annette Bening, and the actress famously tamed the wild stallion that was once Warren Beatty in real life, just as her character, Virginia Hill, does in the film. Watching these two go verbally at it in this biographical tale of famed mobster Bugsy Malone, it isn’t difficult to see why. When Bening delivers lines such as “My oh my, you’re pretty ferocious for a mom’s concern, aren’t ya? The rest of the time you’re just some good-looking, sweet-talking, charm-oozing, fuck-happy fellow with nothing to offer but some dialogue,” they land like a razor sharp whip, yet are irresistible. Beatty clearly didn’t stand a chance in hell and watching him try to keep up makes for some of the actor’s most comedic on-screen moments of his career. 25 years later, in a town where relationships are measured in weeks, the two (who met here) are still married and have four children together.
Not the most obvious choice as a Valentine movie, Drive is unexpectedly and hypnotically romantic. From the moment Gosling’s nameless character meets his next-door neighbor, played by Carey Mulligan, you know that everything he will do from that moment on will be to keep her, and her young son, safe. A helluva lot of violence ensues, making the romance doomed in the most tragically Shakespearean of ways. The soundtrack will carry you back to their chemistry every time you hear it. And Gosling (whose iconic jacket is forever emblazoned in film costume history) has never been better.
LOVE AND BASKETBALL (2000)
First-time writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s semi-autobiographical film, produced by Spike Lee, is rare in that it could stand alone as a great sports film or equally as a great romantic film. Prince-Bythewood famously wanted to make a ‘When Harry Met Sally,’ but about a young girl who wants to play basketball professionally, and the result is just as much of a classic decades later, as it speaks to different generations across cultural and gender lines, and indeed—and as the title suggest—takes just as much care with the basketball aspects as it does with the love.
JEUX D’ENFANT (2003)
A young and yet-unknown-to-American-audiences Marion Cotillard and her real life, long time love Guillaume Canet play lifelong friends, lovers, and rivals in this bizarre, somewhat twisted (read: psychotic and masochistic) romantic tale about an increasingly dangerous and obsessive game of dare that threatens to ruin each of their lives. This is far from a healthy relationship, and as a movie it’s certainly flawed, but Cotillard and Canet are impossible to turn away from, and the movie is oddly demented and maniacally entertaining in a very French, Amelie-inspired manner.
SILVER LINGINGS PLAYBOOK (2012)
This zany movie based on the Matthew Quick novel, has David O’ Russell truly finding his stride as a director (and, seemingly, his muses in Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper). Quirky in the best sense of the word, if all romantic comedies were like this, they wouldn’t get such a bad rap. Besides blowing a little life back into DeNiro, who delivers his best performance since apparently deciding to cash it in with screwball comedies like Meet the Fockers, the trio of O’Russell, Lawrence, and Cooper have arguably never been as great as they are here. Football, fighting, insanity, and a dance contest. What else could you want?
IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934)
The first film to achieve the impossible feat of winning all five major Oscar categories (best picture, actor, actress, director, and screenplay), and for good reason. It is among the best constructed and edited films of the early sound era, full of wit and the sort of comedic scenarios that went on to set a blueprint for so many of Hollywood’s great comedies. Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert are at the top of their game, their chemistry jumping off the screen, and directed by the master himself—Frank Capra.