98 Best Romantic Movies Of All Time

98 Best Romantic Movies Of All Time


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Romance films often get painted with a broad brush as “chick flicks.” Really, society puts in a lot of work to discrediting an entire genre just because there’s perception that women are its primary audience. But romance has so much to offer anyone, so long as they enjoy a good movie.

For one thing, romance films operate across pretty much every genre you can think of. Sure, there’s the traditional romantic drama, full of tears and tragedy, that often springs to mind first. And most people are familiar with the ubiquitous romantic comedy, where A-list stars (and B-list and C-list, depending on the production values of the film) have a variety of meet-cutes. But there’s romance in science fiction, fantasy, war, and every other type of film.

And furthermore, romance taps into our deepest, most universal emotions. Who doesn’t know what it feels like to love, be loved, or want love? We all crave human connection on some level, and that’s why it’s so rare to find films without a least a minor romantic subplot. But that’s not what this list is for. This is for the very best movies that scream romance from their proverbial rooftops and feature beautiful depictions of love in all its forms. (Be warned — there are some spoilers below.)

Updated on February 7, 2022: Hey, love never dies. And that means as long as people are falling head over heels, there will be movies about romance. So we’ll keep an eye out for new entries to the genre that seduce us, woo us, and win us over, and we’ll add them here if they deserve a spot on this dreamy list.

10 Things I Hate About You

As far as late 1990s teen romantic comedies go, “10 Things I Hate About You” is pretty much the gold standard. Based on Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” it focuses on a pair of sisters held to a simple rule by their strict father: The bubbly, outgoing Bianca can’t date unless her older, misanthropic sister Kat does. Eager to date Bianca, Cameron enlists high school bad boy Patrick Verona to take Kat out. Surely none of this will backfire! The entire film is a lot of fun, but the real star of the show is Heath Ledger, who shows even in his first Hollywood film what a talent he would become.

An Affair to Remember

As hard as it may be to imagine, there was once a time when cruises were a place of luxury and romance, rather than an opportunity to catch a norovirus. In “An Affair to Remember,” Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr star as two people who have a brief fling aboard an ocean liner and agree to meet in six months at the top of the Empire State Building if they still love each other. Problem #1: They’re both engaged to other people. Problem #2: Kerr’s character suffers a freak accident on the way to their meeting, leading Grant’s character to believe that she’s no longer interested. It’s schmaltzy and requires extreme suspension of disbelief, but the charms of the two stars sell it for all it’s worth.

The African Queen

Oftentimes, romance films are only made starring bright, young talents, as though people in their mid-20s are the only ones who ever fall in love. “The African Queen,” based on a popular novel by C.S. Forester, is refreshing because it eschews that convention. Humphrey Bogart was 52 and Katharine Hepburn 44 when they starred in this romantic drama set in Africa on the eve of World War I. Hepburn plays a missionary living in a small village, which depends on Bogart’s abrasive Charlie Allnut and his steamboat, the African Queen, for supplies. When German troops arrive, she joins Charlie on his little ship, and despite occasionally squabbling, they fall in love. Together, they plot to destroy the German gunboat, a pair of unlikely aspiring war heroes who defy all cinematic expectations.

The Age of Innocence

It’s hard to imagine a wider display of range that what we see from Martin Scorsese in the early 1990s. Although he’s best known for his crime dramas, he takes a massive swing for the fences with “The Age of Innocence.” Daniel Day-Lewis stars as a wealthy lawyer in New York City during the Gilded Age, who marries a respectable young lady, played by Winona Ryder. It isn’t long, however, before his thoughts start to drift to her more experienced cousin, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Countess Ellen Olenska.

With subject matter outside of his usual forte, Scorsese brings a unique sensibility to the bittersweet romance. Vincent Canby of the New York Times called it “a gorgeously uncharacteristic Scorsese film … the work of one of America’s handful of master craftsmen.”

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul

There’s a strange thing that happens when a woman grows older, has children, loses her husband: She disappears in the eyes of society. The triumph of “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” is that the film stubbornly refuses to allow her to do so. The movie follows Emmi Kurowski, a middle-aged woman who, having been widowed several years earlier, begins an unexpected new relationship. Ali is a Muslim many years younger than her, and her grown children are horrified at the idea of their romance. Nevertheless, the two fight to overcome the prejudice of others and stick together, despite everything.

The Apartment

With “The Apartment,” Jack Lemmon plays on his everyman status to create a bittersweet, slightly melancholic love story. He plays C.C. “Bud” Baxter, an anonymous office clerk whose superiors frequently use his apartment … so that they can host their mistresses discreetly. Baxter reluctantly goes along, but he faces a crisis of conscience when he develops feelings for an elevator operator, Shirley MacLaine’s Fran. She’s been having an affair with his boss, and Baxter sees the emotional impact it has on her. 

“The Apartment” is somewhat unique among romances of the period for how melancholy it is — the entire production is tinged with a sense of loneliness. However, “The Apartment” was a huge success, winning five Academy Awards (including Best Picture and Best Director) and being nominated for five more.


It’s rare that we get a romance told from a third-party perspective — rarer still that we get one told from the point of view of the force that broke the loving couple apart. 13-year-old Briony watches the relationship between her older sister, Cecilia, and her lover, Robbie, with a mix of fascination and jealousy. But when she accuses Robbie of a horrible crime, it tears them apart, forcing Robbie down an altogether different path that he might have led. How do you make amends for something unforgivable you did as a child, not fully grasping the implications of your actions?

Ball of Fire

“Ball of Fire” features Barbara Stanwyck at her most devilishly charming and Gary Cooper playing extremely against type. Known for strong, masculine leading man roles and his reputation for sleeping his way through Hollywood, part of the joke of “Ball of Fire” is that Cooper was the last actor you’d imagine to be cast as Bertram Potts — an uptight, shy grammarian. 

The film centers around of group of awkward academics who are hard at work constructing a new encyclopedia. Potts solicits the help of Stanwyck’s Sugarpuss, a nightclub singer, to develop a section discussing modern slang. She brings chaos in her stead, turning the lives of the seven little nerds completely upside down — but it’s Potts who is most affected by her presence. “Ball of Fire” remains a classic, featuring two charismatic stars operating at peak levels.

Before Sunrise

As much as we all want relationships that stand the test of time, there’s something unexpectedly romantic about one that lasts for only a short while. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy play a pair of strangers who meet on a train and decide spontaneously to wander around Vienna for the night. Their connection is undeniable, making it tempting to prolong what was only ever supposed to be a brief encounter. Although “Before Sunrise” takes place over the course of just one day, it was so popular that it spawned two sequels, with Hawke and Delpy reprising their roles in “Before Sunset” and “Before Midnight,” offering audiences more tantalizing glimpses of their beloved characters.

The Big Sick

After many years relegated to supporting roles in every mid-tier comedy available, “The Big Sick” gave Kumail Nanjiani the opportunity to step into the spotlight. This is the touching real-life story of his early relationship with his wife, Emily (played here by Zoe Kazan), that the two wrote as a screenplay together. As for the plot, after a whirlwind romance and subsequent breakup, Kumail is stunned to learn that Emily is in the hospital with a serious illness that has left her comatose, and he now must navigate both his feelings and relationships with both his and her parents.

“The Big Sick” is a romantic comedy that, with the comic talents involved, is both genuinely funny and genuinely romantic. Somewhat surprisingly for a light-hearted romantic comedy, “The Big Sick” was nominated for an Oscar, which speaks to the high quality of the script that Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon wrote together.

Bringing Up Baby

“Bringing Up Baby” was an opportunity for Katharine Hepburn to challenge herself. The in-your-face, frenetic style of comedy did not come naturally to the classically trained actress, as Todd McCarthy recounts in his book, “Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood.” This is to say nothing of the fact that she was acting opposite a live leopard in many scenes!

Cary Grant stars as paleontologist David Huxley, on the verge of completing a full dinosaur skeleton — he just needs one last bone, which happens to be in the absent-minded hands of Hepburn’s socialite, Susan Vance, a woman has both a crush on David and her own pet leopard … a creature that’s now on the loose. The two actors play off each other beautifully, convincing in both their constant frustration with one another as well as their eventual reconciliation.


Anyone who’s moved far away and experienced the ache of homesickness can relate to Eilis in “Brooklyn.” As a woman living in Ireland in the early 1950s, Eilis’ opportunities are limited — so much so that she makes the life-changing decision to move to New York City and start fresh. Although she’s horribly lonely, she soon meets the handsome, charismatic Tony, who begins to make Brooklyn feel much more inviting. But when her sister dies unexpectedly, she returns to Ireland, now a stranger in her sleepy village, seeing its charms and flaws anew — including the presence of Jim Farrell, who she could also imagine a life with. Two worlds, two potential lives … but she can only make one of them her home.

But I’m a Cheerleader

Megan Bloomfield in “But I’m a Cheerleader” is convinced that she’s not a lesbian. When her religious parents and boyfriend stage an intervention, she’s confused by the very suggestion. After all, she has a boyfriend. She’s a cheerleader, for crying out loud. They send her away anyway, to True Directions, a conversion therapy camp that claims to reinforce gender roles and, in doing so, eliminate homosexuality. Still, the more time she spends with Graham, the more she begins to question her own sexuality. Filled with bold, candy-coated colors, “But I’m a Cheerleader” has become a cult classic in the years since its release.


Set in Argentina in the 1840s, “Camila” is based on the real-life experiences of Camila O’Gorman, an impetuous, romantic young woman who seems to have little interest in living the traditional life of a socialite in Buenos Aires. She and Ladislo, a handsome young priest, quickly become attracted to one another. Although he struggles with the idea of breaking his religious vows, he’s unable to avoid temptation, and the two run away together. They are happy, extraordinarily so, but a foreboding sense of doom hangs over their heads: We know, as do they, that they will only be able to outrun fate for so long. “Camila” is everything you need in a romance: It’s erotic, emotionally evocative, and ultimately tragic.


With “Carol,” director Todd Haynes creates a lush period romance that uses both of its stars — Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara — to great effect. The chic but unhappily married Carol (Blanchett) meets aspiring photographer Therese (Mara) while the latter is working at a New York City department store during the 1952 holiday season. They strike up a friendship and, later, a courtship, despite the fact that they are both in (at least outwardly) heterosexual relationships. The mastery of “Carol” is in its quiet moments — small gestures, a glance or brief silence, mean everything, and it’s with this intimate storytelling that Haynes fleshes out his moving, bittersweet love story.


A poignant drama made during World War II with a cast and crew largely made up of refugees fleeing the Nazi regime that had thrown Europe into turmoil, “Casablanca” stands in a class of its own. 

The classic story centers around Rick Blaine, a cynical American who owns a bar in Casablanca. When his former flame, Ilsa, re-enters his life, he’s faced with a torturous decision to leave with her or help her Czech resistance fighter husband. “Casablanca” is beautiful yet deeply sad; the relationship between Rick and Ilsa is almost entirely defined by its pain and regrets. It also features one of the most moving scenes in cinematic history, as the denizens of Rick’s bar raise their voices in a emotional rendition of the French national anthem to drown out the Nazis’ singing “Die Wacht am Rhein.”

City Lights

“City Lights” is arguably Charlie Chaplin’s sweetest, most romantic film. Clad in the ill-fitting, well-worn clothes of the Tramp, he’s mistaken by a blind flower girl for a wealthy gentleman. He’s immediately smitten with her and keeps up the ruse, for fear that she’ll reject him otherwise. But when she becomes a candidate for an experimental cure for blindness, he’s faced with a choice to raise the money she needs, knowing that he might lose her forever.

Chaplin stuck with silent films long after most directors were pivoting to sound. For example, “City Lights” was released in 1931, four years after “The Jazz Singer.” But the lack of sound works in the favor of “City Lights,” highlighting its beautiful imagery throughout.

Cold War

Perpetually bouncing around Cold War-era Europe, Wiktor and Irena have a tempestuous relationship in “Cold War.” Wiktor is a musical director who discovers Irena while putting together a program of traditional Polish folk songs, and the two are immediately attracted to one another. Throughout the film, they’re separated from each other as they flit between Eastern and Western Europe. They can’t keep away from one another, but then they fight like cats whenever they’re in the same city for more than five minutes. Their love, it would seem, is entirely destructive, to themselves most of all.

Crazy Rich Asians

In Hollywood cinema, Asian characters frequently operate in very specific roles — the best friend, the nerd, the martial artist. All of these are often deromanticized and desexualized, which is what makes “Crazy Rich Asians” such a breath of fresh air and an unexpectedly groundbreaking step forward in terms of representation. Constance Wu stars as Rachel Chu, a math professor who travels to Singapore with her boyfriend, Henry Golding’s Nick Young, only to learn that he’s actually the scion of a beyond-wealthy family, none of whom approve of his relationship with Rachel. 

“Crazy Rich Asians” takes a familiar inter-class romance and transports it to the glittering world of Singaporean luxury, introducing a new element to the conflict that inevitably unfolds between Rachel and Nick’s family.

Crimson Peak

“Crimson Peak” may have been marketed as a period ghost story, but it actually has a great deal more in common with gothic romance. Mia Wasikowska plays Edith Cushing, a sheltered young woman from late 1800s Buffalo, who moves to a remote manor house in England with her dashing but enigmatic new husband, Tom Hiddleston’s Sir Thomas Sharpe. It quickly becomes clear that he and his malevolent sister, Jessica Chastain’s Lucille, have nefarious intentions towards her considerable fortune. But it’s equally evident that Thomas begins to question their actions as he begins to genuinely fall in love with Edith, creating a melancholy but nonetheless surprisingly moving romance

Dangerous Liaisons

Sneering and scheming, even in period garb John Malkovich and Glenn Close look like they’re talking about you at a party. “Dangerous Liaisons” is set against a backdrop of pre-Revolutionary France, as the Marquise de Merteuil (Close) and the Vicomte de Valmont (Malkovich) plot with each other and against each other, arranging sexual conquests out of sheer boredom. Valmont plans to seduce the religious, demure Madame de Tourvel, but he’s stymied by the fact that he finds himself actually falling in love with her. Their manipulations and sexual power plays create chaos for everyone who comes near them but hurt themselves most of all. Close and Malkovich were especially lauded for their performances, with Roger Ebert saying, “Their arch dialogues together turn into exhausting conversational games, tennis matches of the soul.”

Days of Heaven

Part of the New Hollywood crew of directors, Terrence Malick would garner critical attention with “Days of Heaven,” his period romance set in the Texas Panhandle during World War I. Here, Richard Gere and Brooke Adams play Bill and Abby, a pair of lovers who, after fleeing Chicago, end up working at a wealthy man’s farm. Bill convinces Abby to marry Sam Shepard’s well-to-do farmer, who they know to be terminally ill, so they can inherit his money. But Bill is thrown for a loop when Abby develops feelings for her new husband. 

Like many of Malick’s films, the greatest selling point of “Days of Heaven” is its magnificent visual palette — it was well-regarded by critics and nominated for four Academy Awards, winning for Best Cinematography.

Design for Living

The romance in “Design for Living” is unconventional, pushing the limits even in the relatively permissive pre-Code period. Gary Cooper and Fredric March star as George and Thomas, a pair of bohemian friends living in a cramped apartment in Paris. George is an artist and Thomas an aspiring playwright. But their friendship is tested when they meet Miriam Hopkins’ Gilda — a beautiful, witty American woman — and immediately fall in love with her. 

The only problem? She can’t quite decide which of them she likes best. In a bold, risqué move, the trio decide that they like things as they are and aren’t willing to lose either their friends or their lovers, setting up a proto-polyamorous relationship and making “Design for Living” is a playfully sexual comedy far ahead of its time.

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge

In India, “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” is not so much a film as it is an institution. The iconic Bollywood romance stars Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol (both of whom seem composed entirely of charm) as a pair of Indian immigrants raised in London. Raj (Shah Rukh Khan) is a gregarious, spoiled prankster. Simran (Kajol) is a studious young woman whose life takes an unexpected turn when her father promises her to the son of a childhood friend in India. They both go to Europe with their friends, and when they finally meet, they … hate each other. It’s only after being stranded together that they begin to develop a rapport, which blossoms into something like love. There’s just that pesky arranged marriage standing in their way.

Dirty Dancing

There’s just something about “Dirty Dancing.” The film, set in the early 1960s at a vacation resort in the Catskills, revolves around the experiences of Baby, an intelligent but sheltered young woman who’s spending one last vacation with her family before going away to college. It’s there that she meets Johnny, a suave, sensual dance instructor who will be paramount to her coming-of-age story. Their relationship is never presented as one that has much of a future after the summer ends, but as a short-lived romance that changes both partners forever, it’s more moving than it has any right to be. And, lest we forget — the dance sequences are irresistible


It’s no easy thing to leave the community you were born into. But if staying means living a lie, what choice do you have? In “Disobedience,” Rachel Weisz plays a woman who, years after fleeing her strict Orthodox Jewish upbringing, returns for her father’s funeral. While she’s there, she stays with a childhood friend, Dovid, and his wife, Esti — the woman she had a relationship with as a teenager and who chose to stay behind. They rekindle their romance, giving Esti another chance to find the strength to free herself.

Doctor Zhivago

Based on a novel by Boris Pasternak that was beloved in the West and banned in the Soviet Union, “Doctor Zhivago” is a sprawling romantic historical epic. Omar Sharif plays Yuri Zhivago, a doctor whose life and career are both upended by the Russian Revolution of 1917 and subsequent national instability. Julie Christie plays Lara, the intelligent, soulful woman he falls in love with, despite both of them being married to another. Their affair is punctuated by tragedy, but it’s all the more compelling for it. When it was first released in 1965, Time called David Lean’s adaptation “literate, old-fashioned, soul-filling and thoroughly romantic.”

The Eagle

In the 1920s, there was no greater male heartthrob in Hollywood than the exotic, sensual Rudolph Valentino. When he died unexpectedly at the age of 31 in 1926, 100,000 people attended his funeral. After watching 1925’s “The Eagle,” it’s easy to see why.

Here, he stars as a military officer forced to flee the Russian court when he catches the eye of Tsarina Catherine II and rejects her advances. He then becomes an outlaw in the vein of Zorro. But problems inevitably arise when he learns that the man he’s fighting against is the father of the girl he loves. For his penultimate film, “The Eagle” does an excellent job of reminding audiences why they became so enamored of him in the first place.


This may not be the first adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved “Emma,” but it’s by far the most stylish. Anya Taylor-Joy plays the titular, self-absorbed heroine with a well-intentioned snobbery — the character can have a tendency to rub viewers the wrong way, with her persistent matchmaking that shows a wanton disregard for the feelings of others, but here we see her desire to help her friends in the only way she knows how. The burgeoning friendship between Emma and Harriet Smith feels genuine, as does the connection between her and Mr. Knightley. We’re even treated to a scintillating dance sequence that shows off their chemistry even under the primmest of circumstances.

Ever After

Interestingly enough, perhaps the best adaptation of “Cinderella” is the one that only vaguely alludes to its fairy tale origins. Drew Barrymore stars in “Ever After” as Danielle, a kind-hearted young woman who’s been raised by a social-climbing stepmother who barely even attempts to hide how much she doesn’t like her. The development of the relationship between Danielle and Prince Henry is much more organic, giving them the opportunity to get to know each other and fall in love rather than just having a meet-cute at a palace fete. In the past, Cinderella has felt spineless, but in the capable hands of Barrymore, she has spirit.

Flesh and the Devil

Greta Garbo and John Gilbert star in “Flesh and the Devil” alongside Lars Hanson in a torrid love triangle. After Leo, a German soldier played by Gilbert, is shipped off to Africa for five years after killing a count in a duel for the affections of Felicitas (Garbo), he encourages his best friend, Ulrich (Hanson), to look out for her. Ulrich does more than that: He falls in love with her.

There’s a good reason why Greta Garbo and John Gilbert had such great on screen chemistry: They were in a real-life relationship, beginning after they met on “Flesh and the Devil.” The two actors would work together on a handful of other films, with a rare dynamic that would allow them to make even non-romantic scenes simmer.

From Here to Eternity

Known for its iconic scene of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr making love on the beach, “From Here to Eternity” is a frothy war drama about soldiers stationed in Hawaii on the eve of Pearl Harbor, as well as the women in their lives. Kerr plays Karen, a military wife whose unhappy marriage to a captain is one punctuated by infidelities. And although Karen wants to divorce her husband to be with Lancaster’s First Sergeant Warden, military etiquette prevents such a thing — their romance is doomed before it really begins.

“From Here to Eternity” was enormously successful, with its wartime melodrama charming audiences and critics alike. Aside from Michael Bay’s “Pearl Harbor,” it would seem that romance set amidst one of America’s most dramatic historical events is an unbeatable combination.

Funny Girl

How often in movies do we see a suave dreamboat fall in love with a woman based on the sheer magnetism of her personality? “Funny Girl” stars the always charismatic Barbra Streisand as the vaudevillian star and comedienne Fanny Brice, chronicling her rise in the New York theater community during the early 20th century, as well as her relationship with Omar Sharif’s professional gambler and ne’er-do-well Nicky Arnstein. Their chemistry is surprisingly compelling (and politically controversial, given that war broke out between Israel and Egypt while the film was being made). But nothing in “Funny Girl” is more memorable than the triumphant staging of Streisand’s defiant “Don’t Rain On My Parade.”

Girl Shy

Of the famous silent comedians, Harold Lloyd would perhaps come the closest to embodying the modern rom-com lead, especially with his work in “Girl Shy.” Here, he plays an awkward tailor’s apprentice who overcomes his shyness around women by, ironically, writing a self-help book entitled “The Art of Making Love.” The film features classic romantic comedy miscommunications that see our intrepid hero on an extended comic chase sequence to expose his beloved Mary’s fiancé as a bigamist. The humor comes through in “Girl Shy,” especially during Lloyd’s scenes that depict him demonstrating how to attract different types of women, but there’s also an inherent sweetness and charm that makes the romantic elements of the film work especially well. 

God’s Own Country

Bored and listless while working on his family’s sheep farm in Yorkshire, Johnny is pretty much just going through the motions in “God’s Own Country.” But when a Romanian migrant worker, Gheorghe, arrives to help during the lambing season, Johnny is unexpectedly drawn to him. Gheorghe is kind and gentle; Johnny is the opposite. But together, they find some happiness, even if Johnny is unable to acknowledge it at first. Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian described it as a “very British love story, bursting at the seams with unspoken emotions, unvoiced fears about the future, and a readiness to displace every emotion into hard physical work.”

Gone with the Wind

In the golden age of Hollywood, “Gone with the Wind” stands in a class of its own, both in terms of scale and impact. The sprawling war drama runs for nearly four hours, and its depiction of the American Civil War cost MGM just under $4 million, making it the second-most expensive film made up to that point.

But when we think about the actual legacy of “Gone with the Wind” — well, aside from the film’s racist depiction of the 19th-century Deep South — the central romance of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler stands out. As Scarlett, Vivien Leigh embodies a haughty Southern belle who’s used to having her own way. Clark Gable plays Rhett, a cynical ladies’ man who Scarlett can’t help but be drawn to. The two have a tempestuous but passionate relationship, one with sparks that still capture fans’ imaginations nearly a century later.

The Goodbye Girl

There’s nothing like a quiet, intimate romantic comedy with two actors who feel like actual people — in this case Marsha Mason and Richard Dreyfuss. “The Goodbye Girl” follows Paula McFadden (Mason), a professional dancer struggling to raise her daughter on her own after her actor boyfriend unceremoniously leaves her and sublets their apartment to Elliot Garfield (Dreyfuss), an actor from Chicago. They reluctantly decide to share it, although living together will prove to be more difficult than they expect. 

The forced roommates turned lovers trope is a time-honored tradition in the romantic comedy, and it’s executed especially well here. But it’s the inclusion of Quinn Cummings as Lucy, the whip-smart 10-year-old daughter of Paula, that elevates the material into something that goes beyond your run-of-the-mill rom-com.

The Graduate

“The Graduate” delves into the existential crisis of having done everything that was expected of you and thinking, “Now what?” This revolutionary classic follows college graduate Benjamin Braddock, who returns to his parents’ upper-class California home listless and without direction. He finds temporary respite in the arms of Mrs. Robinson, a friend of his parents who’s equally dissatisfied with her life, and then moves on to her daughter, Elaine.

The encounters that we see between Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson are captivating, especially when Benjamin is able to break through her defenses. She shows a profound vulnerability that speaks to Bancroft’s ability as an actor. For example, we learn that Mrs. Robinson studied art in college, and it’s as though we’re seeing her as a person for the first time.

The Great Gatsby

Written in 1925 by American author F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Great Gatsby” is perhaps the definitive work on wealth, love, and loneliness in the Roaring ’20s. And this 1974 adaptation stars Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby, an enigmatic millionaire who has seemingly accumulated vast quantities of wealth all in a bid to prove his worthiness to Mia Farrow’s Daisy Buchanan, an old flame he’s never quite gotten over. He holds party after party at his palatial estate, hoping that one day she’ll see them from across the bay and that the two will be reunited. For all its beauty and splendor, the film feels strangely hollow, detached even — which makes it a perfect reflection of the Jazz Age culture that Fitzgerald was responding to.

Gregory’s Girl

Set in Scotland with accents so thick that they were dubbed over with more anglicized speakers for the film’s American release in 1982, “Gregory’s Girl” is a charming coming-of-age story that succeeds because of how honest and unaffected it seems. It stars John Gordon Sinclair as Gregory, an ordinary teenager who’s infatuated with the new girl in school, Dee Hepburn’s Dorothy, who’s just joined their soccer team.

Film professor Jonny Murray praised director Bill Forsyth and summed the film up in The Scotsman, saying, “‘Gregory’s Girl’ is one of cinemas true portrayals of the state of adolescence –- a totally universal theme which only a few other filmmakers have been able to capture so brilliantly. Bill [Forsyth] managed to capture not just what that looks like –- but what that feels like.”

Harold and Maude

You have to wonder what all the people wringing their hands about cinematic age gaps would have thought of “Harold and Maude.” A bizarre, idiosyncratic dark comedy from director Hal Ashby, “Harold and Maude” is the unlikely love story of a morbid 20-year-old, Harold, who begins a romantic relationship with an 89-year-old Holocaust survivor, Maude. Despite their vast difference in age, they balance each other out in unexpected and ultimately endearing ways. Harold is obsessed with death, and Maude is determined to wring the most out of life that she possibly can. Audiences at the time may not have known what to make of it, but in the years since it has become a veritable cult classic.

The Heiress

“The Heiress,” directed by William Wyler, features a tour-de-force performance from Olivia de Havilland, who plays Catherine, a shy young woman who’s spent her life being bullied by a domineering father, a man who makes no secret of the fact that she compares unfavorably to her witty and beautiful mother. When a handsome man named Morris begins to pay her attention, she is overjoyed and falls in love easily. But her father is convinced that Morris is a fortune hunter, only interested in Catherine because of the large sum of money she will inherit upon his death. It’s difficult not to be awed by de Havilland in this picture, with her transformation from naïve girl to self-possessed woman as she’s made cynical by life experiences. 


The third collaboration between Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, “Holiday” would see them at arguably their most relaxed and in sync. Grant stars as Johnny Case, a man who’s meeting for the first time his fiancé’s upper-crust family. But they’re thrown off by his desire not to work (relatable), and in any case, he finds more of a connection with Julia’s sister Linda, the black sheep of the family played by Hepburn. Their chemistry is once again on display in “Holiday,” but while some of their other outings feature a much more fast-paced style of comedy, here the humor is a bit more understated, flying under the radar with a naturalistic charm.

How Stella Got Her Groove Back

With Angela Bassett and a young Taye Diggs in the lead roles, it’s pretty difficult not to like “How Stella Got Her Groove Back.” Bassett stars as Stella, an overwhelmed 40-year-old woman who’s trying to juggle a career and life as a single mother when her best friend encourages her to let loose and take a relaxing vacation. She goes to Jamaica, where she meets a handsome man (Diggs) who’s 20 years younger than her. They have a beach fling, which reminds Stella that she isn’t just a mother and a corporate executive — she’s also a person, and she should make room in her life for romance every once in a while.

If Beale Street Could Talk

In “If Beale Street Could Talk,” Tish and Fonny, a pair of childhood sweethearts, try to build a life together, knowing that they’re about to have a baby. But the world conspires against them, as Fonny is accused of a terrible crime that he didn’t commit, and justice isn’t on his side. Nevertheless, they have a pure and powerful love, one that allows them to survive the near-constant indignities that they face. Barry Jenkins creates a lush, vibrant vision of 1970s Harlem, one that feels intimate and personal but at the same time a testament to generations of lived experiences.

I’m a Cyborg, but That’s OK

Meet the film that takes the manic pixie dream girl to her logical conclusion. “I’m a Cyborg, but That’s OK” is a South Korean film about a pair of patients at a psychiatric institution who fall for one another. Young-goon is a young woman who believes that she’s a cyborg, perpetually attempting to charge herself with batteries rather than eat. Il-soon experiences delusions, thinking that he can steal other people’s souls. To call them an odd couple is probably understating things. But as much as this sounds like it could be horribly offensive, “I’m a Cyborg, but That’s OK” approaches its characters with a tremendous empathy.

I’m Your Man

“I’m Your Man” is a German film that takes place in a society where artificial intelligence has advanced to the point that androids are being designed for the purpose of emotional and romantic fulfillment. Enter Alma, a scientist who’s been offered the opportunity to test drive a relationship robot and report back on her findings as to the ethical implications of their existence. So she’s landed with Tom, a handsome and charming android determined to make her happy. At first, she’s unnerved by his presence, but after a while, he begins to grow on her and she starts to wonder: Can you actually love something when you intellectually know it isn’t real?

In the Mood for Love

With Tony Leung Chui-wai and Maggie Cheung playing a pair of neighbors in 1960s Hong Kong who slowly learn that their frequently absent spouses are having an affair with one another, “In the Mood for Love” is a masterclass of unfulfilled romance and repressed emotion. The more time they spend together, the more they yearn for each other — but they both decide that they aren’t the kind of people who can cheat. Peter Walker of The Guardian would say of “In the Mood for Love,” “It’s a film about, yes, love; but also betrayal, loss, missed opportunities, memory, the brutality of time’s passage, loneliness — the list goes on.”

It Happened One Night

In “It Happened One Night,” released just on the cusp of the Hays Production Code taking full effect, Claudette Colbert stars as a young heiress on the run from her father. She soon meets Clark Gable’s down-on-his-luck reporter, who offers to help her in exchange for a story. 

As they begin to fall for one another, the filmmakers maintain the appearance of propriety between their two charismatic leads. This includes the now famous “Walls of Jericho,” a blanket hung up on a clothesline to signal to the audience that their relationship remains chaste. Interestingly, “It Happened One Night” is one of only three films to win the “Big Five” at the Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.

The King & I

Sumptuously staged, “The King & I” is a treat for the senses. Anna Leonowens is an English schoolteacher who’s traveled across Asia to teach the children of the king of Siam, a progressive but hard-headed man who’s eager to show Thailand to the world as a forward-thinking country. The two butt heads repeatedly: King Mongkut expects his orders to be instantly obeyed, and Anna is unwilling to back down from a fight. Still, in spite of everything, they are undeniably attracted to one another. They each find in the other qualities something different and exciting. All of this comes to a head in the “Shall We Dance?” sequence, which has sexual tension thick enough you could cut it with a knife.

The Lady Eve

In “The Lady Eve,” Jean Harrington is a con artist who schemes to ensnare the utterly guileless heir to a brewing fortune, Charles “Hopsie” Pike. When they meet, he’s just spent the past two years studying snakes in South America and is hardly equipped to withstand the charm offensive she directs at him. But things become considerably more complicated when she accidentally falls in love with her mark. Roger Ebert would later say of a steamy sequence where Jean cuddles up to Charles, “If I were asked to name the single scene in all of romantic comedy that was sexiest and funniest at the same time, I would advise beginning at six seconds past the 20-minute mark in Preston Sturges’ ‘The Lady Eve.'” 

Lars and the Real Girl

When the reclusive Lars introduces his brother and sister-in-law to his new girlfriend, Bianca, who turns out to be a sex doll, they are, well … perplexed. But in “Lars and the Real Girl,” the most endearing quality of both his family and his larger Midwestern community that they just sort of roll with it. Lars is dating a doll? Well, he seems happy, let’s welcome Bianca into the fold.

It’s fascinating to watch Lars use Bianca as a form of therapy — their relationship evolves as he works through his own personal issues, and they “break up” when he no longer feels the need to have her by his side as a crutch, in a wholly original interpretation of a cinematic romance.

Letter from an Unknown Woman

In “Letter from an Unknown Woman,” we’re introduced to a self-absorbed concert pianist named Stefan Brand, who one night receives a peculiar letter from a woman he does not remember. This letter provides the framework of the narrative: We see Lisa as a teenager, smitten with the interesting, older musician who lives in the same building as her. We then see her as a young woman who catches the eye of Stefan, although he breaks his promises to her as though they were nothing, leaving her to raise their child alone. And throughout all of this, the man who’s defined her life hardly knows she exists. It’s an odd romantic film, hard and almost cruel, with no sense of catharsis, but it’s no less moving for this.

Like Water for Chocolate

Set in Mexico in the early 1900s, “Like Water for Chocolate” stars Lumi Cavazos as a young woman named Tita, who has the ability to imbue the food that she cooks with whatever emotion she happens to be feeling. A man, Pedro, is in love with her, but she cannot marry, as family tradition dictates that the youngest child must remain at home to take care of her mother in her old age. Full of complicated family dynamics and repressed emotions, “Like Water for Chocolate” was a huge success, becoming the highest-grossing foreign language film in the United States at that time.

The Long Hot Summer

The primary attraction of “The Long Hot Summer” is the fact that it stars Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, the first of several films that the devoted, long-lasting Hollywood couple would act in together. Newman plays an aimless drifter whose virility and self-confidence encourage Orson Welles’ Mississippi farmer to push him towards his daughter, Woodard’s Clara, in the hopes that she’ll fall in love with him instead of the wealthy but effete man she’s been seeing. “The Long Hot Summer” succeeds on the strength of its two lead performances, with critics praising Woodward and Newman in equal measure.

Love & Basketball

Monica and Quincy grow up next to each other in “Love & Basketball,” united by their shared athletic talent, a sometimes overwhelming competitive spirit, and a mutual crush on one another. But while they’re both incredibly skilled at basketball, something becomes clear early on in their lives: As a boy, Quincy will always have his talent encouraged and cultivated, while Monica will have to work twice as hard to get people to take her seriously. As they grow into teenagers and young adults, they dance around each other, attracted to one another but never quite on the same page, always with the looming conflict over their very different basketball careers as a backdrop.

Love Jones

The entire point of representation in cinema is so that there never has to be just one specific type of “Black” film, that directors can tell the stories they’re interested in without feeling a burden of representing their entire race with just one narrative. “Love Jones” is unique because it purposely set out to chart a different course — the producers told The Providence Journal (via The Huffington Post) that they “wanted to make a modern film about African-American life that did not use violence and recreational drugs as elements in the story.” Larenz Tate and Nia Long star as two artists, a poet and a photographer, respectively, who meet and date, as “Love Jones” embraces a Black intellectual culture that is frequently absent from film.

Love Story

A lot of romantic films get an unearned reputation for being unnecessarily weepy — not “Love Story.” It earns every single one of those tears. Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw star as a pair of college students who meet while attending school in Boston. Despite the fact that they have little in common, they quickly fall in love. But their romance is short-lived, as McGraw’s Jenny is diagnosed with terminal cancer. 

The pure and simple objective of “Love Story” is to make viewers ugly cry, and it succeeds, even if it does lay the maudlin sentimentality on a little thick. But it never tries to hide what it is, and audiences responded to it — “Love Story” was an instant success, making over $130 million at the box office.

Lovers Rock

“Lovers Rock,” a mood-driven sensory exploration of one West Indian house party in 1980s London, is the most cinematic work in “Small Axe.” It stars Micheal Ward and Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn as a couple that meet and have instant sparks, but for the most part, their romance takes a back seat to the vibe of the gathering itself. 

Director Steve McQueen allows the audience to luxuriate in the experience, keeping the camera intimate with small, detailed interactions that make the film incredibly rich. There’s a sequence where the assembled partygoers sing and dance along to “Silly Games” by Janet Kay, and it’s a beautiful celebration of joy, youth, and community. It stands out as one of the most mesmerizing cinematic moments in recent history.

Lust, Caution

Set in World War II-era Hong Kong and Shanghai, “Lust, Caution” stars Tang Wei as a young woman who’s recruited by a group of university students to seduce Tony Leung Chiu-wai’s high-ranking government official as part of an assassination plot. Things become more complicated as her life becomes intertwined with his, and emotions are naturally stirred up. Ang Lee’s production is an unapologetically erotic one, with sexuality depicted in vivid color, so much so that “Lust, Caution” would receive an NC-17 rating.


For the most part, Hollywood films are essentially allergic to casting anyone who doesn’t have, well … Hollywood looks. “Marty” dares to question what it might look like if a pair of ordinary humans fell in love. Ernest Borgnine stars as Marty, a lonely Italian-American butcher whose family can’t stop asking when he’s going to meet a nice girl and settle down. One night, he meets Betsy Blair’s Clara — a plain, reserved teacher — at a dance. In their shared loneliness, they find common ground, and an unexpected romance blossoms between two genuinely kind-hearted people who’ve been overlooked for too long.

Mississippi Masala

Cinema has often used the genre of romance and, in particular, relationships that cross cultural, ethnic, and racial lines to explore the tensions and prejudices that can exist within any community. With “Mississippi Masala,” director Mira Nair delves into the issues that arise when an Indian immigrant, Meena, falls in love with a Black man, Demetrius, in rural Mississippi. Despite their feelings for one another, they must over the prejudice of both Meena’s family and Demetrius’ friends, resulting in a story that’s rich and complex. 


Barry Jenkins delivers with “Moonlight” a true treasure: It explores the experience of being young, gay, and Black in America, and it does so with unbelievable depth and beauty. We follow the story of Chiron, first when he’s a child, then as a teenager, and finally as a young adult. We get to know him and the unique struggles that he faces, especially as pertains to his sexuality, which is often seen as being at odds with traditional Black masculinity. The best parts of “Moonlight” are when he’s with his lifelong friend and occasional lover, Kevin, who gives him the freedom to drop his mask and be himself, even if only for just a brief moment.


A lot of male actors have a mainstream leading man vibe in their youth and then feel free to unleash their weirder side once they have a little clout. Not Nicolas Cage — he had a chaotic energy even in his early career. He stars in “Moonstruck” as a wildly unstable baker who falls in love with Cher’s Loretta Castorini. The only problem? She’s currently engaged to his older brother. 

“Moonstruck” has two essential qualities: It’s lovable, and it’s loud, in every sense of the word. The Italian-American characters shout over one another and have big emotions. But that’s not all there is to “Moonstruck.” As Roger Ebert said in his review, “There is something more here, a certain bittersweet yearning that comes across as ineffably romantic, and a certain magical quality.”

Moulin Rouge!

A frenetic exercise in excess that would come to define director Baz Luhrmann’s career, “Moulin Rouge” takes the high-energy musical to the next level. Christian is a Bohemian writer who falls in love with Satine, a courtesan whose affections are not her own to freely give. As he writes a musical for the performers at the Moulin Rouge, they have a relationship in secret, all while Satine is courting a jealous, demanding duke for his money to keep their nightclub afloat. The songs are the centerpiece of “Moulin Rouge,” borrowed from every corner of pop culture and remixed, creating an overstimulating jukebox of wonders.

My Best Girl

Despite her age, Mary Pickford was frequently hired to portray child characters. However, “My Best Girl” sees “America’s Sweetheart,” as she was often referred to, actually playing a role close to her own age.

A poor salesgirl, Pickford’s character becomes frustrated with the new stockboy at work, who’s actually the wealthy son of the store’s owner and has taken a job as a stockboy to prove to his father that he’s ready for the responsibilities of marriage. Their romance is sweet and gentle, with none of the manufactured drama that would so often define films from this period. This extended to real life: Rogers was Pickford’s third and final husband, who she remained married to until her death in 1979.

My Night at Maud’s

Part of director Éric Rohmer’s series entitled “Six Moral Tales,” “My Night at Maud’s” is a reflection on contemporary relationships that explores philosophy, religion, and love. Jean-Louis is an observant Roman Catholic, intent on finding a wife who shares his faith. Nevertheless, he embarks on a casual sexual relationship with Maud, a divorced atheist. Snowed in together in the midst of a winter storm, Jean-Louis and Maud have long conversations about everything under the sun. Very much grounded in dialogue rather than action, “My Night at Maud’s” speaks to the endlessly complex internal workings of humans as they try to navigate relationships and all of their inherent contradictions.


Set amid the glittering lights of Paris, “Ninotchka” is romantic in every sense of the word. Greta Garbo stars as Ninotchka, a woman sent from the Soviet Union to draft reports on Parisian infrastructure. While on her way to the Eiffel Tower, she encounters the gregarious Count Leon d’Algout, who manages to break through her icy exterior. As a result, Ninotchka finds herself torn between her Soviet values and the inviting decadence of the West, to say nothing of the idea of having fallen in love with a capitalist. 

“Ninotchka” represents a change of pace for Greta Garbo. After years of starring in romantic melodramas, this would be her first comedy. And she does well — the way that she allows herself to soften over the course of the film is endlessly compelling.

The Notebook

Novelist Nicholas Sparks has made a long and storied career out of making people cry, but he outdoes himself with “The Notebook.” We begin in the present day at a nursing home, where an old man is reading a love story to a woman suffering from dementia. (This is your first clue that you should have some tissues on standby.) “The Notebook” then flashes back to the 1940s, chronicling the complicated courtship of the working-class Noah and the wealthy Allie, a couple who, between shouting matches, can’t seem to tear themselves away from each other. The chemistry is first rate, and their romance leads up to a devastating conclusion as we gradually realize the connection between these two groups of characters.


Starring virtual unknowns in Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, “Once” puts all of its focus on the music — a choice that pays dividends, with the success of its main song, “Falling Slowly.” Hansard plays a struggling musician (referred to as “Guy”) who meets a Czech immigrant (Irglová, as “Girl) who plays the piano. When they collaborate together on their first song, it’s spellbinding. Naturally, they begin to develop feelings for one another, but a husband back in the Czech Republic keeps Girl from taking their relationship any further. Bittersweet but incredibly beautiful, “Once” is a staggeringly evocative indie romance.

The Philadelphia Story

Famously included on a list of actors who were considered “box office poison,” Katharine Hepburn was only able to star in “The Philadelphia Story” once the producers had secured Cary Grant and James Stewart as her co-stars. They believed that their popularity would counterbalance Hepburn’s perceived flaws, as revealed in the 1992 documentary “MGM: When the Lion Roars.”

Here, she plays a socialite divorcee on the verge of marrying her second husband. But chaos unfolds when her first husband (Grant) turns up in an effort to win her back. An intensely charming love triangle develops between Hepburn, Grant, and Stewart’s tabloid reporter, bringing together three of the most likeable actors of the period. “The Philadelphia Story” broke Hepburn’s unlucky streak at the box office: It earned around $3 million and got James Stewart his sole competitive Oscar.

Pillow Talk

If you want a stylish romantic comedy that’s basically a billboard for late 1950s/early 1960s sexual politics, look no further than “Pillow Talk.” It stars the effervescent Doris Day as an independent woman who gets into a feud with the ladies’ man she shares a party line with, played by Rock Hudson. Several fake identities and comical misunderstandings later, the two characters have taken turns being infatuated with one another at least a dozen times. But as they go back and forth, the real innovation of “Pillow Talk” is the stylized phone conversations they have. Showing them in split screen is a creative way of depicting intimacy without having them actually in bed together.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

With “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” director Celine Sciamma creates a surprising but not unpleasant oasis that is seemingly free from men — throughout the entire film, the emphasis is on the inner lives of the female characters. Marianne is a female painter who’s been commissioned to create a portrait of Héloïse for her future husband. Héloïse refuses to sit for a portrait, a futile gesture of rebellion to delay the inevitable. But while Héloïse’s overbearing mother is away, the two women develop a powerful bond with one another, falling in love, although they know they will be forced to part.

Pretty Woman

“Pretty Woman” is rife with narrative clichés: Nothing is new under the sun. But it all somehow manages to work, and that’s largely due to the incomparable screen presence and quirky charm of a young Julia Roberts.

Here, she plays Vivian Ward, a sex worker who’s hired as an escort for Richard Gere’s rich corporate executive, Edward Lewis. Inevitably, the two catch feelings for one another. Their romance is incredibly endearing, but some of the film’s best scenes involve Vivian interacting with the entitled, snobbish world that Edward exists in. Consider, for example, Vivian returning to a Rodeo Drive boutique, post-makeover, to get petty revenge on the saleswomen who were rude to her earlier in the film. A true classic.

Pride & Prejudice

As a Jane Austen adaptation, the 2005 version of “Pride & Prejudice” had some big shoes to fill. Fans were already in love with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle’s 1995 miniseries, and it would take some doing to sell them on another. Still, this “Pride & Prejudice” has a charm all its own. Keira Knightley stars as the bold and unconventional Elizabeth Bennet, while Matthew Macfadyen is Mr. Darcy, her unlikely suitor. They both fully misunderstand each other’s natures at first, which keeps them apart as they stubbornly deny their feelings for one another. Knightley has an engaging spark as Elizabeth, and Macfadyen takes the novel approach of presenting Mr. Darcy’s “pride” as something more akin to social awkwardness, which makes him much more endearing from the start.

The Princess Bride

At once a throwback to traditional swashbucklers, an ode to fantasy literature, and a clever romantic comedy in its own right, its no wonder that “The Princess Bride” has secured a broad fanbase in the decades since its release. The film by Rob Reiner follows farmboy turned pirate Westley, who returns to his homeland of Florin to rescue the love of his life, Princess Buttercup. Along the way, he will face off against scheming bandits, rodents of unusual size, a six-fingered sociopath, and a murderous prince (amongst other things). Through the expert blending of genres, “The Princess Bride” feels classical and modern at the same time.

Roman Holiday

It seems like there’s hardly a royal or presidential family without a child longing to escape the pressures of their highly regimented life. But before we had “First Daughter,” “The Prince and Me,” or even “The Princess Switch,” we had “Roman Holiday,” which would define the subgenre. 

It stars Audrey Hepburn as Ann, a sheltered princess who makes up her mind to explore Rome on her own, even if just for one day. She crosses paths with Gregory Peck’s American journalist, Joe, and the two strike out on a fun-filled Italian adventure, one only spoiled by the fact that initially Joe is just interested in getting a story out of her. “Roman Holiday” features gorgeous urban landscapes and a tender chemistry between Hepburn and Peck that would make it an instant classic.

Romeo and Juliet

The classic story of “Romeo and Juliet” has been told many times, but it’s rare that the actors cast in the lead roles actually read as teenagers. That’s part of what makes the 1968 version of “Romeo and Juliet” so endearing — it has a youthful energy that underscores the tragedy of their impetuous, doomed relationship. Leonard Whiting stars as Romeo, the young romantic who falls in love with Olivia Hussey’s Juliet over the course of one evening, before realizing that she’s one of his family’s bitterest rivals. This is a traditional interpretation of the centuries-old play, but the two lead performances bring an endearing vitality, and they’re supporting by a powerful ensemble cast, including John McEnery as Mercutio and Michael York as Tybalt.


A low-budget Canadian indie, “Sabah” is a familiar cross-cultural romance about a Muslim woman in Toronto who falls in love with a white man, much to her family’s consternation. An immigrant from Syria, Sabah has settled into a familiar if dull life while the family is led by her very traditional older brother. Sabah longs for more than just these repetitive activities, however, and without her brother’s knowledge, she begins to venture out into the world. She takes up swimming, and while at the local pool, she meets Stephen, a white carpenter who she begins a romantic relationship with. “Sabah” is about finding balance — between tradition and modernity, family and individuality, and love and responsibility.

Say Anything

“I gave her my heart; she gave me a pen.” John Cusack embodies teenage heartbreak in “Say Anything,” playing Lloyd Dobler as an unrelentingly unexceptional guy who falls in love with the smartest girl in school, Ione Skye’s Diane Court. Against all odds, they develop a relationship that makes both of them legitimately happy. But when conversations turn to the future, Diane gets cold feet: She gives in to pressure from her disapproving father, who believes that being involved with Lloyd is going to hold her back. The heartbreaking relationship beats that take place over the course of the film are executed perfectly. And if nothing else, the iconic scene of John Cusack holding up a boom box playing “In Your Eyes” is worth the price of admission alone.

Shakespeare in Love

We’ve heard all about the romances written by William Shakespeare, so by all means, let’s have one about the famous bard. The story follows a young Will Shakespeare, desperately trying to finish his next play: “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter.” (Don’t worry — it’s just a first draft.) A young man named Thomas Kent comes to audition — only it’s actually a noblewoman, Viola de Lesseps in disguise. She longs for the opportunity to perform on stage, but due to her station, she would never be allowed to. Nevertheless, she and Will soon strike up a romantic relationship that inspires him to write “Romeo and Juliet.” A steamy, light-hearted romp through Elizabethan England, “Shakespeare in Love” charmed audiences and won the Oscar for Best Picture.

The Shop Around the Corner

In “The Shop Around the Corner,” James Stewart stars as Alfred Kralik, a prickly, arrogant salesman at a leather goods store in Budapest who immediately runs afoul of Margaret Sullavan’s Klara Novak, his driven colleague he can’t help but butt heads with. Both are involved in a long-distance relationship conducted entirely through written correspondence, but little do they know that they’re actually falling love with each other. 

If the plot sounds somewhat familiar, it’s because it was used as inspiration for the 1990s romantic comedy “You’ve Got Mail,” starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. Although Stewart’s performance is less gentle and earnest than we expect from him, he and Sullivan have great chemistry together. Beloved by critics, “The Shop Around the Corner” is yet another charming Ernst Lubitsch classic.

Singin’ in the Rain

If there’s one thing Hollywood loves, it’s making movies about itself. “Singin’ in the Rain” is no exception, although it may be the single greatest film ever made about the movie business. The movie follows Don Lockwood, a famous star of the silent era, whose world is turned upside when the talkies are invented and his studio has to transform his latest film to embrace sound. With the help of his best friend, Cosmo Brown, and his aspiring actress girlfriend, Kathy Seldon, he might be able to make a hit — as long as his long-time adversarial co-star doesn’t get in the way. The songs are catchy, the musical numbers high-energy, and its self-deprecating depiction of Hollywood makes “Singin’ in the Rain” a movie that its impossible not to enjoy.

Some Like It Hot

What do you do when you’re a pair of struggling musicians who just happen to witness the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre on the North Side of Chicago in 1929? Well, if you’re Joe and Jerry in “Some Like It Hot,” you shave your legs, buy a dress, and join the first all-female band you can find. But pretending to be a pair of ladies is much more difficult than either of them had imagined, especially after Joe falls in love with lead singer Sugar “Kane” Kowalczyk. Before long, they’re in completely over their heads. It’s a madcap adventure with an almost endless supply of laughs and note-perfect performances from Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, resulting in a film that only improves upon repeat viewings.

Somewhere in Time

With very few exceptions, the time-traveling romance never ends with a happily ever after. In “Somewhere in Time,” Richard is a playwright with a major case of writer’s block, who checks himself into a historic lakeside resort in the hope of finding some inspiration. He finds considerably more than that. Richard happens upon the portrait of a beautiful young actress from the turn of the century, and he becomes obsessed with it. So much so that he finds a way through self-hypnosis to travel through time and be with her. Their chemistry together is undeniable despite the doomed nature of their relationship, and it’s hard to resist the siren call of two intensely beautiful people — Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour — set against a lush period background.

A Star is Born

Even though this version of “A Star is Born” came out all the way back in 1937, it was already an unofficial remake. “What Price Hollywood?” came out five years earlier, and there are too many similarities between the two films for it to have been entirely coincidental. As for the plot, Janet Gaynor stars as a young woman eager for her big break in Hollywood. Norman Maine, a famous actor played by Fredric March, takes her under his wing, and with his guidance and support, she becomes a massive star. But as her celebrity rises, his falls, and both their relationship and his career ends in tragedy. March steals the show, with his Norman Maine such a heart-wrenching depiction of self-sabotage.


Based on a fantasy novel by Neil Gaiman, “Stardust” serves as a natural companion piece to “The Princess Bride.” Charlie Cox stars as Tristan, a self-conscious young man who, upon seeing a star fall from the sky, vows to track it down to give to his beloved. Little does he know that the fallen star is a sentient being, Claire Danes’ Yvaine, who has no intentions of being presented to someone as a gift. Together, they travel through a supernatural landscape, evading the malevolent witch who wants to eat Yvaine’s heart to gain eternal youth. They accumulate experiences and adventures that change both of them forever and, as we would expect for a fantasy romance, leads them to fall in love.


A lot of movie fans have a tendency to view silent cinema as primitive, a time when filmmakers were still figuring out how to make a movie. By the time “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” was released in 1927, the medium had long been elevated to a true art form. F.W. Murnau’s romantic drama follows a man from the country who finds himself growing bored with his dependable but unexciting wife. He’s seduced by a woman from the city, who attempts to convince him to murder his wife and sell his failing farm so that they can be together. Widely considered a cinematic masterpiece, “Sunrise” won the trophy for Unique and Artistic Picture (an award that doesn’t exist anymore) at the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929, with Janet Gaynor also winning for Best Actress.

Sylvie’s Love

So often, films with Black romantic leads, especially when they’re set in the past, are bathed in trauma. “Sylvie’s Love” is refreshing because it’s allowed to be a stylish period drama and a sweet love story without anyone having to suffer unduly for it. Tessa Thompson stars as Sylvie, a clever, ambitious young woman in the early 1960s who works her way up the ladder at a television network. Nnamdi Asomugha plays Robert, the man she’s loved throughout her entire adult life, even when circumstances (including her own marriage) conspire to keep them apart. Over the years, they are drawn to each other again and again, until the stars align and they can finally be together.


At the heart of a behemoth blockbuster that would end up earning over $2.2 billion at the box office is a simple romance — albeit one set against the most famous maritime disaster in history. “Titanic” stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in roles that would define their careers for at least a decade. DiCaprio plays the free-spirited Jack, who’s poor as a church mouse but satisfied with his life, while Winslet is Rose, a wealthy socialite who every moment feels as though her future is being decided by others, and she’s powerless to stop it. They meet, they fall in love, and they desperately try to survive the sinking of the “Titanic.” Oh, and Celine Dion sings. A lot.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Musicals have a reputation for living in a heightened version of reality. But even with this long legacy in mind, director Jacques Demy’s unique vision of “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” stands out. The plot follows Geneviève, a young woman whose family owns a struggling umbrella store. She is in love with Guy, a local mechanic, but their relationship is interrupted by the Algerian War.

The brightness and fanciful visual palette of “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” are a pure smokescreen. They obscure the fact that, at it’s heart, this is a story of lost love, regrets, and looking back on a life that could have been. The wistful, imaginative musical numbers have left their mark on the genre, their influence perhaps most clearly seen in Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land.”

Vacation from Marriage

In “Vacation from Marriage,” Robert and Cathy are a rather boring married couple living together in London, and if they ever had a great passion, it’s long since been extinguished. But then World War II starts. Robert joins the Royal Navy while Cathy enlists in the Women’s Royal Naval Service. Both are utterly transformed by their experiences and question whether they’ll be able to return to the life that they shared together. “Vacation from Marriage,” besides being a mature and well-acted romance about love reignited, captures the anxieties of the period, released just as the war was drawing to a close, when couples who were being reunited after years apart likely faced many similar worries.

The Way We Were

Sometimes you need a great story, and sometimes you just need the overwhelming charisma of Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand. “The Way We Were” is a breezy romantic comedy starring the duo, who are in a relationship despite having extremely different sociopolitical outlooks. One is a far-left, anti-war advocate, while the other is a much more traditional WASP who would probably say today that he “doesn’t really follow politics.” In a world where political divisions have become increasingly polarized, such a relationship seems a relic of a bygone age. Still, even in 1973, it’s enough to drive these two apart. A wistful remembrance of a relationship that was loving but ultimately unsustainable, “The Way We Were” is now perhaps best known for its title song performed by Streisand. 

The Watermelon Woman

A seminal entry in queer cinema, “The Watermelon Woman” stars Cheryl Dunye (who also directs) as a woman who, while working days at a video rental store, is in the process of making her own movie about a Black actress from the 1930s. Cheryl is fascinated by the fact that she is credited only as “the Watermelon Woman” and seeks learn more about this woman’s identity. As she works on this documentary, she begins a relationship with a white customer, Diane, which adds layers of complexities to her journey of discovery. Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called “The Watermelon Woman” a “wry and exhilarating comedy, at once romantic and sharply observant.”

West Side Story

“West Side Story” is not the first Shakespearean musical adaptation, but it’s the most creatively ambitious. It transports the warring clans of “Romeo and Juliet” to New York in the early 1960s, where the Montagues and Capulets are replaced by two rival gangs, one made up of native-born “Jets” and the other of Puerto Rican immigrant “Sharks.” Amidst racial tensions and violence, Tony (part of the Jets) and Maria (sister to one of the Sharks) meet and fall in love.

People may joke about the imagery of gang members pirouetting their way through the streets of New York, but the use of dance as an extension of the frenetic energy of the characters is extremely well-executed. And of course, the film would be nothing without the performance of Rita Moreno as Anita and her vibrant, now-iconic “America” musical number.

When Harry Met Sally

Can men and women really ever just be friends? Or will they always dance around one another, subconsciously waiting for the other to be romantically available? This is the central question of “When Harry Met Sally.” Harry and Sally first meet each other as recent college graduates, carpooling from the Midwest to New York City. They find one another annoying then and are happy to part ways. Over the years, they cross paths multiple times, as acquaintances and later as friends. But as they grow closer, this seems to be the best possible foundation for a relationship. By the time they finally realize their feelings for one another, their lives are already so connected that the transition from friends to lovers is as natural as breathing.

Y tu mamá también

After a handful of Hollywood projects during the 1990s that included the sweet, lyrical “A Little Princess” and a moody adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations,” Alfonso Cuarón returned to his native Mexico to make “Y tu mamá también.” This sensual coming-of-age story features career-making performances from Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal as a pair of teenage boys who embark on a road trip with a beautiful older woman, played by Maribel Verdú. She is bored and lonely, they’re horny, and for a short time, at least, their impromptu relationship works. “Y tu mamá también” is arguably the most sexually charged of Cuarón’s films, and it showcases another side to his abilities as a director.

Your Name

One day, a Japanese high school girl named Mitsuha wakes up in a stranger’s body. What’s even more bizarre, the stranger, Taki, wakes up in hers. This is the basic premise of “Your Name,” a body-swapping romance that wrings powerful emotions out of even seemingly light-hearted encounters. This swapping happens many times, and the two learn to deal with it. They leave each other messages, gradually getting to know one another in the most unconventional of ways. Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times praised the film, saying that its “spirit is by turns energetic and serene, impetuous and wise, its wild shifts from comedy to tragedy to romance revealing themselves not as tonal swings so much as variations in a larger cosmic pattern.”