The 50 Best Romance Movies Of All Time
Despite the fact that we’re severely allergic to Hugh Grant, and we giggle-cringe anytime someone says the phrase “make love,” we can admit romance has a place in this world. Granted, it’s not a place in our Blu-ray rack or Netflix queue, but statistics show women make up half of the world’s population, and damn it if nearly every one of them isn’t susceptible to the dreaded R word. So knowing that, we fired up some potpourri, slipped into our Snuggies, and set off on a quest to rank the best romance movies of all time.
We recognize that a lot of guys might pass over a list like this, but they’d be making a mistake. Wanna get a girl over to your place? There’s no better bait than dangling one of these films. Just know that you’ll also have to “share your feelings” after, so try to manufacture some of those, ya’ bug lug. Now, listen to your heart, and check out our list of the 50 best romance movies of all time, in no particular order.
What can we say, it’s Casablanca. Rick and Ilsa fell deeply in love in Paris. The abrupt end of their affair leaves Rick bitter and confused, until one day, they reunite. Nazis, trench coats, crooked cops, and Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman stealing kisses in darkened rooms. All this in glorious black and white (well worth owning on Blu-ray) is what makes this film an American classic and deserving of a spot (if not the top spot) on any respectable “best” list. If you haven’t seen this movie, watch it. “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.”
Made for a meager $160,000, Once is an absolute gem. It’s probably the coolest kind of musical there is, with its gorgeous songs seamlessly woven into the film by stars Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. They don’t break character and start vamping for the camera, they just sing a song – like the haunting “Falling Slowly” – on a piano in a music store, or in a recording studio as they cut an album. The surprise ending, a Kleenex-inducing ode to selflessness, is also a beautifully refreshing alternative to what most romantic movies go for.
If there’s any movie that can inspire a man to take up pottery, this is it. Of course having a clay-covered, in-her-prime Demi Moore also helps. Ghost has been spoofed plenty throughout the years, but we’ve always enjoyed its mystery-suspense elements. And here’s something we didn’t know until just now: Jerry Zucker, of Airplane! and Naked Gun fame, also directed this movie. Oh, and the sleazy friend? He’s the same actor (Tony Goldwyn) who portrays the president on Scandal.
Gone with the Wind
Bloated, melodramatic, and overrated? Yep. But despite those flaws, Gone with the Wind stands as an unforgettable landmark in cinema history. When adjusted for inflation, this 1939 adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s novel is the highest grossing movie of all time at $1.6 billion. Producer David O. Selznick spared no expense in bringing this soap opera-ish tale of love during the Civil War to the big screen, and for many, seeing Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh get after each other is the absolute definition of romance on film.
Did Titanic trivialize the deaths of 1,500 people by focusing on just two passengers for seemingly 190 of its 194 minutes? Kinda. Yes. But since this is a best romance list, adding James Cameron’s iconic epic is automatic. Jack and Rose have the whole poor boy-rich girl thing going for them, and while their romance and dialogue is a little hokey, knowing the historic tragedy that awaits them makes it all feel much heavier. Of course the last 45 minutes of the film are outstanding, and it’s a great film overall; we just wish some of the other lives on that ship were explored as well.
Guys everywhere in 1990 were hyper-excited when their girlfriends told them they were going to see a woman about Julia Roberts playing a hooker—then they watched Pretty Woman. Originally intended to be a much darker and raunchier film, Garry Marshall’s box office blockbuster ($178 million) may not titillate dudes, but it touches a lot of sweet spots for women, with 80s heartthrob Richard Gere as the john who tries to buy Roberts out of her life of debauchery. Overall, tough to dislike.
From Here to Eternity
Even if you don’t know From Here to Eternity, you at least know the iconic scene: two lovers (Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr), passionately going at it as the waves wash over them. This World War II romance makes no bones about wading into the waters of melodrama, but it’s not hard to see why this was an 8-time Oscar winner five decades years ago.
The English Patient
If you’re looking for a sweeping epic romance, The English Patient and its nine Academy Awards (Best Picture in ’96) oughta do the trick. Ralph Fiennes is the badly burned pilot who nurse Juliette Binoche cares for in this World War II-themed drama. It runs about a little too long, but it’s beautiful to look at and is at times very moving.
An Affair to Remember
An Affair to Remember is one of those movies that proves if you do it right, you can make cheating on your fiancée(s) romantic. The charming Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr are both engaged to other people, but on a transatlantic cruise, they fall hard for each other and plan to reunite in six months. One of the premier chick flicks, way before the term was ever coined.
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Few things serve as a better backdrop for romance than cafes in Paris. The imaginative and quirky leading lady Amelie, (played by Audrey Tautou) is a waitress in Monmarte who decides to devote her life to bringing love and joy into the lives of everyone who crosses her path. In her tireless efforts to create serendipitous situations for others, this pseudo-cupid finds a mysterious love interest who could possibly be the source of her own happiness. The film is fast-paced, weird, a little sad and very beautiful. Amelie is all things love.
Damn you, Jerry Orbach. You were so smart on Law & Order, busting perps left and right, and yet, as Jennifer Grey’s dad in Dirty Dancing, you didn’t even realize that nobody puts Baby in a corner? Patrick Swayze schooled him, and in the process moistened up more than a few panties as the mysteriously taboo dance instructor at a Catskills resort. File this one under guilty pleasures, and if you like Dancing with the Stars, hell, you won’t even feel guilty.
When Harry Met Sally
A romantic comedy that benefits from the comedy chops of Billy Crystal and director Rob Reiner, When Harry Met Sally gets deep into that age old question: Can a man and women just be friends? The irresistibly cute Meg Ryan is always fun to look at (even if she is way out of Crystal’s league), and the orgasm scene serves as a great account of what our girlfriends will never sound like.
The Princess Bride
In this hilarious and often-quoted romantic fantasy tale, Carey Elwes plays a handsome farmhand and the legendary Dread Pirate Roberts, who will let nothing stop him from reuniting with his true love, Princess Buttercup. Don’t let the fairytale title fool you; this is not one for the chick-flick pile. In their quest to be together, the couple encounters giants, sword fights, cliffs of insanity and R.O.U.S’s, (Rodents of Unusual Size). There’s adventure. There’s wit. There’s Fred Savage.
The legendary Charlie Chaplin, the “Little Tramp,” employs his hallmark gift for physical comedy in City Lights, a silent film, but it’s also a timeless romance movie, with a famously tear-jerking finale. Even more impressive: Chaplin co-wrote, produced, scored, edited, and directed the film.
West Side Story
If Romeo and Juliet lived in NYC, and if street gangs insisted on doing intricate song and dance numbers before they attacked each other, West Side Story could be a true story. Even if the rumbles between the Sharks and Jets might inspire a few giggles, there’s an undeniable coolness to this 10-time Oscar winner thanks to the spot-on choreography and Leonard Bernstein’s famous score.
Writer-director Cameron Crowe has a knack for knocking out a great script, and this was maybe his best ever. With a sports-centric story to appeal to the guys, a mile-wide tender streak capable of dropping any sensitive woman to her knees, and that really cute Lipnicki kid, Jerry Maguire clicks on just about all levels.
To many people, the premise of gay cowboys in Wyoming was more far-fetched than the most science-fictiony of sci-fi films ever made. But despite the cultural phobias and endless jokes, Brokeback Mountain still triumphs as a romance film. The great Ang Lee (Life of Pi) gets the most out of Annie Proulx’s short story, and Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal turn in courageous performances.
Slumdog Millionaire doesn’t exactly fit the bill of a straight-up romance movie, but hey, it’s our list, dang it. Then again, maybe that’s why we like it. Or maybe it’s just the heart stopping beauty of Freida Pinto. Either way, this Indian rags to riches story is vividly shot by directors Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan, resulting in a genuinely satisfying mood-booster.
Watching Woody Allen try and work his way through the world of women is way more entertaining than it oughta be, and none of his films capture that skillful level of wit and charm as well as Annie Hall. The banter between Allen and Diane Keaton is Grade A stuff. Amidst the clever wordplay and intellectual references lies a foundation of sad-but-true relationship riffs.
Sleepless in Seattle
In her second behind the camera, prolific rom-com writer Nora Ephron leans heavily on An Affair to Remember, but thanks to the lovable Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, Sleepless in Seattle eeks its way onto our list all by itself. It’s predictable and cheesy, but it’s also exactly what women want sometimes: something soft, safe, and romantic.
OK, so Love Actually tends to be a bit overrated by the fairer sex, and as one critic put it, it is a “highly engineered puffball.” But it deserves top 50 status for a few reasons, including a really good soundtrack and a dizzying array of characters to keep you occupied. Plus if you can’t indulge in a little romantic cheese with the backdrop of Christmas in London, when can you?
24-year-old Audrey Hepburn sparkles as the captive princess who falls in love with an American news reporter, played by Gregory Peck. An old school romantic comedy that won’t leave you feeling icky, Roman Holiday charms you with its amusing antics, great performances, and its eye-catching ode to Rome in glorious black & white.
It’s the movie that seemingly every 20-something woman loves, and every guy (it doesn’t matter the age) groans in agony over—both, for good reasons. But really, to us, The Notebook could have been so much better had they spent more time on the truly touching part of the story—the dementia-influenced relationship between James Garner and Gena Rowlands. We can’t deny its hold on the fairer sex, though, and it’s pure focus on romance, so yes, it makes our list.
The Way We Were
Another guilty pleasure. Barbara Streisand – a one-woman guilty pleasure if there was one – mixes it up with Robert Redford in this Sydney Pollack-directed flick about love and politics. With that sappy title song and Babs being Babs (and yes, we’re sorry we just called her “Babs”), The Way We Were is a quintessential bit of romance from the 70s.
My Fair Lady
Witty, lavish, and full of toe-tapping numbers like “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “The Rain in Spain,” My Fair Lady took home eight Oscars in 1964, including the award for Best Picture. Audrey Hepburn may have had her singing parts dubbed over, and that 2:50 runtime is rough, but it’s still one of the best romantic musicals in Hollywood history.
The Sound of Music
Genre-wise, The Sound of Music is a strange film. It’s a musical, kids movie (rated G), romance, and then all of a sudden in the last 20 minutes, it’s a tense thriller. We admire that kind of schizoid chutzpah, and we admire any movie that has a soundtrack as unabashedly catchy-corny as this one. Julie Andrews shines in the lead role, and if you’ve always shied away from it, you’d be surprised at how watchable it actually is.
Who doesn’t like Grease? Even guys who hate musicals – sometimes referred to as “straight men” – have to admit there’s a special charm about this ode to the greaser days of the 1950s. The songs are full of catchy hooks and endless energy, and John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John are pretty fun to watch, even if they look absolutely nothing like teenagers.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
“I’m looking for a good science-fiction/romance movie tonight,” is a sentence that has never been said, but Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind proves such a bizarre hybrid can work. With an inventive script by Charlie Kaufman, Jim Carrey and the sublime Kate Winslet are exes who both delete each other from their memories; but is that what they really want?
Out of all the romantic, black and white, silent French films that have had major U.S. releases this century, this one is our favorite. Yeah, we were surprised we liked it too, given that pedigree. Director Michael Hazanavicius’ bold simplicity approach takes viewers on a nostalgic trip into the late 1920s and offers up an eye-full of old fashioned entertainment. Groundbreaking audio technology meant the downfall of a silent movie superstar, but only made more promising the rising career of his romantic counterpart, Peppy Miller, (played by Berenice Bejo). There’s laughing, crying, tap dancing and even a scene-stealing pooch for the pet lovers. A lovely little piece of movie art.
Beauty and The Beast (La Belle et la bete)
Director: Jean Coctea
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Sorry Disney lovers, for this classic fairy tale, we’re going to go bypass the talking silverware and instead honor the much lesser-known but widely respected French live action version, La Belle et la Bête. Ahead of its time with its visual flair, Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast offers a surreal, poetic, and poignant experience that, for this story, no matter how many times it’s been told, still remains unmatched.
Being men, sometimes we’re not even sure what romance is, or if we even want to know what it is. But then there are those scenes that slice through our jaded, callous exteriors like a sharpened Ginsu vs. watermelon flesh—the boom box moment, with John Cusack blasting “In Your Eyes” outside of Ione Skye’s window, is one of those scenes. Cameron Crowe shows great poise behind the lens in his first turn as director. Oh, and did you know Ione Skye was married to Beastie Boy Ad Rock for a few years? Now you do.
More of a comedy than a romance, this 1960 Best Picture winner from Billy Wilder still has an emotional punch to it, with Jack Lemmon playing a lonely office worker who lets his bosses use his apartment to conduct their naughty business in. Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine give great performances, as Wilder’s script homes in on themes of adultery, misogyny, and romance.
Sometimes the best way to watch a girl movie is to get it all over with at once: romance, musical, campy melodrama. Moulin Rouge! serves up all three on a visually spectacular plate. Director Baz Luhrmann (The Great Gatsby) instructs Nicole Kidman, Ewen McGregor, and the rest of the cast to go for the gusto, and if you can mentally prepare for an over-the-top production, you’ll agree that they nail it.
A Room with a View
Director: James Ivory
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If it’s a list of romance movies, of course there’s gotta be some sweeping dramas set across the pond. A Room with a View checks that box, starring Helena Bonham-Carter as a conservative Brit who gets romantically invigorated by Julian Sands, but then settles for the safe choice of Daniel Day-Lewis. Will her heart be content? Come on… what do you think?
Legends of the Fall
Three brothers and their dad living in the wilds of Montana at the start of the 20th century; that certainly doesn’t sound like a chick flick, but Legends of the Fall manages to tickle the tummy of many a romance-minded lady. Of course when you have an in-his-prime Brad Pitt tossing his blonde locks around, and Julia Ormond being pursued by pretty much the whole cast, we can see why it gets so many women gushing.
This adaptation of Emily Bronte’s classic famous novel doesn’t get around to more than half of what’s in the book, but it’s still a highly revered classic, even if its 1939 release meant getting overshadowed by Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. Part ghost story, part revenge flick, and part romance, Wuthering Heights boasts a strong cast, including Laurence Olivier who received his first Best Actor nomination for his role as Heathcliff.
Shakespeare in Love
While we harbor a deep, deep grudge against the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science for its debacle of giving Shakespeare in Love the Best Picture Oscar over Saving Private Ryan, we can admit that in the realm of romance movies, this witty film succeeds. Given how we now look at Gwyenth Paltrow and Ben Affleck, this one doesn’t hold up as well as it should, but it’s a clever bit of airy fun.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Based on a novella by Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a light and romantic comedy that’s made memorable by the charismatic Audrey Hepburn. She plays a slightly insane New York City socialite who falls in love with a writer (George Peppard), and the film just works in that rom-com way that rarely does.
The African Queen
We see a lot of the ragtag dude and classy lady trope (Titanic, Say Anything), and The African Queen is one of the best examples. Humphrey Bogart is a scraggly boozer of a boat captain, while Katharine Hepburn is the proper dame that gets stuck on his vessel in the middle of a World War I skirmish. Two screen legends mixing it up in the jungle with adventure, comedy, and romance.
Romeo and Juliet
There have been too many film adaptations of Shakespeare’s iconic love tragedy to count, but we’re gonna go with this 1968 version for its believable leads, Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey, who were actually teenagers during the filming. Roger Ebert called this “the most exciting film of Shakespeare ever made,” and we’re OK with that.
An Officer and a Gentleman
One of the classics from the 80s, An Officer and a Gentleman works in the way that many older romance films did—with plenty of melodrama. Richard Gere is the jerky aspiring navy pilot, with Debra Winger as the likable girl who helps him get over himself. Rumor has it the closing scene, in which Gere carries Winger out of her factory job, inspired millions of women to seek out factory jobs. OK, not really, but…
A sweeping epic set against the Russian Revolution during World War I, Doctor Zhivago airs it out on a number of fronts, including cinematography, runtime (193 minutes), and romance. Omar Sharif and Julie Christie may not yield the greatest on-screen chemistry, but the grand scale of the film carries them with it.
Via the uniquely twisted talents of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp’s acting chops, Edward Scissorhands succeeds as a bizarre fairy tale, and its romantic elements are more than enough for us to place it on our list. As with nearly all of Burton’s films, there’s plenty of visual pizzazz, and there’s a nice little emotional heft to it all too.
Never thought of Forrest Gump as a romance movie, did ya? Yeah well, neither did we till we had to come up with 50 freaking romance movies. But hang on; this is a romantic movie. The only thing that really drives Forrest is his love for Jenny, and if that’s not romance, then we’ll down an entire box of chocolates in one sitting.
While The Notebook failed to mine as much emotion as it should’ve from its elderly couple, Amour keeps its focus on perhaps the most poignant and heartbreaking stage of any romance: the twilight years. With stellar performances by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, this is a deeply profound look at how the mind and body fade, even if the love never does.
Love and Basketball
Impressively written and directed by first-time feature filmmaker Gina Prince-Bythewood, Love and Basketball scores points for not giving its female lead (Sanaa Lathan) the clichéd backseat to the male lead’s (Omar Epps) journey towards hoops fame. Maybe we’re just softies for this movie because we’ve always wanted a girlfriend who could head fake then knock down a 3.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
While a bit formulaic, My Big Fat Greek Wedding wins you over with its barrage of one-liners and the spunky Nia Vardalos, whose one-woman show caught the eye of Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson, who both liked it so much, they went on to produce the film. You can also win a lot of bar bets knowing this is the highest grossing romantic comedy of all time ($241 million).
Like Water for Chocolate
A sensual, mystical story that showcases food as much as love, Like Water for Chocolate is based on the best-selling novel by Laura Esquival about a young woman who learns that her cooking has magical effects. If you have a lust for food like we do, you get two helpings of lust in one film. Never refuse a second serving of lust. It’s bad manners in Mexico and everywhere else.
Sense and Sensibility
This 18th century period piece based on Jane Austen’s classic novel serves up an entertaining mixture of wit, charm, and romance, with star Emma Thompson also having written the screenplay. Sense and Sensibility is also noteworthy for reminding us that, yes, there was a time when we didn’t instantly wince at the sight of Hugh Grant.
Silver Linings Playbook
The girls might love Silver Linings Playbook for Bradley Cooper, but we like it for its willingness to veer from the traditional rom-com routine and onto an edgier path, including a lead character with bipolar disorder. The subplot of taking football fandom too seriously also helps, as does the fun and flirty Jennifer Lawrence. One of the best romantic comedies since 2000.