The romance genre is wide and sweeping: you can lean in the emotionally dramatic direction. That’s what makes it so great; in a way, the romance category has a little bit of something for all of us. And while everyone has a favorite, we’ve put together the most iconic with a couple new favorites scattered in, too. These are some of the most romantic movies ever made.
10. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
It’d be a stretch to call Charlie Kaufman a romantic filmmaker, and Eternal Sunshine isn’t a romance in the traditional sense, but it might be the best representation of love out there. The film is a love story told out of order and out of time, and like everything Kaufman touches, it’s beautifully dense and circuitous. It’s a look at love, perhaps, in its purest form — a simultaneous reel of all the best and worst parts of a relationship mapped out on the armature of a linear(ish) story. The result is a championing of love in the face of our own disillusion with it, a surprisingly realistic and optimistic flouting of all the romantic movies you’ve seen before. (Liz Baessler)
9. Singin’ in the Rain
I’m hard-pressed to name another musical moment that better encapsulates love’s delirious stupor than Gene Kelly singing in the rain. After Kathy (Debbie Reynolds) has kissed Don (Kelly) goodnight, she notes that the rain outside is “a little heavier than usual.” “Really?” he asks hazily. “From where I stand, the sun is shining all over the place.” In one of film history’s most iconic musical numbers, Kelly swings around a lamp post, stomps across a puddle, and douses himself in gutter water, all with the dreamiest, toothiest smile imaginable.
The romance between Don and Kathy is delightfully earned, as they initially get off on the wrong foot; their meet-cute involves Don jumping off a cable car and landing in her convertible in an effort to flee adoring fans. They share a mutual disdain for each other — Kathy sneers as Don’s unsophisticated movie career, while Don is skeptical of Kathy’s theatre credentials. By the film’s end, Don and Kathy, in a tuxedo and a lovely pink tulle gown, respectively, are falling into each other’s arms and dueting their love for each other in front of an adoring audience: “You’ve opened heaven’s portal here on earth for this poor mortal / you are my lucky star.” It’s pure movie magic. (Sophia Stewart)
Some romantic windows stay open for only short bursts of time. If you don’t lock it down within that instant, the bliss passes, and the world robs you of the purest form of human connection. Rick (Humphrey Bogart) had his window dropped on his fingers; as a result, he shed his morality, erected a business where he thought no one would bother him, and meets allied optimism with vicious contempt.
While the world tears itself asunder, the emergence of a past flame turns his pessimism to ash. Rick puts his eyes on Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) and his dead coal heart doesn’t grow three sizes that day, but it does murmur a beat to the memory of her. Casablanca aches with a romance long gone, but it’s in that loss where we find a deep warmth and Rick gets his opportunity to be a better man. “Of all the gin joints in all the towns of the world, she walks into mine.” (Brad Gullickson)
Directed by Barry Jenkins, Moonlight is the definition of black magic at work, as it transcends preconceptions of what love is and means in the black community. Furthermore, Moonlight is about those delicate tender moments you share with someone you care about in privacy. Whether it be on the beach at night, a joy ride, or small talk, it is about all the small moments that build up to romance. These moments are captured using the natural lighting of Florida, slow close-ups of faces inspired by Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love, and crew that cares about showing people of color in all their splendor. (Carl Broughton)
6. You’ve Got Mail
In our current era of online dating and social media, it’s easy to watch You’ve Got Mail and think it’s a little dated. And of course, as a book lover living through the present disheartening decline of bookstores in general, resenting Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) as an antagonistic force has never been more relevant. But the exuberant wit and charm of the film, coming from one of the most influential storytellers in cinematic history, truly makes it a romantic-comedy classic. It’s difficult not to fall in love with Hanks and Meg Ryan within such a dreamy depiction of New York City.
During its most complex moments, the film questions the nature of love itself, why people fall in love with whom they love, and how easily that can sometimes be manipulated in the age of technology, something that co-writer/director Nora Ephron does cleverly throughout. And at the heart of it is a highly entertaining and enjoyable romance for the ages about two enemies turned lovers that will continue to be replicated and updated by the romantic comedies it inspires. (Natalie Mokry)
5. When Harry Met Sally
One tenet of the multifaceted rom-com should be imbuing the viewer with the excitement of — and everything that comes with — falling in love. From the breathlessness of your first encounter to the frustrating will that keeps opposites attracted to each other, When Harry Met Sally perfectly captures not just the highs and lows, but the important mundanity that comes with true love. From hours-long phone conversations to mindlessly fucking around in a Brooks Brothers, Rob Reiner masterfully weaves the important and the not so important moments that bring lovers together into a perfectly crafted comedy that has endured even the most cynical of eras to be a reminder of how special, and simple, romance can be. (Jacob Trussell)
4. Phantom Thread
What is romance if not bizarre? If there’s one romantic truth about Phantom Thread that shines among the others, it’s the fact that love can never be fully understood or put in a box. Some people do weird shit, like poison their brilliant, iconic fashion designer boyfriend with fresh, toxic mushrooms when he gets too obsessed with his work and loses sight of why he needs her in the first place. And while we might not totally understand their relationship, we can all relate to the unpredictability of love. And if for some reason you can’t, this perfect film is no less radiant for it. Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, and Lesley Manville offer some of the century’s most wonderfully enigmatic performances, and Paul Thomas Anderson only deepens his case for best filmmaker alive in his expertly original direction, screenwriting, and for the first time, cinematography. (Luke Hicks)
It’s hard to top being king of the world. Titanic sets the bar incredibly high for romantic epics. The only issue we have is that there was definitely room on that door, but someone had to sprawl out and get cozy.
2. Before Sunset
Richard Linklater already showed us that he has a flair for the romantic with 1995’s Before Sunrise, but spontaneous meetings on trains and long walks through the Vienna cityscape prove only to be but the mere beginnings of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine’s (Julie Delpy) love story. Before Sunset finds our overseas lovers meeting again for the first time in the nine years that have passed since their initial fated encounter — perhaps the only thing more hopelessly romantic than a love that will inevitably end when the sun rises is getting a second chance at that love.
When Celine shows up at a bookstore in Paris where Jesse is promoting his novel, the pair decides to spend Jesse’s final hour before he heads back to America catching up with one another. Hopelessly filled with what ifs and what could bes, we witness Celine and Jesse in near real-time as they stroll through Paris with one another, rekindling the spark of that first night that has haunted them both for years. By combining the powers of stimulating conversation, the enchanting sights and sounds of Paris, and a spectacular Nina Simone impersonation, Before Sunset illustrates that years spent apart don’t diminish a true romantic connection. (Siobhan Spera)
1. In The Mood For Love
The difficulty with trying to pin down what makes In The Mood For Love the best romance to ever hit the silver screen is that it is, at heart, a paradox. Sumptuous and yet utterly restrained, it’s an epic love story that never ends because it never really begins. In this masterpiece of longing by the one and only Wong Kar-wai, lonely neighbors Chow (Tony Leung) and Su (Maggie Cheung) bond over their cheating spouses in 1960s Hong Kong, but their connection is doomed from the start by the same circumstances that bring them together (“We will never be like them”). Sensuality seeps from the film’s pores in hypnotically elegant cinematography and a score that embodies yearning so perfectly it’s hard to believe that the recurring “Yumeji’s Theme” was originally composed for another movie.
It’s a quiet yet thorough sort of heartbreak, a bruise that still pangs now and then long after you’ve watched the film — perhaps the best embodiment of that old saying “still waters run deep” that has ever hit the silver screen. While the sort of grandiose, against-all-odds love at the heart of many of the best-known romance films is something few will ever experience in their lives, the singular genius of In The Mood For Love is that it is an epic romance with a far more universal core: yearning and loneliness, what-if and could-have-been. (Ciara Wardlow)