It's easy to be cynical about romance. But what fun is that? These films allow you to believe in the transformative, restorative power of love—at least until the credits roll. Put your skepticism aside and enjoy these top 10 romantic movies that will restore your faith in love.
Too often, movies about LGBTQ characters end with tragedy for the romantic leads. Carol, based on The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, shows that all sexualities deserve a happily ever after.
The movie follows the relationship between Therese (Rooney Mara) and Carol (Cate Blanchett). Therese is a shopgirl and aspiring photographer. Carol is a mother embroiled in a prolonged divorce with her husband Harge, who knows that Carol had an affair with another woman years earlier. Carol and Therese develop a friendship that finally becomes a passionate and intimate affair, but Harge is intent on punishing Carol and blackmails her by threatening to keep her from their young daughter. That might not sound like the stuff of hopeful romance, but Carol challenges many of the tragic tropes audiences have come to anticipate from movies about queer love.
Romeo + Juliet
If you're looking for a movie that will remind you pure passion exists, this Baz Luhrmann-directed adaptation of the Shakespeare play is a perfect choice. The iconic tale doesn't end happily for our two star-crossed lovers, of course—but in between their heart-stopping meet cute and their tragic end, things get very sexy.
Romeo + Juliet transplants Shakespeare's text from fair Verona to fair Verona Beach, California. Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Juliet (Claire Danes) meet at a costume party, and fall head over heels in love. Danes and DiCaprio have a ton of chemistry, and the modern setting gives the familiar story a new sense of youth and urgency. Juliet's soliloquy at the beginning of Act 3, Scene 2, where she waits impatiently to finally 'possess' Romeo, gives me shivers every time. Put your cynicism aside and get down with some Shakespeare!
Before Sunset is the second movie in the absolutely stunning Before trilogy, falling chronologically between Before Sunrise and Before Midnight. You should definitely watch the trilogy in order, but for my money, this installment is the most breathtaking of the three. Nine years ago, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), then in their early twenties, spent an unforgettable evening together in Paris after a chance meeting on a train. The two agreed to meet again at the same spot six months later, but fate intervened.
In Before Sunset, Celine surprises Jesse at a reading for his new book in Paris. With only an hour before Jesse—now a married father—has to leave for a plane back to the states, the two catch up about what their life has become and realize that the connection they share is still as undeniable as it was nearly a decade before. Your heart will swell in sympathy as you watch Celine and Jesse realize that the deep feelings they had for each other years ago were real, and that how they decide to react to these rekindled emotions will change the rest of their lives.
The Big Sick
This romantic comedy has a story-behind-the-story that will make you optimistic about the state of love: The Big Sick was written by Kumail Nanjiani, who plays himself in the movie, and his real-life wife Emily Gordon, who is played by Zoe Kazan.
Based on the events of their actual love story, the movie follows Emily and Kumail after they meet at one of Kumail's comedy shows and begin casually dating. Both of them swear they're not ready for a relationship—Emily is focused on getting her degree, and Kumail is facing pressure from his Pakistani immigrant family to agree to an arranged marriage. Despite the impracticality of their relationship, the two fall in love. But when Emily learns that Kumail has been hiding his family's matchmaking attempts from her, she breaks up with him. Soon after, Emily falls into a mysterious coma, and a confused, heartbroken Kumail develops a bond with her distraught parents.
Given the movie's unique origin story, it's not a surprise to say it has a happy ending. Along the way, the movie tells a hilarious story about the necessity of forgiveness.
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The Last of the Mohicans
From its synopsis alone, this violent historical drama might not sound like the stuff of grand romance. But combine the beautiful North Carolina setting, the iconic soundtrack, and the shirtless chivalry of Hawkeye (Daniel Day Lewis), and you've got a movie that's launched countless sexual awakenings.
Set during 1757, it follows Hawkeye, who lives in the Adirondack mountains with his adopted father, Mohican chief Chingachook (Russell Means) and adopted brother Uncas (Eric Schweig). The band of three rescue a group of British women and a British major from a Huron ambush. Although being courted by Major Heyward, one of the women, Cora (Madeleine Stowe) soon develops an attraction to Hawkeye. Uncas and Cora’s sister Alice (Jodhi May) begin to fall for each other as well. As the band face the violence of war between the British and French, new passions grow in the midst of tragedy. Gorgeous score, gorgeous visuals, gorgeous people ... this is a romance that sticks with you. By the time Hawekeye makes his iconic vow to Cora inside the waterfall, you'll be a believer.
During a summer vacation with her family at a resort in the Catskills, 17-year-old Baby (Jennifer Grey) meets Johnny (Patrick Swayze), the resort’s handsome dance instructor. When she begins attending after-hour parties for the staff, Baby is fascinated by Johnny's raunchy dancing. Baby eventually learns that Johnny's dance partner Lisa is pregnant. Baby helps Lisa get money for the abortion—but with Lisa out, who will dance with Johnny that week? If she doesn’t show, both of their salaries for the season will be forfeit. The three decide that Baby will have to step in for Lisa, after receiving whirlwind dance training from Johnny. Along the way, Baby and Johnny realize that they make a great pair, on and off the dance floor.
Dirty Dancing is amazing and subversive for so many reasons. Johnny is a rugged, strong dude who isn’t turned off by Baby’s obvious intelligence and self-possession—in fact, it's what attracts him to her. One of the movie’s most climactic romantic lines is his declaration that no one should overlook Baby (by putting her in the corner!), and the entire impetus behind their romance is Baby’s desire to facilitate another woman’s right to choose. I dare you to watch Dirty Dancing and not feel more optimistic about the power of another person to give you the time of your life.
Darius (Larenz Tate) and Nina (Nia Long) are two creative professionals in Chicago—he a poet, she a photographer. After an intense first meeting at a bar, the two eventually spend a night together. But it's a classic case of wrong place, right time. The two have strong feelings for each other but Nina is recently out of an engagement, and Darius isn't ready to admit the extent of his feelings. Nina heads to New York to reunite with her ex, leaving Darius brokenhearted. But over time, their estrangement only makes them appreciate the other more. Love Jones is a reminder that some romances require patience. If you've met the right person at the wrong time, Love Jones shows that there's still hope—and that focusing on you and your passions while you wait for romance to straighten itself out is never a waste of time.
Can anything ever compare to the passionate but so short-lived that they probably never had to smell each other’s farts romance between Jack (Leo Dicaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet)? The answer is no. Nothing can.
In case you’re an alien from space and don’t know what the movie is about, Titanic follows two star-crossed lovers who meet during the ship's ill-fated maiden voyage. Jack is from steerage, and Rose is from first class, but their love crosses class divides when Jack talks Rose out of killing herself. Over the course of a few days the two develop a passionate but ill-fated partnership that will change Kate’s life forever. Although the movie famously does not have a happy ending (despite the fact that Jack totally could have fit on that door), it's an enduringly popular reminder that the lovers we lose live on in us. Because love can touch you one time, but last for a lifetime.
Oh, The Notebook. It’s one of our favorite Nicholas Sparks movies, and with good reason. Noah (Ryan Gosling) and Allie (Rachel McAdams) have absolutely undeniable chemistry, likely in part because the highly photogenic actors playing them had an undeniable connection as well, and dated for several years after getting together on set. Noah and Allie meet in their teens while Allie’s wealthy family is vacationing in Seabrook, South Carolina. They have an intense love affair that ends abruptly at the end of the summer when Allie’s parents ban her from seeing him.
Years later, the war has wreaked havoc on both their lives, and Allie is engaged to marry a soldier who comes from wealthy Southern stock. When Allie reads a newspaper article about Noah, she returns to Seabrook with the intention of tying up loose ends. But they're still attracted to each other—and the rest is history! The Notebook might be corny and manipulative at times, but the real-life passion between the leads and the compassionate life-long love between Noah and Allie will melt even the stoniest of hearts.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
This might seem like an odd choice, given Eternal Sunshine is notoriously one of the sadder breakup movies out there. But at its core, this sci-fi dramedy is about recognizing the positive, beautiful impact romantic relationships can have on us, even those relationships where the happily doesn't last ever after.
The plot follows Clementine (Kate Winslet) and Joel (Jim Carrey), former lovers who undergo a procedure to erase their memories of each other. The movie is set partially in the past—depicted in flashback scenes that arise during Joel's memory erasure—and partially in the present, when Clementine and Joel, now strangers to each other, meet on a train. It's guaranteed to leave you crying, but the grief at the heart of Eternal Sunshine is bittersweet. It's both a lament that some relationships have to end, and a celebration of the powerful impact two people can have on one another.
Featured still from "Dirty Dancing" via Vestron Pictures