Whether you’re craving a good old 2000s classic romcom, a swoon-worthy 18th century love story, or an absolute tearjerker, here are five romance films for all kinds of tastes.
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, movie lovers may have a hankering for great romance films. Whether they’re planning a watch list for an upcoming Valentine movie marathon or simply searching for a sweet viewing experience in the spirit of the season, there’s an expansive library of films to choose from. Love, after all, has captured the imagination of many creatives for centuries.
The romance genre itself contains a vast array of stories and even subgenres, a representation of the many different kinds of love and how people have interpreted them. Some of the best movies involve relationships that transcend their romantic nature and redefine love in thought-provoking ways. Here are five flicks across a range of genres that demonstrate this wonderfully:
Period Drama Romance: Pride and Prejudice (2005)
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is such a classic story that numerous films, TV shows, and books have adapted it time and time again. The formula is certainly appealing and transcends generational divides: a fiercely independent and free-spirited Elizabeth Bennet butts heads with a standoffish and incredibly wealthy Mr. Darcy. The result? Plenty of pride-fueled misunderstandings, and of course, prejudices.
Yet the tangible romantic tension between the two characters is what makes the story so enjoyable, no matter how many iterations it goes through. One can’t help but love these perfectly flawed people as they learn to see beyond their misconceptions, all while harboring a quiet yet strong yearning for each other’s affections. Elizabeth’s beautiful relationship with her sisters, particularly the eldest Jane, is also touching.
Joe Wright’s 2005 Pride and Prejudice adaptation is a fantastic entry point into Austen’s works. Wright’s interpretation of the romantic story is teeming with life, at once loyal to the source material yet lively enough to keep audiences thoroughly engaged. Keira Knightley gives a standout performance as Elizabeth Bennet, and it’s difficult not to swoon when Matthew Macfadyen plays a socially-awkward Mr.Darcy (intimidating outside, incredibly soft inside). With its gorgeous costumes, sets, cinematography, and a sweeping orchestral score from Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Dario Marianelli, this period drama is certainly one for the ages.
Classic 2000s Romcom: 13 Going on 30
Gary Winick’s 13 Going on 30 starring Jennifer Garner is a classic 2000s romcom. It’s got just a bit of fantasy to keep things entertaining, as a 13-year-old Jenna Rink wishes she could be “30, flirty, and thriving” during her 13th birthday party in 1987. It’s a tough time for a bookish girl who can’t fit in with the popular group of bullies, even if she has her faithful friend Matty Flamhaff by her side.
Jenna’s birthday wish comes true after a magical dollhouse grants it, and she finds herself transported into the body of her 30-year-old self in 2004 (played by Jennifer Garner). Confusion and mayhem ensue as Jenna’s mind is that of a teenager, while her physical body is that of an adult woman. She observes the life she ended up living as a successful magazine editor who hangs out with the “cool” people of the world, yet she finds that it’s not exactly what she expected.
Worse yet, Jenna discovers that she severed her relationship with her best friend Matty (played by Mark Ruffalo). The two eventually reconnect, and the young woman begins distinguishing what she thought she wanted from what she really needs—but can she turn back time? Besides the sweet romance at the center of its narrative, 13 Going on 30 explores the growing pains of self-discovery and adulthood, as well as the joys of embracing one’s inner child. In other words, it’s as close to a perfect coming-of-age story as one can get.
Queer First Loves: The Half of It
Next in the list is something for those looking for a sweet and nuanced queer love story: The Half of It. Alice Wu makes her epic return after the critical acclaim of her lighthearted queer romcom Saving Face, yet this addition to her oeuvre is one with more poignant points on friendship and acceptance.
The Half of It tells the story of an intelligent yet ostracized high schooler, Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis), who people in school often ask to ghostwrite their papers (for a fee, so she can help her immigrant father pay the bills). One day, a football player named Paul Munsky (Daniel Diemer) approaches the articulate girl and asks her to help him write love letters to his crush, the beautiful Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire). So begins their relationship, where Ellie helps the inarticulate Paul craft letters to exchange with Aster. However, things get more complicated when Ellie starts falling for Aster (and vice versa) as they open up about their shared interests in art and literature.
Ellie and Paul’s friendship also blossoms into something powerful as they talk about their family life and learn to be vulnerable with one another. Yet as many high school relationships go, things get messy—but they also get better. Though Ellie and Aster’s eloquent and tender exchanges are certainly sweet, Ellie’s friendship with Paul is also the beating heart of the story. At the end of the day, The Half of It is a movie about first loves of all kinds.
A Tender Gothic Horror: Crimson Peak
One might not expect an item on this list from the master of horror and all things dark, Guillermo del Toro, but love is actually a theme that the filmmaker often explores in his works. Del Toro has always been fascinated with “beauty and the beast” stories, where the monsters are lovable and the ugliest creatures seem benign at first glance. As he puts it in one video interview with CineFix: “If you love the imperfect, then you really love. It’s easy to love the perfect person, it’s much more deep to love the imperfect person.”
His 2015 gothic horror romance, Crimson Peak, is a great example of this philosophy. Its story follows American heiress and aspiring writer, Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), who falls head over heels for the enigmatic English baronet Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). Though unfortunate circumstances befall on Edith upon the arrival of the baronet and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain), she marries Thomas nonetheless. Of course, not everything is as it seems, as Thomas and his sister Lucille keep dark secrets from the young woman.
Ghosts haunt Edith throughout the movie as omens of things to come and reminders of the past. The movie has everything fans of gothic romances will adore: dilapidated mansions, old family history, and doomed love. Though Thomas and Edith share a fragile relationship, it’s clear that they both harbor a deep fondness for one another, making for a complex romance with plenty of chemistry, angst, and a surprising tenderness at its core.
The Tearjerker: About Time
Richard Curtis’ 2013 film About Time presents a simple yet refreshingly novel premise: a young Englishman named Tim Lake (Domhall Gleeson) finds out that the men in his family can travel back in time to any point they’ve experienced during their lives.
After moving to London to work in law, Tim meets an American immigrant named Mary (Rachel McAdams) and falls in love with her. However, a series of incidents changes the trajectory of their relationship and results in missed opportunities. So, he travels back and forth through time to ensure that their paths cross, and finally, they get together. The two eventually settle into a happy marriage and start a family. Though Tim continues to use his powers to help his loved ones, he realizes how delicate the nature of time and fate are. Like a domino effect, things are lost when he actively tries to change certain situations—a lesson he learns gradually until he finally realizes what’s most important in life.
Like many of the films on this list, About Time isn’t just about the lengths someone will go through to pursue their true love. It’s also about the joy of living in the moment, and cherishing each day with family and friends. Just prepare to have some tissues ready, especially when Ben Folds’ song “The Luckiest” plays at the very final scene of the movie—those who’ve already had the pleasure of seeing the film will likely agree.
Banner photo by Murray Close from IMDb.