The 100 best romantic movies: 10-1

Experts including Tom Hiddleston, Joan Collins and EL James vote for the best films about love and romance

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Brief Encounter (1945)

Director: David Lean

Cast: Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard

Best quote: 'This misery can’t last… Not even life lasts very long.'

Defining moment: That most restrained of farewells, Alec squeezing Laura’s shoulder goodbye.
 

Make tea not love
You’d think that Lean’s tale of stiff-upper-lip emotion would be frightfully and unwatchably old-fashioned today. A married woman falls in love with a married man and they do the decent thing. And…? Unlike ‘Casablanca’, the future of civilisation isn’t hanging on the outcome. Just the happiness of two families. And not to mince words, they’re an unglamorous pair.

She’s Laura (Johnson), a not especially pretty housewife. He’s Alec (Howard), an earnest doctor. So why do we continue to find Lean’s much-loved classic so unbearably moving? Because it’s still thrilling to watch the continents of emotion beneath Laura and Alec’s icy properness. Celia Johnson is like a silent movie star with her huge eyes, showing so much emotion with barely a rustle of an eyelash.

Adapted from a Noël Coward play, ‘Brief Encounter’ is a brilliantly crafted film, beginning with a goodbye in a railway café – the end of an affair that never really was. From there, Lean flashes back to the lovers’ first meeting in the same café. Laura has grit in her eye. Alec gallantly removes it. Later, they run into each other in a restaurant. They have luncheon (this is the 1930s), take a trip to the cinema, drive in the countryside. He borrows a flat for the afternoon for them to meet in, but embarrassment takes over and they don’t make love.

It’s all so very innocent. We listen to her innermost thoughts – as she narrates a kind of an imaginary confession to her sweet but dull husband: ‘I’m an ordinary woman. I didn’t think such violent things could happen to ordinary people.’ Laura and Alec know in their heart of hearts that leaving their families and running off together will not make a happy ending. And so they must part. He accepts a job in South Africa. Our hearts stop with the lovers’ when a busybody crashes their last few precious minutes together. Unforgettable. CC

Read the Time Out review of 'Brief Encounter'



They say...

‘The shoulder squeeze in the train station cafe. Enough said. Repressed Britain with a bonfire in its underpants.’
Zawe Ashton

'Very little to add to why this is one of the greatest romantic stories. Temptation? Restraint? Faithfulness? Rachmaninoff?'
John Carney

‘I love that it’s about two characters who are approaching middle age. Celia Johnson makes you feel the giddiness and excitement of the chance meeting… then sexual tension, guilt and utter despair. I just love it!’
Joanne Froggatt

You say...

‘Pure magic.’
John Giwa-Amu

‘Simply one of the greatest films of all time.’
Michael O’Farrell

‘A meaningful and sad little film with a very gentle and tender depiction of a couple's dilemma.’
Anonymous

‘"Brief Encounter" is a romance that shows us how strong love and passion is by denying the characters it.’
Doug Soper

Got something to add? Tell us what you think of 'Brief Encounter'

Watch the final scene of 'Brief Encounter'

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Users say

27 comments
Larry W
Larry W

Are you kidding me??  This is a stupid list!  There are so many more movies that could have made the #6 spot besides a story about two gay cowboys!  How about "What Dreams May Come", or "The Notebook", or "Sleepless in Seattle", or how about even "Somewhere In Time" with Christopher Reeves and Jane Seymour?  That's just ridiculous.

Ljubica K
Ljubica K

Piano?

Bridges of Madison County?


Aaron
Aaron

As a fan of Korean movies.. I am a bit saddened by the list :( My favourite movies did not make it or probably not reviewed in the making of this list. "A Moment To Remember" and "My Sassy Girl" tug on your heart for days. They were made YEARS ago but they still grip on to me like it was yesterday.. If you are reading this comment right now, don't make a mistake of just shrugging me off. Watch those movies... THEY ARE WORTH WHILE!!

summer
summer

absolutely vote for Maggie Cheung,she is amazing,and,in this movie,it's really a sad love story.if i had a ticket,do you want to leave with me?

Drew
Drew

The Notebook should have been further up on the list-way up, definitely not in the 70's. The movie had everything.

Anonymous
Anonymous

Great list! Although I can't believe Wall-E is in front of Gone With the Wind. And where's Tom Hanks???

jean
jean

I LOVED this list for the most part. I may have included Rebecca, Bram Strokers Dracula and Wrist-Cutters, but otherwise I appreciated that you added so many classics. Its a rather unorthodox list that managed to (mostly) avoid typical, superficial romance films. Lol @ those who think Sleepless in Seatle, The Vow & The Notebook should be in the top 10. Beauty and the fricken beast beats all of those in terms of ingenuity and charm.

jean
jean

I LOVED this list. I may have included Bram Strokers Dracula, Rebecca, and Wrist-Cutters on the list. But I loved how unorthodox it was, and the fact that you included so many classics. You avoided a lot of stereotypical crap.

Greek
Greek

Coppola's Dracula should be on this list.

Mina
Mina

As others have mentioned this list is far from perfect..I miss certain movies, I didn't expect them to be amongst top 10 but on the list at the very least. Movies such as The Lake House with Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves. That's a lovely romantic movie I can watch any time over again. On the bright side, I was pleasantly surprised to see "Head-on" on this list. However, all in all, this seems like a rather random order and also rather random movies included. I would say you might have been over ambitious when you set the goal to make this list.

nadia
nadia

I don't agree with this list. Why is The Notebook, Dirty Dancing and Ghost not higher on the list. There was quite a lot of movies that I won't really put on a romantic list.

Mig
Mig

Good job, but I have some doubts about what's coming next

Kendall
Kendall

I honestly don't agree with this list at all. Juno does not belong on the top 100 most romantic movies ever, nor do Wall-E or Up. Up had a really sweet romantic story at the beginning, but it just does not belong in the top 100. Maybe top 300.

Autumn
Autumn

You had some good choices on the list but I can't agree with half of it and the order is even more messed up half the time. "Punch Drunk Love" has a better ranking than "Gone With the Wind?" Um, no. No, No, No. And "Brief Encounter" as number one makes me think the people creating this list don't actually like romance (needed Jane Eyre and Jane Austen and Titanic: Or did I just miss these ones?). I've seen the well done film Brief Encounter but it isn't romantic, it is just one long stress fest. Also, I would've included Rebecca. Or what about Olivier's Wuthering Heights? This list is head scratching as someone who truly enjoys a good romance.

Madison
Madison

this list has every movie out of order, and it's missing the most beautiful love story ever. Pearl Harbor. this list sucks.

sunsetcanyon
sunsetcanyon

I never see The Saint with Val Kilmer and Elizabeth Shue on these lists - I love the romance in this movie. Classic romance and it ends happily! Romancing the Stone is also a good one. I am glad French kiss is on here! So many listed I do not consider romantic - thoughtful probably, well done probably - but not classically romantic.

miab
miab

This list misses Pride and Predjudice and Notting Hill,these are two of the greatest love movies ever.There is also missing Love Actually,maybe the greatest,Breakfast at Tiffany should be at least in top 3. Also,Dirty Dancing should be at top 20. My personal list is: 1.Breakfast at Tiffany's 2.Love Actually 3.Pride and Prejudice 4.Notting Hill 5. Dirty Dancing 6.Titanic 7.Casablanca 8.Gone with wind 9.Holiday 10.An Affair to Remember.

shaurya
shaurya

You should had have included Life Is Beautiful(1997).... It has one of the greatest romantic scenes of all time(thats how i feel)...plus the bond shared between father and son is just so mesmerising.... Otherwise this list is really great!!!

WayneCha
WayneCha

I like this list much more than I do the Top 100 Comedy list. I'm sure "Before Midnight" would've made it had it been released in time to be considered. I certainly can't fault you for leaving it off, but "The Terminator" would qualify if you focus on the relationship between Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese. I mean, here's a guy who has a great love and admiration for his buddy's mother, so he goes back in time to protect her, manages to make love to her, and ends up becoming the father of his best friend! I think that deserves an honorable mention, don't you think? And seriously, Mickey, you actually believe those three films you mentioned are better romances than "Casablanca"? Have you no concept of what you're saying?! "The Vow" better than "Casablanca"?!?! Now THAT'S bullshit if I've ever heard it!!

John Chamberlain
John Chamberlain

Maybe I missed it, but where is Zefferelli's Romeo & Juliet? Not even top 10? Are you kidding me?

Lady Lu
Lady Lu

Out of Africa should be on this list and Brigdes od Madison County should have been closer to the top ten.

Mickey
Mickey

This list is bullshit. How can you have a list and not have Titanic in there? kmt. And The Notebook is not at number 1? Really now. I've watched all these movies that are in the top ten. And none of then surpasses The Notebook, Titanic and The Vow. Get your facts straight. Casablanca should be at 4th and Brief Encounter at 5th.

Despina
Despina

I'm so happy this made it so high, as it is one of the best movies ever made.

godfrey hamilton
godfrey hamilton

Brief Encounter - "this is the 1930s" - well, OK, but it's the very end of the decade and WW2 is about to change everything, and violently, including the socio-political tenor of the UK; Lean's direction is soaked in a strange elegiac melancholy that acknowledges, from the post-war vantage point of the film's production, the passing of an era which finally was laid to rest in the 1960s. Although there still seem to be pockets of this repression alive and well in certain areas of UK popular culture - not long ago Ruth Archer was all set to run off with hunky Sam until the deeply annoying, moralising and interfering Usha Gupta persuaded her that staying with her bad-tempered, deeply unpleasant husband David was the Right thing To Do - the old standby "what about the children" was waved around a lot. Meanwhile, the one deeply depressing aspect of this list of 100 best is the poor showing by LGBT movies, as much a reflection on the perceived viability of gay love stories as anything else. My (male) partner and I, together for 25 years, have a rather different take on that particular subject.

James McDonald
James McDonald

Not a bad list, but I feel like several movies got the shaft. Before I get to that, I wanna say how happy I am that Silver Linings Playbook made the cut! I would've ranked it higher, but that's besides the point. Movies that should've made the cut.... Jerry MaGuire, Sleepless in Seattle (really?!), Notting Hill, My Best Friend's Wedding, As Good As It Gets, Something's Gotta Give and even Braveheart. I probably could think of more, but I'm at work and don't have time to research.