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

10
1/10

Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Cast: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson

Best quote: 'I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine.'

Defining moment: When Barry tells Lena that he wants to smash her face with a sledgehammer – in the most charming way imaginable…

Love is strange
How lovely it is to see Anderson’s unsettling, unpredictable, completely unique romantic comedy in the top 10. Descending from the emotionally draining dramatic heights of ‘Magnolia’, Anderson micro-sized his world, zooming down to two characters adrift in a dream of love, escaping reality through one another.

Sandler proves definitively that he can act (he’s since proven that he’d rather not, if he can avoid it) as the frustrated-to-the-point-of-mania white-collar warehouse worker who falls – truly, madly, weirdly – for Watson’s fragile jetsetter. The result is a gloriously unhinged and mesmerising film, a window into another world, where gravity isn’t quite as powerful and the regular rules – about romance, family, work, aggression, competition entries – don’t seem to apply. TH


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9
2/10

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Director: Michel Gondry

Cast: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet

Best quote: 'I've never felt that before. I'm just exactly where I want to be.'

Defining moment: That final conversation in the hallway, in which the repetition of the simple word ‘okay’ means so much more than just ‘I love you’.

Brainwashing for beginners
You might see this extraordinary film, a joint career peak for Michel Gondry, writer Charlie Kaufman and its improbably but perfectly matched leads, described in generic DVD catalogues as a romantic comedy. It’s a term that seems wholly unequal to its dizzying conceptual acrobatics, not to mention the profound sadness in its absurdist excavation of post-romantic trauma.

But a rich, tragedy-tinged comedy it is: Kaufman has essentially given a scruffy sci-fi makeover to a ‘Philadelphia Story’-style farce of second chances and destiny denied, without letting the film’s beating screwball heart get overly chilled by its wintry New York cool. No longer just the hipster’s choice, it’s become the go-to love story for an entire generation of, to paraphrase Kate Winslet’s Clementine, fucked-up girls – and guys – looking for their own peace of mind. GL

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8
3/10

A Matter of Life and Death (1946)

Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Cast: Kim Hunter, David Niven, Roger Livesey

Best quote: 'Nothing is stronger than the law in the Universe, but on Earth nothing is stronger than love.'

Defining moment: The beginning. David Niven is a British wartime pilot, crashing down to earth; Kim Hunter is an American radio operator, falling in love with his voice in his final seconds.

All’s fair in love and war
Trust Powell and Pressburger to find a way of exploring love that is teasing, heartfelt and totally imaginative – while also being timely for an audience recovering from six years of war, separation and strain. When Niven’s pilot plunges to the ground, we enter two worlds: one of them celestial (in monochrome) and one of them real (in colour), although the distinction is in fact much more playful.

After narrowly cheating death (or did he?), will Niven remain on Earth with his new love, Hunter? Or must he succumb to fate? In the end, Powell and Pressburger’s idea is age-old and simple: love conquers all. But they explain this with the bonkers-brilliant concept of putting this idea on trial in no less than a heavenly court. The climax couldn’t be more stirring. DC

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7
4/10

The Apartment (1960)

Director: Billy Wilder

Cast: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine

Best quote: 'That's the way it crumbles... cookie-wise.'

Defining moment: C.C. Baxter decides to take the advice of his doctor and become a mensch.

When life gives you Lemmon...
Romance-wise, there’s never been anything quite like ‘The Apartment’. Reuniting director Billy Wilder, scriptwriter Iz Diamond and star Jack Lemmon just one year on from the seemingly unbeatable ‘Some Like It Hot’ (1959), Shirley MacLaine’s melancholic heroine Fran Kubelik was the perfect bittersweet counterpoint to Marilyn Monroe’s Sugar Kane, a strong black coffee after dizzying champagne.

Not many romances could get away with a suicide bid by the leading lady in the second act and succeed in turning it all around for a perfectly-pitched ending without feeling phoney, but Wilder pulls it off. It’s no surprise the film continues to influence advocates ranging from ‘Distant Voices, Still Lives’ director Terence Davies to ‘One Day’ author David Nicholls. CB

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6
5/10

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Director: Ang Lee

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway

Best quote: 'I wish I knew how to quit you.'

Defining moment: When Jack and Ennis make love in a tent.

A camp romance
Lee’s adaptation of E Annie Proulx's short story is a desperately sad account of gay love beaten into submission by society’s attitudes and conventions. Jack (Gyllenhaal) and Ennis (Ledger) are two ranch hands in early 1960s Wyoming who spend one glorious summer out in the wilderness falling in love and sleeping with each other.

It’s a golden age – a long-lost arcadia – that can never be recovered by this unlikely romantic pair as the years go by and Jack and Ennis live separate lives (though they occasionally meet up for secretive fishing trips to rekindle their passion). As they age, Jack is more successful at holding down an everyday life with a job and family, but Ennis seriously struggles, and his story is all the more tragic for it. It’s a brilliantly acted film, and Lee finds time to celebrate and explore the love at the core of his story as well as creating space to mourn its fallout. DC

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5
6/10

Harold and Maude (1971)

Director: Hal Ashby

Cast: Ruth Gordon, Bud Cort

Best quote: 'Oh, Harold, that's wonderful. Go and love some more.'

Defining moment: In a field of daisies overlooking a vast military cemetery, Maude explains her philosophy of life.

Age shall not wither them
The hippy era was full of movies that attempted to confront square society, to shock viewers into some undefined form of action. How many of them are still effective today? But ‘Harold and Maude’, the gentle flipside of the revolutionary dream, is every bit as charming, affecting and surprising as it must have been on its first release.

Partly this is because none of its themes have gone out of date: we still live in a world of empty privilege and rigid hierarchy, petty authority and relentless conformism. So the idea of a teenage boy (Cort) shacking up with a batty old woman (Gordon) is still a challenge to social norms. Best of all, ‘Harold and Maude’ is also still devastatingly romantic: a story of soulmates, in the most literal sense. TH

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4
7/10

Annie Hall (1977)

Director: Woody Allen

Cast: Diane Keaton, Woody Allen

Best quote: 'Don’t knock masturbation. It’s sex with someone I love.'

Defining moment: Call the lobster squad! Dinner has escaped.

Analyse this
Irrational, crazy and absurd, ‘Annie Hall’ gives us love in its all its messy glory. It’s the anatomy of break-up. ‘Where did it all go wrong?’ asks Woody Allen’s neurotic comedian Alvy Singer after his split from scatterbrain singer Annie (Diane Keaton, enjoying a killer fashion moment in boyish slacks and a fedora).

Allen has said that ‘Annie Hall’ was his first film to go ‘deeper’. And at its heart is the sad message that finding your soulmate doesn’t guarantee a happy ending. Or, as an old woman tells Alvy: ‘Love fades.’ But for all that, ‘Annie Hall’ is hands down the most hilarious film ever made about love, hysterically funny and packed with gags. CC

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3
8/10

In the Mood for Love (2000)

Director: Wong Kar-Wai

Cast: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung

Best quote: 'Feelings can creep up just like that. I thought I was in control.'

Defining moment: Leung whispers his secret into the ruins of a wall.

The agony and the ecstasy
No one understands the ache of love like Wong Kar-Wai, and ‘In the Mood for Love’ is his masterpiece. In 1960s Hong Kong, two of the most glamorous leads ever to grace the screen – Leung and Cheung – move next door to each other. His wife is cheating on him with her husband, and out of this betrayal a friendship develops. Should they have an affair of their own?

Leung, impossibly handsome, is a study in reserved pain. Cheung is unutterably elegant. Honestly, they make the ‘Mad Men’ cast look like scruffy students. At the heart of this muggy, sensual story is the feeling that love is a matter of timing – that a moment missed can never be recaptured. And Leung whispering his secret into the ruins of a wall is an exquisite image of pain and yearning. CC

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2
9/10

Casablanca (1942)

Director: Michael Curtiz

Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman

Best quote: 'We’ll always have Paris.'

Defining moment: Bogey tells Ingrid Bergman to get on the plane with her husband, or she’ll regret it. Maybe not today…

The fundamental things
Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into his. Humphrey Bogart’s choice between the woman he loves and doing the honourable thing is one of the most wrenching you’ll ever see on screen. Seventy years on, it gets the heart racing every time.

Bogey is Rick, a hard-drinking American in Casablanca, a city full of refugees fleeing the Nazis. Most of them wash up in Rick’s bar, including his great lost love Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman). With her is a Czech Resistance leader who’s escaped a concentration camp.

‘Casablanca’ is full of famous lines, but my favourite is Rick’s description of himself heartbroken and abandoned on a train platform – ‘a guy standing in the rain with a comical look on his face, because his insides are kicked out.’ CC

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1
10/10

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

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Comments

31 comments
Ellen H
Ellen H

Where was Sleepless in Seattle, you've got Mail , French Kiss, 10 things I hate about you...Moonstruck.?  All VERY popular and better known than some of these  very old forgien films listed.

Sahil C
Sahil C

how about Ranjhana, a Bollywood movie..will bring tears in ur eyes deserves a place in the list

Jonathan K
Jonathan K

I don't mind the list at all. I do wish Notebook wasn't on it at all and "My Best Friend's Wedding" and "Love Actually" were though.

M_rankings
M_rankings

I have a blog with movie rankings. I use data for them and my results are a bit different.

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.