The 100 best romantic movies: 30-21
The 100 best romantic films voted for by experts including Tom Hiddleston, Joan Collins and EL James
The African Queen (1951)
Director: John Huston
Cast: Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart
Best quote: 'What a time we had, Rosie. What a time we had.'
Defining moment: After surviving the rapids, one of the great ‘celebratory hug gets serious’ moments in cinema.
Messing about on the river
We tend to think of movies about old folks shacking up as being a modern phenomenon, as producers pursue the newfangled ‘grey pound’. But it’s really nothing new: in fact, when the original script for ‘The African Queen’ was presented to the censors, the busybodies were shocked at the idea of two unmarried persons enjoying a late-in-life romance in the sweaty confines of a rickety old tramp steamer.
‘The African Queen’ is one of the great films about delayed self-discovery: brittle spinster Hepburn’s realisation of her love for crusty, good-hearted layabout Bogart isn’t just believable, it feels completely necessary. Wise, warm, witty, and with just the hint of a sly, subversive twinkle in its eye, ‘The African Queen’ is old-school Hollywood at its absolute finest. TH
Read the Time Out review of 'The African Queen'
Before Sunset (2004)
Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
Best quote: 'You can never replace anyone because everyone is made up of such beautiful specific details.'
Defining moment: Celine’s zero hour Nina Simone impression.
First world problems
Nine years after the tantalisingly open ending of ‘Before Sunrise’, Richard Linklater revisits the couple who crackled with such chemistry in 1995 to see where life has taken the thirty-something versions of Jesse and Celine. This time, actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy not only played but also co-wrote their parts, and the result is that rare sequel that betters the original.
Plausibly seasoned by life’s knocks but unwilling to let go of a deeply ingrained romanticism, this Jesse and Celine are older, wiser and – just maybe – more suited to each other. Will they let go and make that leap into love? The question presses harder as the film’s fleeting 80-minute runtime slips past with a resolution apparently no closer. CB
Read the Time Out review of 'Before Sunset'
William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996)
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes
Best quote: 'A plague on both your houses! They have made worms’ meat of me.'
Defining moment: DiCaprio and Danes making loved-up eyes at each other through the glass and water of a fish tank.
From the Globe to the ghetto
Baz Luhrmann had some cast-iron source material to work with in the form of Shakespeare’s story – but the Australian writer-director took the playwright’s romantic tragedy to another place entirely with this ultra-modern reworking. At the same, he never lost sight of the essence of Shakespeare’s tale of two young lovers doomed from the first time they lay eyes on each other.
The moment that Romeo (DiCaprio, so young!) and Juliet (Danes, so young too!) meet at a wild fancy-dress party is pure bliss to watch, just as Luhrmann’s staging of the final death scene is almost impossible to bear. There are guns, hip-hop, open-topped cars and characters so larger-than-life that the whole thing now, in retrospect, feels like Tarantino directing a season-finale episode of ‘Dynasty’. It’s mad, musical and immensely moving. DC
Read the Time Out review of 'William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet'
The Bridges of Madison County (1995)
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Meryl Streep, Clint Eastwood, Annie Corley
Best quote: 'Do you want more eggs or should we just fuck on the linoleum one last time?'
Defining moment: Meryl and Clint in her kitchen, slow-dancing to the honeyed sounds of jazz crooner Johnny Hartman.
Four days in paradise
This classy adaptation of Robert James Waller’s bestseller is ‘Brief Encounter’ in another time and another place. It’s mid-‘60s Iowa and Italian housewife Streep, long wedded to a local farmer, starts thinking about the life she could have had when dashing National Geographic photographer Clint turns up to shoot the famed covered bridges nearby.
While the latterday framing device is somewhat clunky, the central middle-aged romance is exquisitely inscribed through tender looks, stolen moments, and much sultry jazz on the radio, building to a wrenchingly bittersweet conclusion that love’s liberating affirmation doesn’t always arrive when circumstances allow it to flourish. ‘This kind of certainty comes but once in a lifetime’ is the key line, and we believe it. Sigh. TJ
Read the Time Out review of 'The Bridges of Madison County'
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)
Director: Jacques Demy
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo
Best quote: 'People only die of love in the movies.'
Defining moment: A sad, bittersweet meeting in the snow, two lovers seeing each other for the first time in years.
All things bright and beautiful
You'd need to have a sliver of ice lodged in your heart not to be moved by ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’ – a musical that has even hardened musical-haters melting into puddles. Not that it’s a musical in the belt-‘em-out tradition. Instead, every word is sung rather than spoken as 17-year-old Geneviève (Deneuve) falls sweetly and madly in love with car mechanic Guy (Castelnuovo).
‘Umbrellas’ is one of the most ravishing films ever made, wrapped in candyfloss colours to match the blush of first love. When Guy is drafted to fight in Algeria, Geneviève is certain she will die of grief. But time passes and Geneviève doesn’t die. Love fades. And that’s the bittersweet message inside this exquisitely sugar coated pill. CC
Read the Time Out review of 'The Umbrellas of Cherbourg'
When Harry Met Sally... (1989)
Director: Rob Reiner
Cast: Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby
Best quote: 'When you realise you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.'
Defining moment: Too many to mention, but the orgasm scene in the diner has become something of a classic.
Friends with hissy fits
In 2012, the world lost a legend. True, Nora Ephron’s work may have declined over the years, but her screenplay for ‘When Harry Met Sally...’ remains a masterpiece of romcom construction. Embracing, upending and inventing clichés left and right, crammed with one-liners, goofy asides and enough valid life lessons to rival the scriptures, it’s one of the few movie scripts that works just as well on the page as it does on the screen.
And pretty much everything else about the film is perfect, too, from Crystal and Ryan’s just-this-side-of-smug central couple to Fisher and Kirby as the petri-dish of marital dysfunction, from Harry Connick Jr’s just-the-other-side-of-smug crooning to the gorgeous photography of New York through the changing seasons. Bliss. TH
Read the Time Out review of 'When Harry Met Sally...'
Before Sunrise (1995)
Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
Best quote: 'Isn't everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?'
Defining moment: It happens off-screen – Linklater purposely doesn’t show us the did-they-or-didn’t-they sexual encounter.
This means something to me
Proof that you don’t need a plot to fall in love, ‘Before Sunrise’ sees strangers on a train Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) meet-cute, disembark in Vienna, and dance a verbal tango into the night as the deadline of Jesse’s flight home looms.
You’d say that Delpy and Hawke have never been better were it not for the 2004 sequel ‘Before Sunset’, which shows us what happens next, and the 2013 instalment ‘Before Midnight’, which revisits the pair as middle age encroaches. A classy antidote to the notion that passion is purely physical, it’s the sporadically articulate philosophising and spiky gender-focused sparring that glues these two chatterboxes together. CB
Read the Time Out review of 'Before Sunrise'
Directors: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson
Cast: Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer
Best quote: 'You don't talk much. I like you!'
Defining moment: It’s all about the opening ten minutes, as we follow Carl and Ellie from childhood, through years of happy marriage ‘til death does them part.
The story of us
It’s remarkable that ‘Up’ has managed to sneak into the all-time top 25 romantic movies on the strength of a single 10-minute sequence, but it’s also testament to the extraordinary power this Pixar classic possesses.
It could’ve been so cutesy, so saccharine: a geeky kid with coke-bottle glasses dreams of being an explorer. The girl down the street wants the same thing. They grow up, fall in love, years pass, and we see the highs and lows of their life together: marriage, family, work, sickness, eventually death – a tapestry of honest emotion and meaning (and this, lest we forget, is a kids’ movie). The rest of ‘Up’ is ‘only’ hilarious and smart – but that opening is romance itself. TH
Read the Time Out review of 'Up'
Les Amants du Pont-Neuf (1991)
Director: Leos Carax
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Denis Lavant
Best quote: 'Paris can stay in bed.'
Defining moment: Alex and Michele dance along the bridge and waterski down the Seine to a backdrop of fireworks, Strauss and Iggy Pop during a Bastille Day celebration.
Paris when it sizzles
'Les Amants du Pont-Neuf' ('The Lovers on the Bridge') is Leos Carax's valentine to amour fou, Paris and his then-partner Juliette Binoche. And it's as rapturous and irrational as true love itself. Even the story of its production is something of a romantic tragedy: three years in the making and spiralling wildly over budget as Carax reconstructed Paris’s iconic Pont-Neuf Bridge in the south of France, it's the kind of grand artistic expression that must fail in order to succeed.
The simple love story – between two bohemian bums, one a derelict fire-eater and one a painter losing her eyesight – could be the stuff of silent melodrama, but Carax crams it with sound and colour to the point of delirious sensory ecstasy. GL
Read the Time Out review of 'Les Amants du Pont-Neuf'
Director: FW Murnau
Cast: George O’Brien, Janet Gaynor, Margaret Livingston
Best quote: 'This song of the Man and his Wife is of no place and every place; you might hear it anywhere, at any time.'
Defining moment: The couple’s first entry into the palace of delights is one of the most breathtaking moments in cinema.
Bright lights, big city
The shift in attitudes over time can make old movies unexpectedly shocking: we expect attitudes to race and gender roles to be different. But ‘Sunrise’ is a film in which a man attempts, fairly brutally, to strangle his wife – and yet by the end she (and we) have completely forgiven him.
Murnau’s masterpiece remains one of the most visually impressive films ever shot. And it’s in the disparity between that visual splendor and the intimacy of the central couple that the film’s power lies: as the quote above stresses, this is a film about anyone, and everyone. The sets and actions in the story may be big, Shakespearian, and occasionally unbelievable, but the emotions are close, human, familiar – ‘small’ in the best possible sense. TH
Read the Time Out review of 'Sunrise'
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