The 100 best romantic movies: 50-41

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

50

His Girl Friday (1940)

Director: Howard Hawks

Cast: Rosalind Russell, Cary Grant

Best quote: 'You’ve got an old-fashioned idea of divorce as something that lasts forever. Till death do us part.'

Defining moment: Hildy tries to tell Walter she’s getting married but can’t get a word in edgewise.

Takes two to tango
You’ll need to hover your finger over the pause button of your remote to catch the one-liners in the fastest-talking screwball comedy of them all. Hildy Johnson (Russell) has just quit her job as star reporter on the Morning Post to marry a nice-but-dim insurance salesman. Trouble is her boss, Walter (Grant), who just so happens to be her ex husband, won’t let her go.

Adapting the hit Broadway show ‘The Front Page’ into a movie, director Howard Hawks made a stroke-of-genius change: turning it from a story about two male reporters into the tale of a former husband and wife couple. Naturally, they’re still crazy about each other. And Russell’s shoulder pads are almost as sharp as her wit as she fires off insults at Grant: ‘You’re wonderful in a loathsome sort of way’. CC

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49

West Side Story (1961)

Directors: Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise

Cast: Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn

Best quote: 'There’s a place for us, somewhere…'

Defining moment: It’s as camp as Christmas, but Maria (Wood) singing ‘I Feel Pretty’ while anticipating her next date with Tony (Beymer) is a magical moment of romantic exuberance.

The song of the streets
Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Romeo + Juliet’ may have made all the tweeners’ hearts melt (and scored a higher place on this list), but the real hep chicks and finger-poppin’ daddies know which version of Shakespeare’s play is the real leader of the pack.

‘West Side Story’ is like no other musical: sure, it’s sappy (‘Mariaaaaaaaaaa’) and slightly ridiculous, but it’s also brazenly political (‘if you’re all white in A-me-ri-ca!’), sneakily self-mocking (‘Hey, I got a social disease!’) and ferociously, aggressively emotional: the operatic finale is a masterclass in three-hanky audience manipulation. Also, the film contains perhaps the single best song ever written for the musical theatre: ‘Somewhere’, the ultimate romantic ballad for trapped and dreaming lovers. TH

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48

Ghost (1990)

Director: Jerry Zucker

Cast: Demi Moore, Patrick Swayze

Best quote: 'I love you. I really love you.' 'Ditto.'

Defining moment: Swayze and Moore send shares in pottery classes skywards.

Care for a little necrophilia?
Screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin was initially dismayed to hear that producers planned to hand his heartbreaking supernatural romance over to ‘Airplane!’ director Jerry Zucker (‘I thought with this director that they were going to turn “Ghost” into some kind of comedy and it’d be horrible’), but in fact the move led to a skilfully put-together mixture of tearjerker and madcap farce, enabling Whoopi Goldberg to turn in an Oscar-winning Best Supporting Actress performance for her role as con artist/medium Oda Mae Brown.

Counting sexy pottery as a given, ‘Ghost’ is also romantically notable for the queer frisson of the scene where Sam's spirit possesses Oda Mae to share one final dance with Demi Moore's grieving Molly. CB

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47

Lost in Translation (2003)

Director: Sofia Coppola

Cast: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson

Best quote: 'Can you keep a secret? I’m trying to organise a prison break. I’m looking for, like, an accomplice.'

Defining moment: Crooning Roxy’s ‘More Than This’ in a Tokyo karaoke bar.

Platonic bomb
Two different souls, years apart in age, meet in the same upscale Tokyo hotel in which they’re staying and spend a chaste but intimate few days together sharing feelings and experiences. She (Johansson) is a young New Yorker whose husband is on a photographic assignment; he (Murray) is an actor making a whisky advert in the city.

They know nothing about each other. But they spend a weekend talking, walking and exploring Tokyo together, and it’s all the more romantic because it feels so transient and unlikely. It helps that Johansson is beautiful and has a youthful world-weariness and that Murray gives one of his very best performances, offering an endearing mix of damage and charm. The whole thing feels like a snatched dream. DC

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46

Pretty Woman (1990)

Director: Garry Marshall

Cast: Richard Gere, Julia Roberts

Best quote: 'You and I are such similar creatures Vivian. We both screw people for money.'

Defining moment: Gere and Roberts take a private jet from LA to San Francisco for a date at the opera.

Date with destiny
Roberts offered a very different shot in the arm to prostitutes everywhere with this ludicrous but undeniably charming romantic fantasy about a Hollywood streetwalker who falls for a stinking rich businessman (Gere) after he hires her for a week to be his companion at dinners and evening engagements, in between his epic workload of barking at lawyers.

Sure, the idea of a prostitute who’s as beautiful, clean, happy and glamorous as Roberts is absurd, but then Gere’s portrait of the archetypal 1980s business shark with a core of ice yearning to be melted is just as caricatured as her tart with a heart.

‘Pretty Woman’ is slushy, cheesy and so smoothly crafted that it succeeds as the very definition of romantic escapism. Roberts also has some winning comic moments, including her curtain-call quip to an elderly lady at the opera: ‘It was so good I almost pee’d my pants.’ DC

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45

Weekend (2011)

Director: Andrew Haigh

Cast: Chris New, Tom Cullen

Best quote: 'I couldn't be more proud of you than if you were the first man on the moon.'

Defining moment: When Glen interviews Russell on tape for an art project the morning after the night before.

Boy meets boy
This British film, shot on a shoestring, captures in a lively and fresh style the first throes of attraction, passion and maybe even love between two men, Glen (New) and Russell (Cullen), who meet one night in a bar and spend a couple of days and nights together. They talk, they have sex, they size each other up. Glen is open and chatty, while Russell is more guarded and defensive.

Haigh’s film is marked by an immediacy and a sense of tentative exploration that’s rare in depictions of couplings, and by a keen awareness that we project one image on the world and hold another back for ourselves. Not a great deal happens in terms of big events, but the film’s honesty and realism mean that it’s a little film with a lot to say. DC

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44

Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Director: Howard Hawks

Cast: Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn

Best quote: 'When a man is wrestling a leopard in the middle of a pond, he's in no position to run.'

Defining moment: The prison scene: enter Swingin’ Door Susie and Jerry the Nipper.

Romance, red in tooth and claw
Like its bumbling protagonist, Hawks’ archetypal screwball classic went from disaster to darling. The tale of a paleontologist (Grant), a society dame (Hepburn), a snappy terrier and a stray Brazilian leopard, ‘Bringing Up Baby’ ran seriously over budget and over schedule thanks to animal misbehaviour coupled with Grant and Hepburn’s inability to stop making each other laugh during takes.

It flopped disastrously on first release: Hawks’ contract with producers RKO was cut short and Hepburn was labeled ‘box office poison’ by a top exec. Two decades later, following a series of successful TV showings, the film was rightly recognised as the pinnacle of the screwball art: no film was ever so fast, so witty and so gorgeously irrational. TH

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43

Dirty Dancing (1987)

Director: Emile Ardolino

Cast: Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey

Best quote: 'Come on, ladies. God wouldn't have given you maracas if He didn't want you to shake 'em.'

Defining moment: Nobody puts Baby in a corner. When even Ryan Gosling has scored using your defining moment (in ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’), you know it’s a good ’un.

Sir Patrick of Swayz
She dreamt of studying the economics of underdeveloped countries and volunteering for the Peace Corps. He just wanted to dance the night away. Until one day she manhandles some watermelons into his backstage area (not a metaphor), and falls in love at first sight.

Filmed at the peak of Patrick Swayze’s handsomeness, with a healthy dollop of none-more-’80s style and a cracking jukebox full of irresistibly catchy numbers, a thousand clip shows would have us remember ‘Dirty Dancing’ as something of a minor classic. And, for once, they would be right on the money. CB

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42

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Director: Wes Anderson

Cast: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray

Best quote: 'It's possible I may wet the bed, by the way.'

Defining moment: Sam and Suzy kiss an awkward kiss on the beach.

Children, behave
Romance isn't the first thing you expect from a Wes Anderson film, but in this delightful 1960s-set tale, the American auteur employs all his usual tricks – hip soundtrack, arch dialogue, super-careful production design – in the service of a story about the chaos and madness of young love.

Sam and Suzy are 12-year-olds on the run. Suzy is precocious and independent; Sam is nerdy and serious. They don't get very far, but a mile's a long way when you're 12, and danger is never far away. What's lovely is how seriously Anderson takes Sam and Suzy's adventure, while also laying on the humour and the irony. By the time the pair steal a smooch on a deserted beach, we're totally smitten. DC

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41

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Director: Ernst Lubitsch

Cast: Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart

Best quote: 'People seldom go to the trouble of scratching the surface of things to find the inner truth.'

Defining moment: Kralik (Stewart) brags to his hated colleague Miss Novak (Sullavan) about his upcoming date with ‘the most wonderful girl in the world’ – unaware that they are one and the same.

Over the counter
You can’t blame a great film for the indignities it spawned. ‘The Shop Around the Corner’ was the inspiration behind both ‘Are You Being Served?’ and gooey romcom ‘You’ve Got Mail’, but that doesn’t dim the brilliance of Lubitsch’s original.

We tend to think of pre-war Hollywood as being a fairly insular, conservative sort of place. But here’s a mainstream comedy set in Hungary (already an Axis collaborator by the time the film was shot), pushing the idea that those benighted Europeans – a world away from middle America – had ordinary lives, loves and values of their own. The performances are perfect, the hate-to-love plotline painstakingly constructed, and the dialogue sparkles like diamonds. TH

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