The 100 best romantic movies: dignified
Experts including Tom Hiddleston, Joan Collins and EL James vote for the best films about love and romance
Now we know which are the 100 best romantic movies of all time. But which are funny and which are heartbreaking? Which depict a dignified romance and which are saucy? Which are arthouse and which are cheesy? We’ve applied 19 handy labels to the 100 films in our list. Here you’ll find all the films which tell of a ‘dignified’ romance.
Got something to add? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The 100 best romantic movies: dignified
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. So why do we continue to find this much-loved classic so unbearably moving? Because it’s still thrilling to watch the continents of emotion beneath Laura and Alec’s icy properness.
They meet in a railway café. Laura (Johnson) has grit in her eye. Alec (Howard) gallantly removes it. Later, they run into each other in a restaurant. The couple 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'
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
Read the Time Out review of 'Casablanca'
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
Read the Time Out review of 'In the Mood for Love'
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
Read the Time Out review of 'Brokeback Mountain'
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
Read the Time Out review of 'A Matter of Life and Death'
Gone with the Wind (1939)
Director: Victor Fleming
Cast: Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable
Best quote: 'Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.'
Defining moment: Rhett Butler’s scandalous proposal – Scarlett is in mourning, her husband not yet cold in his grave.
Why should we still give a damn? Because after more than 70 years, ‘Gone with the Wind’ still does it bigger and better. At nearly four hours long it’s the ultimate rainy-day-in-bed-with-the-flu movie and features maybe the greatest ever screen lovers. Every actress in Hollywood was screen-tested or considered for the role of spoiled Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara. In the end, it went to the hardly-known British actress Leigh, with Gable cast as infamous ladies’ man Rhett Butler.
Scarlett knows exactly what kind of man Rhett is the moment she meets him – the kind of who has a pretty good idea what a girl looks like in her petticoats. Years later, after toughing out the Civil War, Scarlett notches him up (or is it vice versa?) as husband number three. And their stormy marriage gives us one of cinema’s greatest unanswered questions. Can she win him back? Is tomorrow another day? CC
Read the Time Out review of 'Gone with the Wind'
I Know Where I'm Going! (1945)
Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Cast: Wendy Hillier, Roger Livesey
Best quote: 'Not poor, they just haven't got money.'
Defining moment: Joan tries to cross to the island and gets caught in a storm near a whirlpool.
The high road to romance
Once again, Powell and Pressburger found a sideways, lively and thoroughly modern way of celebrating and exploring simple truths: that money can’t buy love. A young woman about town, Joan (Hillier) knows what she wants: she's heading to the Hebrides to marry a reclusive tycoon. But nature and wise folk conspire to teach Joan a thing or two.
A storm stops her crossing to the island where she's to marry, so she bunks up with Scottish naval officer Torquil (Livesey) and friends while waiting for the weather to improve. The big lesson is that logic and ambition only get us so far, especially in love. Much more attractive are the rewards of chaos and communal experience. DC
Read the Time Out review of 'I Know Where I'm Going!'
Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948)
Director: Max Ophüls
Cast: Joan Fontaine, Louis Jourdan
Best quote: 'If only you could have shared those moments, if only you could have recognised what was always yours, could have found what was never lost. If only...'
Defining moment: The greatest first-date setting of all time – an old fairground ride where scenes from around the globe roll past the windows of a wooden train.
Lonely are the brave
‘Letter from an Unknown Woman’ is about the death of love, a yearning so intense that the heart breaks into pieces. From one point of view, the film has no place on this list: love turns to loss, hope to despair. But, in a way, isn’t unrequited love the purest kind, with none of that dirty reality and compromise getting in the way?
If that’s true, then this might be the most romantic film of all, a story of reckless, undimmed, lifelong passion, against all odds and common sense. It’s the peak of Ophüls’s career as a visual stylist. As the camera swoops and swoons, as the characters waltz and wander through high-ceilinged ballrooms and jangling cafes, it’s impossible not to be drawn, like the heroine, into this dream of impossible infatuation. TH
Read the Time Out review of 'Letter from an Unknown Woman'
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'
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'
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 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'
Director: Michael Haneke
Cast: Emmanuelle Riva, Jean-Louis Trintignant
Best quote: 'Please never take me back to the hospital… Promise… Promise me.'
Defining moment: When Anne suddenly freezes in the kitchen one morning.
Looks like we made it to the end
‘What will survive of us is love,’ wrote Philip Larkin, a poet equally known for being a cuddly old romantic as Michael Haneke, the writer and director of ‘Amour’. In his Paris-set film, Haneke examines what love means when we’re reaching the end of our lives. Haneke gives us Georges (Trintignant) and Anne (Riva), a couple in their eighties who struggle to cope when Anne falls ill from a stroke.
‘Amour’ isn’t romantic in any traditional sense of the word, but it’s steeped in ideas about living life as a couple. It’s deeply thoughtful – and thought-provoking – in relation to what it really, properly means to be with someone all your life, to the end of your life. It’s heartbreaking and totally free of false sentiment. DC
Read the Time Out review of 'Amour'
The English Patient (1996)
Director: Anthony Minghella
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Kristin Scott Thomas
Best quote: 'Swoon, I'll catch you.'
Defining moment: The last kiss in the firelit Saharan cave, just after the Count tells the doomed Katherine he’ll never leave her – a promise they both know he can’t keep.
Thanks to ‘Seinfeld’, Anthony Minghella’s Oscar-guzzling, two-planed love story became the butt of many a joke with harder-hearted viewers. But the film’s lingering impression in the public imagination as a kind of saturated desert swoon does a disservice to its subdued yet shimmering sense of melancholy.
For all its sweeping sequences of radiantly lit passion, this adaptation of Michael Ondaatje’s Booker Prize-winning novel is more a story of love’s withered aftermath, as the disfigured Count de Almasy, dying in an Italian monastery at the end of WWII, is ironically sustained by memories of a lethal liaison with patrician married beauty Katherine. For a supposed romantic throwback, it’s impressively bleak, yet tinged with rapture – not least in the matchless beauty of its three leads. GL
Read the Time Out review of 'The English Patient'
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Kim Novak, James Stewart
Best quote: 'Only one is a wanderer; two together are always going somewhere.'
Defining moment: Judy finally gets the hair right and ‘Madeleine’ lives once more.
My fair lady
It has pitched up at number 33 on our Top 100 Romantic Films list. And Hitchcock's noirish psychodrama about a former policeman's obsessive love for a dead woman also recently ousted the apparently unimpeachable ‘Citizen Kane’ from the number one spot in Sight & Sound magazine's critics' poll of the Best Films of all time.
Perhaps that means this tale of a lover moulding his girlfriend in the likeness of the memory that haunts him is too sinister to rate higher as pure romance? Surely not – for what could be more romantic than an extreme makeover with vague necrophiliac undertones? CB
Read the Time Out review of 'Vertigo'
Fear Eats the Soul (1974)
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Cast: Brigitte Mira, El Hedi ben Salem
Best quote: 'We'll be rich, Ali. And we'll buy ourselves a little piece of heaven.'
Defining moment: The scene where Emmi reveals her relationship to her family is a masterclass in awkwardness and character tension.
Many of cinema’s most exciting moments come about as a result of unlikely juxtapositions. Who would’ve thought that taking the structure and form of 1950s Hollywood ‘womens’ pictures’ and transplanting them to grim, urban 1970s Germany would result in one of the sweetest, most challenging and emotive romantic films ever made?
Mira plays Emmi, the solitary, spreading middle-aged cleaner who starts an affair with a Moroccan ‘gastarbeiter’ two decades her junior. What’s remarkable about Fassbinder’s film is that he takes these two diametric characters and makes their love completely convincing – not for a second do we wonder why the strapping Ali cares so much for crumbling Emmi, or vice versa. TH
Read the Time Out review of 'Fear Eats the Soul'
All That Heaven Allows (1955)
Director: Douglas Sirk
Cast: Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson
Best quote: 'The only Kirby I know is the old gardener, and the last I heard, he was dead!'
Defining moment: The newly-entangled Cary and Ron turn up at a cocktail party full of nosy neighbourhood types.
Let them all talk
The swooning Technicolor palette, the pristine costumes and the fairly standard odd-couple romance between a rich widow, Cary (Wyman), and a Thoreau-reading gardener, Ron (Hudson), only serve to make the social commentary in Sirk’s film all the more powerful.
‘All That Heaven Allows’ is a blistering exposé of how society’s attitudes serve to throw cold water on passion and keep our purer romantic instincts in check. Scenes of folk gossiping behind the couple’s backs or predatory men leaping on Cary are shocking and only make us root even more for Cary and Ron’s relationship (even if the film lacks a genuine spark between the pair).
The film proved an inspiration for two later inquiring romances, Fassbinder’s ‘Fear Eats the Soul’ and Todd Haynes’s ‘Far From Heaven’, both of which took Sirk’s interest in sexual repression and love-across-the-divide in very different directions. DC
Read the Time Out review of 'All That Heaven Allows'
The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
Director: Michael Mann
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Madeleine Stowe
Best quote: 'Stay alive. No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you.'
Defining moment: Declaring undying love against a thundering waterfall.
Hip to be squaw
Is ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ really a boy’s own adventure? No, of course not. It’s a romance cleverly disguised as a swashbuckler. The year is 1757, and the British and French are fighting for control of North America. Daniel Day-Lewis is Hawkeye, a white man raised by Native Americans who saves British general’s daughter Cora (Madeleine Stowe) from a murderous tribe.
But Cora is no helpless dame – watch her slip a musket into her pocket. There is no game-playing between these two. ‘What are you looking at, sir?’ she asks. ‘I’m looking at you miss.’ In that one moment, in their shy smiles, we know they are destined to be together. This is epic romance, and you can’t help being swept away – in spite of that Enya-ish soundtrack. CC
Read the Time Out review of 'The Last of the Mohicans'
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
Read the Time Out review of 'The Shop Around the Corner'
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
Read the Time Out review of 'His Girl Friday'
An Affair to Remember (1957)
Director: Leo McCarey
Cast: Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Richard Denning
Best quote: 'There must be something between us, even if it's only an ocean.'
Defining moment: The unbearable tension in the final reel. We know something Cary Grant is about to find out.
Ship to shore
A playboy (Cary Grant) and a chanteuse (Deborah Kerr) fall in love on a transatlantic liner. Both are already attached but when they dock at New York, they agree to meet at the Empire State Building in six months’ time. Such is the set-up for one of Hollywood’s most imperishable romances, which Leo McCarey first directed in 1939 as ‘Love Affair’ (starring Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne) and remade in 1957 as ‘An Affair to Remember’.
There’s another version, 1994’s ‘Love Affair’ – a tepid showcase for Warren Beatty and Annette Bening. But as any fan of ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ will tell you, the 1957 film is the most enduring, allowing Grant to play simmering passion beneath a debonair exterior, while Kerr suggests fervent yearning behind that reserved front. Hokey? Yes. Manipulative? Certainly. But we defy you not to blub like Meg Ryan. TJ
Read the Time Out review of 'An Affair to Remember'
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, Claude Rains
Best quote: 'There's nothing like a love song to give you a good laugh.'
Defining moment: The stars lock lips in the wine-cellar, but is it real or play-acting?
A spy in the house of love
‘Vertigo’ gets all the love from the critical fraternity, but Hitchcock’s earlier romantic thriller is equally potent in its passionate turmoil. Just after WWII, party girl Bergman has a chance to atone for her Nazi father’s sins by helping US secret service agent Grant uncover a nest of spies in Rio. They begin a torrid affair, yet her mission entails seducing her way into the house of sleek schemer Rains. Is Grant’s suddenly icy demeanour a reflection of professional responsibility? Or a spurned lover’s hauteur?
Churning emotions, deliciously complex and grown-up, run through an increasingly gripping suspense plot, and though it’s the star-powered glamour we remember, closer reacquaintance reveals an anguished undertow of guilty yearning and chastening self-denial that’s quintessentially Hitchcockian. TJ
Read the Time Out review of 'Notorious'
It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Director: Frank Capra
Cast: James Stewart, Donna Reed
Best quote: 'Why don't you kiss her instead of talking her to death?'
Defining moment: A bell rings in Bedford Falls – an angel has earned his wings.
No man is an island
Stewart put in a career-defining performance in this inverted Christmas Carol fable. He plays good-hearted but despairing small town family man George Bailey, who, in the ultimate Capra premise, is brought back from the brink by an angel showing him what would have happened if he'd never been born.
The first film Capra made after returning from World War II, the picture celebrates what Ken Loach's 2013 documentary identifies as ‘The Spirit of '45’ – communities doing the right thing for working families instead of relentlessly pursuing cold hard shiny profit. Perhaps it's indicative of how pie-in-the-sky these simple values seem to contemporary society that we're classing ‘It's a Wonderful Life’ as a romance. CB
Read the Time Out review of 'It's a Wonderful Life'
It Happened One Night (1934)
Director: Frank Capra
Cast: Claudette Colbert, Clark Gable
Best quote: 'I don't know very much about him, except that I love him.'
Defining moment: The pre-censor motel room scene, in which the two unmarried travelling companions use a sheet slung over a washing line to protect their dignity.
Greyhounds of love
Here it is, ground zero, the birth of the modern romantic comedy. Not that there hadn’t been romances before, some of them fairly amusing. But ‘It Happened One Night’ was the one that codified the rules of engagement: mismatched lovers thrown together by circumstance; snappy, off-the-cuff repartee; grand, irrational gestures of devotion; endings so deliriously happy that nothing could ever go wrong again.
It had a troubled production – both Gable and Colbert found the script tasteless – but when the movie picked up all five major Academy Awards, their criticism understandably abated. It’s been endlessly remade (twice in Bollywood alone) and can count both Stalin and Hitler among its celebrity fans. But ‘It Happened One Night’ remains the genius genesis moment for the romcom – and Hollywood has never looked back. TH
Read the Time Out review of 'It Happened One Night'
The Crucified Lovers (1954)
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Cast: Kazuo Hasegawa, Kyôko Kagawa
Best quote: 'The heavens won’t punish me if, in the final moment of my life, I am unable to hold back these last words: I have always loved you with all of my being.'
Defining moment: In a rickety boat on a midnight lake, on the verge of suicide, two runaways realise they’re passionately in love.
Always look on the bright side of life
Adapted from an ancient Japanese fable, ‘Chikamatsu Monogotari’ sees master director Kenji Mizoguchi prove his worth alongside the likes of Shakespeare and Thomas Hardy as an all-time master of the populist romantic tragedy. It’s the tale of a simple clerk, Mohei (Hasegawa), who does a slightly crooked but well-meant favour for the boss’s wife, Osan (Kagawa), and, in the ensuing fallout, is forced to go on the run with her, accused of adultery, for which the penalty in seventeenth-century Japan was public crucifixion.
So begins a thrilling, devastating journey through the hinterland, as the forces of propriety and tradition band together to frustrate the lovers’ happiness. Unabashedly sentimental but rich with meaning and subtle purpose, Mizoguchi’s film teaches us that one moment of reckless love is worth more than a lifetime of socially approved loneliness. TH
Read the Time Out review of 'The Crucified Lovers'
Bright Star (2009)
Director: Jane Campion
Cast: Abbie Cornish, Ben Whishaw
Best quote: 'In what stumbling ways a new soul is begun.'
Defining moment: The unpromising first meeting between Fanny Brawne (Cornish) and John Keats (Whishaw) is so spiky and sweet it’s like a screwball comedy in period dress.
A wild surmise
Sometimes the line between disaster and perfection is alarmingly fine. By all rights, ‘Bright Star’ should’ve been awful: a simpering love story between a fey poet and a bolshy society girl, all bulging bodices and whispered nothings. But then Jane Campion grabbed the reins as director, and produced perhaps the most intense and mesmerising romantic film of the century so far, a gorgeous, gossamer-light look at love as living poetry.
The Georgian trappings are beautifully designed, but they’re never allowed to overwhelm the story: this could’ve been shot in sackcloth on a sound stage and it would still have been deeply moving. The two leads are wonderful, but the real acting honours are unexpectedly stolen by Paul Schneider as Keats’ colleague Charles Brown, whose snappy Scots irascibility somehow allows the central romance to shine out all the brighter. TH
Read the Time Out review of 'Bright Star'
City Lights (1931)
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill
Best quote: 'Tomorrow the birds will sing.'
Defining moment: The formerly blind flower girl recognises the man she fell in love with by touch alone.
The eye of the beholder
Essentially one of the first romcoms, as well as an undisputed silent era highlight, ‘City Lights’ sees Chaplin’s Little Tramp fall for a blind flower girl and accidentally-on-purpose lead her to believe he’s a millionaire.
Shenanigans ensue, with plenty of the kind of old-timey gags beloved of ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘Family Guy’ cutaways, some of which have dated, and some of which still seem as fresh as any Frat Pack set piece (a frenetic drunk driving sequence boasts the immortal exchange: ‘Watch your driving!’ ‘Am I driving?’). But it’s the rom more than the com which keeps us coming back to ‘City Lights’ – the quite literally touching finale is undiminished. CB
Read the Time Out review of 'City Lights'
Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
Director: Mike Newell
Cast: Hugh Grant, Andie MacDowell
Best quote: 'In the words of David Cassidy, when he was still with The Partridge Family, I think I love you.'
Defining moment: When Grant’s Charles makes a stuttering declaration of love to MacDowell’s Carrie on the sunny South Bank.
This is mumblecore
Yes, it’s all a bit safe and cosy, but it’s the touch of chaos and the breezy sense of truth running through Richard Curtis’s neatly-structured romcom that makes it so appealing and enduring. It’s also so very British, from the vicar (Rowan Atkinson) with a penchant for Spoonerisms when conducting marriages to the cringey best-man speeches and the delicious caricatures of wedding guests.
At its heart is Grant’s winning portrait of a man unlucky in love, and it’s impossible to imagine another actor in the role. It may sound silly nearly 20 years on, but respect to Curtis, too, for putting an uncomplicated gay relationship at the heart of such a mainstream film – and ensuring there’s not a dry eye in the house when that WH Auden poem is read at the funeral of Simon Callow’s character. DC
Read the Time Out review of 'Four Weddings and a Funeral'
Director: John Carney
Cast: Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova
Best quote: 'What's the Czech for “Do you love him”?'
Defining moment: In a local music shop, an impromptu jam session between the two near-strangers shapes the gorgeous, Oscar-winning ballad ‘Falling Slowly’.
Busking out all over
On paper, everything about this microbudget Irish folk musical sounds insufferably precious: on the streets of Dublin, a struggling thirtysomething busker meets a shy Czech flower seller and they form an immediate bond over his songs, from which a chaste will-they-or-won’t-they flirtation evolves as they proceed, quite literally, to make sweet music together.
Yet there’s a rare authenticity and sincerity to this intimate miniature that never so much as grazes the gag reflex, from the gentle chemistry of the non-professional, refreshingly non-pretty leads (collaborators and lovers in real life) to the naked emotional candour of their songs (one of which won a deserved Oscar) to the heartbreaking matter-of-factness with which the film resolves their ambiguous relationship. A wisp of a love story, but a perfect one. GL
Read the Time Out review of 'Once'
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Directors: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
Cast: Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson
Best quote: 'I love you.' With those three little words, Belle breaks the spell.
Defining moment: Belle teaches the beast to dance.
No, not Cocteau’s 1946 masterpiece (you’ll find that at number 17). This is Disney’s magical cartoon, made in 1991 but harking back to the studio’s glory days. Unlike the golden oldies, however, this fairy tale features a plucky heroine, Belle, who braves slathering wolves to rescue her dad from the Beast’s terrifying gothic castle.
In fact, the Beast is a young prince turned into a monster for his cruelty by the curse of an enchantress. Only three little words can break the spell. It’s impossible not to be swept along by the gorgeous Broadway-style song and dance numbers and by what one philosopher called the fairy tale’s ‘great message’ – ‘that a thing must be loved before it is lovable’. CC
Read the Time Out review of 'Beauty and the Beast'
Director: Miguel Gomes
Cast: Ana Moreira, Carloto Cotta
Best quote: 'It was from a dream...'
Defining moment: The heady strains of 'Be My Baby' filtered through colonial Africa.
Passionate exploration becomes possessive colonisation in both an African plantation and a series of romantic relationships in this playful two-act (plus prologue) tragicomedy from former film critic Gomes.
‘Tabu’ insures itself against the risk of coming across as insincere or twee via the cunning expedient of first showing us what will become of its gorgeous leads at the hands of that old inescapable: time. No amount of arch sound design, renegade crocodiles and fish-out-of-water doo-wop bands can offset the foreknowledge of the eventual destinies of steamy star-crossed couple Aurora and Ventura in contemporary Lisbon. CB
Read the Time Out review of 'Tabu'
Roman Holiday (1953)
Director: William Wyler
Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck
Best quote: 'I'm not two hundred years old. Why can't I sleep in pajamas?'
Defining moment: A swooningly sad, near-perfect love-story ending.
I wanna live like common people
It was the film that made Hepburn an overnight star at the age of 22. She fizzes as tomboyish Princess Ann, who is bored to tears of dreary ambassadors’ balls and hobnobbing with crusty old majors with walrus moustaches.
On a state visit to Rome, Anne slips away to see how the other half live. Peck is the American reporter who can’t believe his luck, picking up a real-life runaway princess. Sure, he tells her, he’ll show her the sights… On the sly he’s cooking up the scoop of the century. Of course they fall in love. Swoon at its near-perfect ending, with its tender message that a moment’s happiness can last you a lifetime. CC
Read the Time Out review of 'Roman Holiday'
Cyrano de Bergerac (1990)
Director: Jean-Paul Rappeneau
Cast: Gerard Depardieu, Anne Brochet
Best quote: 'You give me milk instead of cream. Say how you love me!'
Defining moment: Cyrano's 'Non, merci!' tirade against the world.
Where’s John Nettles?
Russia’s most celebrated film talent since Eisenstein – the inimitable Gérard Depardieu – achieved the unusual feat of securing an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a foreign language film for his portrayal of France’s answer to the Elephant Man.
Despite his unconventional looks, Cyrano is a spectacular lover – at least on paper, writing letters that cause sexy cousin Roxane (Anne Brochet) to fall deeply in love with the man from whom she erroneously believes she’s received the billets-doux – the dashing but inarticulate Christian (Vincent Perez). Unlike José Ferrer, who did win the Oscar for his 1950 portrayal of Cyrano, Depardieu didn’t take home the little gold statue in the end, but it’s probably his take on Cyrano that’s become the more iconic. CB
Read the Time Out review of 'Cyrano de Bergerac'
Doctor Zhivago (1965)
Director: David Lean
Cast: Julie Christie, Omar Sharif, Geraldine Chaplin
Best quote: 'There's an extraordinary girl at this party.' 'I know. I'm dancing with her.'
Defining moment: Years after their parting, Yuri catches a glimpse of his beloved Lara from a crowded tram and runs after her – a mirror image of his first sighting.
A balalaika made for two
David Lean’s super-sized epic of love lost and found – several times over – across a half-century of tumultuous Russian history may seem to have fallen slightly out of fashion these days. But you need only have counted the not-so-subtle references to its florid aesthetic in Joe Wright’s recent ‘Anna Karenina’ to see how it captured the imagination of more than one generation. Not for nothing was Maurice Jarre’s swirling ‘Lara’s Theme’ a Top 10 hit in its day, after all.
Still, the lush sound and iconography of ‘Zhivago’ – that wedding-cake ice palace, those fashion-spread furs – has rather superceded the knotty, compromised politics of its love story, a cruel triangle in which different viewers may find themselves sympathising with different sides. GL
Read the Time Out review of 'Doctor Zhivago'
If you like 'dignified' romantic movies, you should try…See all romantic movies by type
More romantic film features
The best songs from the top 100
Read a review of...
The best films now showing
- Rated as: 5/5
Marion Cotillard gives (another!) Oscar-worthy performance
- Rated as: 4/5
'Juno' for grown-ups in this NYC comedy
- Rated as: 4/5
Marvel's latest is crammed with wit, charm and action