The 100 best romantic movies: feelgood
The best happy romantic movies voted for by experts including Tom Hiddleston and Joan Collins
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 tales of lust? Which are strictly arthouse and which are simply cheesy? We’ve applied 19 handy labels to the 100 films in our list. Here you’ll find all the films we think deserve the label ‘feelgood’.
Got something to add? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The 100 best romantic movies: feelgood
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'
Director: Andrew Stanton
Cast: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin
Best quote: 'Beep, beep, beep…'
Defining moment: When WALL-E falls in love with Eve, inspired by watching ‘Hello, Dolly!’
Leaves a metallic taste in the mouth
Can a near-silent portrait of a love between two robots, WALL-E and Eve, really be that romantic? Well, Pixar found a way with this daring story of a lonely robot on Earth in 2700, a time when the planet has been abandoned by life and WALL-E has only piles of junk and a copy of Gene Kelly’s ‘Hello, Dolly!’ for company. WALL-E is a creaky, awkward creature and when the more sleek, iPod-like Eve turns up in his life, he naturally falls head over heels for her.
The film’s great achievement (if we forget its more boisterous and less successful second half) is that its silence and calm draw us in and allows us to appreciate small gestures and the little things in life. It’s the most touching robot-on-robot relationship since the bickering bromance between C3PO and R2D2 in ‘Star Wars’. DC
Read the Time Out review of 'WALL-E'
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!'
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'
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...'
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'
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'
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.
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
Read the Time Out review of 'Moonrise Kingdom'
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
Read the Time Out review of 'Dirty Dancing'
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
Read the Time Out review of 'Pretty Woman'
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'
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
Director: George Cukor
Cast: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart
Best quote: 'The course of true love gathers no moss.'
Defining moment: Brittle ice-queen Tracy (Hepburn) has her eyes and her heart opened following a few choice words from her disappointed Dad.
A little taste of heaven
Look up ‘fizzy’ in a film dictionary and you’ll find a shot of Katharine Hepburn as Tracy Lord (no relation to the porn star), the snappy, snippy, self-regarding heroine of Cukor’s magnificent country house comedy.
Taking his cues from Shakespeare (it could comfortably have been retitled ‘Much Ado About a Midsummer Night’s Shrew-Taming’), playwright Philip Barry weaves a tangled web of delicious misunderstandings and deliberate misdemeanours as three mismatched men – sarky but self-improved ex-husband Grant, youthfully exuberant writer Stewart and dull, well-meaning fiancé John Howard – take it in turns to tilt at Hepburn’s hard-nosed heiress. And if there’s a sneaking suspicion at the end that she picked the wrong one – ‘Four Weddings’-style – that’s all part of the film’s restless, headspinning charm. TH
Read the Time Out review of 'The Philadelphia Story'
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'
An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)
Director: Taylor Hackford
Cast: Richard Gere, Deborah Winger, Louis Gossett Jr
Best quote: 'I got nowhere else to go!'
Defining moment: That ’80s-tastic finale, with Richard Gere in naval whites and ‘Up Where We Belong’ on the soundtrack.
Come on and join your fellow man
‘Star Wars’ showed the movie business that audiences were ready for old-fashioned stories in shiny new packaging, and this mega-hit melodrama took a not-dissimilar approach. Old Hollywood might have pictured the local girl trying to keep her honour yet win the heart of a dashing navy recruit. Here, Richard Gere hogs the limelight as the would-be flyboy learning to love someone other than himself – while Debra Winger alternates good-girl and bad-girl moves.
It’s far from subtle, but certainly delivers more grit than a payload of weepy master Nicholas Sparks’ adaptations. And the big hit single made the image of uniformed Gere ubiquitous for a while – provided you could get goggle-eyed, windmill-armed vocalist Joe Cocker out of your mind. TJ
Read the Time Out review of 'An Officer and a Gentleman'
Director: Steven Shainberg
Cast: Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Spader
Best quote: 'Who's to say that love needs to be soft and gentle?'
Defining moment: Lee reads back a mistyped letter and gets spanked for the first time.
Taking down the particulars
Before there was ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’, there was E Edward Grey (James Spader), a boss who exercises a penchant for strict discipline on new hire Lee (Maggie Gyllenhaal). In contrast to ‘Fifty Shades…’, which metastasised out of ‘Twilight’ fan fiction, the literary origins of ‘Secretary’ are more respectable: a short story by Mary Gaitskill, whose writings about BDSM go a bit deeper than the recent bonkbusters.
The skewed romance at the heart of ‘Secretary’ is beautifully played; the characters never come off as dabblers trying to spice things up a bit with fluffy-cuffed role-play, but as submissive and dominant to the core of their sexual identities. CB
Read the Time Out review of 'Secretary'
Gregory's Girl (1981)
Director: Bill Forsyth
Cast: John Gordon Sinclair, Dee Hepburn, Clare Grogan
Best quote: 'Hard work being in love, eh?'
Defining moment: Gregory (Sinclair) realises that the women in his life have all ganged up to get him into the ‘wrong’ girl’s clutches.
The beautiful game
Figuring out who we’re in love with is, of course, a key part of the romantic process. Too many films feature lightning-bolt moments, where the rightness of a match is obvious and irrevocable – cue happy ending. So it’s nice that there are a few movies out there saying, well, hang on a minute. Love at first sight is all very well, but isn’t that a rather shallow and reckless way to select a mate?
‘Gregory’s Girl’ starts with the lightning bolt – gangly Glaswegian Gregory spots leggy keepy-uppy expert Dorothy (Hepburn) – then patiently explains why, for someone as irrational and irregular as Gregory, that kind of perfect love probably won’t work. So why not try someone a little closer to home? The result is pragmatic, sure, but that doesn’t make it any less romantic. TH
Read the Time Out review of 'Gregory's Girl'
Singin' in the Rain (1952)
Directors: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly
Cast: Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen
Best quote: 'Here's one thing I learned from the movies!'
Defining moment: When Kathy (Reynolds) jumps out of a cake in front of Don (Kelly) at a party.
The story of the transition from silent movies to the 'talkies' has created a sub-genre all of its own, including movies from 'Sunset Blvd' (1950) to 'The Artist' (2011). Here, it's a light-hearted affair set in the late 1920s as silent star Don Lockwood (Kelly) bumps into Kathy Selden (Reynolds), a chorus girl, when he leaps into her car and she pretends to be a serious actress.
It's a classic case of chilly antagonism thawing into true love as Don and Kathy finally fall for each other and become colleagues when his studio wants to make a talking picture and she has to step in to replace the unappealing voice of movie star Lina Lamont (Hagen). But more famous than any romance, surely, is the opening-credits song-and-dance sequence of Kelly and co performing the title tune? DC
Read the Time Out review of 'Singin' in the Rain'
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: George Cukor
Cast: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Doris Nolan
Best quote: 'Compared to the life I lead, the last man in a chain gang thoroughly enjoys himself.'
Defining moment: Grant and Hepburn perform somersaults to announce their anti-establishment credentials.
Pack up your troubles
If you love ‘The Philadelphia Story’ then do catch Hepburn in this previous adaptation of a Philip Barry play as an independent-minded young woman stymied by her conservative family. She senses a kindred spirit in youthful Grant’s Johnny Case, who plans to leave his self-made career behind and travel the big, wide world. The complication is that he’s engaged to her alluring sister Nolan.
Yes, the theatrical origins are only too obvious, but glittering dialogue and sparkling star turns pave the way to a surprisingly affecting ending. Grant is unusually goofy, skillfully masking his character’s contradictions, while Hepburn’s trademark display of determined intelligence remains the key to a film that thrives on the notion of liberating elopement. TJ
Read the Time Out review of 'Holiday'
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Cast: Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz
Best quote: 'It’s better to help people than garden gnomes.'
Defining moment: Amélie’s heart pounds as she spots her true love or the first time.
Le femme excentrique
It’s the movie that launched a thousand mini-breaks to Paris. ‘Amélie’ charmed the world’s socks off in 2001, a surprise international hit. Audrey Tautou is irresistible as lonely waitress Amélie, who discovers her purpose in life: to make other people happy with anonymous acts of kindness.
A whimsical fairytale, it’s filled with playful, funny touches. The best is Amélie standing on a balcony overlooking Montmartre wondering how many people are having an orgasm at this second. The answer is 15 – director Jean-Pierre Jeunet shows them. He originally cast the British actress Emily Watson in the lead. When she quit, he’d all but given up hope of finding his Amélie, until he spotted Tautou on a film poster in the street. Now it’s impossible to imagine any other actress in the role. CC
Read the Time Out review of 'Amélie'
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'
Some Like It Hot (1959)
Director: Billy Wilder
Cast: Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon
Best quote: 'Nobody’s perfect!'
Defining moment: Curtis, in disguise as a rich Brit, takes Monroe for a date on someone else’s yacht.
Love comes in spats
The romance in ‘Some Like It Hot’ is very much of the anything-goes, outsider sort. Wilder’s brilliant, high-energy transvestite comedy is a celebration of folk from the other side of the tracks dressed up as a madcap farce in which Curtis and Lemmon spend most of the film disguised as female musicians and on the run from the Chicago mob in 1929. It’s also, of course, a vehicle for Monroe’s beauty, charm and amply-platformed cleavage (seriously, check out her dresses in her two musical numbers).
Most of the fun lies in gender-bending games of mistaken identity that would make Shakespeare proud. But there’s also some real feeling here, both between Curtis and Monroe and, most bizarrely if fleetingly, between Lemmon and an ageing playboy. Delightful and giddy. DC
Read the Time Out review of 'Some Like It Hot'
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'
Out of Sight (1998)
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez
Best quote: 'Jack, please don't make me do this.'
Defining moment: J-Lo and Clooney get up close and personal in the boot of a getaway car.
Junk in the trunk
It's got to be the sexiest meet-cute in the movies. Clooney is a bank robber who’s just bust out of prison. Lopez is the federal marshal who gets in his way. We already know she likes a bad boy, so when he bundles her into the boot of a getaway car, sparks fly.
The chemistry between Clooney and Lopez is smokin’ hot in Soderbergh’s down-and-dirty adaptation of Elmore Leonard's novel. Sandra Bullock was originally tested for the marshal role, but it’s impossible to believe she would have sizzled like J-Lo. ‘Out of Sight’ will also go down in history as the movie that finally made TV pin-up Clooney a bona fide Hollywood star. CC
Read the Time Out review of 'Out of Sight'
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