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The 100 best romantic movies: risky

Love gets dangerous with the best romantic action movies and romantic thrillers

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 strictly 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 portray a love deserving the label ‘risky’.

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RECOMMENDED: The 100 best romantic movies

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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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
Remember that brief, golden period in the early 2000s when you could openly admit to your friends and family that you were looking forward to the new Adam Sandler movie? A time before ‘Grown Ups 2’ and ‘Blended’, when this still-promising comedy talent actually took risks with his career? It’s impossible to imagine the Sandler of today agreeing to ‘Punch-Drunk Love’ – then again, it’s pretty hard to imagine that he knew what he was getting himself into.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s film is without doubt the oddest romcom of all time, suspended in a hinterland between old-fashioned screwball antics, quirky indie romance and outright arthouse obliqueness. The tone is impossible to pin down, veering from rage to romance to ice-cold stillness. But somehow it works: the glassy LA photography is eye-ravishingly cool, the performances are just this side of too-far-out, and the love affair between Sandler and Emily Watson is simply, truly perfect. TH

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Badlands (1973)

Director: Terrence Malick

Cast: Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek

Best quote: 'Little did I realise that what began in the alleys and backways of this quiet town would end in the Badlands of Montana.'

Defining moment: Kit sees Holly ‘standin' on her front lawn, just a-twirling her baton’, as Bruce Springsteen put it in the ‘Badlands’-inspired song, ‘Nebraska’.

There’s a killer on the road
Here’s where the brilliant career of Terrence Malick begins – and even with such epics as ‘The Thin Red Line’ and ‘The Tree of Life’ on the horizon, many still hold the director’s first film as his most perfect. Loosely based on a real-life Texas crime spree perpetrated by young lovers, the movie features a smouldering Martin Sheen as frustrated greaser Kit, and Sissy Spacek as his teenage girlfriend Holly.

Malick swaddles their exploits in a sheen of soft-focus sunsets and the twinkling music of Carl Orff, but the most romantic element of ‘Badlands’ is Spacek’s narration. It’s the naïve and often heartbreaking account of a lonely girl getting a taste of adulthood, sex and the rush of being bad (and in love). She’s wised up by film’s end, yet for most of the journey, we’re seduced alongside her. JR

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Wild at Heart (1990)

Director: David Lynch

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Laura Dern

Best quote: 'The way your head works is God's own private mystery.'

Defining moment: After dancing like a maniac to speed-metal combo Powermad, Sailor Ripley busts into a swoonsome version of Elvis’s ‘Love Me’.

American dream
No one does romance quite like David Lynch: just think of Sandy and the robins in ‘Blue Velvet’, or Henry and the radiator lady in ‘Eraserhead’. There are those who write him off as an ironist, but this uniquely intense and unabashed worship of love as an otherworldly, all-consuming and dangerous state of higher consciousness is anything but detached.

Lynch loves love, and he loves lovers, none more so than Sailor and Lula, the star-crossed, whisky-fuelled, sex-crazed, emotionally scarred couple that are the wild heart of his madcap kaleidoscopic road movie. This is all-American love reimagined as a carnival show: brutal and beautiful and completely barmy. TH

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La Belle et la Bête (1946)

Director: Jean Cocteau

Cast: Jean Marais, Josette Day

Best quote: 'Love can turn a man into a beast. But love can also make an ugly man handsome.'

Defining moment: As if in a dream, Belle bursts into Beast’s castle, walking on air.

Love is the beauty of the soul
The miracle of ‘La Belle et la Bête’ is how its tricks are still so magical – even in today’s age of CGI. Director Cocteau was a poet first and foremost and he brings to the traditional ‘Beauty and the Beast’ fairy tale pure movie poetry: Belle crying tears of diamonds; the castle lit by disembodied human arms holding up candelabras.

It’s unforgettable, although you might side with Greta Garbo on the ending. Legend has it that when she watched ‘La Belle’ with Cocteau she cried out at the end, as the curse is lifted and Beast is restored to his princely self: ‘Where is my beautiful Beast?’ Garbo, like Belle, had fallen for the matinee idol Beast – and the smarmy-looking prince left in his place doesn’t quite cut it. CC

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True Romance (1993)

Director: Tony Scott

Cast: Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette

Best quote: 'And all I could think was, you're so cool!'

Defining moment: To free his hooker wife from bondage, hero Clarence guns down her dreadful, dreadlocked pimp.

Geek cheek
We can’t help imagining that, when he came to write the script for ‘True Romance’, a before-he-was-famous Quentin Tarantino just jotted down his geekiest life goals and added dialogue. So the story follows a loveless comic-store clerk (Christian Slater) whose boss hires him the world’s foxiest and least experienced hooker (Patricia Arquette) for his birthday. She of course falls madly in love with him, he kills her pimp and they hit the road, bound for Hollywood and a major coke deal.

So yes, ‘True Romance’ is pretty shallow – but it’s also beautifully written, directed and acted, and simply impossible to dislike. The supporting cast is a dream – Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken, Brad Pitt, Gary Oldman and James Gandolfini. But it’s Slater and Arquette who keep the film anchored, offering one of the most puppyishly lovable depictions of first love in modern cinema. TH

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Sunrise (1927)

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

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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

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Vertigo (1958)

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
In 2012, this Alfred Hitchcock film was voted the best movie ever made in Sight & Sound magazine’s respected once-in-a-decade poll (knocking ‘Citizen Kane’ off the top slot). James Stewart plays Scottie, a former police detective who is hired by a businessman to track his supposedly wayward wife through the streets of San Francisco. While on the job, Scottie believes that he witnesses the woman’s suicide, sending his fragile mental state into freefall.

This isn’t the ideal film to choose if you’re after simple, uncomplicated romance. ‘Vertigo’ couldn’t be more complex and cunning, but it’s also brilliantly strange and compelling in what it has to say about love and obsession. It operates on a deeply psychological level: those San Francisco landmarks, especially the Golden Gate Bridge, look like nothing less than the byways and highways of a mind pushed to breaking point by the promise – or threat – of romance. DC

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Breathless (1960)

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Cast: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg

Best quote: 'Informers inform, burglars burgle, murderers murder, lovers love.'

Defining moment: The lovers’ ambiguous parting words in the final scene. What do they mean?

A girl and a gun
As love stories go, 'Breathless' ('À Bout de Souffle') is not one for the ages. Jean-Paul Belmondo, playing a Parisian wideboy on the run after shooting a cop, and Jean Seberg as the hipster American newspaper girl who unwittingly shelters him, look impossibly beautiful together, smoking Lucky Strikes and debating existentialist theory in bed. But they seem entirely too cool to be in love.

Yet Godard’s groundbreaking New Wave take on the Hollywood B-movie is romantic almost in spite of itself. Its still-youthful jazz rhythms, its fresh exploration of Paris at its most invitingly chic and its sexy bedroom talk are what so many of us want romance to look and feel like. So we’re more than happy to indulge it, like the cinematic equivalent of a dirty weekend. GL

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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
It’s partly about the hair – wild, untamed, immaculately salon-shiny despite many months in the wilderness. It’s partly about the running – manly men springing through the forest like deer, hatchets raised as they swoop down on their unsuspecting prey. And it’s partly about the guns – muskets, rifles, bayonets, all longer than a man’s arm, billowing smoke and sending another Indian brave to his untimely death.

But in Michael Mann’s full-throated adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper’s timeless adventure story, it’s mainly about the romance. Love comes in many forms here: shy, gushing, bloody, brotherly, doomed and feisty. And as Daniel Day-Lewis stands beneath that waterfall, bellowing his heart out and promising to track his beloved wherever the fates may take her, you’d need to have a hard heart not to be swept away completely. TH

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Notorious (1946)

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
Is ‘Notorious’ really a romantic classic? It’s about a young German woman (Ingrid Bergman) hired by the American government’s most slippery and amoral operative (Cary Grant) to prostitute herself to a powerful, Rio-based Nazi (Claude Rains) in the hopes of gaining information. Naturally, she falls in love with her handler – and naturally, he treats her like dirt.

And yet…it does contain the single most smoking-hot kiss in film history (Hitchcock had Bergman and Grant break off then dive back in again to defy the censors, who ruled that on-screen kisses should last no longer than three seconds). For those who like their romance with a bleeding edge of danger, self-loathing and cruelty (you know who you are), ‘Notorious’ hits the mark dead on. TH

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Secretary (2002)

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

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Jules et Jim (1962)

Director: François Truffaut

Cast: Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner, Henri Serre

Best quote: 'One is never completely in love for more than a moment.'

Defining moment: Catherine throws herself into the Seine.

Three’s a crowd
Truffaut’s freewheeling tale of a menage à trois burns as brightly today as it did in 1962, tripping along on playful New Wave energy. Moreau is unforgettable as force of nature Catherine, who steals the hearts of two young writers in 1910s Paris. Catherine is Jules’s girl. She’s not beautiful or intelligent, but she is a real woman, he says. The three skip around Paris together. Life’s a holiday.

One night, as the two men spout nonsense about a Strindberg play, Catherine hurls herself into the Seine. She’s unpredictable like that. Later, when she switches allegiances to Jim, Jules can’t bear to be apart from her. Let Jim have her, but let her stay in his life. The years can’t dim the warmth or humanity of Truffaut’s third (and best) film. CC

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Betty Blue (1986)

Director: Jean-Jacques Beneix

Cast: Béatrice Dalle, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Gérard Darmon

Best quote: 'There comes a moment when the silence between two people can have the purity of a diamond.'

Defining moment: The single-take opening, a full-on naked shagfest, sets the tone of uninhibited passion.

Vive la difference!
Amour fou: the French invented the term and this shows you why. In her very first movie, the 21-year-old Béatrice Dalle delivered a career-defining performance which transcends mere pouting petulance to embody a wide-eyed, crockery-smashing, blade-wielding, bush-flashing rage to live. Struggling writer Anglade does his best to provide the unconditional affection she craves, but will anything be enough to quieten Betty’s inner torment?

Quintessentially French, quintessentially ’80s, as ‘Diva’ auteur Beneix revels in an eye-popping palette of electric blues, neon yellows and lipstick crimson. Tellingly, it’s best experienced in the deliriously grandiloquent 186-minute director’s cut rather than the more familiar but deeply compromised two-hour release version, which struggles to make sense of Betty’s extreme psychology. TJ

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Head-On (2004)

Director: Fatih Akin

Cast: Birol Ünel, Sibel Kekilli, Catrin Striebeck

Best quote: 'Are you strong enough to stay between me and her?'

Defining moment: Devil-may-care Ünel celebrates his newfound love by shredding his hands in broken glass and dancing bloodily on stage with a Turkish dance band.

Culture crash
Judging by his ravaged-rocker looks, Turkish-born, Hamburg-resident Birol Ünel is heading for oblivion by the scenic route – drink, drugs, sex, argy-bargy – and that’s before he drives his car head-on into a wall. The last thing he needs while recovering in a psychiatric unit is an offer of marriage from fellow patient Sibel Kekilli, another Turkish-German misfit of equally volatile temperament.

The mayhem which follows has a lot to say about the travails of growing up between two cultures – one ultra-liberal, the other repressive – but amid all the rage, blood and aggro of a truly headbanging storyline, there’s a profoundly moving recognition of the power of love to bring meaning and commitment where previously only existed substance-fuelled nihilism. A stone-cold modern classic. TJ

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Waterloo Bridge (1940)

Director: Mervyn LeRoy

Cast: Vivien Leigh, Robert Taylor, Virginia Field

Best quote: 'Every parting from you is like a little eternity.'

Defining moment: Viv and Bob slow-dancing the ‘Auld Lang Syne Waltz’.

They are in paradise
The young Vivien Leigh will always be remembered for her indomitable Scarlett O’Hara in ‘Gone with the Wind’. But she also displayed heartbreaking fragility in this famous version of Robert E Sherwood’s play, an ill-starred romance ’twixt soldier and ballerina set against the chaos of war.

As WWII breaks out, colonel Taylor finds himself on Waterloo Bridge, assailed by memories of his whirlwind love affair in the same city during the Great War. Cue triple-strength schmaltz in the golden-age Hollywood manner as fate comes between the radiant couple, though not before they’ve shared an all-time classic clinch on New Year’s Eve, breathily smooching as lights are extinguished round a darkening dancefloor. Passion and foreboding in potent harmony. TJ

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Pierrot Le Fou (1965)

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Cast: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Anna Karina

Best quote: 'I think your legs and breasts are very moving.'

Defining moment: When Belmondo and Karina flee from a burning car.

Bonnie et Clyde
This anarchic romance was made by French New Wave filmmaker Godard at the height of his powers and starred his then-girlfriend Karina and Belmondo, the thick-lipped, brooding star of his earlier ‘Breathless’. It foreshadows ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ in its story of a beautiful, lawless couple leaving polite society behind and going on the run, from Paris to the Med, pursued by gangsters.

It’s a cluttered burst of colours, ideas and emotions – a frantic essay on real life and movie life that overflows with energy and heady thoughts. It looks and feels like an outlaw romance, with Karina and Belmondo bringing style and attitude to the table, but it’s also a strongly experimental work made by someone determined to shake up cinema and the world. That itself is pretty romantic, no? DC

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Let the Right One In (2008)

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Cast: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson

Best quote: 'If I wasn't a girl... would you like me anyway?'

Defining moment: Eli crosses the threshold to show Oskar why she needs an invite.

My bloody valentine
Just because a romance is between two twelve year olds, one of whom has been twelve for a really, really long time, doesn't mean it's not a romance. And so what if your new girlfriend a) isn't exactly a girl and b) feasts on the blood of innocents? At least you've got a girlfriend.

Oskar meets Eli at a difficult time in his young life, and quickly learns that the path of true love ne'er did run smooth, nor faint heart win fair maiden. This chilly Scandinavian take on vampire mythology is a pre-teen supernatural romance you can really get your teeth into – and there’s not a sparkly dreamboat in sight. CB

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The Fly (1986)

Director: David Cronenberg

Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis

Best quote: 'Help me be human.'

Defining moment: The climax. Is there anything more romantic than attempting to fuse on a genetic level with your intended?

2 become 1
Never underestimate the ability of gross-out director David Cronenberg to elbow his way onto any list, including one that ranks the most romantic movies of all time. His smart update of the 1950s sci-fi classic certainly brings the gore and Frankenstein-ish doom, but it also wins over our hearts.

Real-life couple Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis were expertly cast as a brainiac inventor and curious ace reporter. You never blink when they fall into bed together: ‘The Fly’ vibes on its actors’ obvious smarts and nuanced sense of attraction. The endgame is majestically tragic, as science and ego upend the headiest onscreen pairing since Diane Keaton and Woody Allen. JR

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Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Director: Arthur Penn

Cast: Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway

Best quote: 'When we started out, I thought we was really goin' somewhere. This is it. We're just goin', huh?'

Defining moment: That orgasmic ending, with the two outlaw-lovers going out in an hail of bullets.

When they met, it was murder
From the start you know this can only end badly. Bonnie Parker has been dreaming her whole life of getting out of Texas. Then along comes Clyde Barrow, a small-time thief – the kind of man momma warned against. Bonnie and Clyde commit their first robbery before they’ve even stopped to find out each other’s name.

Were the real-life Depression era outlaws (whose robbing spree left at least nine policemen and several civilians dead) really as glamorous as Beatty and Dunaway in gangster chic? No, of course not. But as veteran critic David Thomson once wrote, ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ was a film as much about the 1960s as it was about the 1930s: ‘The picture caught the mood of the late 1960s, with kids angry at society.’ CC

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Buffalo '66 (1998)

Director: Vincent Gallo

Cast: Vincent Gallo, Christina Ricci

Best quote: 'You adore me, you love me, you cherish me. Jesus Christ you can't live without me.'

Defining moment: Ricci's fantasy tap dance in a deadbeat bowling alley.

I wanna be adored
Nothing about Gallo's winningly strange debut feature approaches romance in a fashion most viewers are likely to recognise, or even desire. Stockholm Syndrome is a tricky concept at the best of times, and when the captor is Billy, a maladjusted, abusive ex-con played by Gallo, it's fair to say our perceptions of love's limits and limitations are being tested.

Yet as Layla, the zoned-out tap dancer Billy kidnaps so she can pose as his wife at his ghastly parents' house, gawkily luminous Ricci somehow persuades us that there's something to be saved in this lonely wastrel – though probably not in their bizarre relationship. It's a love we can believe, even if we can't quite believe in it. GL

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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

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