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The 100 best romantic movies: stylish

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 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 ‘stylish’.

Got something to add? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

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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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
Sometimes, unconsummated love can be the most real of all. Few films, if any, have portrayed that notion quite so exquisitely as Wong Kar-Wai’s ‘In the Mood for Love’, a stunningly sumptuous 1962-set period piece detailing the affair that almost begins between beautiful neighbours (played by Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung) who learn that their spouses are sleeping with each other.

Watching Cheung repeatedly walk past Leung in a dark Hong Kong alleyway in slow-motion to the aching strains of Umebayashi Shigeru’s string theme, it’s clear just how much emotion can exist between two people who have barely even touched. DE

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Annie Hall (1977)

Director: Woody Allen

Cast: Diane Keaton, Woody Allen

Best quote: 'Don’t knock masturbation. It’s sex with someone I love.'

Defining moment: Call the lobster squad! Dinner has escaped.

Analyse this
Irrational, crazy and absurd. ‘Annie Hall’ gives us love in its all its messy glory. It’s the anatomy of break-up. ‘Where did it all go wrong?’ asks Woody Allen’s neurotic comedian Alvy Singer after his split from scatterbrain singer Annie (Diane Keaton, enjoying a killer fashion moment in boyish slacks and a fedora).

Allen has said that ‘Annie Hall’ was his first film to go ‘deeper’. And at its heart is the sad message that finding your soulmate doesn’t guarantee a happy ending. Or, as an old woman tells Alvy: ‘Love fades.’ But for all that, ‘Annie Hall’ is hands down the most hilarious film ever made about love, hysterically funny and packed with gags. CC

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The Apartment (1960)

Director: Billy Wilder

Cast: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine

Best quote: 'That's the way it crumbles... cookie-wise.'

Defining moment: C.C. Baxter decides to take the advice of his doctor and become a mensch.

When life gives you Lemmon...
Billy Wilder’s ‘The Apartment’ takes the long and winding route to true romance. The premise is anything but romantic: CC Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is a Manhattan office drone whose way to the heart of his bosses – and promotion – is to loan out his bachelor pad to married men having affairs or one-night-stands. Baxter’s neighbours are increasingly fed up with his apparent philandering, but the sad reality is that the four walls of his apartment witness no romance at all when it comes to their actual tenant.

When he starts a flirtation with Fran (Shirley MacLaine), a beautiful lift attendant who works in his faceless modern office block, little does Baxter know that she is actually caught up in an unhappy affair with his boss (Fred MacMurray). Wilder is unafraid to go down some dark alleys in ‘The Apartment’: there’s a strong streak of cynicism relating to modern office politics and even a suicide attempt. But that only makes the final resolution all the more rewarding and hard-won. DC

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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.

Whistlin’ Dixie
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

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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
‘By the time you read this letter I may be dead.’ With these words a woman who has spent her life hopelessly devoted to a man who doesn’t know she exists begins her letter to him. Quite simply, ‘Letter from an Unknown Woman’ will leave your heart in pieces on the floor.

Set in turn-of-the-century Vienna but shot in 1948 Hollywood by Max Ophüls with a gorgeous, swooning camera, Joan Fontaine stars as Lisa. Over decades Lisa has had three brief meetings with womanising concert pianist Stefan (Louis Jourdan) – who fails to recognise her every time. Her aching letter gives the film its voiceover as she tells the story of her unrequited, borderline masochistic love: ‘My life can be measured in the moments I have had with you.’ A heartbreaking masterpiece. CC

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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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Manhattan (1979)

Director: Woody Allen

Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Mariel Hemingway, Meryl Streep

Best quote: 'You look so beautiful I can hardly keep my eyes on the meter.'

Defining moment: The stately black-and-white shots of the city cut to Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’.

A hell of a town
There’s so much in ‘Manhattan’ that’s familiar from Woody Allen’s other films, not least Woody himself playing a writer, Isaac, with endless hang-ups and a variety of women in his life. Here, those women are his 17-year-old girlfriend, Tracy (Hemingway); another love interest, Mary (Keaton); and his ex-wife, Jill (Streep).

For Woody, romance is fluid, complicated and alive. Yet by far the biggest romance in ‘Manhattan’ is Woody’s affair with the city itself. New York is often the backdrop for Woody’s films, but here a sense of place is more important than ever. There are those famous montages of the Manhattan skyline, lent a rare beauty by Gordon Willis’ loving black-and-white photography, and at the film’s climax we see Isaac running through the streets that have shaped him – and Woody Allen – and continue to do so. DC

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The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

Director: Jacques Demy

Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo

Best quote: 'People only die of love in the movies.'

Defining moment: A sad, bittersweet meeting in the snow, two lovers seeing each other for the first time in years.

All things bright and beautiful
You'd need to have a sliver of ice lodged in your heart not to be moved by ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’ – a musical that has even hardened musical-haters melting into puddles. Not that it’s a musical in the belt-‘em-out tradition. Instead, every word is sung rather than spoken as 17-year-old Geneviève (Deneuve) falls sweetly and madly in love with car mechanic Guy (Castelnuovo).

‘Umbrellas’ is one of the most ravishing films ever made, wrapped in candyfloss colours to match the blush of first love. When Guy is drafted to fight in Algeria, Geneviève is certain she will die of grief. But time passes and Geneviève doesn’t die. Love fades. And that’s the bittersweet message inside this exquisitely sugar coated pill. CC

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William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996)

Director: Baz Luhrmann

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes

Best quote: 'A plague on both your houses! They have made worms’ meat of me.'

Defining moment: DiCaprio and Danes making loved-up eyes at each other through the glass and water of a fish tank.

From the Globe to the ghetto
Baz Luhrmann had some cast-iron source material to work with in the form of Shakespeare’s story – but the Australian writer-director took the playwright’s romantic tragedy to another place entirely with this ultra-modern reworking. At the same, he never lost sight of the essence of Shakespeare’s tale of two young lovers doomed from the first time they lay eyes on each other.

The moment that Romeo (DiCaprio, so young!) and Juliet (Danes, so young too!) meet at a wild fancy-dress party is pure bliss to watch, just as Luhrmann’s staging of the final death scene is almost impossible to bear. There are guns, hip-hop, open-topped cars and characters so larger-than-life that the whole thing now, in retrospect, feels like Tarantino directing a season-finale episode of ‘Dynasty’. It’s mad, musical and immensely moving. DC

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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.

Desert song
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

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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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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

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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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Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

Director: Blake Edwards

Cast: Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard

Best quote: 'Oh, golly gee damn!'

Defining moment: Holly Golightly sings ‘Moon River’ at the windows of her NYC apartment.

The original pretty woman
It’s the role that Audrey Hepburn will forever be remembered for: the beautiful, bolshy city girl with a brittle edge in this handsome, well-dressed adaptation of Truman Capote’s novella. Of course, Edwards’ film deftly sidestepped the sadder, seedier aspects of Holly Golightly’s life in the book – working as a high-society escort in early 1960s Manhattan. Instead, the film prefers to indulge the on-off, will-they-won’t-they aspect of her relationship with Paul (Peppard), her dapper neighbour.

To be frank, the spark between Hepburn and Peppard is lacking, and there’s little about ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ that truly sets the heart ablaze. What’s fun, though, is the giddiness of Holly’s life and her dashes about town with Paul (to a strip club, a stuffy library and, of course, the famous jewellery store). What the film most bequeaths us is the romantic ideal of the witty, couture-clad, urbane, dark-haired beauty: the Hepburn that launched a thousand Audreys. DC

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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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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
Strangely polarising for such a wistful and modest little movie, some people struggle to see past the privilege that backgrounds Sofia Coppola’s story about the unique connection that develops between fading movie star Bob (Bill Murray, in his best and reportedly favourite role) and Charlotte, the married twentysomething he meets in the bar of a fancy Tokyo hotel.

The rest of us get to enjoy one of the most perfect films ever made about the indefinable bonds that can form between people who happen to find each other at just the right moment, with Coppola’s hazy direction focusing on the infinite meanings that live between words. We may never know what Bob whispers to Charlotte in the film’s final scene, but it’s a safe bet that neither one of them will ever forget. DE

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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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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
Howard Hawks’s spin on the play ‘The Front Page’ sees Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell both giving performances for the ages. He is Walter Burns, a pushy, charming newspaper editor; she’s Hildy Johnson, a former star reporter on his newspaper. Oh, and she’s also his ex-wife.

When Hildy visits the newsroom to say goodbye, she and her new fiancé Bruce (Ralph Bellamy) get sucked into Walter’s world as he takes them out to lunch and tries to tempt Hildy back to the job to report on the case of a convicted murderer about to be unfairly executed. As Walter tries every trick in the book to undermine Bruce and Hildy’s plans, Hildy finds herself being seduced once more by the world of journalism. But will she also be seduced by her deeply persuasive ex-husband? The film is fast, funny and stylish, and romance is a whirlwind in Hawks’s screwball world. DC

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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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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

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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
When was the romcom born? Ask the experts and plenty will answer that it all began with Frank Capra’s 1934 screwball comedy. Look closely and you’ll see ingredients that have been tossed together ever since: a couple who can’t stand the sight of each other, shotgun-speed bickering and the sudden slap-the-forehead realisation that they are crazy about each other. Claudette Colbert plays a spoilt society heiress who runs away from home to marry a fortune hunter only to fall in love with a rascally newspaper reporter (Clark Gable) en route.

After shooting, Colbert said to a friend: ‘I just finished the worst picture in the world.’ The world thought differently. A sleeper hit (Hitler and Stalin were both fans), ‘It Happened One Night’ became the first film to sweep the board at the Oscars – winning all five major awards. Eighty years later, it’s still irresistible. CC

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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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The Graduate (1967)

Director: Mike Nichols

Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross

Best quote: 'Would you like me to seduce you?'

Defining moment: Dustin Hoffman, Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, a red Alfa Romeo Spider and the Southern California highway system.

We’d like to help you learn to help yourself
How romantic is ‘The Graduate’, really? Are we talking about the affair between Benjamin Braddock (Hoffman) and Mrs Robinson (Bancroft), in which he’s driven by adolescent lust and gnawing boredom, and she by a desperate desire to revisit her youth, to feel something, anything for a change? Or do we mean the engagement between Benjamin and Mrs Robinson’s daughter Elaine (Ross), in which both characters appear to be marching through some sort of societally mandated courtship routine, without ever really meeting in the middle?

And yet, despite the cynicism and the ironic distance, despite that frankly terrifying closing shot of Ben and Elaine on the bus, miles distant, there’s still something bracing and heartfelt about ‘The Graduate’. Perhaps in showing us all this tragic emptiness, Nichols is encouraging us to confront it. TH

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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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Moulin Rouge! (2001)

Director: Baz Luhrmann

Cast: Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor

Best quote: 'Come what may, I will love you until my dying day.'

Defining moment: David Bowie, Elton John, The Beatles and more are pressed into service in one mega-mixed Elephant Love Medley.

Nothing left toulouse
Baz Luhrmann takes the lavish staging of Bollywood, mashes up elements of the Greek myth of Orpheus together with Giuseppe Verdi's opera La Traviata, and throws it all into a kaleidoscopic blender along with some of the catchiest Western pop songs of the 20th century.

As with Luhrmann's inspirations, events are entirely passion-powered, as Ewan McGregor's ‘oh-so-talented, charmingly bohemian, tragically impoverished’ writer Christian conceives an amour fou for Nicole Kidman's courtesan Satine, serenading her with lines like ‘the greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return’. Of course, given the consumptive Satine is carrying more tuberculosis bacteria than your average badger colony, the greatest thing she's likely to have passed on to poor old Christian is a highly infectious lethal disease. CB

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Wings of Desire (1987)

Director: Wim Wenders

Cast: Bruno Ganz, Solveig Dommartin

Best quote: 'That's what makes me clumsy. The absence of pleasure. Desire for love.'

Defining moment: She flies through the air with the greatest of ease, that lonely young woman on the flying trapeze.

From her to eternity
Long before his face became part of a thousand ‘Downfall’ memes on Youtube, Bruno Ganz played an angel in love with a mortal trapeze artist in West Berlin, in Wim Wenders’s romantic metaphysical fantasy. Employing a similar coded combination of colour and black and white to Powell and Pressburger's ‘A Matter of Life and Death’, the celestial perspective is purer but more remote, asking us to consider the appeal of everyday humanity from the outsiders' point of view.

Check out the loose Nicolas Cage remake ‘City of Angels’ if you'd like to see a Hollywood spin on the same big questions (‘Never date a man who knows more about your vagina than you do.’). CB

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Amélie (2001)

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
Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s whimsical romance arrived out of nowhere in 2001, a surprise international hit that made an overnight star of Audrey Tautou. She plays the elfin Montmartre waitress with an overactive imagination, continually conspiring to play cupid and meddling in other people’s lives. But when Amélie falls in love she can’t bring herself to confront the handsome object of her affections — the risk of making something real is too much for her to handle.

Instead, she lurks in the background, their relationship mediated by whatever cultural detritus she can use to keep a comfortable distance. But anyone who’s heard the rollicking accordion jam that closes Yann Tiersen’s soundtrack knows what it feels like when a little courage goes a long way. Almost impossible to resist. DE

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Chungking Express (1994)

Director: Wong Kar-Wai

Cast: Tony Leung, Faye Wong, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Brigitte Lin

Best quote: 'People change. A person may like pineapple today and something else tomorrow.'

Defining moment: Faye Wong’s idea of affection involves rearranging cop Tony Leung’s apartment while he’s on the beat.

The Wong goodbye
Wong Kar-Wai’s third feature remains a perennially fresh declaration of his unique aesthetic, where the accretion of voiceover, music cues, faces and places creates an immersive mood more significant than whatever passes for a plot.

In this instance, that involves two sets of would-be lovers – policeman Kaneshiro falls for shady lady Brigitte Lin, while his colleague Leung circles around winsome kebab-stall girl Faye Wong. Still, the idea of actually getting it together is much less headily intoxicating than the sweet ache of a broken heart, or the woozy rush of unconsummated possibility. Meanwhile, Wong’s stop-go camera captures the restless bustle of pre-handover Hong Kong, and the melancholy sway of the original ‘California Dreaming’ sets the seal on an off-hand masterpiece. 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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Tabu (2012)

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.

Crocodile rock
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

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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

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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
A glitzy precursor to ‘Lost in Translation’ that gets drunk on la dolce vita then leaves the kind of bittersweet aftertaste that lingers for a lifetime, William Wyler’s Oscar-winning classic is a fairytale about what happens after the clock strikes midnight.

‘Roman Holiday’ made an overnight star of Audrey Hepburn playing a young European princess who slips out from the suffocating duties of an Italian press tour and crosses paths with an American reporter (Gregory Peck). He concocts a plan to make a killing with the story of the runaway princess while pretending to show her the sights. It’s a given that the pair fall in love during their whirlwind tour of the Eternal City, but their story is ultimately about love lost – and the tenderness with which bliss can suddenly hollow into memory. DE

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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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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

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The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989)

Director: Steve Kloves

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Michelle Pfeiffer, Beau Bridges

Best quote: 'You're not going to start dreaming about me and waking up all sweaty and looking at me like I'm some sort of princess when I burp?'

Defining moment: Michelle drapes herself atop Jeff’s piano for a smoky rendition of ‘Makin’ Whoopee’.

Another season, another reason
He knows he shouldn’t. She knows she shouldn’t. But they can’t help themselves. For decades, talented but feckless Jeff Bridges has been working hotel lounges in an easy-listening piano duo with his steady-Eddie brother (and real-life sibling) Beau, but when the work dries up they take on a vocalist – Michelle Pfeiffer’s Susie Diamond, a world-weary former escort seeking the showbiz spotlight.

Suddenly, the trio’s a hit, but there’s something in the air between Jeff and Michelle, which could break the act apart if they choose to respond to it. First-time writer-director Steve Kloves matches awkward adult emotions to razor-sharp dialogue, so naturally Hollywood picked him to adapt the ‘Harry Potter’ saga (!). Still, we’ll always have the Airport Ramada… TJ

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Un Chant d'Amour (1950)

Director: Jean Genet

Cast: Java, André Reybaz, Lucien Sénémaud

Best quote: no dialogue

Defining moment: Phallic substitutes (flowers, cigarettes, a pistol) we expect in a film from 1950, but full-on tumescence we don’t.

Let yourself go
Jean Genet had already been discharged from the French Foreign Legion for indecency, bummed around Europe as a thief and rent-boy, and forged a strong literary reputation before he made this silent, clandestinely-shot 26-minute short in 1950. It’s a potent combination of the raw and the poetic, as male prisoners writhe under the lustful eye of a peeping guard, dreaming of encounters metaphorical and corporeal.

Its explicit gaze is still pretty eye-popping by conventional standards, and in 1966 a California court banned ‘Un Chant d’Amour’, pronouncing it ‘cheap pornography calculated to promote homosexuality, perversion and morbid sex practices’. Needless to say, it became an underground sensation (though nowadays it’s on Youtube), and a touchstone for future film-makers including Kenneth Anger, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Todd Haynes. TJ

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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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