The 50 most romantic movies of all time

What films made Humphrey Bogart the man of our dreams and had Woody Allen turn us into hopeless romantics? Check out our top picks of the most romantic movies of all time.

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  • Romantic movies: Brief Encounter (1945)

  • Romantic movies: The Lady Eve (1941)

  • Romantic movies: Brokeback Mountain (2005)

  • Romantic movies: Annie Hall (1978)

  • Romantic movies: In the Mood for Love (2000)

  • Romantic movies: His Girl Friday (1940)

  • Romantic movies: Before Sunset (2004)

  • Romantic movies: Vertigo (1958)

  • Romantic movies: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

  • Romantic movies: Casablanca (1942)

Romantic movies: Brief Encounter (1945)

10
BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1945)

Brief Encounter (1945)

The British get a bad rap for being emotionally repressed, yet as David Lean's film proves, nothing is more stirring than watching stiff upper lips quiver with desire. Housewife Celia Johnson meets married doctor Trevor Howard at a train station; one innocent cup of tea eventually threatens to turn into something carnal and adulterous. Neither wants to cheat on their spouse, but the more they try to bottle up their attraction, the bigger the flood of temptation becomes. It's hard to think of another film that makes two people so determined to not sleep together so romantic, or that makes you feel so sorry that an illicit attraction is never consummated. They do the right thing, as we know these two must. Still, you feel your heart shatter as they part with such sweet sorrow.—David Fear

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9
THE LADY EVE (1941)

The Lady Eve (1941)

Most romances operate on a fairly simple principle: Boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back. Preston Sturges's screwball masterpiece flips this setup on its head: Beer heir Henry Fonda gets seduced by female grifter Barbara Stanwyck, dumps her after discovering he's been duped, then she wins him back by posing as another woman. In Sturges's cockeyed world, love is a showdown between predator and prey. (Not for nothing are snakes referenced ad infinitum in this movie.) Yet thanks to Fonda and Stanwyck, who generate more chemistry than a laboratory, getting conned is the ultimate coitus substitutus; even something as innocuous as fixing a broken shoe becomes hilarious and unbearably erotic. For once, the writer-director's peerless wit goes after your heart and your hormones with as much fury as it does your funnybone.—David Fear

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8
BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (2005)

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

It will survive the parodies, the controversies, even its tag as the "gay cowboy movie." The plot (from Annie Proulx's short story) packs the wallop of high tragedy. But go back to the film now, and the mere sight of Heath Ledger could slay you on its own. This is the late actor's triumph, revealing untapped depths in his taciturn portrayal of Ennis Del Mar, a quiet ranch hand who is lured to rodeo "fuckup" Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal). Director Ang Lee found empathy on the Wyoming range; multiplex audiences felt it too, however unlikely. A tender, majestic score by guitarist Gustavo Santaolalla completed the quietly daring film, a landmark of gay subject matter positioned in the mainstream.—Joshua Rothkopf

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7
ANNIE HALL (1978)

Annie Hall (1978)

Whether or not Woody Allen based this comedy on the experiences of dating costar Diane Keaton is almost irrelevant: We've all wished we could read subtitles of our date's thoughts as we made small talk, or wondered if our partners are stepping out of themselves during an intimate moment in bed (a scene that always makes men visibly wince). And most everyone can recall the bittersweet feeling of running into an old flame, remembering old times and then going your separate ways. For a movie that represents such a specific neurotic '70s New Yorker mind-set, Annie Hall taps into remarkably universal notions about the ups and downs of love. You recognize that first spark of attraction, that bonding moment as you join forces against a killer lobster, that sense of disconnection as you start to drift away from each other. Allen has made his share of romantic movies, but this one resonates the deepest, because he acknowledges that, despite the flaws, we all need the eggs.—David Fear

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6
IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (2000)

In the Mood for Love (2000)

If we were to invent a romantic classic from scratch, what would we include? No doubt there would be lush cinematography—images that drip with passion. We'd find room for the crooning serenades of Nat King Cole, inviting trysts every time the sun goes down. And above all, we'd cast gorgeous actors like Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung to swivel and dance around their attraction. Writer-director Wong Kar-wai spent more than a year collecting the shots for this Hong Kong near-romance; his meticulous attention to detail resulted in a movie that's closer to a spell than a story. Here's easily the most exquisite movie on our list—try it.—Joshua Rothkopf

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5
HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940)

His Girl Friday (1940)

Ultimately, isn't love really about two people coming together and having it out? Howard Hawks's supreme screwball captures the essence of flirtation in a rollicking, intensely verbal hour and a half. (You'll wonder how the cast fit all the words in.) Svengali editor Cary Grant and ace reporter Rosalind Russell share a past—a failed marriage, to be perfectly honest. But what's a little divorce in the face of scooping a big story? They fight, they bicker, they double-cross each other, they shelter a crazy criminal on the loose from jail. But can't you see where it's all going, sensible suitors be damned? Don't let the arguing distract you; that's just foreplay.—Joshua Rothkopf

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4
BEFORE SUNRISE (1995), BEFORE SUNSET (2004)

Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004)

After witty larks like Slacker and Dazed and Confused, filmmaker Richard Linklater's first entry in this series was the sweetest of surprises. Suddenly, here was a director who yearned to chronicle the earnest pull of attraction, the freedom of international travel and the impulse of youth. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, perfectly cast, converse through a Vienna night (an encounter based on a real-life one of Linklater's), taking in the sights and parting just as their feelings crest. Before Sunrise was a lovely movie, made lovelier by its belated sequel, filmed a full nine years later with the same cast. A promise to reunite has long been broken—instead, you see nostalgia on their faces, even a touch of resentment. But as the older characters swirl through their Paris afternoon, something reblooms.—Joshua Rothkopf

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3
VERTIGO (1958)

Vertigo (1958)

Love makes you do crazy things. Look at detective Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) in Alfred Hitchcock's supreme masterpiece. He's already inclined to swoon—albeit over heights rather than ladies. Then he meets Madeleine (Kim Novak), a mysterious blond who leads him down a destructively obsessive path. Hitch keeps us as spellbound as his protagonist: Scottie pursues Madeleine relentlessly, from the steep San Francisco streets to his own twisted dreamworld. He even re-creates another woman in her image (or does he?). As movies go, there is no finer exploration of the doomed, yet endlessly enthralling nature of l'amour fou.—Keith Uhlich

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2
THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (1964)

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

No one tells a love story like Jacques Demy, the French auteur behind this unbearably moving gem. There's a boy and a girl, of course: Young Genevive (Catherine Deneuve, gorgeous as ever) is an umbrella shop employee in the city of Cherbourg. She's secretly in love with auto mechanic Guy (Nino Castelnuovo), of whom her mother disapproves. Familiar story, right? But here's a twist on convention: Every line of dialogue is sung. (Demy wrote the lyrics; the great Michel Legrand composed the music.) But doesn't it make sense? The act of being in love has its musical qualities (the heart sings for another), and Demy realizes this conceit beautifully, from the searingly saturated color palette to the haunting strains of their balladeering. The quintessential tearjerker.—Keith Uhlich

1
1. CASABLANCA (1942)

Casablanca (1942)

A woman walks into a bar, requesting a tune. The proprietor—a world-weary charmer named Rick—berates his pianist for playing "that song," and then he notices the customer. Their eyes meet. And that's when Casablanca officially starts, almost a half hour into its running time; none of the quotable dialogue, thrilling intrigue and caustic humor that precedes or follows that moment would matter if the romance between Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman didn't leave viewers breathless. Will they resume their tryst, husband (and WWII) be damned? Or will the affairs of the world take precedence over affairs of the heart? "The problems of three people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world," Bogie declares, but the genius of Casablanca is that it makes you feel that the problems of two lovers, caught in the machinations of history, are all that matters. They'll always have Paris—and we'll always have this perfect Hollywood ode to the heart, to heroism and sacrifice.—David Fear

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Users say

7 comments
Fin
Fin

How about the Notebook?

Taylor
Taylor

You left out Dirty Dancing, Grease, and A Walk to Remember.

Rona
Rona

Sad not to see Roman Holiday in the top ten..or at least in the whole list. Otherwise some nice, unexpected choices.

Chris
Chris

What about The Notebook???

Paul Marsh
Paul Marsh

Re: The 50 Most Romantic Movies of All Time: Are you nuts!?! Where are The English Patient and The Piano! Also should be included are The Year of Living Dangerously, The Crying Game, and The Boxer. Very poorly thought out list!

Ashish
Ashish

How is Roman Holiday not on this list?

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