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Romantic movie: The Notebook
Photograph: New Line Cinema

29 Valentine’s Day movies to fall in love with (again)

From heart-melting classics to a few scorchers you may not have heard of, these Valentine's Day movies will get you in the mood

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Yes, we know: Valentine’s Day is a corporate sham invented by the Greeting Card Industrial Complex to sell cheap platitudes and overpriced chocolate to sentimental couples and push desperate singles to send some ill-advised texts. But y’know what? Any holiday that gives us an excuse to snuggle up and once again watch Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams die together in the same hospital bed is worth celebrating. But cinematic romance need not make you weep. Sometimes it will make you laugh. Sometimes it will make you reconsider the definition of ‘love.’ And sometimes, it will simply light a fire in your underwear. Among these 29 swoon-worthy titles, you’ll find the classic tearjerkers that get you on every watch, alongside foreign films and indie gems to crush on for the first time. All of them are worthy of throwing on this V-Day, whether you’re planning on Netflix-and-chilling on the couch with that special someone or crying alone in your beanbag chair.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Valentines Day NYC

Best Valentine’s Day movies

  • Film
  • Drama

Two married neighbors (Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung) living in a teeming apartment building in ’60s Hong Kong draw closer after discovering their spouses are having an affair. Director Wong Kar-wai develops their bruised affinity into a swoon that’s hard to shake, scored to the silken croon of Nat King Cole.

  • Film
  • Drama

Gentle, sexy and—most refreshing of all—intelligently adult, Richard Linklater’s inspired follow-up to 1995’s Before Sunrise reteams Celine (Julie Delpy) with Jesse (Ethan Hawke) for a single pink-bathed Parisian dusk nine years after their previous encounter.

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  • Film
  • Drama

Heath Ledger utterly reinvented himself with this tremendously affecting portrait of a closeted gay cowboy who forges a dangerous bond with Jake Gyllenhaal’s wild rancher. The movie felt like an instant classic upon release—it’s still incredibly moving for all audiences, straight or gay.

Bull Durham (1988)
  • Film
  • Comedy

Kevin Costner at the peak of his likability plays an aging ball player, clutching to memories of a 21-day stint in “the Show” while struggling to stay relevant as a leader in the single-A leagues. Annie (Susan Sarandon) is the superfan, luring fresh players to her bed while depositing wisdom.

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Carol (2015)
  • Film
  • Drama

Todd Haynes (Far from Heaven) is so consistently excellent, it’s almost freakish that he continues to one-up himself. Working for the first time with material developed by another screenwriter—Phyllis Nagy—he’s transformed an underappreciated 1952 novel about secret longing into a universal romance.

Casablanca (1942)
  • Film

It doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that. In the meantime, this is a pretty good movie—one that will make you fall in love with the person you’re sitting next to and the whole of cinema.

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Dirty Dancing (1987)
  • Film

A doctor’s awkward teenage daughter (Jennifer Grey) gets slinky with the dance teacher (Patrick Swayze) at a Catskills resort in the summer of 1963. Nobody puts Baby in the corner, and nobody gets between this romantic perennial and its obsessive fans, crazy for Swayze.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
  • Film

Charlie Kaufman’s relationship movies span the full spectrum, from bleak-as-tundra (I’m Thinking of Ending Things), to grounded with earthy realism (Anomalisa), to wistful and melancholy like this magical Kaufman-penned, Michel Gondry-directed odyssey into the human heart. It’s about hurt and healing, memory, and the sheer bliss of discovering someone who likes the same random stuff you do. If you haven’t revisited in a while – or you just don’t remember – maybe now’s the time.

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Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)
  • Film
  • Drama

Meet your new boyfriend: German wunderkind Rainer Werner Fassbinder. One of the late director’s least cynical films, this devastating romance, about an elderly white woman who marries a young Arab man, is loosely based on Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows (which also inspired Todd Haynes’s Far from Heaven).

Groundhog Day (1993)
  • Film

Sunny, selfless and open to love. Just three of the things Bill Murray’s misanthropic weatherman isn’t in this romcom all-timer about a man who takes the long route to finding ‘the one’ (a sparkling Andie MacDowell). Love eventually arrives, albeit via a near-endless time loop and a miscellany of macabre self-terminations. Well, maybe we all need a little nudge in the right direction?

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Harold and Maude (1971)
  • Film
  • Comedy

He’s a bitter young man obsessed with offing himself. She’s a sweet old lady who gives him a picture of a sunflower. The songs of Cat Stevens waft through the air. Of course, they’re going to fall in love. If you haven’t revisited this cult flick from the ’70s in a while, now’s your chance.

His Girl Friday (1940)
  • Film

Is there a better way to spend an afternoon than watching Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell trade witticisms in the sexiest of screwball comedies? Unless your name is Ralph Bellamy, the answer is no. Howard Hawks’s use of lightning-fast banter was pioneering; the modern romantic comedy begins here.

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  • Film
  • Comedy

A completely original musical vibrating with the spirit of France’s Jacques Demy (yet alive with the dreams of today’s Angelenos), Damien Chazelle's swirling romantic masterpiece gave us career-best performances from Emma Stone (heartbreaking in every shot) and the underrated Ryan Gosling, who manages to make even a pretentious white-saviour jazzbo seem endearing.

  • Film
  • Comedy

It’s either unbearable schmaltz or a heart-warmer, depending on who you ask. We say the latter. Love is certainly all around in this ensemble drama set during the holiday season. Comic standouts include Bill Nighy as an aging rock legend who’s reduced to competing in the race to land Britain’s coveted Christmas No. 1.

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  • Film
  • Comedy

Apologies to High Fidelity, but this is the best Nick Hornby adaptation. Hugh Grant’s loucheness has rarely been better deployed than as Will Freeman, a womanising sad-sack isolated by inherited wealth who has his defenses dissolved by both a young boy (Nicholas Hoult) and a girl (a luminous Rachel Weisz). It’s a romantic comedy that casually subverts the genre without veering into ‘anti-rom-com’ cynicism – the climactic talent show performance of Roberta Flack’s ‘Killing Me Softly’ is at once heartwarming and deeply cringe, and that’s entirely on purpose.  

Moonstruck (1987)
  • Film
  • Comedy

Cher won the Oscar, but Nicolas Cage’s manic, stingingly romantic performance as her bitter one-handed suitor (“I lost my hand! I lost my bride! Johnny has his hand! Johnny has his bride! You want me to take my heartache, put it away and forget?”) is what sticks in memory.

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  • Film
  • Drama

Sure, Nicholas Sparks is responsible for a lot of Hollywood schlock. But there’s something so earnest about the way this star-crossed teen romance hits its marks, the film itself takes on the purity of first love. Magical casting, too: Here’s where the world’s love affair with Ryan Gosling started.

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  • Film
  • Drama

We’re still floored by director Joe Wright’s dazzling, intelligent adaptation of the Jane Austen classic, starring Keira Knightley in an unlikely triumph. Even more unlikely? In this version, the alluring Mr Darcy is portrayed by Matthew Macfadyen, now of Succession fame. Sorry to break it to you, but you’ve been horny for Tom Wambsgans this whole time.

  • Film
  • Comedy

Paul Thomas Anderson’s giddy valentine to growing up in 1970s Los Angeles palpitates with the thrill of young love – or at least youthful infatuation. Musician Alana Haim, in her acting debut,  plays a directionless 25-year-old who, despite her better judgment, can’t help but be intrigued when a smooth-talking but equally lost high schooler (Cooper Hoffman, son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, also a first-timer) tries to sell her on the idea of going out with him. Some critics wrung their hands over the age difference between the two leads, but anyone who comes away from the movie feeling something less than joy must’ve spent their teen years in a convent.

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  • Film

John Cusack has never been more Cusackian than in this intelligent and beguiling teen romance, in which an aspiring kickboxer aggressively woos the school overachiever (Ione Skye, who at first doesn’t seem remotely worthy of him but develops beautifully, courtesy of an impeccable script by Cameron Crowe).

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Titanic (1997)
  • Film

Few films inspire as much passion as James Cameron’s epic romance. Following a troubled production, it became the biggest money-maker of all time, provoking an ocean of housewives’ tears and one of the heftiest Oscar hauls in history. Then the backlash hit like an iceberg. But who cares? Movies don’t come huger.

True Romance (1993)
  • Film
  • Comedy

In Quentin Tarantino’s script, a comic store clerk and exploitation-movie nerd (hey, write what you know) meets a gorgeous, sweet-natured prostitute who immediately falls in love with him. They head off on the run from gangsters, all the while exchanging dynamic repartee and having great sex.

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The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)
  • Film

All of the dialogue is sung in Jacques Demy’s bleak, candy-colored musical, generally considered to be the director’s masterpiece. If you’re a fan of the original Cool Girl, France’s Catherine Deneuve, you can’t do any better than this. See it if you were knocked out by La La Land, which was directly inspired by it.

Velvet Goldmine (1998)
  • Film

Salute the dearly departed David Bowie with this creative fantasia about the glam-rock era, starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as a Bowie figure and Christian Bale (never this unguarded) as a young man drawn to sexual freedoms. The movie splits opinion, but it’s undeniably romantic.

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  • Film
  • Animation

Our animated hero is WALL-E, an E.T.-ish trash compactor whose start-up chord suggests he’s a descendant of the Steve Jobs empire. Lonely in an empty future city, he collects tchotchkes of the human age. The arrival of a mysterious robot named Eve triggers intergalactic courtship.

  • Film

Female orgasms had always been a no-no in the movies. Screenwriter Nora Ephron ingeniously dodged the problem by taking the climax out of the bedroom, and putting it in Katz’s. And without her masterpiece of script—stuffed with one-liners and heartfelt life lessons—we’d have no Knocked Up.

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Wild at Heart (1990)
  • Film

Compared with David Lynch’s Blue Velvet or Mulholland Drive, this Palme d’Or winner is considered the runt of the director’s litter. But there are many surreal pleasures to be found in it, and the central romance between Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern burns a hole in the screen.

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