Lost in Translation
"Lost in Translation"

The best breakup and heartbreak movies

Grab some tissues because we've got some of the best weepy films all about love, romance and heartbreak

Tom Huddleston
Written by: Tom Huddleston

They say it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. Well, maybe. But in the moment, there is no pain worse than having your heart broken. It is true, though, that you really can’t know true love without also experiencing its loss.

That’s why, if you peruse our lists of the best romantic films and romcoms, you’ll find several of the same movies that made this list of the best heartbreakers in film history. In fact, many of the greatest romances in cinema end in sadness, tragedy or a resigned acknowledgement that sometimes, relationships just don’t work out. These movies might crush you, but they also serve as a reminder that even if a great romance ends, that doesn’t dilute the experience of romance itself. Just have a well-stocked box of Kleenex ready to go before watching any of these. You’ll need it.


😍 The 100 best romantic films of all-time
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The best breakup and heartbreak movies

  • Film
  • Romance
Brief Encounter (1945)
Brief Encounter (1945)

Director: David Lean

Cast: Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard

Best quote: 'This misery can’t last… Not even life lasts very long.'

Defining moment: That most restrained of farewells, Alec squeezing Laura’s shoulder goodbye.

Make tea not love
You’d think that Lean’s tale of stiff-upper-lip emotion would be frightfully and unwatchably old-fashioned today. A married woman falls in love with a married man and they do the decent thing. So why do we continue to find this much-loved classic so unbearably moving? Because it’s still thrilling to watch the continents of emotion beneath Laura and Alec’s icy properness. They meet in a railway café. Laura (Johnson) has grit in her eye. Alec (Howard) gallantly removes it. Later, they run into each other in a restaurant. The couple know in their heart of hearts that leaving their families and running off together will not make a happy ending. And so they must part. He accepts a job in South Africa. Our hearts stop with the lovers’ when a busybody crashes their last few precious minutes together. Unforgettable. CC

Buy, rent or watch 'Brief Encounter'

  • Film
  • Comedy
(500) Days of Summer (2009)
(500) Days of Summer (2009)

Director: Marc Webb

Cast: Joseph Gordon Levitt, Zooey Deschanel

Best quote: 'This is a story of boy meets girl, but you should know upfront, this is not a love story.'

Defining moment: A post-coital Tom struts to work to Hall & Oates’s number ‘You Make My Dreams’.

Cynical attraction
A post-modern post-mortem of love – or something like it – ‘(500) Days Of Summer’ introduces us to Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel), a lady since invoked in countless discussions of that stock indie romcom character, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

A trainee architect working as a greetings card writer, Tom falls hard for the kooky charms of his boss’s new secretary, despite the advice of friends who warn him off and Summer herself, who tells him she doesn’t believe in love. Against all the odds, the couple bond over a shared affection for little-known balladeers The Smiths – and the rest is non-linear narrative history. CB

Buy, rent or watch '(500)Days of Summer'

  • Film
  • Drama

Director: Ang Lee

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway

Best quote: 'I wish I knew how to quit you.'

Defining moment: When Jack and Ennis make love in a tent.

A camp romance
Damn, Heath Ledger. Newly plucked from shallow teen-heartthrob-dom, Ledger was just beginning to explore his own remarkable potential when his career was brutally cut short. But between the unhinged mania of ‘The Dark Knight’ and his heartbreakingly composed turn here, we get some measure of the possibilities. And ‘Brokeback Mountain’ is, at heart, a film about possibilities, and the different ways they’re crushed and crippled by an uncaring world. Ang Lee’s film could so easily have been a polemic, a film painstakingly designed to play on prejudice. Instead, it plays mercilessly with the heartstrings – there are few more honest depictions of stifled love in cinema. TH

Buy, rent or watch 'Brokeback Mountain'

  • Film
  • Drama
Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948)
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

Buy, rent or watch 'Letter From an Unknown Woman'

  • Film
Les Amants Du Pont Neuf (1991)
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

  • Film
  • Drama

Director: Trey Edward Shults

Cast: Kelvin Harrison Jr, Lucas Hedges, Taylor Russell, Alexa Demie, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Sterling K Brown

Best quote: ‘Lord knows I’ve held on to way too much hate in my life.’

Defining moment: Emily rides a bicycle down a sundrenched street, hands in the air

Riding high

Trey Edward Shults’s brutal, tender film is split into two parts: one follows high-school wrestler Tyler, the other focuses on his sister Emily. Wedged down the middle of these segments is a tragedy that ricochets through their previously comfortable lives. Love of all kinds flows through ‘Waves’ – romantic, paternal and sisterly – but it’s counteracted by addiction, violence, desperation and ambition. Ultimately, it’s a study of rediscovering love (and peace) when doing so seems impossible. 

  • Film
  • Drama

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

Buy, rent or watch 'The Umbrellas of Cherbourg'

  • Film
  • Action and adventure

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

Buy, rent or watch 'William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet'

  • Film
  • Drama
Amour (2012)
Amour (2012)

Director: Michael Haneke

Cast: Emmanuelle Riva, Jean-Louis Trintignant

Best quote: 'Please never take me back to the hospital… Promise… Promise me.'

Defining moment: When Anne suddenly freezes in the kitchen one morning.

Looks like we made it to the end
The saddest film on this list is Michael Haneke’s portrait of the end of a marriage, as Parisians Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) face the inevitability of parting after almost a lifetime together. But while its central concern may be death, Haneke’s drama isn’t depressing. ‘Amour’ is a film about the connections between people, and how those bonds are the thing that makes life worth living. The performances are flawless, the script is razor-sharp and insightful. This might be the perfect heartbreaker. TH

Buy, rent or watch 'Amour'

  • Film

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
Elaine from ‘Seinfeld’’s rant against ‘The English Patient’ essentially destroyed Anthony Minghella’s Oscar-guzzler for a generation of viewers – making it become a byword for lengthy, handsomely sluggish prestige cinema. But watch it again, and you’ll see how undeserved that reputation is. Deftly adapting Michael Ondaatje’s novel of passion, grief and regret at either end of World War II, Minghella translated the novel’s lyrical prose into extra-sensory visual language. It’s the rare screen romance with a vivid sense of touch, of skin caressed, between both Ralph Fiennes’s and Kristin Scott Thomas’s desert lovers, and Juliette Binoche and Naveen Andrews’s worn, disconsolate drifters of war. And whatever Elaine says, that cave tryst and tragic farewell still makes many of us misty all over. GL

Buy, rent or watch 'The English Patient'

  • Film
  • Comedy
All That Heaven Allows (1955)
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

Buy, rent or watch 'All That Heaven Allows'

  • Film
  • Action and adventure
The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
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

Buy, rent or watch 'The Last of the Mohicans'

  • Film
  • Drama

Director: James Cameron

Cast: Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio

Best quote: ‘Draw me like one of your French girls.’

Defining moment: Could it be anything other than Leo yelling: ‘I’m the king of the world’ from the ship’s bow? Though honestly, the moment where that one guy freefalls a few hundred feet, smacks a propeller and goes spinning into the ocean is a close second.

The love boat

There are two ways to watch Titanic, James Cameron’s beyond-epic blockbuster. One is as a pure technical marvel – if you isolate everything that happens after the very big ship collides with that very big iceberg, it is undoubtedly one of the greatest disaster flicks of all-time, a truly awe-inspiring symphony of destruction that’s still a chaotic wonder to behold, even a quarter-century later. The other way to view it is as a tragic love story that just happens to punctuate itself with the most famous shipwreck in history. Surely, Cameron was mostly in this for the shipwreck. But for the millions of teenage girls who helped make it, for a time, the highest-grossing movie ever made, it’s all about Jack and Rose and their doomed love affair, and how the memory of their fleeting connection persists for decades afterward. Is the story soppy? Are the depictions of class cartoonish? Is the movie overlong? Yeah, sure. At this point, though, the movie lingers so huge in public consciousness that it almost transcends critical nitpicking, and one way or another, you just give your heart – or heart-shaped necklace – over to it. MS.

Buy, rent or watch 'Titanic'

  • Film
  • Action and adventure
Weekend (2011)
Weekend (2011)

Director: Andrew Haigh

Cast: Chris New, Tom Cullen

Best quote: 'I couldn't be more proud of you than if you were the first man on the moon.'

Defining moment: When Glen interviews Russell on tape for an art project the morning after the night before.

Boy meets boy
This British film, shot on a shoestring, captures in a lively and fresh style the first throes of attraction, passion and maybe even love between two men, Glen (New) and Russell (Cullen), who meet one night in a bar and spend a couple of days and nights together. They talk, they have sex, they size each other up. Glen is open and chatty, while Russell is more guarded and defensive.

Haigh’s film is marked by an immediacy and a sense of tentative exploration that’s rare in depictions of couplings, and by a keen awareness that we project one image on the world and hold another back for ourselves. Not a great deal happens in terms of big events, but the film’s honesty and realism mean that it’s a little film with a lot to say. DC

Buy, rent or watch 'Weekend'

  • Film
  • Drama

Director: Sofia Coppola

Cast: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson

Best quote: ‘Stay here with me. We'll start a jazz band.’

Defining moment: Bill Murray’s Bob Harris glancing knowingly at Scarlett Johansson’s Charlotte during his mumbled karaoke performance of Roxy Music’s ‘More Than This.’ It’s tuneless yet heart-piercing.

‘Quietly devastating’ is an overused critical trope, but it’s hard to escape when discussing Sofia Coppola’s second feature, a movie where nothing and everything happens at once. Bill Murray is a depressed, washed-up actor using his dimming star power to appear in corny commercials hawking Japanese whiskey. Scarlett Johansson is a recently wed twentysomething already disillusioned by her marriage to a vain photographer (Giovanni Ribisi). They meet in a hotel bar in Tokyo and connect over their disenchantment with their lives. They stay up talking, drinking and, most memorably, singing karaoke. Then they part, most likely forever. It’s a mostly platonic relationship, yet the impact of their fleeting connection changes them irrevocably, even if that change is never explicitly said aloud. Thanks to a never-better Johansson and Murray, we feel it deeply anyway. MS

Buy, rent or watch 'Lost in Translation'

  • Film
  • Fantasy
Ghost (1990)
Ghost (1990)

Director: Jerry Zucker

Cast: Demi Moore, Patrick Swayze

Best quote: ‘The love inside, you take it with you.’

Defining moment: The pottery scene is one of the most parodied movie moments of the ‘90s, but anyone who doesn’t get a little misty when ‘Unchained Melody’ hits the chorus should check to see if they aren’t actually dead themselves.

You’re my boo

Screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin initially bristled at the idea of Jerry Zucker directing his supernatural tearjerker, and who could blame him? Given that the highlights of his resume to that point were joke-a-minute goofs like Airplane! and The Naked Gun, he hardly seemed like the ideal choice for a movie about a murdered man trying to communicate with his wife (and avenge his death) while stuck in earthbound purgatory. As it turned out, Zucker’s injection of traces of his comedic sensibility into proceedings was crucial to the movie’s (rather massive) success – otherwise, it probably would have only been funny by accident. Instead, his leavening touch – as well as Whoopi Goldberg’s Oscar-winning performance as the conniving medium Oda Mae Brown – help dilute the more saccharine aspects of Rubin’s script, allowing the emotional climax to make your eyes water rather than roll back in your head. MS

Buy, rent or watch 'Ghost'

  • Film
West Side Story (1961)
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

Buy, rent or watch 'West Side Story'

  • Film
  • Comedy
An Affair to Remember (1957)
An Affair to Remember (1957)

Director: Leo McCarey

Cast: Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Richard Denning

Best quote: 'There must be something between us, even if it's only an ocean.'

Defining moment: The unbearable tension in the final reel. We know something Cary Grant is about to find out.

Ship to shore
A playboy (Cary Grant) and a chanteuse (Deborah Kerr) fall in love on a transatlantic liner. Both are already attached but when they dock at New York, they agree to meet at the Empire State Building in six months’ time. Such is the set-up for one of Hollywood’s most imperishable romances, which Leo McCarey first directed in 1939 as ‘Love Affair’ (starring Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne) and remade in 1957 as ‘An Affair to Remember’.

There’s another version, 1994’s ‘Love Affair’ – a tepid showcase for Warren Beatty and Annette Bening. But as any fan of ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ will tell you, the 1957 film is the most enduring, allowing Grant to play simmering passion beneath a debonair exterior, while Kerr suggests fervent yearning behind that reserved front. Hokey? Yes. Manipulative? Certainly. But we defy you not to blub like Meg Ryan. TJ

Buy, rent or watch 'An Affair to Remember'

  • Film
  • Romance

Cast: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar

Best quote: ‘But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything – what a waste!’

Defining moment: When Elio escapes the luxurious monotony of the Italian summer and gets intimate with a peach. 

The fruits of young love
Based on the acclaimed novel by André Aciman and with an Oscar-winning screenplay written by James Ivory (yes, of Merchant Ivory heritage), ‘Call Me By Your Name’ is more than just a bittersweet meditation on the enduring impact of a summer romance. 

Director Luca Guadagnino captures the confusion, simmering lust and crackling tension between precocious and thoughtful 17-year-old Elio (Chalamet) and the allure of the older, magnetic and dashingly handsome Oliver (Hammer). Elio’s obsessive nature and infantile arrogance, as well as his fraught desires, are captured so vividly that, regardless of whether or not you’ve ended up screwing a slightly older man in your parents’ summer house in northern Italy, it still feels oddly recognisable and nostalgic. The stirring monologue delivered by Elio’s father (Stuhlbarg) about the necessity of pain and heartbreak throbs with empathy, as does the film’s final scene of Elio sitting in front of the hearth weeping. It’s a gentle and devastating coming-of-age romance that’ll leaving you aching and ready to book a holiday to Italy. AK

Buy, rent or watch 'Call Me By Your Name'

  • Film
  • Drama
The Crucified Lovers (1954)
The Crucified Lovers (1954)

Director: Kenji Mizoguchi

Cast: Kazuo Hasegawa, Kyôko Kagawa

Best quote: 'The heavens won’t punish me if, in the final moment of my life, I am unable to hold back these last words: I have always loved you with all of my being.'

Defining moment: In a rickety boat on a midnight lake, on the verge of suicide, two runaways realise they’re passionately in love.

Always look on the bright side of life
Adapted from an ancient Japanese fable, ‘Chikamatsu Monogotari’ sees master director Kenji Mizoguchi prove his worth alongside the likes of Shakespeare and Thomas Hardy as an all-time master of the populist romantic tragedy. It’s the tale of a simple clerk, Mohei (Hasegawa), who does a slightly crooked but well-meant favour for the boss’s wife, Osan (Kagawa), and, in the ensuing fallout, is forced to go on the run with her, accused of adultery, for which the penalty in seventeenth-century Japan was public crucifixion.

So begins a thrilling, devastating journey through the hinterland, as the forces of propriety and tradition band together to frustrate the lovers’ happiness. Unabashedly sentimental but rich with meaning and subtle purpose, Mizoguchi’s film teaches us that one moment of reckless love is worth more than a lifetime of socially approved loneliness. TH

Buy, rent or watch 'The Crucified Lovers'

  • Film
Jules et Jim (1962)
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

Buy, rent or watch 'Jules et Jim'

  • Film

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

Buy, rent or watch 'Betty Blue'

  • Film
Bright Star (2009)
Bright Star (2009)

Director: Jane Campion

Cast: Abbie Cornish, Ben Whishaw

Best quote: 'In what stumbling ways a new soul is begun.'

Defining moment: The unpromising first meeting between Fanny Brawne (Cornish) and John Keats (Whishaw) is so spiky and sweet it’s like a screwball comedy in period dress.

A wild surmise
Sometimes the line between disaster and perfection is alarmingly fine. By all rights, ‘Bright Star’ should’ve been awful: a simpering love story between a fey poet and a bolshy society girl, all bulging bodices and whispered nothings. But then Jane Campion grabbed the reins as director, and produced perhaps the most intense and mesmerising romantic film of the century so far, a gorgeous, gossamer-light look at love as living poetry.

The Georgian trappings are beautifully designed, but they’re never allowed to overwhelm the story: this could’ve been shot in sackcloth on a sound stage and it would still have been deeply moving. The two leads are wonderful, but the real acting honours are unexpectedly stolen by Paul Schneider as Keats’ colleague Charles Brown, whose snappy Scots irascibility somehow allows the central romance to shine out all the brighter. TH

Buy, rent or watch 'Bright Star'

  • Film
  • Drama

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

  • Film
  • Drama
The Notebook (2004)
The Notebook (2004)

Director: Nick Cassavetes

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams

Best quote: 'Do you think our love can make miracles?'

Defining moment: That snog in the rain, just after Allie learns about the 365 love letters from Noah that she never received.

The world gets Gozzled
The, er, literary oeuvre of Nicholas Sparks has been churned into an awful lot of insipid Hollywood schlock – nobody past puberty got misty-eyed over Miley Cyrus in ‘The Last Song’, and surely no one of any age remembers Kevin Costner in ‘Message in a Bottle’.

On the face of it, it’s hard to say why the aggressively sentimental ‘The Notebook’ is any different. But there’s something so earnest about the way this star-crossed teen romance – he’s a common country boy, she’s a beautiful heiress, you do the math – hits its clichéd marks that the film itself takes on the unassailable, idealistic purity of first love. Magic casting, too: here’s where the world’s love affair with Ryan Gosling started, before he got way too cool for this sort of thing. GL

Buy, rent or watch 'The Notebook'

  • Film
  • Comedy

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill

Best quote: 'Tomorrow the birds will sing.'

Defining moment: The formerly blind flower girl recognises the man she fell in love with by touch alone.

The eye of the beholder
The swan song for the silent era arrived several years after talkies had established themselves as dominant, and it came from a giant who insisted that the old ways were poetry enough. Charlie Chaplin was right, of course: ‘City Lights’ is a movie that’s impossible to improve upon, a gorgeous romance between a tramp and a blind flower girl that breathes the rare air of mythic fable.

Romantically speaking, the heartbreaker comes in the film’s final seconds, in which the tramp’s identity is finally revealed to his love interest, who can now see. On Chaplin’s face, we see shame intermingling with fear and, ultimately, euphoria. Cribbed by Federico Fellini and Woody Allen for similar endings, it’s the greatest close-up in movie history. JR

Buy, rent or watch 'City Lights'

  • Film
  • Comedy

Director: Damien Chazelle

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone

Best quote: ‘People love what other people are passionate about.’

Defining moment: Sebastian and Mia’s flirty tap dance at ‘the magic hour’.

Singing, but no rain
Damien Chazelle’s modern take on the old Hollywood musical definitely serves up a good portion of cheese, but somehow manages to avoid the trappings of other recent movie musicals; it’s a film that, despite people bursting into song and dance at seemingly random moments, feels genuinely natural. The pairing of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as Mia and Sebastian, two creative types trying to cut it in Los Angeles, is electric. Both actors acutely capture the way their character’s own desires, ambitions and passions keep the path of true love far from smooth. Their on-screen chemistry, even when the mood sours, leaves a lingering and haunting memory. AK

Buy, rent or watch 'La La Land'

  • Film

Director: Elia Kazan

Cast: Natalie Wood, Warren Beatty, Pat Hingle

Best quote: 'My pride? My pride? I don't want my pride!'

Defining moment: The young lovers break from their frenzied necking as waters symbolically cascade in the background.

Youth in revolt
Rural Kansas, 1928, when ‘nice’ girls were supposed to hold out until the wedding night. Every fibre of her being is telling high-schooler Natalie Wood she wants alpha male Warren Beatty right now, but his oil magnate dad has decided she’s too ordinary for marriage. Welcome to a world before contraception, as acclaimed playwright William Inge’s Oscar-winning script puts in place a devastating conflict between fundamental human desires and layers of obfuscating social hypocrisy.

Both in their early twenties at the time, Beatty and Wood make a sensual couple, as director Kazan constructs a pristine vision of Americana, played against a coruscating narrative where yearning slides uncontrollably into hysteria. Wood’s startling performance deserved an Oscar but got only a nomination. TJ

Buy, rent or watch 'Splendor in the Grass'

  • Film

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

  • Film

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

Buy, rent or watch 'Chungking Express'

  • Film
  • Horror

Director: David Cronenberg

Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis

Best quote: 'I’ll hurt you if you stay.'

Defining moment: The climax, which is frightening, sickening and heartbreaking in equal measure. 

Buggin’ out

Yes, it’ll forever be the most gag-inducing example of body horror ever conceived. But David Cronenberg’s famously icky B-movie remake would be nothing but a nauseating endurance test if it wasn’t also a tragic love story. Much of the success for the film’s emotional component owes to Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, then a real-life couple. In most movies, a dogged journalist falling in love with an eccentric scientist and sticking with him to the bitter, disgusting end would have to work overtime to feel at all believable – particularly in a movie about an eccentric scientist gradually mutating into a human-insect hybrid. But even as the situation gets more intense – and more gross – Goldblum and Davis maintain an easy, heady chemistry not far removed from Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll vomit. MS

Buy, rent or watch 'The Fly'

  • Film
  • Thrillers

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
Most great screen romances don’t end with their beautiful lovers dead and speckled with bullet holes, slouched limply like rag dolls on the roadside. But that’s just one of the many rules Arthur Penn’s landmark crime biopic set out to break with cool, even chilling, confidence. This biopic of the legendary Depression-era bank robbers broke boundaries in terms of on-screen violence. Though it perhaps wasn’t just the bloodshed that unnerved conservative viewers in 1967, but the sensual, borderline erotic kick ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ implicitly shows its eponymous duo to get out of it. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway made for a far glossier, sexier pair than the original gangsters could ever have been, but the raw, carnal charge between them is no feat of Hollywood sanitisation. GL

Buy, rent or watch 'Bonnie and Clyde'

  • Film
  • Drama

Director: David Lean

Cast: Julie Christie, Omar Sharif, Geraldine Chaplin

Best quote: 'There's an extraordinary girl at this party.' 'I know. I'm dancing with her.'

Defining moment: Years after their parting, Yuri catches a glimpse of his beloved Lara from a crowded tram and runs after her – a mirror image of his first sighting.

A balalaika made for two
If you’ve got more than three hours to spare, David Lean’s epic, slow-burning adaptation of Boris Pasternak’s novel takes a snail-paced, sumptuous journey through this romantic tragedy set in pre- and post-revolutionary Russia. At its heart is the doomed romance between poet Dr Zhivago (Omar Sharif) and Lara (Julie Christie), the ex-wife of a Communist revolutionary (Tom Courtenay).

As in ‘Gone with the Wind’, great events – the First World War, the 1917 Revolution, the Russian Civil War – rumble in the background, and Lean harnesses all the visual splendour you’d expect from the director of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. How much true passion and romance there is here, though, is debatable and largely a matter of taste. DC

Buy, rent or watch 'Doctor Zhivago'

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