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15 mush-free romantic movies to watch on Valentine's Day

Sick of cheesy, soppy romcoms? Try one of these alternative Valentine's Day romantic movies instead

We’re going to assume you’ve already heard of romantic movies like ‘Casablanca’, ‘Love Actually’ and ‘The Notebook’. And if you just cringed while reading those titles, fear not: we’ve got 15 alternative Valentine’s Day movies that should do the trick just as well. They come from Hollywood’s more daring directors, from indie auteurs and fresh-thinking foreign studios. And if you're after something a little lighter, why not indulge in a little romantic comedy with our pick of the 50 best romcoms.

RECOMMENDED: Valentine's Day in London 

15 unusual Valentine's Day movies


Ali: Fear Eats The Soul (1974)

One of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’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 loosely inspired Todd Haynes’s ‘Far from Heaven’).

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Before Sunset (2004)

Gentle, sexy and, most refreshingly 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 last encounter.

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Boys Don't Cry (1999)

Based on the real-life story of Brandon Teena, a woman who passed as a man and was murdered when her trans lifestyle was discovered, this assured debut suffers a bit from its fidelity to the facts, but features stunning work from Hilary Swank and Chloë Sevigny. Sad but essential.

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Brokeback Mountain (2005)

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.

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Drive (2011)


Combining vintage ’70s loners and ’80s neon flash, Nicolas Winding Refn’s retro thriller about a stuntman (Ryan Gosling) who moonlights as a getaway driver confirms that the Danish director is a major talent. In between the chase scenes comes the wooing of neighbour Carey Mulligan.

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s endlessly inventive romance follows Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet down a metaphysical rabbit hole of love and loss. On the surface, it’s a quirky story about getting one’s painful memories erased, but there’s a deep iceberg of longing under the surface.

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Groundhog Day (1993)

Rarely can a Hollywood comedy be described as philosophically profound, but this tale of a smug, selfish weatherman (Bill Murray) forced to replay the same day until he gets it right owes as much to Nietzsche as to Second City. Ultimately, love is his salvation.

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His Girl Friday (1940)

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

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In the Mood for Love (2000)

Two married neighbours (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, replete with neck-high floral-print dresses, languorous camera moves and the silken voice of Nat King Cole.

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Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Wes Anderson, the dapper auteur behind such idiosyncratic works as ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ and ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, wrote and directed this continuously surprising and delightful adolescent romance, set in 1965. Young campers in love on the trail: hard to resist.

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Pride & Prejudice (2005)

We’re still floored by wunderkind director Joe Wright’s dazzling, intelligent adaptation of the Jane Austen classic, starring Keira Knightley in an unlikely triumph. Why don’t you make a film like that at age 33? And take out the trash once in a while. No, I’m not 'nagging.'

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Velvet Goldmine (1998)

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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WALL-E (2008)

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 relics of the human age. The arrival of a mysterious robot named Eve triggers intergalactic courtship.

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Wild at Heart (1990)

Compared with 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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The 100 best sex scenes of all time

Sex. Watching it can sometimes come close to having it – and once in a while, it’s superior. Putting on our serious hats for a second, sex is also a bedrock of cinema – the undercurrent of all romantic movies. By charting the history of onscreen eroticism, one can trace a culture’s hang-ups, along with the worldwide audience’s evolving appetites. 

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