There’s nothing like a shamelessly romantic movie to get the heart stirring on Valentine’s Day. When all else fails – your date idea falls flat or the roses wither on the way home – a well-chosen movie will make Cary Grant or Ryan Gosling your wingman for the night.
So whether you’re actively planning your romance around Netflix and chilling, or just need something to fill in for the restaurant overbooking, these are our favourite movies to watch on Valentine’s Day, with just enough schmaltz to make everyone happy, not nauseous.
Crazy Rich Asians
A bit like Ronseal, offering exactly what it says on the tin, Crazy Rich Asians was a surprise blowout hit when it crashed into our cinema screens in 2018. The story is a tale as old as time: girl meets boy, family of boy doesn’t approve of girl. So far, so Romeo & Juliet.
What makes Crazy Rich Asians stand apart is firstly how it transposes that story away from Verona and onto the upper classes of Singapore, and secondly, just how ruddy charming and lovely the leads and star-crossed lovers Constance Wu and Henry Golding are. Sadly, people are not made this undyingly perfect in real life (or this rich). Oh well, the other half will find that out eventually.
The Big Sick
Comedian and Silicon Valley star Kumail Nanjiani makes for an unlikely romantic heart-throb in this rom-com based on Nanjiani’s own experience of falling in love with wife and co-writer Emily V Gordon (played in the film by Zoe Kazan).
After the meet-cute – when Emily heckles Kumail at one of his stand-up shows – the pair tentatively enter into a relationship but Nanjiani remains hesitant because of his family’s insistence that he marry a girl from their own Muslim culture. They eventually break up just before Emily falls ill and is put into a coma. Her parents come to her bedside, clashing with a concerned, but awkward Nanjiani.
Despite the soapy story (it’s funny to think this is based on real life), the pacing is relaxed and natural while the actors resist over-egging the subject matter for something a whole lot more touching.
When Harry Met Sally
When it comes to romantic comedies it doesn’t get more iconic than this 1989 classic. Penned by the queen of the genre, Nora Ephron, it details the decade-long on-off friendship-then-relationship between an uptight Sally (played by Meg Ryan) and the wise-cracking Harry (Billy Crystal).
Ryan and Crystal both put in career-defining performances, but it’s the dialogue that’s the real star of the show, gifting us with some of the greatest and most quotable one-liners in cinema history. We’ll have what Ephron’s having.
Four Weddings And A Funeral
From the queen of the genre we move onto the king, Richard Curtis, for the quintessential, most British movie full stop. A floppy-haired, stuttering Hugh Grant stars as Charles, who falls, enraptured, for Andie MacDowell’s poised American Carrie at a mutual friend’s wedding. They spend the night with each other but don’t exchange the deets – oh we’ve all been there Charlie boy – and so the next time they meet isn’t until the next marital ceremony, and on it goes.
Obviously, the relationship develops beyond the one night stand but Charles is too damn awkward and British to tell Carrie how he really feels. Until it really counts, that is, and well, that’s what love is about really (in the world of rom-coms at least), providing Charles can sort his damn vowels out.
Breakfast At Tiffany’s
Based on the novella by Truman Capote (yes that guy who wrote the gruesome In Cold Blood), Breakfast at Tiffany’s takes much of the book’s grit and replaces it with sparkle, mainly in the form of Audrey Hepburn’s ethereal, silver-tongued Holly Golightly and a happy ending in the rain.
Golightly is an erratic socialite, who makes acquaintances with struggling writer and downstairs neighbour Paul as it slowly turns out there’s more to Golightly’s high-fallutin’ lifestyle than meets the eye.
The rich cinematography, slapstick humour, and dry wit will charm while the ugly anachronisms will not, some of which were even shocking back in 1961 (Mickey Rooney’s horrifyingly racist portrayal of Golightly’s Japanese landlord is head-in-your-hands bad). Just focus on that Golightly charm.
Ah, it’s that scoundrel Curtis again with his lovely words about love and life making us feel all warm and fuzzy inside. About Time stars Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson doing his best mumbling, bumbling Hugh Grant impression alongside Rachel McAdams doing her best Andie MacDowell/Julia Roberts hybrid.
And sure you’re sort of cynical about it, to begin with. “Didn’t we see this twice in the 90s?” But it’s a tried-and-tested formula, with the addition of a time travelling plot device that leads to some pretty warm, fuzzy life lessons and a typically zany performance from Bill Nighy as Gleeson’s old man. The wedding scene where the party gets caught in the rain is also, just rather, quite, you know, erm, lovely and all that.
The punchline for every eye-rolling joke about chick flicks sending throngs of men into a slumberous drool on the sofa pillow, this film’s drowsy reputation precedes it.
Ryan Gosling plays poor quarry worker Noah Calhoun who bumps into heiress Allie Hamilton played by Rachel McAdams at a carnival. Eyes meet, love-making starts, but oh no, this is the 1940s and Hamilton’s rich family forbids her from fraternising with poor, poor Noah. They separate and Noah writes to Allie every day, only the letters are intercepted by Allie’s misery of a mother. Meanie. Yes, it’s big and it’s gooey like a large slab of chocolate cake but the chemistry between Gosling and McAdams is positively palpable.
Romeo + Juliet
Bill Shakespeare’s classic sad-romance story has been thrashed out on stage and screen more times than you can say, “Seriously, Romeo, wherefore art thou?”. But when it comes to modern interpretations, nothing beats the pop culture explosion of this 1996 version which plots the lovelorn lovers in gaudy contemporary America.
The film is worth watching just for the inspirational fashion choices alone, all Hawaiian shirts dashed with Pollock-like paint splashes and louche lounge lizard suits – but that’d be ignoring the head-bangin’ 90s alt-rock soundtrack and one hell of a charismatic piece of acting from a pre-Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio.
Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool
Based on a real-life story, Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool presents the love affair of faded Hollywood actress and Oscar-winner Gloria Grahame (played by Annette Bening) and a young Liverpudlian actor (Jamie Bell). There’s a significant age gap between the pair, but the love they share is warm and tender, never cynical, making for a delightful romantic entanglement and an even harder-to-bear denouement when it turns out Grahame is terminally ill.
Wistful and elegant, this is a grown-up romance made all the more potent by the out-of-place kitchen-sink setting.
I bet we’ve all wondered what would happen on that soul-crushing commute into work if you just missed the train? Your boss would probably give you ear-ache when you did eventually get in, sure, but maybe it’d lead you into a parallel universe, one where you meet the love of your life and embarked on a path of abiding bliss.
Which is pretty much the premise of Sliding Doors, a 1990s rom-com starring Gwyneth Paltrow and John Hannah. Paltrow is the one faced with these dual possibilities, missing the train leading her into a meet-cute with Hannah on the carriage, or catching the train leading to her missing a chance to catch her rat of a boyfriend cheating in their pre-marital bed. One ending ends in sad eye sewage while the other does not. We’re going to leave that up to you to find out – just make sure you’ve got the Kleenex handy.
Casablanca has been quite rightly chiseled into the tablet of cinematic history as one of the greatest films ever. But what’s all the hype about? Knockout lead performances, an endlessly quotable script (“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine”) and sets draped in cigarette smoke back when it was romantic and seductive, not carcinogenic – that’s what Casablanca is all about.
Set in Casablanca, Morocco (funny that) in the middle of World War II, it sees American expatriate Rick keeping his head low as he runs a gambling den in the city. That head soon gets lifted out of the parapet as former lover Ilsa rocks up, fugitive resistance leader husband in tow.
The famous ending, while not heart-achingly sad, is certainly bittersweet but the propulsive melodrama might be a tad too much for modern day stomachs. If Casablanca doesn’t make you believe in the power of love though, then really, what are you even doing Valentine’s day for? The making whoopie? Ah, carry on.
The English Patient
From one Oscar best picture to another some half a century later, The English Patient starts rather mysteriously in an Italian monastery at the tail end of World War II as a dying, critically burned and amnesia-ridden pilot played by Ralph Fiennes regales his nurse with the story of an affair he had with a married woman some decade before.
It’s a chunky beast (running time: nearly three hours) with the length and large swathes of cinematic desert eerily echoing the historical epic Lawrence of Arabia. But romance is the beating heart of this film and a slow-burning reveal of characters’ fates that will have you clutching your heart trying to put it back together again.
If your idea of love has been built on a steady stream of Disney films you might find Before Sunrise all too real for your tastes. The film is set in Vienna, as two backpackers, an American man (Ethan Hawke) and a French woman (Julie Delpy) meet on a train and spend the day walking and talking around the city. That is essentially it for plot. No big gestures. No making out in the rain. No girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her.
As with any real conversation, there are periodic lulls against moments of bickering and exalted tête-à-tête, but what sets Before Sunrise apart is how closely anyone who has even remotely been in love can relate to the protagonists. It’s an awkward, exciting rush just like the early throngs of meeting someone you like.
La La Land
We really wish this was a biopic of the life and times of the yellow Telly Tubby but alas it is not. If you’re into the old MGM musical classics though you won’t be disappointed.
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are the two leads trying to make it in dog-eat-dog Tinseltown, the former as an actress, the latter an earnest jazz pianist. And while yes Hollywood is a cruel mistress, La La Land skips over this side a tad to show it as the dream world we all fantasise about – azure skies, colourful garments, rolling hills, midnight hour, an otherworldly Griffith Observatory. The mass singing and dancing set pieces are also to be admired, but really what the film boils down to is the will-they-won’t-they love affair between Stone and Gosling.
Silver Linings Playbook
Flitting between comedy and drama, Silver Linings Playbook is the blue-collar story of Pat (a long-haired Bradley Cooper), who moves back in with his parents after being released from psychiatric hospital. Pat is determined to win back his estranged partner, but she has a restraining order on him. Instead, he meets Veronica, a friend of a friend and struggling widow with her own mental health issues played by Jennifer Lawrence.
At first Pat isn’t interested, but through a rigorous practice regime for a dance competition, Veronica persuades him to enter with her and the pair grow closer. Both lead performances are perfectly pitched and well played out (Lawrence won an Oscar for her role) in an eccentric and charming take in the romance genre.
Lost In Translation
Sometimes things are better left unsaid, an idiom that rings beautifully true for Sofia Coppola’s elegiac 2004 film Lost in Translation. Bill Murray stars as an ageing movie star (some serious method acting going on here) shooting a TV ad for a Japanese whisky company in Tokyo. There he meets a young woman played by Scarlett Johansson who is in Tokyo with her husband and feeling just as alienated as he does.
The relationship is largely platonic until the final, unheard scene – a mysterious masterpiece of modern film-making. It’s rather indicative of the whole film, which doesn’t take pains to clarify the character’s emotional feelings, preferring to let the audience make up their own allegorical judgments on the sweeping Tokyo cityscapes, sterile hotel rooms, and bemused facial expressions.
Despite his cynical personality and dexterity with dry humour, Bill Murray has carved himself out as quite the earnest romantic lead. Groundhog Day is prime Murray, who hams up that droll frown to splendidly funny results.
He plays weathered weatherman Phil Connors stuck on a job in a ‘hick’ town with his news producer (and future love interest) Rita and cameraman Larry. What’s worse, by some unexplained time loop, Phil is stuck repeating his day there until he can change his miserable ways and win over Rita. There’s belly laughs aplenty and the film never becomes too cynical, or later on, preachy, for its own good.
Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
Jim Carrey is cast against type as nervous introvert Joel in this somewhat disturbing quasi-comedy-drama-sci-fi about a couple who have erased their memories of each other after a painful breakup only to have those erased memories slowly return unexplained.
The script and story are so smart it’ll make your head hurt as it unravels the intertwined nature of romance and memory. Be warned though, the emotionally abusive parts of the pair’s relationship aren’t exactly the best snuggle fodder.
To Catch A Thief
There’s a great deal of romance in the films of Hitchcock, but it’s usually laced with some astringent overtone or comes as a secondary device to a thrilling plot. In To Catch A Thief though it’s all about that sweet L-U-V, with Grace Kelly and Cary Grant on a charm offensive against each other as the steely heiress and the cat burglar trying to steal her heart.
Set in the French Riviera, it’s all fast cars, sparkling ocean, lovemaking innuendos, strong cocktails, and black tie – a whole seven years before the first Bond flick – while the film serves up charm in spades thanks to a well-placed script and Kelly’s unmistakable grace.
A Knight’s Tale
If you like your dollop of romance with a topping of medieval jousting, then boy are you in luck. Set in 14th century Europe, A Knight’s Tale is the odyssey of one squire William Thatcher (played by the late Heath Ledger) as he rises through the ranks of international jousting under the guise of nobleman Ulrich von Liechtenstein.
While he’s trotting around the upper-class jousting glitterati, he becomes infatuated with fair maiden Jocelyn and they perform an interpretive dance to David Bowie at the jousting contest after-party (A Knight’s Tale plays it loose with the hard facts). Another knight, Adhemar, is also rather sweet on Jocelyn and takes a disliking to Liechtenstein. It’s all big, dumb fun that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is all the better for it.
Call Me By Your Name
The film that made everyone on Twitter a Stan for young star Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name details the romantic relationship between 17-year-old Elio and his pop’s 24-year-old academic assistant, Oliver (Armie Hammer).
Set on a serene estate in rural Italy, dinners are taken al-fresco and days are spent either diving into the pool like a Hockney painting or drying oneself off in the steamy sun. Which means there’s an awful lot of time for soul searching and lusting. Which is just what the pair do. But uh-oh Oliver is only signed up for the summer.
Lessons are learned and emotions understood, with two tour de force performances right at the heart of the film.
British indie flicks are particularly adept at tackling the coming-of-age story. Just take a gander at any one of Gregory’s Girl, Quadrophenia or last year’s windswept God’s Own Country.
Submarine has to be up there with the best of them. Set in a beach-side town in south Wales, autistic 15-year-old Oliver struggles to connect with the other kids at his school apart from an agonising crush on spunky Jordana. The film is as deadpan as its director, The IT Crowd‘s Richard Ayoade, while the block titles that break up the film’s sections are very Wes Anderson. There’s a nostalgic flair here, though, that never seems as twee as the sum of its parts.
The Fault In Our Stars
Sixteen-year-old Hazel has terminal thyroid cancer. At a support group, she meets Gus, a manic pixie dream-boy with a prosthetic leg and an unlit cigarette dangling from his lips – a supposed metaphor that acts as a coping mechanism. The film is filled to the brim with adolescent philosophical ponderings, but the youth of the two lovers and the offset humour means that it never becomes cloying.
The emotions and relationship between Hazel and Gus are sophisticated, and neither can be accused of naivety. It’s a well-expressed and strangely grown-up teen romance – perfect for mature millennials wanting something weepy and life-affirming.
There’s a whole host of 80s movies that could have been included here – Pretty In Pink, Big, erm, The Karate Kid – but the real king of the 80s coming-of-age romance has got to be Say Anything. Even if you’ve never seen the film, you’ll recognise the iconic, often parodied boom-box scene.
John Cusack is the ever-optimistic drop-out Lloyd who falls in love with the high school Valedictorian (best in class to those non-Americans), Diane, at graduation. Diane is well out of his league, but Lloyd keeps on plugging away even with Diane due to take up a university scholarship in England at the end of the summer. If there’s anything moviegoers love more than a schlocky romance, it’s an underdog story. Roll them in two and you’re striking upon movie gold.