The best romantic movies, broadly defined, are sweeping love stories that resonate powerfully with audiences. They can include epic tragedies like Titanic, situational comedies like Crazy, Stupid, Love and more traditional rom-coms like You’ve Got Mail. The best romantic movies can transcend any one particular genre; it’s as if they tell the truths that our hearts are yearning to speak out loud. Classic love stories are often based on tragedy; think of Tristan and Isolde or Romeo and Juliet. However, modern love stories tend to be more optimistic, such as When Harry Met Sally or The Big Sick.
Romance has always been a popular subject, probably because love itself is so popular. Who doesn’t want to fall in love, or have their own meet cute? This desire is nothing new. Eleanor of Aquitane formalized the concept of Courtly Love during the middle ages, where she encouraged tales of chivalric romances to amuse her court. In modern times, Shakespearean dramas and spoken word has been replaced by movie theaters and Netflix & Chill, but the underlying themes remain unchanged.
The best romance movies are cathartic; they temporarily release us from the everyday world and transport us somewhere magical. At least for a few hours. How many times have you watched a romantic movie and found yourself identifying with a character? How many times have you watched a romantic movie and felt that you were given a romance how-to guide? That’s part of the appeal of a classic love story. They not only show us a world we want to live in, but they also help us grow as people. More practically, they’re a great way to spend date night, especially as so many people are now stuck at home.
The Best Romance Movies Span Many Genres
The most romantic movies usually follow a basic plot point: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and boy gets girl by the third reel. Of course, in modern times, this formula may be tweaked to include girl meets girl and boy meets boy. Romance, like romantic movies, can be incredibly complicated, and moviemakers have explored many genres in making the best romance movies of all time.
- Rom-Com: Short for romantic comedies, these films combine classic romantic tropes with the elements of a comedic film. Think of any Julia Roberts, Tom Hanks or Meg Ryan film from the 80s or 90s.
- Romantic Thriller: Romance played out amidst a mystery, spy or office intrigue. Classic examples include The Tourist and Casablanca.
- Historical Romance: A period love story that takes place during a specific historical setting. Think Titanic or Gone With The Wind.
- Romantic Drama: Romantic movies that can include family dynasties, medical issues, stalking and even a case of mistaken identities like The Perfect Guy or Now, Voyager.
- Romantic Science Fiction or Fantasy: Love stories can also be genre films; great examples include Avatar and The Princess Bride.
- Romantic Action: Yes, an action movie with the heart of a romantic. Think Mr. and Mrs. Smith or True Lies.
- Classic Chick Flicks: Romantic comedies that rely heavily on comedic and dramatic elements with a touch of fantasy. You could easily put both Bridesmaids and Dirty Dancing in this sub-genre of romantic movies.
- Romantic Musicals: Classic love stories that you can sing along to like Singin’ In the Rain, La La Land or Moulin Rouge!
There are literally thousands and thousands of romantic movies from across the world and picking the best romance movies of all time is not an easy task. Seriously, there are so many different lists of the best romantic movies of all times, and it’s a very subjective question.
We’ve compiled a list of 16 romantic movies that range from laugh out loud funny to movies that are best watched with three boxes of tissues. While this ranking is by no means a definitive list of the best romance movies in the world, it is a list of movies that are perfect for snuggling on the couch with your boo on a cold winter’s day. Not to mention that Valentine’s Day is right around the corner.
1. Titanic (1997)
How can you not love Titanic? Directed by James Cameron and starring a young Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, Titanic is one of the most successful movies in Hollywood history. Fans returned to the multiplexes again and again to watch this tragic historical romance, which takes place almost entirely aboard the doomed passenger ship. Winslet plays Rose, a 17-year-old high society girl who bumps into a dashing young man from third class. We watch as these star-crossed lovers meet and fall in love, knowing it’s only a matter of time until that iceberg ruins their short-lived love affair. Part adventure, part love story, watching these two innocents as they navigate their way through the ship and its rigid class system makes you root for a happy ending despite the inevitable.
Titanic birthed so many classic pop culture moments — Celine Dion’s theme song, “My Heart Will Go On,” the phrase, “Draw me like one of your French girls,” and an enduring debate about the buoyancy of that damn door. This movie truly has something for everyone, and it’s one blockbuster success that has stood the test of time.
2. Sylvie’s Love (2020)
BEST NEW RELEASE
Next, we have a new romantic movie that’s garnered equal acclaim for both its story and director. With a diverse cast, Sylvie’s Love is a sweet love story with fully fleshed-out characters. Sylvie Parker, played by the incredible Tessa Thompson, is a demure young woman who hides a burning desire to work in the newfangled world of television. Robert Halloway (Nnamdi Asomugha) is a shy saxophonist with outsized talent. Meeting cute in 1950s Harlem, the pair encounter obstacles until the final frame. Debuting at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, Sylvie’s Love was quickly snapped up by Amazon’s Prime Video. The streaming giant debuted it over Christmas, and judging by the tweets, the movie has fans swooning over the jazz soundtrack, the actors and the plot. Filmed in lush 16mm, the movie is a pean to all the romantic movies from the 50s that our grandparents loved so much. The cast includes Aja Naomi King (How to Get Away With Murder), Eva Longoria and Bridgerton’s Regé-Jean Page. Do stay for the ending credits scene.
3. Casablanca (1942)
BEST CLASSIC FILM
“Of all the gin joints…” “We’ll always have Paris.” “Here’s looking at you, kid.” There’s a reason the American Film Institute has named Casablanca the most quoted movie of all time. Casablanca is a classic romantic movie where love doesn’t triumph in the end, but doing the right thing does. It’s that self-sacrifice that has kept audiences coming back to the movie for over 70 years. Humphrey Bogart’s Rick is tough, tender and world-weary, and he became an inspiration for other romantic leading men for decades. Set in Morocco during World War II, Bogart’s character plays a nightclub owner in Casablanca. Ingrid Bergman plays Ilsa, the love interest, and Paul Henreid plays her husband, Laszlo, a Czech freedom fighter. They come as supplicants, hoping Rick will introduce them to the underground so they can be whisked away to safety. After all, Rick knows everyone; from the Nazis who control the city, to the rebels who help people escape their clutches. While Rick and Ilsa wander down memory lane and wonder what might have been, the hunters are growing closer.
4. You’ve Got Mail (1998)
Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan made several classic rom-coms together, but the genre may have achieved perfection in the modern-day classic You’ve Got Mail. Though the idea of America Online and AIM Instant Messenger may seem quaint to Generation Z, this is still a love story for the ages. Hanks and Ryan have undeniable chemistry, and it’s impossible not to root for these two love birds, who seem determined to do everything they can to avoid their budding relationship. Dave Chapelle makes an appearance as the Token Black Friend, a deeply questionable movie trope of the era. Despite these dated elements, You’ve Got Mail is a charming love story that holds up surprisingly well in the social media era.
5. Set It Up (2018)
BEST ROMANCE MOVIE ON NETFLIX
Who says the rom-com is dead? If you’re looking for the most romantic movies on Netflix, then you do not want to sleep on the under-the-radar Netflix original movie Set It Up. The modern rom-com stars the incredibly talented Zoey Deutch alongside Glen Powell, Lucy Liu, Pete Davidson and Taye Diggs. This little-known comedy has a classic rom-com premise — two overworked assistants conspire to set up their overbearing bosses, and in the process fall for each other. We promise that this movie is the perfect choice for a date night at home.
6. Pretty Woman (1990)
MOST UNIQUE PLOT
Ranking the best romantic comedies and romance movies is obviously a subjective endeavor, but we can confidently say that Pretty Woman is the most romantic movie about prostitution ever made. Julia Roberts plays a Hollywood Boulevard call girl in Los Angeles who gets mixed up with a wealthy and lonely businessman, played by Richard Gere. Roberts is one of the all-time great romantic leads in Hollywood history, and this unconventional love story is both charming and sweet despite its incredibly sketchy meet-cute.
7. The Apartment (1960)
BEST FOR OLD SOULS
Billy Wilder is one of the most celebrated directors of the Golden Age of Hollywood, and his romantic comedy The Apartment is an unforgettable love story starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. If Pretty Woman is the most romantic film about prostitution ever made, then The Apartment is the funniest movie about a suicide attempt. Lemmon plays a hapless office drone who is browbeaten into letting his bosses and their assorted mistresses use his apartment as their pied-à-terre. Meanwhile, Lemmon is hopelessly smitten with Fran, the charming elevator girl in his building, but we won’t give away anything more about the plot. Despite a grim first act, this is an uplifting black-and-white comedy about the heartaches and joys of falling in love in New York City.
8. Ghost (1990)
No list of the best romantic movies would be complete without this genre classic, which is responsible for one of the most iconic (and sexually charged) scenes in cinema history. You know the one we’re talking about. A man deeply in love, Sam (Patrick Swayze) and Molly (Demi Moore) moved into and renovated a gorgeous loft in the then up-and-coming Soho neighborhood. While their home is a haven, the outside streets are rough. Out one night the couple is mugged, Sam is shot and while he sees Molly crying, he’s frozen in place. It’s not from shock, he’s been murdered. Whoopie Goldberg plays the faux psychic who can suddenly see and hear Sam. She races to Molly to let her know of Sam’s continual love and her own mortal danger. The romantic intrigue will keep you on the edge of your seat and your hand in the Kleenex box. Tony Goldwyn plays the slithery villain, and Goldberg brings her comic energy to the movie. Yes, that pottery scene has been parodied in The Family Guy, Gavin and Stacey, Community and even in a commercial starring Snoop Dog and Martha Stewart, but we still love this ghostly romance.
9. Always Be My Maybe (2019)
FUNNIEST ROMANCE MOVIE
Could standup comic Ali Wong create a romantic comedy that has depth and pathos? The answer is clearly yes. At times wry, dark, sweet and, yes, scathingly funny, Always Be My Maybe follows Sasha (Wong) and Marcus (Randall Park) as they move from neighbors to close friends to maybe lovers. In their teens, they attempt to date, but it ends badly. Fast forward 15 years, and now Sasha’s a world-famous Chef who’s moving back to San Francisco to open a new restaurant. A close friend sneakily devises a way for the two to meet cute. Keanu Reeves steals a few scenes in a most excellent parody of himself. Written by Wong, Park and Michael Golamco, this movie was not only written by Asian Americans but also features an Asian American director and cast, too.
10. Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
BEST HUGH GRANT MOVIE
Set in England during wedding season, this movie follows a tight-knit group of friends who spend their summer attending the nuptials of people they know. Along the way, Charles (Hugh Grant) rethinks his stance on love and marriage after meeting Carrie (Andie McDowell) at one of the weddings. Misunderstandings abound, and a tragedy shakes up the group. This movie catapulted Grant into international stardom and sparked a long-time collaboration with director/writer Richard Curtis. The scenery is lush, the hats somewhat silly and many viewers can relate to the idea of a confirmed bachelor realizing that love isn’t so bad after all.
11. Love & Basketball (2000)
BEST SPORTS ROMANCE
Two basketball players grow up alongside each other as friends and competitors, each determined to be the best in the sport. The catch? Quincy (Omar Epps) has been groomed all his life to play pro-ball, while Monica’s (Sanaa Lathan) doesn’t understand her love of the game. Each faces difficult challenges, and while separated by geography and relationships, they keep finding their way back to each other. Filmed before the start of the WNBA, this film is not only one of the best romance movies with a Black cast, but it also showcases the world of women’s sports (or lack thereof). The supporting cast includes Alfre Woodard, Debbi Morgan and Dennis Haysbert.
12. Bringing Up Baby (1938)
THE ORIGINAL ROM-COM
A classic screwball comedy — if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong — is the tenor of this classic romantic comedy, which is also one of the all-time best romance movies, period. Screen greats Cary Grant (David) and Katherine Hepburn (Susan) play the leads. David, a paleontologist, has been promised a large donation to his museum from Susan. At one point, David is hanging on to a dinosaur’s skeleton singing to Susan’s grumpy pet leopard, the Baby in the film’s title. People have been known to fall off their couch from watching this rom-com. It’s also the basis of the Striesand/O’Neill movie What’s Up Doc.
13. Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)
BEST ENSEMBLE CAST
Crazy, Stupid, Love is one of those movies that you can watch again and again and again. The movie has an outstanding ensemble cast (Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Marisa Tomei, Kevin Bacon, Analeigh Tipton, Joey King and Josh Groban) that makes this situational comedy more than the sum of its still considerable parts. On top of that, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have the best on-screen chemistry of the modern era. Undoubtedly one of the best romantic movies of all time, it features an unforgettable homage to Dirty Dancing that will make anyone fall in love with Gosling.
14. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
BEST TEEN COMEDY
A lot of teen comedies are completely forgettable, but not this one. The movie starred a young Heath Ledger and Joseph Gordon Levitt alongside 90s teen idols Larisa Oleynik and Julia Stiles. The premise of this film has inspired countless parodies and inspired plenty of subsequent rom-coms. Ledger plays a high school bad boy who gets paid to date the intimidating Stiles but ends up falling in love with her along the way. Released in 1999, it’s a story of young love before the age of Facebook and Tinder.
15. Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Call Me By Your Name received four Academy Award nominations for its tender and intimate coming of age story set amidst the warm scenery of Lombardy, Italy. While many classic gay romance movies are tragedies in the vein of Brokeback Mountain, Call Me By Your Name is a celebration of young love. The movie launched the career of your boyfriend Timothée Chalamet, who plays Elio, a 17-year-old young man who falls deeply in love with Oliver, an older man. The 1980s style became instantly classic, and you won’t soon forget this queer love story.
16. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
BEST ROMANTIC MUSICAL
If you’ve never seen Singin’ in the Rain, then sign up for HBO Max and start streaming it ASAP. You won’t be disappointed. This movie isn’t just one of the best comedy-musicals of all time, it’s also one of the best movies of all time, full stop. Full of heart, laughter and romance, the film stars Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds at the height of their powers. Set at the end of the silent film era, Reynolds plays a young talent pushed behind-the-scenes by a devious rival with an atrocious singing voice. However, that synopsis really doesn’t do the movie justice. Singin’ in the Rain is full of iconic movie moments and delightful song-and-dance numbers, and it’s a boldly imaginative movie that’s just as delightful in 2021 as it was in 1952.
17. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
BEST DISNEY ROMANCEE
Voiced by Robbie Benson (Ice Castles) as the titular Beast, and Paige O’Hara as Belle (Enchanted), this Disney romance has people of all ages crying their eyes out. It’s that good. “A tale as old as time,” as they say. This Disney animated classic tells the tale of a spoiled young prince cursed by a witch for his arrogance, who now lives like a hermit in a decaying castle. Young Belle ends up trapped in said castle along with the prince and his singing furniture. It’s glorious to look at, the voice acting is excellent, and the lovers win out in the end. While a feminist reading of Beauty and the Beast might make you rethink that premise, which basically amounts to Stockholm Syndrome, we will always love this Disney movie.
18. Romancing the Stone (1984)
Inspired by the popularity of bodice-ripping romance novels of the era, Romancing the Stone stars Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner, who utilize those tropes for good, not evil. Romancing the Stone is a movie beloved by guys and gals alike as it deftly combines adventure, comedy and, of course, romance. When her sister is kidnapped, romance novelist Joan (Turner), who’s never left the comforts of her chic office in Manhattan, runs to Colombia to save her. Once there, she ends up on the wrong bus, and soon everything that can wrong does go wrong. Bumping into Jack (Douglas), a mercenary/adventurer type, she finds herself hunting for both her sister and a lost treasure. The two co-stars give off enough heat to light up a fireplace. Danny Devito and Holland Taylor round out the great supporting cast.
19. Pride and Prejudice (2005)
Jane Austen has a lot to answer for, doesn’t she? While some think that her novels were essentially commentaries on the rigid caste system of Regency England, the world feels that they are romance novels with depth and insight. This novel alone has spawned 17 movies and counting starting with the first adaptation in 1938. Period dramas lend a sense of gravitas to any love story, and the era’s rigid societal norms are one of the many hurdles that the lovers must leap over to find happiness. The romance in Pride and Prejudice has stirred hearts for 200 years. Arrogant Mr. Darcy (Matthew MacFayden) finds himself attracted to the smart, tart and poor Elizabeth Bennett, and he doesn’t like it. At all. Then again, neither does she. Will their intellectual snits crumble in the face of all-consuming love?
20. Moulin Rouge! (2001)
Gorgeous, glorious and subversive are some of the adjectives used to describe Moulin Rouge! A fabulous musical romance, it’s set against the backdrop of the early 1900s Parisian demimondaine world. The story follows a penniless English poet, Christian (Ewan McGregor), who falls in love with a beautiful courtesan, Satine (Nicole Kidman). There are rivalries for her affection, big musical numbers and a cast that includes Jim Broadbent and John Leguizamo.
21. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
Audrey Hepburn (Holly Golightly) and George Peppard (Paul Varjak) star in this romantic movie with comic undertones. Golightly’s a gal of the city with a secret past. Paul recently moved to the Big Apple. While both are ambitious and slightly aimless, these two slightly tarnished bohemian souls realize that love is the answer.
22. The Princess Bride (1987)
The phrase “As you wish” has both spawned countless parodies and thousands of heartfelt declarations. Based on William Goldman’s book of the same name, this romantic fantasy movie starring Cary Elwes (Wesley) and Robin Wright (The Princess) and directed by Rob Reiner is both a fairy tale and an enduring love story. No matter how The Princess Bride treats Wesley, his love for her never wavers. The movie also stars Mandy Patinkon, Billy Crystal, Carol Kane, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn and a memorable turn from Andre the Giant. Full of unforgettable scenes and hilarious one-liners, this cult classic is without a doubt one of the best romance movies of all time.
23. Moonstruck (1987)
A widowed Brooklyn bookkeeper (played by the inimitable Cher) has given up her dreams and settled for mediocrity. While she’s engaged to one man (Danny Aiello), whom with she knows she’ll have a safe, settled life, she finds herself falling for his younger brother (Nicolas Cage), a wild-eyed dreamer.
24. The Notebook (2004)
Based on the Nicholas Sparks novel of the same name, this love story between Allie (Rachel McAdams) and Noah (Ryan Gosling) is a heartbreaking feel-good movie. Separated by money and class, the two lovers overcome obstacle after obstacle until they can finally be together. Ask many millennial women for the most romantic movie of all time, and they’ll answer The Notebook.
25. Notting Hill (1999)
You might remember that 1999 was a great year for romance movies, and this list just wouldn’t be complete without another movie starring Julia Roberts. In this beloved rom-com, Roberts plays a famous actress who falls in love with a normal British bloke, played by one of the all-time great rom-com leading men, Hugh Grant. (“I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.”) Roberts and co-star Grant have fantastic chemistry, and it’s hard not to love this movie.
26. Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013)
STEAMIEST ROMANCE MOVIE
This controversial French movie is so explicit that it borders on outright pornographic, and it certainly appears to show unsimulated lesbian sex between co-stars Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos. (The actresses say that prosthetics were used while filming the extended sex scenes). While the movie’s raw sapphic energy received a lot of attention, the film itself is a beautiful work of art about the intensity and heartbreak of first love, and the film won the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
Honorable Mentions: More of the Best Romance Movies of All Time
Still looking for a good date night movie? We asked the SPY team for more recommendations for the best rom-coms, dramedies and genre classics about falling in love. Below, you’ll find our personal picks for the best romance movies.
- The Big Sick (2012): Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan star in this romantic drama based on real life. For Amazon customers, it’s also one of the best romance movies on Prime Video.
- Dirty Dancing (1987): We only wanted to include one Swayze flick above, and the SPY team chose Ghost over Dirty Dancing, the unforgettable movie about a teen who falls in love with a sexy dance instructor.
- Dr. Zhivago (1965): Omar Sharif and Julie Christie fall in love during the Russian Revolution.
- Sweet Home Alabama (2002): A woman has to go back home to get a divorce so she can marry her fiance.
- 50 First Dates(2004): Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler team up in this hilarious love story about a woman with a traumatic brain injury.
- Two Weeks Notice (2002): A rom-com, heavy on the com, starring Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant.
- How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003): This early aughts rom-com, when the genre was in decline, stars Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey as two very attractive people doing their best to avoid falling in love.
- When Harry Met Sally (1989): Another classic romance movie starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, although we personally prefer You’ve Got Mail.
- In the Mood for Love (2000): If you like foreign films, check out this love story from Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai. A great choice if you’re looking for the most romantic movies on HBO Max.
- La La Land (2016): This bittersweet movie is a love letter to the classic musical romances from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have undeniable chemistry, and the soundtrack will linger in your mind and heart long after the movie ends.
- WALL-E (2008): You might not think about this movie as a love story, but at its heart this Pixar movie is about two adorable robots meeting cute and making it work against all odds.
- Romeo & Juliet (1996): Baz Luhrmann’s flashy adaptation of the classic Shakespeare tragedy stars a very young Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes.
- A Star Is Born (2018): This movie is re-made with every generation, but we love the most recent adaptation starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, who wrote some truly incredible songs for the movie.
- While You Were Sleeping (1995): You didn’t think we’d finish our list of the best romance movies of all time without mentioning Sandra Bullock, did you?