Back to Top

Critic determines the top five romantic films of all time

There are many different types of roman­tic films – the tearjerkers, the heartbreak­ers, the comedies and the tragedies. The following is my personal list of the five best romantic films.

Each of the films are romantic in differ­ent ways, but one thing is consistent: love and all its failures and successes, joys and anguishes.

5. Blue Valentine (2010)

“Blue Valentine” isn’t exactly a good date movie – it’s about the slow, turbulent dissolution of a marriage. It’s heartbreaking and gut-wrenching. But what makes this film romantic is its careful, gentle analysis of what brings two people to fall in love in the first place.

The film flashes between the future, where Dean (Ryan Gosling, in one the best performances by any actor in the past de­cade) and Cindy (Oscar-nominated Michelle Williams) are struggling to keep together their failing marriage, and the past, where the two of them fatefully cross paths and fall hopelessly in love with one another.

Their romance begins as a small fling, but develops into a beautiful young romance that feels as genuine as anything we have ever seen on screen. The flashbacks are beautiful and heart-warming, and they serve to make the divorce seem like a perversion of what was once gorgeous and divine.

Exquisitely filmed, beautifully and genu­inely acted, “Blue Valentine” is a modern romance masterpiece. It may be inherently depressing, but when the story flashes back and we see Dean goofily serenading Cindy on a cold night, we can’t help but have our hearts broken by seeing that pure, genuine love corrupted by the intan­gible disease of time.

There are scenes in this film that are time­less – the aforemen­tioned serenading scene, the scene in which Cindy tells Dean she wants a divorce, and the haunting ending. “Blue Valentine” expertly portrays a young couple falling hopelessly in love, and then tragically falling apart years later. The film will break your heart.

4. The Notebook (2004)

“The Notebook” is arguably this gen­eration’s most well-known love story. It’s enjoyed almost a cult following since its release, and it’s certainly a Valentine’s Day standard.

The film follows two parallel stories: an elderly man (James Garner) reads to his nursing home companion (Gena Rowlands) the story of a young couple, Noah (Ryan Gosling) and Allie, (Rachel McAdams) who begin a tumultuous romance in the 1930s.

The famous scene of Noah and Allie pas­sionately embracing in the pouring rain has become a ubiquitous romantic sequence. But the scenes with Noah and Allie in the past are only half of the film, and, in actual­ity, they are the least effective.

What makes the film truly romantic and allows “The Notebook” to rise above its contemporaries are the scenes with the elderly couple in the nursing home.

The couple, of course, turns out to be Noah and Allie. Allie, however, is suffering from dementia, and cannot remember her husband, her children or her past. The only way Noah can bring back her memory for brief flashes is to read out of his notebook, which contains the story of their lives – from the moment Noah first approached Al­lie at the fair, to the final moment of loving fulfillment.

James Garner plays the elderly Noah as a man who, as he puts it, has “loved another with [his] whole heart and soul, and that has always been enough.”

It’s truly heartbreaking to see Noah look lovingly into his wife’s eyes, and have Allie not even recognize his face.

But in the brief moments when Allie returns, you feel that you are witnessing the truest of loves – the kind that lasts into old age, and even beyond.

3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spot­less Mind (2004)

Arguably the most complex film on this list, “Eternal Sunshine” is a mind-bending film that poses some intense, existential questions: “Can we ever truly forget those failed relationships or past loves? If we had the chance, would we just erase our old flames entirely from our minds?” The film revolves around Joel (an underrated Jim Carrey) and Clementine (the always exceptional Kate Winslet), as they undergo a procedure that wipes the memories of past relationships.

Joel and Clementine had broken up, so Joel went to have this procedure done so he could move on, and forget that he and Clementine had even ever met.

Of course, my description does not give justice to the cleverness of the script. The film deftly manages concurrent timelines and events, and ingeniously weaves the past and the present.

At times hilarious, at other times roman­tic, at other times dramatic and heartbreak­ing, “Eternal Sunshine” is one of the best films about relationships, heartbreaks and break-ups ever made.

The film says that even if we may hate the past, our future might depend on us learning from our experiences. We might want to erase our past relationships, but sometimes there’s more to our past than we ever realized.

The love story of Joel and Clementine is timeless, and the film's themes are complex but important. “Eternal Sunshine” is a clas­sic, and worth a Valentine's Day viewing.

2. Casablanca (1942)

“Casablanca” is not a film that is lack­ing in superlatives. It won the Oscar for Best Picture, and is frequently cited as one of the greatest films ever made, in the same league as "The Godfa­ther" and "Citizen Kane."

It’s certainly deserving of all of its accolades – the film is precisely and expertly shot, the acting is first-rate, the story is captivat­ing, the dialogue is among the best you will ever hear, and the intrigue is so thick you could cut it with a knife.

But if you strip away the global espionage themes and the grand topics of WW2 occu­pation and international diplomacy, the core of “Casablanca” is a love story.

The romance between Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) is the stuff of legends: The gruff, world weary bar owner fatefully meets his old flame in French-occupied Africa.

The film is chock-full of classic lines and scenes: “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By’” being perhaps the most famous. Even those who haven’t seen the film know the plot and the characters; the film is simply that timeless.

But what makes “Casablanca” a great film, as well as being a great romance film, is that even now, 70 years after its release, the film is still as engaging, exciting and wonderful as it was when it was first re­leased.

If you’re feeling nostalgic this Valentine's Day, pop in “Casablanca”, and see arguably the most classic of all film romances on display.

1. Titanic (1997)

I’m not sure I need to summarize the plot of “Titanic”. Yes, the ship sinks. But as much as the film is about the ship itself, it’s also about two very important passengers: Jack and Rose. There’s not a person in our culture today who hasn’t heard of those two fated lovers.

The film is a grandiose example of gung-ho filmmaking, but in spite of the grand set-pieces, the elaborate designs and the cultural critiques, the most enduring aspect of “Titanic” is Jack and Rose, and their perfect, timeless love for one another.

There wasn’t a dry-eye in the theater when Jack sacrificed himself for Rose – every man wanted to be Jack, every woman wanted to have their man be Jack.

The film redefined romance in modern culture by hearkening back to the days of “Casablanca” and the golden age of cinema, where love was pure, and a man was willing to put his life on the line to show his love for the woman of his dreams.

I openly admit I cried during this movie, and if people say they don’t, they’re lying. “Titanic” is a masterpiece, an enduring clas­sic that will last as long as audiences want to genuinely feel something.

Promoted on slideshow: 

Follow us on social media




Northern Review Story Submission Form

Interested in submitting an article for publication on the Northern Review website? Go ahead and fill out this form! Once submitted, a student editor will review your article for publication.

Northern Review Story Submission Form