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10 best romance movies of all time, ranked

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman share an intimate moment in Casablanca.
Warner Bros. Pictures

Love has always been the subject of art, whether it’s paintings, poems, or music – and film is no exception. Since the medium’s inception, romance has been part of the numerous stories it has tried to tell and reimagine on the big screen. Whether it’s classic tales of star-crossed lovers, sweet romantic comedies, or emotional narratives of heartache, love and its many aspects are something filmmakers have and will continue to try to capture through films.

The best romance movies are successful reflections and explorations of the power of love to both inspire joy and cause devastating pain. From the ill-fated affair in Titanic to the intimate beginning in Before Sunrise, these top romantic movies are perfect for viewers in all phases of their lives and relationships. So snuggle up with a loved one or enjoy a quiet night alone, as these romance movies certainly tell some of the greatest love stories ever told.

10. Moonstruck (1987)

Nicolas Cage and Cher in Moonstruck (1987)

Moonstruck is a widely beloved movie from the 1980s that’s set in Brooklyn’s Italian-American community. Here, the usually pragmatic Loretta Castorini (Cher) accepts a marriage proposal from her dull, but dependable boyfriend, Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello). When she meets his estranged younger brother, Ronny (Nicolas Cage), however, she unexpectedly falls in love. She later learns that she isn’t the only one in the family dealing with complicated relationships and messy feelings.

Directed by Norman Jewison, Moonstruck is a funny and surprisingly insightful celebration of love and all the chaos that comes with it. Cher and Cage steal the show with their electric chemistry, delivering unforgettable over-the-top performances that would set the tone for the rest of the film. Cage, in particular, shines as the passionate Ronny, with the actor chewing the scenery and reminding viewers that love is supposed to be imperfect.

9. The Notebook (2004)

Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams in The Notebook.
New Line Cinema

The most popular adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel, The Notebook is an achingly romantic drama that tells the love story of Allie Hamilton (Rachel McAdams) and Noah Calhoun (Barbie‘s Ryan Gosling), two young lovers from different social backgrounds in 1940s South Carolina. Their passionate summer romance is abruptly ended by Allie’s wealthy parents, who disapprove of Noah’s lower social status. Years later, Allie is engaged to a successful lawyer named Lon (James Marsden), but when she learns that Noah has restored the old house he once promised to fix up for her, she visits him, rekindling their romance.

Director Nick Cassavetes uses the novel’s jumps between the past and present to showcase Allie and Noah’s romance and create story that spans a lifetime. Their arcs are perfectly captured by Gosling and McAdams as the unforgettable pair, with their performances undoubtedly revisited by fans countless times over the years. Unabashedly cheesy, intense, and tear-jerking, The Notebook is a quintessential entry in the genre.

8. When Harry Met Sally (1989)

A couple on the dance floor in When Harry Met Sally.
Columbia Pictures

Can men and women just be friends? When Harry Met Sally tries to answer this question through the story of two people who meet during a cross-country drive from Chicago to New York following college graduation. Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) initially dislike each other, but their feelings change over the next decade through sporadic encounters. A career change, some breakups, and several parties later, and Harry and Sally’s undeniable chemistry seeps into their once platonic friendship.

Directed by Rob Reiner, When Harry Met Sally uses its unusual structure to tell a slow-burn love story that will have audiences rooting for the film’s iconic climactic moment. Bolstered by sharp and humorous dialogue, the will-they-or-won’t-they narrative highlights how love can truly take its time before one fateful night changes everything. The classic ’80s rom-com is undoubtedly a nostalgic reminder for those whose first time seeing this film was a formative experience.

7. Pride & Prejudice (2005)

Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen as Lizzie and Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice.
Universal Pictures

Pride & Prejudice is a gorgeous adaptation of Jane Austen’s eponymous classic novel that’s centered on the members of the Bennet family, particularly the strong-willed Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley). As the eldest daughter, her parents are starting to pressure her to find a suitable husband, and she’s skeptical until she meets the upper-class Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen). Their first meeting is full of misunderstandings and mutual disdain, stemming from Darcy’s aloofness and Elizabeth’s quick judgments. However, as they interact more, they begin to see past their initial prejudices.

Director Joe Wright’s adaptation stays true to Austen’s work while also adding a modern spin that made the 2005 film appealing to younger audiences. Knightley, fresh off her work in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, is wonderfully paired with the then-unknown Macfadyen (Succession‘s Tom Wambsgans). With their incredible performances paired with the film’s lush and vibrant settings, it’s not surprising that Pride & Prejudice remains the definitive adaptation of Austen’s novel.

6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey as Clementine and Joel sitting next to each other in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Focus Features

Director Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind blends romance and sci-fi in mind-bending and heartbreaking ways through the story of Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet). Although the film begins with them meeting as strangers on a train, viewers later learn that they are two former lovers who decided to erase each other from their memories after a painful breakup.

The cult film is an arresting breakup movie, low sci-fi flick, and so much more. It makes viewers question the things that endure beyond memories, and whether it’s possible to find someone again. Its twisty story is told with a nonlinear narrative that hits like a gut punch once fans realize what’s going on, and its bittersweet ending promises that all hope is not lost even when people make the worst mistakes in their relationships. Despite showcasing an ambitious blend of genres and a nontraditional approach to storytelling, Eternal Sunshine manages to be a painfully relatable and distinctly human story.

5. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant stand near the ocean in Portrait of a Lady on Fire.
Pyramide Films

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a deeply emotional romantic drama that unfolds on a distant island in Brittany in the late 18th century, where Marianne (Noémie Merlant) has been commissioned to create a wedding portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel). The young painter and reluctant bride take long walks together, with Héloïse unaware that Marianne must observe her by day and secretly paint her by night. When the two begin to fall in love, they’re agonizingly aware of how little time they have before Héloïse’s wedding.

Director Céline Sciamma’s work received broad acclaim for its exquisite cinematography, with the use of natural light and the careful composition of each frame creating a series of breathtaking moments that complement the couple’s story. There’s also a deliberate pace that lets the characters’ arcs take its time while underscoring how this affair will likely end. The 2019 movie would go on to make history by becoming the first film directed by a woman to win the Queer Palm prize at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival.

4. Before Sunrise (1995)

Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke in Before Sunrise
Columbia Pictures

The first installment in director Richard Linklater’s renowned Before trilogy, Before Sunrise is a romantic drama with a deceptively simple premise. The story begins on a train traveling through Europe, where American traveler Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and French student Céline (Julie Delpy) strike up a conversation. Jesse is on his way to Vienna to catch a flight back to the U.S., while Céline is heading to Paris. Drawn to each other, they decide on a whim to disembark in Vienna and spend the night exploring the city together.

Before Sunrise and the two movies that follow it, Before Sunset and Before Midnight, are known for their minimalistic plots. The 1995 movie is mostly dialogue-driven, relying heavily on a well-written script, immaculate on-screen chemistry between Hawke and Delpy, and the warm romantic atmosphere of asetting where anything seems possible. Now remembered as one of the best movies of the 1990s, Before Sunrise is the perfect portrait of what it feels like to fall in love within one fleeting day.

3. Titanic (1997)

Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic.
Paramount Pictures

Titanic is a film that needs no introduction. Director James Cameron’s blockbuster is an epic romance and disaster film that mixes historical events with a fictional love story set against the backdrop of the ill-fated maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic. The film tells the story of Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet), a high-society woman engaged to the wealthy, but arrogant Cal Hockley (Billy Zane). Rose, who feels trapped in her privileged, yet stifling life, meets Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio), a penniless artist who introduces her to a world of freedom and adventure, on the ship. Their romance blossoms, only to tragically end when an iceberg appears and sinks the ship.

There are numerous reasons why Titanic became a cultural touchstone. It was known for its remarkable technical achievements, including its recreation of the ship, the realistic portrayal of its sinking, and the use of then-cutting-edge CGI that set new standards in filmmaking. There was also the iconic soundtrack by James Horner, as well as Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On, which has become synonymous with the movie itself. At its core, it’s Jack and Rose’s passionate and devastating romance that has made the 1997 film such a timeless masterpiece.

2. In the Mood For Love (2000)

Maggie Cheung leaning against a wall and Tony Leung Chiu-wai looking at her from a scene in In the Mood for Love (2000)
Block 2 Pictures

One of the best movies in the Criterion Collection, In the Mood for Love is director Wong Kar-wai’s crowning achievement. Set in 1960s Hong Kong, it’s centered on two neighbors, Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) and Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung), who form an unexpected bond after suspecting that their spouses are having an affair. Both are trapped in loveless marriages and find comfort in each other’s company, yet they vow to keep their relationship platonic to avoid falling into the same situation as their unfaithful partners. Their frequent, casual encounters evolve into shared moments of quiet understanding and unspoken emotions, but they maintain a stubborn distance despite clearly falling for each other.

In the Mood for Love is a study in restraint, with the main characters’ intense and growing emotions captured in stolen glances and brief touches. Their forbidden love is brought to life by Kar-wai’s unique direction, who uses slow pacing, rich colors, and intricate compositions to reveal their longing. Even their small actions of avoiding each other in narrow alleyways and dimly lit noodle shops speak volumes about their romance. The film offers a one-of-a-kind craftsmanship that reflects Asian culture and cinema.

1. Casablanca (1942)

The cast of Casablanca standing.
Warner Bros. Pictures

“We’ll always have Paris.” Casablanca is a timeless romantic drama directed by Michael Curtiz. The rewatchable and endlessly quotable film is consistently mentioned not just as the best in the genre, but as one of the greatest films ever made. Set during World War II, the 1942 movie is centered on Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), a cynical American expatriate who runs a nightclub and gambling den. When Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), a former lover, walks into his club with her husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), Rick’s carefully maintained distance shatters.

Casablanca is a classic in every sense of the word. it features a familiar story of true love and great sacrifice during an important time in history, and stars the most famous actors of its time. Bogart’s portrayal of Rick Blaine is one of cinema’s most iconic performances, with his transition from a jaded, self-serving nightclub owner to a heroic figure being an excellent use of the trope. Bergman’s Ilsa Lund is equally compelling, with the chemistry between her and Bogart being palpable and believable enough to sell their characters’ tortured romance. The 1942 film isn’t just something for cinephiles to seek out, but for any average viewer who enjoys a fantastic love story.

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Hannah Saab
Saab whips up SEO-optimized articles as a writer for Digital Trends and updates top-performing articles on Collider.
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