“If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.” This sentence is used to open Richard Curtis’ 2003 Christmas rom-com Love Actually, which turns 20 today and is currently among the best movies on Netflix. Starring a who’s who of British legends, Love Actually follows multiple stories from five weeks before Christmas until the holiday, with an epilogue set one month later.
- 20. That cast!
- 19. It’s not a typical Christmas movie
- 18. It’s the ultimate British movie lover’s dream
- 17. It’s surprisingly sad
- 16. It’s the best of the large-ensemble rom-coms
- 15. Cameos galore!
- 14. The songs are great
- 13. The airport scene is still a charmer
- 12. It has a ridiculously hot cast
- 11. It’s a true modern classic
- 10. It’s silly in the best possible way
- 9. It’s a near-perfect rom-com
- 8. It has more than one ‘big rom-com moment’
- 7. Red Nose Day Actually
- 6. Rowan Atkinson
- 5. Laura Linney
- 4. Bill Nighy
- 3. Emma Thompson
- 2. It showcases multiple types of love
- 1. It proves love actually is all around us
Few 21st-century films have a stronger grip on pop culture than Love Actually. That’s not to say it has aged flawlessly; indeed, it has attracted considerable criticism for its dated views on relationships, sex, body image, and mental health. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not a good film, because it is, and it’s just as enjoyable today as it was in 2003. To celebrate its 20th anniversary, here are 20 reasons that prove that Love Actually is still great, actually.
One cannot talk about Love Actually without talking about that cast. Hugh Grant! Emma Thompson! The late Alan Rickman! Liam Neeson! Colin Firth! Martin Freeman?! Keira Knightley? Pre-Kinky Boots Chiwetel Ejiofor? Clean-shaved Andrew Lincoln? Three-time Oscar nominee and American treasure Laura Linney? British legends Bill Nighy and Rowan Atkinson? It’s too much talent to endure!
Every year, studios like Disney and streamers like Hulu release several Christmas movies to get people in the mood for the popular holiday. They follow a similar structure, featuring a sappy, slightly nonsensical love story that leads to an even sappier ending.
Love Actually breaks this mold by focusing on the darker aspects of life just as much as it does the beauty of love and Christmas. It might not be a typical holiday movie, but it’s far more rewarding than most of the yearly Christmas efforts.
Few films are so unabashedly and uncompromisingly British as Love Actually. The best British shows and movies all share the same DNA — they’re naturally posh, gentle yet poignant, innately romantic, unexpectedly sad, and wholly irresistible.
Love Actually meets this criteria and then some, offering an overflow of British-ness that will surely satisfy Anglophiles the world over.
Make no mistake, Love Actually is a remarkably sad movie. Sure, its main concern is love and its many forms, but this also includes heartbreak, disappointment, and longing. Yes, many of its stories have conventionally happy endings, but others don’t.
Much like in real life, some characters end up alone, having missed their shot at love, or worse, stuck in broken relationships for the sake of family and conventions.
Love Actually inspired multiple copycats, none of which matched its charm and wit. 2009’s He’s Just Not That Into You, a film that aged even worse than Love Actually, comes to mind, as does Garry Marshall’s utterly mediocre holiday trilogy: Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve, and Mother’s Day. These films feature the same formula as Love Actually, using a big cast of A-listers to tell multiple interconnected stories about love and heartbreak. However, none have Love Actually‘s heart or complexity, settling instead for being cheap, average rom-coms. Their existence only makes Love Actually look better in retrospect.
Sure, Love Actually has an impressive cast, but what about those cameos? This movie has Billy Bob Thornton as the jerky president of the United States, plus January Jones, Shannon Elizabeth, Elisha Cuthbert, Denise Richards, and even Claudia freaking Schiffer. Just when you think things can’t possibly get more crowded, Love Actually proves they actually can.
Love Actually has a great soundtrack. Craig Armstrong’s score is among the most recognizable in the modern rom-com genre, and the film features great covers of the Troggs’ Love Is All Around Us and Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas Is You, courtesy of Bill Nighy and Olivia Olson, respectively.
Kelly Clarkson’s The Trouble with Love Is was heavily used to promote the film and features in the credits, while the final scene features the Beach Boys’ God Only Knows. Couple all that with songs from Dido, Nora Jones, and The Calling, the Love Actually soundtrack is an early 2000s fantasy.
Perennial baby-faced actor and Emmy nominee Thomas Brodie-Sangster plays young Sam in Love Actually. Sam has one of the film’s most memorable stories chronicling his crush on his classmate, Joanna.
The story culminates in an extended chase through the airport as Sam races to confess his love. It’s a now-iconic sequence that inspired multiple lesser copycats that make the scenario feel more creepy than romantic.
There’s no other way of saying this: the cast of Love Actually is hot. Like, unbearably hot. The trio of Grant-Firth-Neeson was at peak rom-com-leading-man attractiveness andjoined by the likes of Freeman, Lincoln, and Ejiofor.
Add in Linney, Knightley, Lúcia Moniz, Martine McCutcheon, plus the multiple supermodel cameos, and Love Actually is an embarrassment of hot riches. If that wasn’t enough, I’ve got two words for you: Rodrigo Santoro. Enough said.
The word “classic” is thrown around often to describe many modern movies, but few actually deserve it. Love Actually is the rare 21st-century film that lives up to this daunting reputation. It has become an annual Christmas tradition in millions of households, and multiple scenes have entered the pop culture lexicon in ways other movies can only dream of.
Love Actually is among the best romantic comedies because it effortlessly blends genuine emotion with silly escapism. From seeing the ridiculously dashing Prime Minister dancing around 10 Downing Street to buying the notion that couples can fall in love in a matter of days and marry in a matter of weeks, Love Actually suspends reality and invites its audience to go along with its silliness.
Having said that, Love Actually follows every major rom-com trope and excels at it. The film is admittedly in love with its own messages and silliness, making it easier for audiences to fall into its spell. Love Actually is sweet, funny, tender, sweeping, charming, and slightly creepy — what else could anyone ask of a romantic comedy?
Every romantic comedy has that one “big” moment near the end when the romantic lead makes his big move to get the girl. Billy Crystal runs to the New Year’s Eve party for Meg Ryan; Hugh Grant crashes the press conference to humble himself to Julia Roberts.
Love Actually has not one, not two, not three, but four big moments. From David and Natalie’s on-stage kiss at the talent show, to Jamie gathering an entire village to confess his love to Aurelia, to the aforementioned airport scene, to the now-infamous cards scene, Love Actually has something for everyone.
After years of speculation, Love Actually returned for a sequel — well, sort of. As part of the Red Nose Day fundraiser event in 2017, most of the main cast reunited for a 15-minute short. Grant, Neeson, Firth, Knightley, Ejiofor, Lincoln, Sangster, Olson, McCutcheon, Moniz, Atkinson, and Nighy all returned for the film, with Linney appearing in the U.S. release.
However, Thompson did not return due to the passing of her on-screen husband, Alan Rickman. Red Nose Day Actually is less a sequel and more a fun gathering of British favorites, but we’ll take whatever we can get!
The hilarious Rowan Atkinson improves everything he’s a part of, and Love Actually proves it. He has only one major scene, but it’s a highlight of the movie.
Atkinson’s natural comedic abilities are perfect for the sequence, which sees his character, Rufus, meticulously wrap a gift for Rickman’s character’s mistress. Rickman’s wickedly funny and apparently genuinely exasperated reactions to Rufus’ increasingly ridiculous gift-wrapping make the scene all the more hysterical.
Three-time Oscar nominee, four-time Emmy winner, and five-time Tony nominee Laura Linney is an acting institution. She has probably the saddest storyline in Love Actually, playing a woman whose duties to her family disrupt her romantic life.
The storyline is somewhat problematic nowadays, but Linney sells the character’s emotional journey and her ultimate heartbreak beautifully. It takes someone of Linney’s caliber to elevate such a role, confirming why she’s among her generation’s best performers.
Oscar-nominee Billy Nighy is Love Actually‘s secret ingredient. The revered actor is ridiculous and hilarious as aging rock and roll star Billy Mack, who records a cover of the Trogg’s Love Is All Around Us in an attempt to climb to the top of the Christmas charts.
Nighy is a riot as Mack, embracing the character’s absurdity and delivering a master class in comedy that earned him the 2004 BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
Love Actually sees two-time Oscar winner Emma Thompson playing Karen, a woman whose marriage is disrupted by her husband’s indiscretion.
Thompson delivers a heartbreaking performance in the film, forming an excellent partnership with Rickman and arguably carrying the film’s emotional weight. The scene where she quietly cries in her bedroom before returning to her family is an acting tour de force and one of Love Actually‘s most powerful moments.
The best romance movies usually focus on one aspect of love. However, Love Actually covers the whole spectrum, showcasing different relationships and their unique bonds.
From romantic love to parental and familial love, love at first sight, unrequited love, fading love, unexpected love, and the love you have for one night only, Love Actually does a brilliant job showing the many forms of this elusive and universal emotion.
Love Actually‘s main message is how love is humanity’s universal language. Every connection we have has some form of love in it, and Christmas is the perfect time to explore and express it.
Sure, the film has some icky aspects that might be slightly uncomfortable by today’s standards, but its intentions are good, and its message is pure. Because love actually is all around us; all you have to do is open your eyes and heart to it.
Love Actually is streaming on Netflix.