7 of Our Favorite Romantic Movies for Valentine’s Day
It’s that time of year when a moviegoer’s fancy turns to thoughts of love. To celebrate Valentine’s Day, we asked our bloggers to write about the couples in their favorite romantic movies, whether conventional or out of left field. If a movie is part of your Valentine’s Day plan, consider one of these.
Nick & Nora Charles: The Thin Man (1934)
Most of the time, romantic couples in movies aren’t married yet. If they are, the story usually involves breaking them up and maybe getting them together again. The Thin Man gives us a rarity: a marriage that is happy, secure, and fun, proving that marriage isn’t (or shouldn’t be) the end of the story, but rather just the beginning.
When we first see Nick and Nora Charles at the beginning of this six-film series, she’s just joining him at a bar where he’s already consumed several drinks. “How many martinis have you had?” she asks as the waiter brings her first. Six, he reveals. “Bring me five more martinis. Line them up right here.” Nick and Nora are equals in drinking and most everything else. As they chat in between drinks, he introduces her to a girl he’s happened to meet at the bar, the daughter of an old friend who might have a case for him to solve. When she’s gone, Nora gives him a look: drinking with pretty young things, are we? But it’s immediately obvious she’s just jabbing at him. Nick and Nora’s marriage, despite pretty young things, dangerous detective work, accidental punches, and at one point an apartment full of lowlifes whom Nick put in prison at one time or another, is one of the most solid, faithful, and trusting marriages ever put on screen. They flirt as if they’re courting, they joke and banter constantly, and they sometimes disagree, but you always know they’d 100% take a bullet for each other (this is not an idle possibility, either, given Nick’s line of work). They can often be immature — just note the scene with Nora wearing a fur coat inside the apartment while Nick uses his feet to steady a new BB gun so he can shoot ornaments off the Christmas tree — but, crucially, they’re immature together and ready to step it up when necessary. They’re a perfect match for each other, and their charm and chemistry carries them through six movies despite steadily diminishing returns in the script department.
Stars William Powell and Myrna Loy made a total of fourteen films together in one of the most successful on-screen pairings in movie history. They were often assumed to also be lovers off-screen, but that’s not the case. They were very close friends, but never romantically involved, despite their incredible on-screen chemistry. – Jandy Hardesty
Antoine Doinel & Christine Darbon: Stolen Kisses (1968)
While in conversation with Cahiers du cinéma‘s Alain Philippon in 1983, Philippe Garrel said that the French New Wave was a “cinema of love, not a cinema of marriage.” That sentiment was largely true, but as the New Wave filmmakers began to mature, so too did their subjects. Growing with New Wave filmmaker François Truffaut was Truffaut’s on-screen alter ego, Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud). Antoine Doinel was the boy at the center of The 400 Blows (1959) and the teenager who hopelessly fell in love with a girl in the short film Antoine and Colette (1962). By 1968, in Truffaut’s Stolen Kisses (1968), Doinel is a young man old enough to be dishonorably discharged from the French armed services, but that doesn’t mean that life will slow down for him.
As portrayed by Léaud in all of the Doinel adventures, it’s easy to believe that Doinel is the kind of guy who falls in love with a girl’s parents as much he does the girl, and his romantic journey begins with a visit to the home of a former lover, Christine (Claude Jade), where he is greeted with open arms by her parents. He purportedly once wrote Christine nineteen letters in a single week while in the French military – likely one of many reasons he was dishonorably discharged – and his return to civilian life lures Christine back into his life. While Doinel and Christine certainly have a connection, this film is less about a relationship than it is about a young man in pursuit of the idea of love – a pursuit that could possibly help him discover himself as well.
In Truffaut’s Shoot The Piano Player (1960), the idea of women as “magic” is first articulated, and the word “magic” in relation to women is used again in Two English Girls (1971) and Day For Night (1973). While it’s not used in any of the Doinel films (“apparition” is), it applies quite well to a film like Stolen Kisses. With his youthful charm and boyish playfulness, Doinel is a bit of philanderer, and yet he has a heart of gold. While he’s not entirely faithful to Christine in Stolen Kisses (at least prior to the conclusion), his search for love in all the wrong places brings him to a point of healthy introspection. Staring in the mirror, he recites the names of the two women he’s been seeing without hardly breathing between each utterance of their names, and he eventually begins repeating his own name over and over again. What will he do? Which love is more important to him?
Stolen Kisses is a lighthearted film that manages to express several truths about youth and love. Bed and Board (1970) – the next film in the Adventures of Antoine Doinel – finds Christine and Doinel married with a child on the way, but watching the start of their relationship in Stolen Kisses is contagiously joyous, even with every relational misstep Doinel makes. While Garrel was right that the New Wave was more interested in love than marriage (though he didn’t mean it quite that literally), amidst the youth riots of May ’68 in Paris, Antoine Doinel would be ready to make the move to settle down. Truffaut wasn’t getting any younger either, but his love for cinema would carry on as the post-New Wave continued the cinematic tradition of love stories. – Grant Douglas Bromley
Harry Burns & Sally Albright: When Harry Met Sally (1989)
When talking about the importance of this film, many focus on the romantic or cultural tropes it helped popularize. The high maintenance girlfriend. Real platonic love between man and woman. A transitional lover. Yet over 30 years later, social mores have shifted, and many aspects of this film’s romance may seem outdated to people. All the same, the love between Harry and Sally still resonates, even among millennials. Rob Reiner’s direction and the Nora Ephron script convey a story that contains something very real. Opposites can attract. Friendships can and do develop into something deeper and more meaningful. The story takes place over years, and it takes all of that time for Harry and Sally to realize what they have together. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan have a fantastic chemistry through all of their transitions. Many romance films opt for dramatic expressions of deep love and passion, and emphasize giant romantic gestures, but When Harry Met Sally… gives credence to a simple truth of real relationships: “Attention is the most basic form of love.” The relationship between Harry and Sally proves it. – Connor Adamson
Gomez & Morticia Addams: The Addams Family (1991)
When we think of movies couples that define true romance, dedication, and love, we tend to look for those rainy (sometimes upside down) makeout scenes, or characters who run to each other through allergen-riddled fields in slow motion. When I think of the ultimate movie romance, though, my mind goes black: I think of Gomez and Morticia Addams. Specifically the 1991 versions played by Raul Julia and Anjelica Houston, who not only nail the look, but make you believe they were put on this earth to be soulmates. They are the epitome of undying (OK, maybe slightly dead) love.
While surviving and thriving in a home that includes two children, three other adults, and one wandering hand, they find the time to romance each other seemingly effortlessly through most of the five love languages: words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, and physical touch. Imagine your folks being married for 20 years and wooing each other with cara mia’s and waltzes on the daily.
Outside of suits, lipstick, headless roses, and torture devices, the biggest expression of pure love comes when the characters struggle to love at all. When Gomez becomes depressed as the family is evicted from their haunted abode, Morticia doesn’t become frustrated or resentful. She supports the family while he takes the time to heal as he needs, reminding him, “Don’t torture yourself, Gomez. That’s my job.” All we ever want is to be seen and heard, and he receives both when he needs it most.
The secret to the Addams’ success lies in the fact that they are always 100% true to themselves and not concerned with societal standards. They support their children, love each other, are open-minded to the people around them, and they live every day as if it was their last. Gomez Addams sums it up best: “I would die for her. I would kill for her. Either way, what bliss.” – Becky Hicks
Melvin Udall & Carol Connelly: As Good As It Gets (1997)
This movie pretty much is as good as it gets, at least for romantic comedies. Of all the things to enjoy about James L. Brooks‘ Best Picture-nominated comedy, central is the relationship between obsessive-compulsive, misanthropic writer Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson) — who, when writing about women, thinks “of a man, and I take away reason and accountability” — and gregarious, kind-hearted waitress Carol Connelly (Helen Hunt).
Their relationship is summed up in the final scene (spoiler, of course): Carol gets frustrated when Melvin won’t walk beside her because he doesn’t want to step on the cracks in the sidewalk. Yet Melvin’s OCD also motivates his unflinching honesty, and when he tells her that he is the only person in the world who gets to see “the greatest woman alive,” she knows he’s telling the truth. Melvin has no filter; he wouldn’t know how to craft a compliment just to “butter her up”. Carol knows that the road ahead will be rocky, but it’s worth the bumps to share the journey with someone who truly appreciates her.
As Carol takes Melvin’s arm and they stroll, straddling those sidewalk cracks, his words from their first date no doubt echo in her mind: “You make me want to be a better man.” What could be more romantic than that? – Nigel Druitt
Manech Langonnet & Mathilde Donnay: A Very Long Engagement (2004)
I’m a sucker for romantic adventure films that take place during the World Wars. There is nothing romantic about the wars themselves, of course. They were brutal and horrific and cost millions of lives and brought swift ends to many love stories. Maybe that’s why the ones that made it, fictional or real, are so endearing. They’re like flowers springing from the cracks of bombed-out city streets. They symbolize hope in a world of chaos and destruction.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet‘s A Very Long Engagement sees Manech (Gaspard Ulliel) go off to fight for France during the Great War, leaving behind his disabled childhood friend-turned-fiancée Mathilde (Audrey Tautou). When Manech disappears in the trenches of the French-German front, Mathilde, refusing to believe the official report about his death, embarks on a quest to learn the truth about what happened and track down her beloved. Along the way, her story intermingles with those of several other women whose men disappeared on the same day under similar circumstances.
Adapted by Jeunet and Guillaume Laurant from Sébastien Japrisot’s novel Un long dimanche de fiançailles, A Very Long Engagement co-stars Marion Cotillard, Tchéky Karyo, frequent Jeunet collaborator Dominique Pinon, and, surprisingly, Jodie Foster. This is a film that sees magic in the world and puts its full faith in the power of undying love. Edified by award-winning art direction, production design, costuming, music, and cinematography, this is a must-see. – Tom Kapr
Ryno de Marigny and Vellini: The Last Mistress (2007)
In The Last Mistress, libertine Ryno de Marigny is betrothed to noblewoman Hermangarde, for whom he professes his enduring love. The only hitch is that de Marigny has been involved in a ten-year affair with courtesan Vellini, the illegitimate daughter of an Italian princess and a Spanish matador. Vellini is a cigar-smoking, passionate sort, whereas Hermangarde is regarded by de Marigny as rather cold. Whether The Last Mistress is the ideal Valentine’s Day viewing experience is debatable, as it’s about marital infidelity. But Vellini (played by Asia Argento) is a zesty woman who doesn’t mess around when it come to romance. The best example of Vellini’s blazing amore for de Marigny takes place early in their relationship. At first, Vellini hates de Marigny because she overhears him call her an “ugly mutt” while talking to his friend. The more she rejects him afterward, the more he desires her. This all comes to a head when Vellini’s much older English husband catches de Marigny stealing a kiss and challenges him to a pistol duel. As de Marigny lies in bed with a bloody wound, her amorous feelings take over, much to the doctor’s disapproval. – Chad Hoolihan