My Ten Favorite Movie Romances That Don’t Show Up on Romantic Movie Lists
Every year Valentine’s Day brings new lists of top romantic movies, often with many titles recycled from previous lists—some deservedly so (Casablanca, The Princess Bride, Groundhog Day), others less so in my book (Titanic, The Notebook, Love Actually).
Without slighting these lists or the fans of such movies (well, maybe fans of The Notebook), I decided to do something a bit different: After browsing any number of romantic movie lists, I deliberately omitted any title I spotted more than once.
So no Jane Austen or Shakespeare. No Hepburn or Cary Grant, Meg Ryan or Tom Hanks. No Say Anything or Jerry Maguire, no City Lights or Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. Nothing against any of the above, but you don’t need me to tout them. Instead, here are ten films you might not find on other lists of movie romances.
Fill the Void (2012) – A Jane Austen-inflected tale of a young girl whose hopes of making a match are complicated by a family tragedy, this film by Orthodox Israeli director Rama Burschtein is set apart by its setting in Tel Aviv’s Hasidic Jewish community. A striking portrait of a close-knit contemporary culture shaped by faith, tradition, and family ties, the film challenges Western notions of romantic love, but it is all the more compelling for that.
Girl Shy (1924) – Harold Loyd, the “Third Genius” of silent comedy, had a boy-next-door persona more relatable than Chaplin’s Tramp or Keaton’s stoic oddballs. This film, featuring Lloyd’s frequent co-star Jobyna Ralston, is Lloyd’s sweetest and most sentimental, about a shy, stuttering working-class boy whose literary fantasies of being a lady-killer are upended by an encounter on a train with an upper-class girl.
Jodhaa Akbar (2008) – Many Americans got their first taste of Bollywood-flavored romance from Mira Nair’s 2001 art-house film Monsoon Wedding. Ashutosh Gowariker’s lavish period piece, with Bollywood superstar Aishwarya Rai as a 16th-century Hindu princess wooed by a Muslim emperor, is exuberant Bollywood spectacle at its finest: war, intrigue, romance…and, of course, singing and dancing.
Make Way for Tomorrow (1937) – Catholic filmmaker Leo McCarey directed some of Hollywood’s best-known romantic classics (The Awful Truth, Love Affair, An Affair to Remember), but his most personal film is this weepie about an elderly couple facing the hard reality that none of their adult children want to take them both in. The third act is one of the greatest movie dates ever, and a heartbreaking tribute to lifelong love.
The New World (2005) – Terrence Malick’s dream-like Pocahontas-and-John-Smith story follows a romantic path less taken, with the playful, archetypally romantic chemistry of the native princess and the dashing explorer unexpectedly falling short, replaced by a quieter, more stable love with a reliable, devoted man who is more interested in putting down roots than chasing new frontiers.
Planet of Snail (2011) – He’s blind and deaf; she’s a dwarf half his height. Theirs is one of the most extraordinary love stories—and loveliest screen marriages—I’ve ever seen. Did I mention it’s a documentary? Filmmaker Yi Seung-jun’s quiet, inspiring film follows a remarkable Korean couple taking on activities ranging from everyday tasks and recreation to religious studies and church events.
Return to Me (2000) – The most conventional date movie on my list, Bonnie Hunt’s low-key rom-com stars an appealing Minnie Driver and a relaxed David Duchovny as a couple brought together by fate. What seals the deal, though, is Carroll O’Connor, Robert Loggia, and their cronies as a curmudgeonly Greek chorus debating the relative merits of Irish and Italian culture—along with a matter-of-fact backdrop of Catholic piety.
Strictly Ballroom (1992) – Baz Luhrmann’s debut film—an in-your-face “mockumentary” of a pretentious, competitive ballroom-dancing world that imperceptibly shifts into a heartfelt, grandly romantic love story—leaves me a weeping mess every time. Partly it’s the unlikely romance between a hotshot and an ugly-duckling novice, but it’s also the stories around them, including that of the protagonist’s parents.
Whisper of the Heart (1995) – A number of Studio Ghibli’s animated films have romantic themes (Kiki’s Delivery Service, Porco Rosso, From Up on Poppy Hill, and The Wind Rises), but none capture the intensity and awkwardness of first love like this gentle tale of two creative young students in Tokyo.
Witness (1985) – Kelly McGillis romanced Tom Cruise in Top Gun, and Harrison Ford’s cinematic love life included Princess Leia and Marion Ravenwood—but neither ever had more smoldering chemistry with a costar than they do in Peter Weir’s romantic thriller about an Amish widow and a Philadelphia cop.
Notes on age appropriateness: Witness: Mature viewing. The New World, Return to Me, and Strictly Ballroom: Teens and up. Jodhaa Akbar might be fine for older kids; the rest have nothing inappropriate for any age, though interest for younger viewers will vary with the film (and the kid).