What makes a great film romance? Is it the emotional heights that a story reaches? Is it the strength of the leads characters? Is it a unique take on a type of story that has been told on screen again and again? Film romances have been done so many times that is it impossible to count the iterations.
While it can be easy to write off romance movies or love subplots in larger films due to their ubiquity and often shallow nature, there is a reason why filmmakers continue to tell stories about people falling in love or growing in their love for one another. It is a core experience in the human story. Love is beautiful, inspirational, painful, redemptive, and so much more. There are enough ways to tell a tale about love that even after a century of films, great storytellers are still coming up with enjoyable and compelling takes on the idea.
The following 15 film romance stories have something very special about them. Either they pioneered a new take on love in movies, perfected the way a film romance can be done, or said something genuine and touching about love. In many cases, they did all of these and more. While this is not a complete list, the following love stories are timeless classics from across the decades, with each saying something special about love and how relationships can affect people’s lives for the better or worse.
For a look at how bad film romances can be, read 10 Terrible Movie Romances.
Harry and Sally – When Harry Met Sally
Can men and women ever just be friends? That’s the central question of When Harry Met Sally, but the meaning of a fulfilling relationship is just as much at the core of the narrative. Harry and Sally meet several times over the course of more than a decade, going from strangers who can’t stand each other to friends to more, which is when things get really complicated for them. What makes their romance so great is that they find love, support, and meaning in their friendship before any romance really begins. But their mistakes and realizations move them into a happy and enduring relationship by the end.
Most Romantic Moment: After nearly ending their friendship forever, Harry runs through New York to profess his love to Sally on New Year’s Eve. It feels real and truly happy to seem them realize how much they need one another.
Peter and Ellie – It Happened One Night
Two people with very opposite personalities team up on the road and fall in love with one another. It Happened One Nightis the original screwball comedy and created a dynamic that movies have been copying for literally decades. But it’s the original that gets it all so perfect. Clark Gable as news reporter Peter Warne and Claudette Colbert as heiress Ellie Andrews are so incredible, both on their own and together. The sparks fly, the laughs fill countless moments, and their happy ending together is pitch perfect without being sappy. For more, read “It Happened One Night” – A Truly Timeless Classic.
Most Romantic Moment: Finally reunited after they both realize they are in love, Peter and Ellie return to the motel they shared on the road and topple “The Walls of Jericho” to finally be together as husband and wife.
Rick and Ilsa – Casablanca
It’s one of the most classic Hollywood romances of all time, so it definitely had to be mentioned. Casablana sums up the Golden Age of Hollywood in a single movie, with classy performances, stunning black and white cinematography, and a romance that has just enough melodrama. With Nazis, mystery, and bullets flying everywhere, the romance between long lost lovers Rick and Ilsa becomes about more than just whether they will end up together, it becomes about sacrificing for the greater good. True love makes sacrifices and works for the greater good in an unselfish way. That’s what Casablancaend up being all about. And that can be more satisfying than just some big kiss at the end of a movie.
Most Romantic Moment: Knowing the Ilsa should be with her husband Victor and not him for her sake and for the sake of countless lives, Rick has her leave Casablanca with Victor instead of him. Sometimes giving up what you love is more romantic than being together.
Robin and Marian – Disney’s Robin Hood
A personal favorite of mine since very early childhood, Disney’s Robin Hood takes everything great about the Sherwood outlaw’s story and condenses it down to a perfect package. Robin is committed to helping the poor people of Nottingham, but he’s also fighting for the heart of Marian, who he has loved for years in this version. There’s something incredibly sweet and innocent about their love. Robin fights through hordes of rhino guards and Marian joins the fight against evil Prince John. They work great together all the way through. Of note, Errol Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood has just as much great swashbuckling romance between his Robin and Olivia De Haviland’s Marian.
Most Romantic Moment: Finally able to share a quiet night together, Marian and Robin walk through the woods at night, sharing long looks that need no dialogue. They are in love and together at last.
Scarlett and Rhett – Gone With the Wind
Clocking in as the longest romance of any in this entry, the romance between Scarlett and Rhett is just as epic in sweep as the entire story of Gone With the Wind. Somehow, their romance manages to be incredibly romantic, heartbreakingly tragic, and disturbingly dysfunctional all at the same time! Audiences switch between wanting them to be together, pitying their destructive natures, and feeling relief at the end of their relationship. While plenty of great movie romances involve the protagonists battling against some enemy or obstacle to be together. Here, Rhett and Scarlet are their own biggest enemies. Sometimes, that’s a challenge that is impossible to beat.
Most Romantic Moment: After saving her from the Burning of Atlanta, Rhett passionately kisses Scarlett as the city burns in the background and then sends her off as he decides to join the battle. Their romance hits many highs and lows, but this is its most romantic moment.
Superman and Lois – Superman
This is the movie that really instilled the idea of romance into superhero films. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is up to you, but the good parts owe it to the original Superman. Donner’s film creates the classic love triangle between Lois and the dual identities of Clark and Superman, who seem to be complete opposites, which can be seen in films for Spider-Man, Batman, and more. From daring midair rescues to romantic nighttime flights, the stalwart Superman and fiery Lois Lane are strong counterparts who bounce off one another very well. In the end, Lois’ death in an earthquake causes an enraged Superman to break his oath to limit his powers and turn back time to save her. That’s powerful love.
Most Romantic Moment: Superman takes Lois on a nighttime flight for the first time in the skies above Metropolis while she wonders who he is, all set to John Williams’ “Can You Read My Mind?”
Jesse and Celine – Before Sunrise
Deftly balanced between naturalistic and romantic, the story of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) is all the more romantic for feeling relatable. The story followers an American traveler and Parisian student who meet in Vienna and travel through the city and share their lives before he must leave in the morning. Their naturalistic conversations and limited time together make their bond feel real while adding some real stakes to their investment in one another. Both Jesse and Celine are flawed and interesting, keeping the film from feeling like a cliché romance film. While Before Sunsetwould chronicle their reunion and Before Midnight follow their troubled marriage, it’s Before Sunrise that is the most joyously romantic.
Most Romantic Moment: Moments before Jesse must leave on his train, he and Celine decide to go back on their word and agree to see each other again in exactly six month at the train station. What will happen? Hope and love remain.
Belle and The Beast – Beauty and the Beast
Possibly Disney’s greatest romance ever? Beauty and the Beast is all about the power of love and inner beauty, as Belle comes to see the man underneath The Beast’s frightening exterior and The Beast recognized the warm and caring nature of Belle that he should embrace in himself. This is Disney animation and songwriting at its finest, with Beauty and the Beast having the scope, beauty, and fantastic music of the greatest Broadway musicals. You quickly care about both main characters, making you root for them to find true love and their happy ending. Then the film throws enough twists and heartbreak at you to really twist the knife in your heart, making you feel every emotional beat until the lovely ending. For a darker but still just as romantic take on the fairy tale, watch Jean Cocteau’s “Le Belle et Le Bette.”
Most Romantic Moment: After warming to one another and being pushed on by the people of the castle, Belle and The Beast share a beautiful dance in the ballroom to the theme song of “Beauty and the Beast.” Easily one of the most beautiful scenes in Disney history.
David and Susan – Bringing Up Baby
By far the most screwball of the romances here, the two characters at the center of Bringing Up Baby are incredibly wacky, but still extremely lovable. While David (Cary Grant) is an uptight scientist, Susan (Katherine Hepburn) is a flighty socialite. They meet while he tries to get funding for his brontosaurus research and Susan quickly falls for him. Except David is supposed to get married tomorrow. The fun comes in seeing how Susan works to get David to fall for her while driving him crazy with her antics. She may be incredibly different than him, but she’s far better for him than his fiancée. Their crazy chemistry works wonders in this lovely screwball comedy.
Most Romantic Moment: After their adventure has concluded, Susan visits David as he works on his Brontosaurus skeleton. They confession of love for one another leads to the entire dinosaur skeleton collapsing, but they still have each other!
Buttercup and Westley – The Princess Bride
This is what fantasy romance is all about. The Princess Bride may have amazing sword fights, comedy, and more, but it all centers on the love between Westley and Buttercup. While much of The Princess Bride tells us how amazing their love is, both characters are great and work wonderfully together, with their deep love impacting everything that the two characters do throughout the narrative. Westley even comes back from the dead (with the aid of Miracle Max, Fezik, and Inigo) to save Buttercup. This is the kind of epic romance that is perfect for a swashbuckling tale in the land of Guilder.
Most Romantic Moment: Finally having defeated Humperdink after beating death and avoiding disaster countless times, Westley and Buttecup celebrate their freedom and love by sharing the greatest kiss in history.
Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy – Pride and Prejudice
There’s a reason why Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has been remade on film so many times and been so consistently great. The relationship between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy is flat out amazing and when it’s done right, it’s incredible on screen. Their story of love and prejudice in the Victorian Era is a compelling look at not only what women experienced at the time, but what perceptions due to our love for one another. Both main characters have amazing depth and their story draws you in so quickly that the emotions that hit you by the end are so genuine and compelling you are guaranteed to be overwhelmed.
Most Romantic Moment: After realizing everything Mr. Darcy has done for her family, Elizabeth walks through the moors at morning, only to run into him. Darcy once again confesses his love and Elizabeth accepts his proposal, finally bringing them together after so much.
Wall-E and Eve – Wall-E
Yes, two robots from the future can fall in love and melt the hearts of audiences everywhere. The story of Wall-E is just as much about how one little robot can save the future of humanity as it is about his love for another robot. In fact, Wall-E’s destiny intertwines both of them for something much more powerful. Pixar works amazing magic to make them both into lovable and vibrant characters, even though both Wall-E and Eve barely speak any words. Bringing a spunky and out of date robot and a smart and brand new robot together highlights their individual strengths and the wonderful ways they work together. Their love story is easily one of the strongest and most touching in all of Disney’s movies.
Most Romantic Moment: Floating through space with a fire extinguisher, Wall-E shares a sweet and happy outer space dance with Eve set to Michael Giacchino’s “Define Dancing” score.
Summer and Tom – (500) Days of Summer
Not every great romance has to end happily. But unlike the ones listed in my Worst Romances list, Summer (Zooey Deschanel) and Tom (Joseph Gordon Levitt) are relatable, fallible, and, in the end, kind of inspirational. Both characters enter into their relationships with their own difficulties and preconceived notions about love. While Summer chooses not to commit to a relationship, Tom has delusions of desperate and deep love. Their ideas are incompatible, even though they have much in common and find happiness for a time. Director Mark Webb creates a narrative that jumps throughout their relationship, comparing and contrasting the happy and sad moments for an enlightened look at what their romance really meant. It’s amazing stuff that highlights the real positives and negatives of any relationship.
Most Romantic Moment: Tom and Summer reunite on a train to a friend’s wedding after their breakup, where they connect during a sunset as The Temper Trap’s “Sweet Disposition” plays. It may only lead to more heartbreak, but the chemistry is electric here.
Pat and Tiffany – Silver Linings Playbook
The love between two people with very serious issues can be far more powerful than two perfect people falling in love. Both Pat (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) have mental health issues that they are dealing with that have severely impacted their relationships in the past. After Pat is let out of a mental institution, his life intertwines with hers as they both strive to find health and happiness on their own and together. Their issues cause them to bicker and even explode, but they actually find that they are able to really help one another in the long run. Their romance plays alongside their healing and the fact that they can end up happy together is not only a good resolution, but a symbol that they have reached healthier lives altogether.
Most Romantic Moment: Stopping Tiffany as she runs away after their dance, Pat reveals he’s known for weeks that she was writing to him pretending to be his ex-wife. He didn’t tell her so he could write her one more letter, telling Tiffany he loves her.
Carl and Ellie – Up
Easily the most heartbreaking romance on the list, Carl and Ellie’s life together will rip out your still-beating heart 10 minutes into Pixar’s Up. At the very start of Up, the romance and marriage of Carl and Ellie are documented with nearly no words, as they grow up together, experience heartbreak, and live out their lives. It’s incredibly realistic and it really captures the essence of marriage, which is why Ellie’s death is so heartbreaking. All in all, it’s an amazing piece that is powerful thanks to the genuine emotion on display and composer Michael Giacchino’s “Married Life” score. The impact of their marriage is the impetus for the entire film and underscores much of the emotion.
Most Romantic Moment: At his lowest moment, Carl goes through Ellie’s scrapbook, where he finds her memories of all their adventures. She was truly happy with him, and that mattered to her far more than any trip. It’s a stunning example of real love.
Honorable Mentions: Midnight in Paris, Cinema Paradiso, The Fault in Our Stars, Her, His Girl Friday, Amelie, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, Aladdin