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The best romantic movies (that don't actually suck)

Love doesn't have to be lame, you know?

The best romantic movies (that don't actually suck)
Andrew Williams
14 February 2024

What happened to the rom-com? These films were once big box office news. Nowadays? the form is almost dead.

Sure, we get the odd dud that shuffles on and off the big screen without anyone really noticing. Occasionally Netflix or another big streamer puts out a minor classic like Palm Springs.

But, generally speaking, mainstream romantic movies have sucked for a long time. Long enough that the entire genre has gone into hibernation. Blame Gigli. Blame Surviving Christmas. Blame Down to You. The list goes on (and on).

However, not all romantic movies suck, as this list of 10 straight bangers proves.

10 romantic movies (that don't suck)

10 romantic movies (that don't suck)

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

A film that at one point seemed to take up the number one spot on every University student’s most-loved film list. Joel (Jim Carrey) finds out his ex Clementine (Kate Winslet) has had the memories of their relationship erased, which is a common service in this off-kilter world created by writer Charlie Kaufman and director Michel Gondry.

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10 romantic movies (that don't suck)

2. La La Land

This film persuaded many who thought they hated musicals that they could actually love… a musical. It stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as a fledgling couple trying to make it in LA. He’s a jazz pianist, she’s a would-be actor. It’s beautifully shot and often swooningly romantic, while often subverting the expected moves of film rom-coms.

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10 romantic movies (that don't suck)

3. True Romance

True Romance has all the classic ingredients of a romance: violence, murders, mobsters and loads of guns. Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette are our couple on the run, after Clarence (Slater) kills Alabama’s (Arquette) pimp and steals a suitcase full of cocaine. Love and car chases from one of the great directors of shameless action movies, Tony Scott. A classic.

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10 romantic movies (that don't suck)

4. Before Sunset

The middle chapter in Richard Linklater’s “before” trilogy. In the first film we saw Ethan Hawke and Julie Delphy engage in a holiday romance. Almost decade later, in the fiction and reality, the two meet again as Hawke’s Jesse is on a promotional book tour. He may be a married man at this point, but the strength of their connection… well, we won’t spoil the rest.

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10 romantic movies (that don't suck)

5. When Harry Met Sally

You’ll find When Harry Met Sally sitting at the top of many “best rom com” lists, like a Christmas tree fairy. Why? It’s the writing from Nora Ephron. It’s the performances from Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, at the height of their late 1980s powers. It set the template that 90s rom coms would attempt to recreate, and generally fail in doing so, time after time. Even 35 years later, this one holds up.

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10 romantic movies (that don't suck)

6. Romeo + Juliet

Baz Luhrman somehow made a generation of teens, and mostly teen girls, obsessed with a Shakespeare text despite them barely being able to trudge through it at school. This take on the play is a brilliant mix of the old and new (for the late 90s, anyway). It teases out the romantic impact of the original text while transplanting it into a visually hyper-saturated modern context.

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10 romantic movies (that don't suck)

7. Rye Lane

Dom and Yass are two young south Londoners who are getting over rough break-ups. They form a friendship across the streets of Brixton and Peckham, making sense of their previous relationships. Rye Lane has a real sense of place, and the interactions between its characters are funny and (largely) legit. A film with real charm, and a flavour all of its own.

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10 romantic movies (that don't suck)

8. The Shape Of Water

Could Guillermo Del Toro ever make a straightforward love film? We don't think so. The Shape of Water sees Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute janitor at a high security lab, fall in love with the half-reptile, half-human creature being kept captive there. It’s beautiful and fantastical, duking it out with Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth for the Del Toro ranking top spot.

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10 romantic movies (that don't suck)

9. Call Me By Your Name

This brilliant gay romance, full of loss and longing, has become something of a complicated watch. One of its stars, Armie Hammer, was accused of sexual abuse. There are even stories of cannibalism fantasies. But, sure, if you can look beyond that (or pretend we never told you) Call Me By Your Name is a coming of age delight.

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10 romantic movies (that don't suck)

10. Past Lives

Nora and Hae Sung were childhood friends. They reconnect after 20 years, for just a week, and wonder what could have been if Nora hadn’t moved away with her family in her youth. It’s a must-watch contender for the 2024 Oscar for best film. And it’s also as much about the branching paths of all of our lives as its central stalled romance. This is not Sliding Doors, folks.

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If you are not in the mood for love, then head to our best anti-Valentine's movies list