Top 10 Romance Films

By Noelle Buffam · January 26, 2012

Love. It's a pursuit that inspires joy and jealousy, happiness and hatred. It is perhaps the most powerful emotion in the world. And while most people spend their lives trying to sustain a loving relationship, it's no wonder that this notion of romance seeps into almost every movie. 

Whether it is a sub-plot story, a third-act-twist, or a major plot point, love is an unavoidable (and usually enriching) element in films. Romance films do more than just simply add a love anecdote. These films delve into the depths of romantic relationships. While romance movies have the reputation of being "sugar-coated" to appeal to the female persuasion, great romance films show the whole story… not only the good, but the bad, the heartache, and the complexities.

Romantic films have been alive and well for decades. With such a rich history, there is no need to write off this passionate film genre. Whether it's The Notebook, Harold and Maude, or Amelie… be sure that there are a wide variety of romantic films just waiting to find their audience soul mate (that's you).

Below are the Top 10 Romance Films. Traditionally, romance films are of a heavier tone. However, many of the best films in this genre fall into romance sub-genres (romantic comedy or musicals). Whatever the case, these are some of the most charming and treasured films to ever grace the screen. 

So, whether you are taken, single, or "it's complicated", grab some tissues. It's about to go allBridges of Madison County in here.

Honorable Mentions:

Roman Holiday (1953)

A bored princess falls in love with an American reporter. Not only is it a film that still captures hearts today, but it is noted for being the film that made Audrey Hepburn a star.

An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)

A love story about a naval officer in training and an unhappy factory worker. His rescue of her is about as romantic as it gets.

10. The Sheik (1921)

No romance movie list would be complete without mentioning Rudolph Valentino. Later known as the “Latin Lover”, Valentino’s reputation as a 1920s sex symbol was cemented in The Sheik. Based off of Edith Maud Hall’s novel of the same name, the film tells the story of Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan (Valentino). The Sheik lusts after the free-spirited westerner, Lady Diana Mayo (Agnes Ayres). So, the Sheik does what every romantic man would do… he kidnaps Diana and holds her hostage until she loves him back. When released, The Sheik was dubbed “The Shriek” because of its affinity for attracting female moviegoers. Within the first year, the film had grossed over $1 Million. Not only that, but The Sheik smashed attendance records for New York’s most popular theatres. Romantic, adventurous, and flat out frisky, The Sheik is an important film in romance movie history.

9. Ghost (1990)

Demi Moore. Patrick Swayze. Unchained Melody. Need I say more? Sam (Swayze) and Molly (Moore) are deeply in love. One night while on a walk home to their new apartment, a thief approaches them in a dark alley. He murders Sam, leaving him to die in his lover’s arms. However, Sam finds himself trapped living as a ghost on earth. Not only that, but he discovers that his murder was no accident and Molly is in danger. Sam enlists the help of Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg), a scam artist who is shocked to learn her medium powers are real. The film is the second highest grossing romantic-drama of all time (right behind Titanic). Nominated for five Academy Awards, it took home two for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress (Whoopi Goldberg). But perhaps its biggest claim to fame is the now iconic “Dance Scene”, in which Sam is able to have one last earthly encounter with Molly, using Oda Mae’s body while dancing together.

8. Annie Hall (1977)

It is often hailed as Woody Allen’s best film. While considered a romantic-comedy, Woody Allen noted that Annie Hall marked a turn in his career, where a level of seriousness was incorporated into his film. The film tells the story of Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) and Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). Their semi-neurotic relationship is chronicled through a number of years: from their first meeting, to their break-up, to their reunion as friends. Annie Hall was nominated for five Academy Awards, taking home four (Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay). It is considered one of the best romantic-comedies ever made, and a favorite for many. From its realistic look at love to its quirkiness, Annie Hall is an unforgettable romance film.

7. West Side Story (1961)

Adapted from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story tells a tale of forbidden love. In New York City during the 1950s there are two rival gangs – the white Jets, led by Riff (Russ Tamblyn), and the Puerto Rican Sharks, led by Bernando (George Chakiris). During a dance, Riff’s best friend Tony (Richard Beymer), and Bernando’s younger sister Maria (Natalie Wood) meet and fall in love. Nominated for eleven Academy Awards, the film took home ten, holding the title for most Oscars ever won by a musical. Ever since its debut, West Side Story has captured the hearts of both the public and the critics. Lasting the test of time, Tony and Maria’s relationship has enchanted everyone for decades.

6. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

Audrey Hepburn seems to be the queen of romance. Delicate, graceful, refined (with an edge of fun), her image was immortalized in Blake Edward’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Loosely based off of Truman Capote’s novella of the same name, the film tells the story of Holly Golightly (Hepburn). Golightly is an eccentric society girl. Slightly naive and always on the go, Golightly catches the eye of Paul Varjak (George Peppard), a new tenant in her building.  He is fascinated by her lifestyle and personality. The New York Times called the film  "completely unbelievable but wholly captivating.” The film is “composed of unequal dollops of comedy, romance, poignancy, funny colloquialisms and Manhattan's swankiest East side,” not to mention, the film is the owner of one of the most iconic images in all of movie history. Hepburn as Holly stands with large oversize sunglasses, a cigarette holder, a pearl necklace, and a simple black dress. It’s the image that made Hepburn a sought-after goddess. These images, the characters, the clothes, and the story madeBreakfast a Tiffany’s one of the most memorable films of all time.

5. Titanic (1997)

It was the first film to ever reach the $1 Billion mark at the box office. Appropriately named, Titanic was an enormous success both critically and financially. The film by James Cameron, told the fictionalized story of Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet). The two lovers fall in love while on board the R.M.S Titanic, and are torn apart when it sinks. The film held the title of highest grossing film of all time for twelve years, until Cameron’s Avatar dethroned it. All in all, the love story garnered 14 Academy Award nomination, winning 11. Its soundtrack also holds the distinct honor of being my first CD ever purchased. It seems I was not alone, as the record became the best-selling primarily orchestral soundtrack of all time. Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote that Cameron's “magnificent Titanic is the first spectacle in decades that honestly invites comparison to Gone With the Wind.” A perfect combination of modern technology and classic love, Titanic is, as Jack Dawson would say, “the king of the world.”

4. An Affair to Remember (1957)

It’s a love story for the ages. An Affair to Remember tells the story of millionaire playboy, Nickie Ferrante (Cary Grant). While on a cruise from Europe to New York, Nickie meets Terry McKay (Deborah Kerr). Terry is a beautiful and mysterious night club singer. Although Terry and Nickie are engaged to other people, the two fall in love. They devise a plan: in six months they will reunite at the top of the empire state building. However, in a twist of fate, Terry is unable to make it to the building for their reunion. Nickie fears that Terry is no longer in love, or worse… she has already married. Will fate bring the destined lovers back together again? The film, directed by Leo McCarey, is a remake of his original film entitled Love Affair. While Love Affair is hailed as one of the best melodramatic films of its time, An Affair to Remember has stood the test of time, earning its place as one of the most recognizable love stories of all time.

3. Dr. Zhivago (1965)

Out of all the romance films on this list, Dr. Zhivago is easily the film that left the most apparent mark on popular culture. Banned in the Soviet Union until 1994, the film is directed by David Lean and based off of the book of the same name by Boris Pasternack. The story takes place during the Bolshevik Revolution. Dr. Zhivago (Omar Sharif) is a Russian doctor and poet. Although he is married, he falls in love with Lara (Julie Christie), the wife of a political activist. Upon its release, Dr. Zhivago received mixed reviews as critics. Criticism included its pacing, long running time (over 220 minutes), and the depiction of Zhivago and Lara’s unconventional relationship. However, the film was a HUGE box office hit. When adjusted for inflation,Dr. Zhivago is the eighth highest grossing film of all time in the United States. It was nominated for ten Academy Awards, taking home five, including Best Adapted Screenplay. And although Lean swore he would never make another film due to the criticism he received, Dr. Zhivago continues to be one of his most popular films.

2. Gone with the Wind (1939)

Quite simply, Gone with the Wind is the film to beat all other films. Created on a scale of such grandeur that it puts most other films to shame, Gone with the Wind is a film that defined Hollywood. At its root, it is a simple story. Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) is a spoiled Southern girl, who falls in love with Rhett Butler (Clark  Gable), a married man. The film had a $3.7 million budget, which was unheard of at the time of its release. However, the film lived up to expectations. Thought to be the greatest year in classic Hollywood history, 1939 saw the release of not only Gone with the Wind, but The Wizard of Oz, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Still the film held it’s own, bringing home ten Academy Awards (including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay). The film is iconic from the beginning to the end. In fact, the last line of Gone with the Wind is its most famous. The next time your significant other is annoying, go ahead and say it: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

1. Casablanca (1942)

Consistently ranked as one of the greatest films of all time, Casablanca is a powerhouse in the realm of romantic films. While it received positive reviews upon release, the film’s popularity has grown over the years due largely to the fact that, as Murray Burnett put it, the story is “true yesterday, true today, true tomorrow.” Set during World War II, the film focuses on Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) who is torn between “love and virtue”. He must choose pursuing the love of his life, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), or helping her resistance leader husband escape from the Vichy-controlled city of Casablanca, so that he can continue his fight against the Nazis. While the film was made with A-list actors, an established director (Michael  Curtiz), and fantastic writers (Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch), no one expected Casablanca to be a hit. However, the film had a solid box office presence and even went home with three Academy Awards. Years later, it has grown to be the ultimate classic as audiences everywhere enjoy the selfless story of Rick Blaine. From trench coats and fedoras to smoky cafes and departing planes, Casablanca has seared these romantic images into film history. It’s characters, style, and dialogue (“Here’s looking at you, kid”), has made Casablanca an iconic film, worthy of the love and respect it receives.