Valentine’s Day is the day to celebrate all things romantic – including movies! And with our first ever Romance and Comedy Award closing just last week, this seemed like the perfect time for us to put together a small list of our favorite romantic films that we think all writers should watch.
The list isn’t intended to be comprehensive, and these aren’t categorically the best the genre has to offer! But they are our favorites, and there are important lessons for writers to learn from all of them this Valentine’s Day…
1. DOCTOR ZHIVAGO
David Lean was on a roll by the time he came to make DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, having just made BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA – and it shows. The bleak wastes of Russia make for a beautiful backdrop, but center stage is a sweeping love story that carries us through the brutality of the country’s political turmoil of the early 20th century. This film is the very definition of the term “epic”. At over three hours long, it shows that if you make the human elements of your story strong enough, it’s still enough to keep an audience engaged for however long.
2. ROMEO + JULIET
There was no way we could compile this list without mentioning the original pair of star-crossed lovers – it was just a question of which version! Special mention goes to the 1968 version, but it’s Baz Luhrmann’s modern re-imagining which gets our vote. The beginning of the film is too hectic, but once the lovers meet it becomes a sumptuous, tragic tale full of stolen moments and forbidden love.The original script was written by some guy called Shakespeare, who seems to have been pretty good at his job: he fills the story with passion, jokes, despair, tragedy and revenge all in one go.
3. ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND
Memories of a failed romance can be painful – and that’s why Joel and Clementine choose to have theirs erased in Charlie Kaufman’s Oscar-winning script. Like much of Kaufman’s work, it’s a mind-bending concept (literally, in this case), but it’s also a touching exploration of love, loss, and the nature of heartache. Jim Carrey turns in a surprisingly subtle and understated performance that suits him, while Kate Winslet picked up her fourth Oscar nomination for hers, but ultimately it’s the script that powers this beautifully poignant film.
4. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
The first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is either a film about Stockholm Syndrome or how true love looks beyond mere appearances – but we choose to believe the latter. With fantastic animation, catchy songs, and a tale as old as time, this is the perfect example of how to tell a fairytale romance. Just don’t get us started on the live-action remake, which turned the Beast into a jerk and featured a bit too much auto-tune.
Okay, so here’s a bit of a strange one: a man falls in love with the operating system on his computer – and it falls in love with him in return. Another winner of the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, writer-director Spike Jonze takes his unique premise and weaves a touching story about the nature of human relationships… despite one half of the central relationship not being human. But then, that’s part of the reason why it works. It’s an insightful look into the psychology and emotion of love, demonstrating both its vulnerability and its boundlessness.
SPECIAL MENTION: TITANIC
James Cameron’s epic is the gold standard for a lot of people, even if it’s a bit overwrought in our opinion. Its impact and technical achievements can’t be ignored, though.
SPECIAL MENTION: 4 minutes of UP
The “Married Life” segment of Pixar’s UP brings all but the hardiest to tears, charting the entire marriage of Carl and Ellie without a single word being said. Frankly, we’d have included it in our list if it were a film in its own right, but since it’s just a small part of one, it’ll have to make do with a special mention instead.
So there you have it – our favorite romance films. We don’t claim that they’re the best, but they’re the ones that have touched us the most and we think that all writers can learn something from them!