A dozen classics: the best Romantic Movies of all timeApr 25, 2004 (Updated Apr 30, 2004) Write an essay on this topic.
The Bottom Line The films listed are all romantic classics that will appeal to the guys just as much as they do to the gals
As a race, humans are pre-programmed (both culturally and genetically) to fall in love, thats why so many of the most popular and enduring stories are about romantic love. Love stories make great movies. The films listed below are all romantic classics that will appeal to the guys just as much as they do to the gals, but theres not a chick flick in the lot. The films are listed chronologically (by year of release)
1. Bringing up Baby (1938) directed by Howard Hawks
Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, Charlie Ruggles, Barry Fitzgerald
Bringing up Baby is generally regarded by film historians and movie critics as one of the best romantic comedies ever made. What makes it so good is the indisputable chemistry between the principals and the non-stop antic zaniness that drives the action. Cary Grant plays David Huxley, a slightly befuddled paleontologist about to complete a dinosaur skeleton he's been working on for several years (after finally obtaining the single missing bone). Katherine Hepburn is Susan Vance, a wealthy, free spirited, and thoroughly unconventional young heiress. When they meet (accidentally) on the golf course, its love at first sight for Hepburn.
Susan pursues David (whos engaged to another woman) relentlessly, causing a series of ever escalating calamities that include a dog stealing the precious dinosaur bone and a bestial case of mistaken identity when Susans pet leopard Baby and a vicious escaped killer leopard are confused. Hawks direction is brilliant, the script is witty and urbane, and Hepburns enthusiastic eccentricity provides the perfect counterpoint to Grants predictable primness. The supporting cast is consistently excellent and the finale brings everyone together (with both leopards and the dog) in a frenetically madcap climax. Bringing up Baby is the fall down funny original that inspired every absent-minded professor cliché. The film was not a success when it was first released, but it is now regarded as the archetype for the screwball comedy sub-genre.
AFI 100 Greatest American Films #97, AFI 100 Funniest Comedies #14, & AFI 100 Best Romantic Movies #51
2. Casablanca (1942) directed by Michael Curtiz
Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains
Casablanca is probably the most romantic movie ever made, but its also an exciting character driven war story set in a wonderfully exotic milieu. Bogie plays Rick, an expatriate American whos hiding from his painful past in Nazi controlled Vichy French Morocco. He warily ignores the World War II intrigue that swirls all around him, concentrating instead on running a popular Casablanca nightspot.
When Bergman (his former lover) walks into Ricks Place and back into his life, Bogies thrown into an ethical quandary. Like the hero in a tragic Greek play, Ricks amoral complacency is threatened by the conflict between his personal ethics and his selfish egotism. The screen chemistry between Bogie and Bergman is almost palpable, sexual sparks fly and the emotional tension is mesmerizing, but in the end Bogie does the right thing -- in one of the most famous farewell scenes in movie history.
Casablanca is regarded by most cinema critics and film historians as one of the greatest films ever made. It is also recognized as the exception to virtually every cinematic rule. When I was in College (many years ago) Film History was one of my minors and the Auteur theory (the director of a film is the creator or author of the work) was all the rage. Those who didnt buy into the Auteur theory always named Casablanca as the single most significant repudiation of the director as author philosophy. Michael Curtiz was absolutely adored by the studio brass for consistently delivering (on time and under budget) the clichéd and blatantly sentimental flicks that the studios (and the movie going public) loved. How could Casablanca, one of the most successful and popular films of all time, have been such a great film if it was directed by a studio hack? As if that werent enough, Bogie & Bergman were third choices for the iconic roles of Rick and Ilsa.
Studio head Jack Warners preference (for the role of Rick) was George Raft (with Hedy Lamarr as Ilsa) and when that didnt pan out, Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan were the second choice. Fortunately, Bogie and Bergman ended up in the principal roles and Casablanca went on to become one of those rare and magical films where the whole clearly exceeds the sum of the parts.
Academy Awards -- Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, AFI 100 Greatest American Films #2, AFI 100 Best Thrillers #37, AFI 100 Best Romantic Movies #1, & AFI 50 Greatest American Film Heroes #4
3. Notorious (1946) directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains
Notorious is an unrepentantly romantic movie. Its also one of Hitchcocks darkest thrillers, a visually stunning film that explores erotic, Oedipal, and misogynistic themes without a single cliché. This film should be required viewing (like Bad Day at Black Rock) for film students. The character driven story is completely unique with no gratuitous dialog, the action is tautly paced with not a single wasted frame of film, and the suspense is unrelenting. The movie opens as a Miami trial concludes and the defendant receives a twenty-year prison sentence for treason against the U.S. The camera cuts to his daughter Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) running a gauntlet of reporters, and then to a pair of watchful Police Detectives, and next to a suburban Miami house with a detective stationed outside, and finally to the party inside the house. The camera focuses on a slightly drunk Bergman trying to escape her embarrassment and disgrace with a show of false bravado, and then cuts to Cary Grant (an uninvited guest) casually watching Bergman embrace her bad girl persona. In less than ninety seconds Hitchcock has introduced the principal characters, created a dark sexually charged atmosphere, and set the stage for what happens next.
Grant plays Devlin, an intelligence officer trying to infiltrate an organization of unrepentant expatriate Nazis in Argentina. Devlin succeeds in recruiting Alicia for the job and the two of them depart for Argentina. Alicias fathers treason conviction provides Bergman with the perfect cover for acceptance by Nazi leader Claude Rains. Its fairly simple for Grant to put the lovely Bergman in position to seduce, marry, and then spy on Rains, but tough guy Grant has fallen for Bergman. His sense of duty prevents him from revealing his true feelings.
Devlin must meet with Alicia regularly so that she can report what shes learned. Grants performance is superb, his demeanor is suavely cool and slightly callous, but his face is tortured and his anguish is obvious as he thinks about the woman he loves sleeping with another man. Alicia knows Devlin cares for her, but shes determined to carry out the mission even though she is hurt by his cold detachment. Claude Rains is exceptional as the Nazi leader whos domineering mother exerts an unhealthy influence over his decisions.
The suspense builds inexorably as Grant and Bergman get closer to the truth. When Alicia fails to appear for several meetings, Grant must decide whether to compromise the mission or risk losing the woman hes come to love. Hitchcock is justly famous for his signature habit of throwing in a quirky and unexpected plot twist (called a 'mcguffin') and the mcguffin in Notorious is one of his best.
Notorious was shot in Black & White with an intimate emotional tonality that perfectly conveys the dark moody nature of the film.
Academy Awards Best Supporting Actor (Claude Rains) & Best Original Script (Ben Hecht), AFI 100 Best Thrillers #38 & AFI 100 Best Romantic Movies #86
4. The African Queen (1951) directed by John Huston
Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn
The African Queen is a classic adventure film and at the same time a definitive opposites attract romantic movie. Bogie plays the grizzled hard drinking owner of a tiny riverboat plying the rivers of British East Africa at the outbreak of World War One. Hepburn plays the prim and proper spinster sister of an Anglican missionary (Robert Morely) stationed at a remote native village near the border with German East Africa. After German raiders murder Morelys African converts, burn his church, and cause his death, Hepburn and Bogart run the tiny steamer upriver to avenge Morelys death by sinking a warship the Germans are using to control Lake Victoria. Bogies character is understandably reluctant to take on a heavily armed German Cruiser with his leaky (and unarmed) little wooden boat, but Hepburns character is adamant and Bogie eventually agrees.
Bogie and Hepburn (who are in almost every scene) develop an endearing romantic relationship during their epic journey. The African Queen is also an inspiring parable that explores the determination and courage required to triumph in the face of insurmountable odds. Bogie won his only Oscar for The African Queen. David Niven and Bette Davis were also considered for the principal roles.
Academy Awards -- Best Actor (Humphrey Bogart), AFI 100 Greatest American Films #17 & AFI 100 Best Romantic Movies #14
5. The Quiet Man (1952) directed by John Ford
John Wayne, Maureen OHara, Victor McLaglen, Barry Fitzgerald, and Ward Bond
In The Quiet Man John Wayne plays Sean Thornton, an Irish-American prizefighter who returns to the small Irish village where his family lived before immigrating to America. There is much speculation in the village about the big yank and why hes returned to Ireland, but all Sean wants is to live quietly in his old family home. Hes haunted by guilt (after accidentally killing an opponent in the ring) and hopes to find peace and solace. What he finds instead is a monumental clash of cultures and a constant state of conflict. Soon after his arrival he makes a powerful enemy by outbidding village bully Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen) for the old Thornton family cottage. When Thornton meets Mary Kate (Maureen OHara), Danahers sister and falls in love the locals cant understand why he refuses to confront her resentful and mean spirited brother.
After a traditional courtship, Sean and Mary Kate are married, but her spiteful bother withholds the dowry that rightfully belongs to Mary Kate and treacherously attacks Thornton after the wedding. Sean refuses to fight with his new brother-in-law and takes his wife home. He soon discovers that Mary Kate is furious about the loss of her dowry and her new husbands cowardly behavior. She bars him from her bed and tells him the marriage wont be consummated until Sean recovers her Dowry. Thornton still refuses to fight even though Mary Kate badgers him mercilessly and finally she leaves him. Sean chases her to the train station and drags her bodily from the train. He realizes that he must confront Danaher and fight for Mary Kate or lose her. His vow to live the peaceful life is forgotten and Thornton provokes Danaher into the longest and most famous fistfight in motion picture history.
The Quiet Man is an original, passionate, genuinely romantic tale of the battle between the sexes that also explores love of place and reverence for tradition. Ford won his fourth best director Oscar for The Quiet Man.
Academy Awards Best Director, AFI 100 Best Romantic Movies #76
6. Roman Holiday (1953) directed by William Wyler
Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck, Eddie Albert
Roman Holiday is a enchanting reverse Cinderella tale with Audrey Hepburn as a naïve young Princess who longs to see the world. Shes on an official state visit to Rome and when the demands of her boring ceremonial duties become too odious to bear she complains about her tightly managed life. Rather than being taken seriously shes treated like a naughty child and obliged to take a sleeping pill and go to bed.
The rebellious teenaged Princess slips away from her protective entourage to see Rome, but she falls into a drugged sleep soon after her escape. Shes rescued by newspaper reporter Gregory Peck who thinks shes drunk and takes her home and puts her to bed (on his couch) to sleep it off. The next morning Peck realizes that the pretty young girl on his couch is the run away Princess. The cynical newsman scents a scoop and conspires with photographer friend Eddie Albert to sneakily photograph Hepburn with a hidden camera as the three of them enjoy a fun filled day (grudgingly financed by Albert) visiting Roman tourist sites. The conspirators hope to cash in big with a gossipy story and candid photos, but both men are completely charmed by the Princess. Peck falls in love with her enthusiasm, beauty, charm, and naive innocence. The bittersweet finale is delightful.
Roman Holiday was Hepburns first starring role and she won the best actress Oscar for her portrayal of the Princess. The Oscar winning screenplay was actually written by noted anti-war author Dalton Trumbo (Johnny Got His Gun) but he couldn't accept the award because he was on the Hollywood Blacklist for refusing to testify before Senator Joseph McCarthys anti Communist witch hunt.
Academy Awards Best Actress (Audrey Hepburn), Best Costumes (Edith Head), and Best Screenplay (Ian McLellan Hunter), AFI 100 Greatest Romantic Movies #4
7. Sabrina (1954) directed by Billy Wilder
Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, William Holden
Billy Wilders stylish modern Cinderella story stars Audrey Hepburn as the gawky young chauffeurs daughter who falls head over heels for the youngest son of the wealthy Long Island family that employs her father. William Holden plays David Larabee, a playboy who goes through debutantes like Grant went through Richmond. In order to avoid an embarrassing (and inevitable) rejection, the love struck chauffeurs daughter is shipped off to study haute cuisine in Paris.
When Sabrina returns, shes no longer a shy tomboy, she has become a lovely and sophisticated young woman. Holdens character is completely spellbound by her transformation, but hes scheduled to marry a wealthy heiress to formalize an important corporate merger. David impetuously decides to end his engagement so he can pursue Sabrina. His older brother Linus (Bogie as a no nonsense businessman who's only love is the family business) must somehow maneuver his reckless younger brother away from Sabrina and into an arranged marriage that will strengthen the Larabee familys fortunes. Linus decides on a cold-blooded Machiavellian strategy to sideline David while he courts Sabrina himself, but something unforeseen happens and Bogies straitlaced and unlikely suitor loosens up and falls in love.
Sabrina is a witty romantic fairy tale that explores class distinctions and the not so subtle differences between the rich and the working classes. Wilders direction is deft, the dialogue is clever, the humor is sophisticated, and the principal actors (Bogie, Hepburn, and Holden) are thoroughly engaging. Skip the remake (starring Harrison Ford, Greg Kinnear, and Julia Ormond) its a poor imitation of the original.
Academy Awards Best Costumes (Edith Head), Golden Globes --Best Screenplay (Billy Wilder & Ernest Lehman), AFI 100 Best Romantic Movies #54
8. Breakfast at Tiffanys (1961) directed by Blake Edwards Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, Patricia Neal, Martin Balsam, Buddy Ebsen, Mickey Rooney, and Orangey (the cat)
Breakfast at Tiffanys (based on a novella by Truman Capote) is a delightful romantic parable about life, compromise, and finding love in the big city. Audrey Hepburn absolutely glows as Holly Golightly, a free spirited, naïve, and slightly neurotic young woman whos afraid of commitment but desperately longs for love. Holly makes her living as a decorative accessory for rich businessmen and by carrying coded messages to an imprisoned mobster. George Peppard is Paul, a struggling writer and the new tenant in Hollys apartment building.
Both characters are shallow, narcissistic, and morally compromised. Holly isnt really a socialite; she lives on the charity of wealthy older men. Paul isnt actually a starving author; hes a kept man who lives on the generosity of an older woman.
Paul and Holly become friends, but when the friendship starts to blossom into love it threatens the delicate balance in both their lives. Holly is so terrified of commitment that she won't even name her cat. After spending one magical day together exploring New York City Paul tells Holly he loves her, but her ultimate goal is to marry a wealthy man, so she rejects him. How Holly discovers her true self and finds love in the pouring rain will leave the ladies sniffling and ought to put a small lump in the throat of even the toughest guy. Some viewers may find Mickey Rooneys portrayal of the apartment buildings Japanese manager xenophobic.
Academy Awards Best Score (Henry Mancini) & Best Song (Henry Mancini & Johnny Mercer)
9. Robin & Marian (1976) directed by Richard Lester
Sean Connery, Audrey Hepburn, Nicole Williamson, Richard Harris, Ian Holm, Robert Shaw
Robin & Marian is Richard Lesters romantic account of the last years of Robin Hood. Robin (Connery) and Little John (Nicole Williamson) have just returned to England after twenty years of fighting with King Richard (Richard Harris) in the Crusades. Robin is tired of the bloodshed, but when he and Little John return to Sherwood Forrest past and present reconnect. Robins Merry Men are getting old, Friar Tuck is an outlaw, oppression of the populace is rampant, the Sheriff (Robert Shaw) still holds office in Nottingham, and the evil and incompetent King John (Ian Holm) is more powerful than ever. Maid Marion (Audrey Hepburn) is now an Abbess. Robin visits the Abbey and Marian tells him shes content in her celibacy and her good work, but when the Sheriff's men arrive to arrest Marion, Robin interferes and the old feud picks up right where it left off twenty years earlier.
Audrey Hepburn is wonderful as the ever lovely mature and acid tongued Marian. Connery displays subtle emotional depth as Robin, who struggles to balance the conflict between his war weariness, his perceived duty to fight for the oppressed, and his desire to make up for lost time with Marian. Despite this vastly under rated films lack of awards and official recognition, Robin and Marian is an engagingly original romantic classic. Richard Lesters direction is adroit and James Goldmans script nicely balances humor and pathos, but what makes Robin and Marian a truly great film is Connery and Hepburn as the star crossed middle aged lovers in the bittersweet and lovingly told final chapter of this favorite childhood myth.
10. The Goodbye Girl (1977) directed by Herbert Ross
Richard Dreyfus, Marsha Mason, Quinn Cummings
Neil Simons The Goodbye Girl is a wickedly funny romantic comedy about love, failed relationships, and taking chances. Richard Dreyfus plays Elliot Garfield, a sarcastic struggling actor and Marsha Mason plays Paula McFadden, a poor down-on-her-luck single mom with horrid taste in men. Dreyfus turns up right after Paula is dumped by the latest in a long line of men whove abandoned her. Elliot has sublet the apartment (where Mason and her pre-teen daughter live) from the sleazy ex-boyfriend. Mason and Cummings are left high and dry, but Dreyfus doesnt have the heart to evict them and the three are stuck sharing the apartment, where most of the films action plays out.
Cummings is very good as Paulas precocious daughter, but the film belongs to Mason and Dreyfus. Paula is initially prickly and very guarded, but Elliots boyish charm and passion for life eventually wear her down. Gradually, as they grow more comfortable with each other and their uncomfortable situation, hostility, wariness, and distrust turn to respect and admiration, and then hesitantly to love.
The Goodbye Girl is a dialogue driven flick, but that doesnt mean there arent moments of physical comedy. In one of the best, Eliot gets his big chance when hes chosen to play the lead in a way off Broadway production of Shakespeares Richard III. The director pontifically insists Dreyfus play Richard as a tormented gay hunchbacked buffoon with a clubfoot. In the most dramatic scene Dreyfus drags himself screaming across the stage, limping and lisping his way through Richards famous, A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse speech while the astonished audience looks on in stunned disbelief. The play within a play is so bad that its side-splittingly funny. Herbert Ross does a terrific job with what is basically a one set film. The Goodbye Girl was one of the best films of the seventies and it has aged very well.
Academy Awards Best Actor (Richard Dreyfus), AFI 100 Best Romantic Movies #81,
11. Starman (1984) directed by John Carpenter
Jeff Bridges, Karen Allen, Charles Martin Smith, Richard Jaeckel
When fans of think of film director John Carpenter, they usually flash on Halloween (and all the sequels), or Christine violent gore fests filled with screaming victims, demented slashers, and bloodthirsty vampires. Theres none of that in Carpenters Starman, a genuinely different kind of sci-fi film. After being shot down, an extra terrestrial (Jeff Bridges) crash-lands his spaceship in a remote area of northern Wisconsin. Bridges survives the fiery crash and ducks into to the first house he finds. The house belongs to Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen), a desperately sad young woman whose husband Scot, has recently died. Bridges morphs the dead husband (from a lock of a hair found in a keepsakes book).
When Jenny investigates the strange noises coming from her living room and discovers a perfect but eerily robotic duplicate of her dead husband, shes terrified, but after the alien forces her to drive him to a rendezvous with his mother-ship at the Great Meteor Crater in Arizona she realizes he isnt dangerous or hostile and decides to help him make good his escape.
Scientist Charles Martin Smith confirms evidence of an alien presence at the crash site and the U. S. Government ramps up to capture Bridges. Charles Martin Smith is ecstatic about the opportunity to actually meet an extra terrestrial, but the Governments plan is to subject the alien to vivisection and laboratory experiments.
The alien must adapt to his new human form and learn about the strangely emotional and highly illogical creatures he finds himself among. Bridges is almost childlike in his incredulity and wonder at the physical experiences (like food and fistfights) associated with being human. Viewers will get an enlightening and not always flattering look at our species and at our culture as Bridges learns about violence, generosity, kindness, love, foolishness, and cruelty from his interactions with Jenny and the people they encounter on their journey.
In the end it takes Jenny, Charles Martin Smith (who shadows Allen and Bridges the whole trip) and a couple of strangers to evade the Governments deadly dragnet and get Bridges to the crater in time. Charles Martin Smith gets to meets his alien and Jenny is able to let Scott go and hold on to a wonderful parting gift that only the alien can give her. Jeff Bridges was nominated for a best actor Oscar for his performance as the Starman.
12. The Last of the Mohicans (1992) directed by Michael Mann
Daniel Day-Lewis, Madeleine Stowe, Russell Means, Eric Schweig, Jhodhi May, Steven Waddington, Wes Studi, and Dennis Banks
Michael Manns lushly constructed and beautifully shot The Last of the Mohicans transports viewers to the wilderness of upstate New York during the French and Indian War. In Manns capable hands Coopers unreadable novel (and the 1936 LOTM screenplay) is transformed into a wonderful old-fashioned love story set in the middle of an epic frontier adventure.
Hawkeye (Day-Lewis), his adopted Mohican father Chingachgook (Russell Means) and his Mohican blood brother, Uncas (Eric Schweig) rescue Cora (Madeleine Stowe) and her sister (Jhodhi May) from the clutches of Magua (Wes Studi) a hate filled Huron war chief out to avenge the death of his family at the hands of Colonel Munro, the girls father. Hawkeye and the Mohicans get the girls safely to their father fort only to find themselves right in the middle of a siege. Hawkeye and the Mohicans are eventually forced to ally themselves with the British and their Mohawk allies against their traditional enemies the French and their Huron allies. The Last of the Mohicans vividly depicts the horrors of wilderness warfare and the deadly ballet of hand-to-hand combat. In the midst of this violent primal conflict Hawkeye and Cora fall in love.
This is one of the most beautiful films ever made; locations, costumes, sets, action, and dialogue are all perfectly realized. Daniel Day Lewis and Madeleine Stowe absolutely shine as Hawkeye and Cora. Studi and Means are both exceptional. The films final few minutes are a beautifully scored and seamless sequence of violence, death, and tragedy in an environment of such staggering beauty that it will take the viewers breath away.
Academy Awards Best Original Score (Randy Edelman)
If you enjoyed reading this film essay you may find my other film pieces interesting.
A Bakers dozen---The 13 best Comedy films of all time
Rite of Passage---The 10 best Coming of Age Movies
The Top Ten Sci-Fi Flicks of the Fifties
Classic Film Noir Greats
Cowboys, Indians, Heroic Hounds, and a One Armed Man (the 10 Best Westerns of all time)
The Grapes of Wrath
Beatlemania RevisitedA Hard Days Night
The Ten Best Movies of all time
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