Throughout the past century, romance movies have captured our hearts and minds and have prompted laughter and tears over the life and times of endearing characters. Here are twenty must-see romance movies from each decade from the past ninety years of love portrayed on the silver screen. (Movie synopses provided by Netflix)
Screen legend Lillian Gish stars as Anna Moore, a naive New Englander duped into a sham marriage by a silver-tongued roue (Lowell Sherman) who deserts her after she turns up pregnant. When the infant dies, Anna leaves Boston, changes her name and finds shelter in the bucolic transcendence of a farm community. There she captures the heart of callow romantic David Bartlett (Richard Barthelmess), but Anna’s checkered past comes back to haunt her.
The Sheik (1921)
Rudolph Valentino, "the greatest lover of all time," wooed women both on screen and in audiences worldwide playing the title character in this double feature of hit silent films. In The Sheik, wealthy Sheik Ahmed (Valentino) kidnaps Lady Diana (Agnes Ayres) with intentions to make her his bride … but not if feisty Diana can help it. In the sequel, Valentino plays the sheik’s son and is kidnapped by his lover’s (Vilma BÃ¡nky) father for ransom.
City Lights was Charlie Chaplin’s last silent film and is widely considered one of his best. Chaplin, once again playing the character known as the Little Tramp, makes the acquaintance of a blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill), who, because she can’t see him, believes the shabby tramp is a millionaire. The tramp attempts to raise enough money for the blind girl to have an eye operation, knowing she may eventually discover his true identity.
It Happened One Night (1934)
Runaway socialite Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) is en route to the Big Apple to elope with a fortune-hunting flyboy. Along the way she meets crusty newspaperman Peter Warne (Clark Gable), who’s just been sacked and—unbeknownst to Ellie—plans to sell her story to get his job back. But a string of zany misadventures leads them to realize they’re madly—if reluctantly—in love. It Happened One Night swept every major Academy Award.
Socialite Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn) prepares to remarry, but her ex (Cary Grant) and a tabloid reporter (Best Supporting Actor Oscar-winner James Stewart) have other ideas as they converge on her home for a fateful visit. The three stars form an incomparable romantic triangle in one of the most tantalizing screwball romances ever. Ace Hollywood women’s director George Cukor adapts this urbane Broadway comedy with precision and wit.
Of all the "gin joints" in Morocco, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), with husband Victor (Paul Henreid) in tow, had to walk into the one owned by Rick (Humphrey Bogart), a former beau she abandoned in Paris. War looms over them all, and in a much-discussed ending, Rick and Ilsa make heroic but heartbreaking choices. As time goes by, director Michael Curtiz’s 1942 classic war noir only gets better. Peter Lorre and Claude Rains also star.
Marlon Brando spellbinds as the brutish Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams’s classic rumination on carnal attraction and faded gentility. After losing the family plantation to creditors, Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) travels to New Orleans hoping to find comfort with her sister (Kim Hunter), Stanley’s wife. But Blanche gets more than she bargained for. Oscars went to Leigh, Hunter and Karl Malden for their monumental performances.
Lady and the Tramp (1955)
Lady, a pampered cocker spaniel, and Tramp, a jaunty, freedom-loving mutt with a heart of gold, share romance adventures in this timeless story. Highlighted by memorable songs, this film features a cast of memorable characters—from Peg, an ex-showgirl Pekingese, to Si and Am, two of the most devious felines ever to prowl across the screen. Features the voices of Peggy Lee, Barbara Luddy, Bill Thompson, Bill Baucon, Stan Freberg, Verna Felton.
C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) has his future mapped out—all he needs to do is cozy up to the top feeders in the corporate food chain. But his fast track to the executive suite gets short-circuited when he falls for one of the bosses’ girlfriends. The Apartment features top-notch performances from Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine and was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, winning five, including Best Picture.
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Serial bank robbers, sometime lovers and folkloric heroes, Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) and Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) barrel across Depression-ravaged America on a shooting spree that ended in a deathly rain of bullets—for them. Sexy and stylish, the film, directed by Arthur Penn, shattered the crime film mold, layering comedy onto mayhem and youthful criminality. Gene Wilder makes his first film appearance here.
A self-absorbed, death-obsessed teen (Bud Cort) and a geriatric, high-on-life widow (Ruth Gordon) find love in this comical cult favorite. Hassled by his domineering mother (Vivian Pickles) to play the dating game, the morbid Harold would rather attend funerals, which is where he meets the feisty Maude (natch). The seemingly mismatched pair forms a bond that turns into a highly unconventional—but ultimately satisfying—romance.
Annie Hall (1977)
Listen closely and you can actually hear the stress hormones pumping through the bodies of the characters in Annie Hall. Woody Allen’s real, funny ode to love among twitchy city dwellers scooped up Oscars for Best Picture, Best Direction, Best Actress (Diane Keaton) and Best Screenplay. And don’t miss cameos of not-yet-stars Jeff Goldblum, Shelley Duvall and Sigourney Weaver.
In this unabashedly romantic film, an elderly woman approaches playwright Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve) and presses a pocket watch into his hand whispering, “Come back to me.” Years later, Collier becomes obsessed with a picture of an early 1900s actress (Jane Seymour) and discovers that she’s the woman who gave him the watch. Collier wills himself back in time to find the woman, and the pair begins a love affair out of time.
Cher, Olympia Dukakis and screenwriter John Patrick Shanley each won Oscars for their wonderful work in this slice-of-life comedy about the Italian-American denizens of a Brooklyn neighborhood. Cher’s an independent-minded widow who falls in love with a one-handed, misfit baker (Nicolas Cage), much to the chagrin of her betrothed (Danny Aiello). With great performances all around, Moonstruck is bellisima!
When Harry Met Sally… (1989)
Can men and women remain friends without sex getting in the way? Nora Ephron’s episodic screenplay introduces womanizing, neurotic Harry (Billy Crystal) and ambitious, equally neurotic Sally (Meg Ryan) as chums who resist sexual attraction to maintain their friendship—a relationship always teetering on the brink of love. As the two draw closer, the question resurfaces: Can they stay just pals? Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby co-star.
Writer-director Nora Ephron’s Oscar-nominated romantic comedy stars Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan as soul mates who come perilously close to never meeting. Although separated by thousands of miles, rueful widower Sam Baldwin (Hanks) and soon-to-be married Annie Reed (Ryan) connect through a radio call-in show encounter engineered by Sam’s son, Jonah (Ross Malinger). Fans of An Affair to Remember will enjoy the many references to that classic romance.
The Bridges of Madison County (1995)
When her family is off at the state fair, vaguely discontented Iowa housewife Francesca Johnson (Meryl Streep) meets National Geographic shutterbug Robert Kincaid (Clint Eastwood), who’s in Madison County to shoot Iowa’s covered bridges. What begins as a guarded friendship soon erupts into an intense affair that rekindles Francesca’s forgotten passions. But she finds her emotions in conflict when the time comes to choose her future.
Nia Vardalos plays Toula Portokalos, a single Greek woman who falls in love with a non-Greek (John Corbett), which is a no-no to her strict family—especially her commanding mother, Maria (Lainie Kazan), and her traditional father, Gus (Michael Constantine). Think of it as a cross between Meet the Parents and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner…with a flavoring on the souvlaki side.
Love Actually (2003)
An ensemble comedy that tells 10 separate (but intertwining) London love stories, leading to a big climax on Christmas Eve. One of the threads follows the brand-new, unmarried Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) of the United Kingdom, who, on his first day in 10 Downing Street, falls in love with the girl (Martine McCutcheon) who brings him his tea. Denise Richards, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley and Rowan Atkinson co-star.
The Notebook (2004)
Based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, this drama chronicles an enduring love that withstands both war and disease. It begins in a nursing home, where a man (James Garner) arrives every day armed with a notebook from which he reads stories about a couple, Noah and Allie (played by Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams), to an unresponsive woman (Gena Rowlands). Who are the characters in the book, and why does the stranger insist on reading about them aloud?
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