Whether your Valentine’s Day plans involve confessing your deepest feelings to a longtime love or holing up at a friend’s for a night of popcorn and support, now is the time to queue up a romantic movie or two on your home screens. But not just any movie will do – nothing too sweet or sappy will satisfy you. After all, true love is serious business.
We've selected seven of our favorite films which tackle the grand subject of love in thoughtful and provocative ways. They could hardly be more varied in subject matter or setting – spanning everything from institutional racism to theoretical physics, everywhere from 1950s Virginia and 18th-century England to 1830s France and contemporary Los Angeles. As different as these films are, they all remind us that regardless of the circumstances, love will prevail.
The most romantic films often feature lovers who are tragically kept apart due to circumstances beyond their control. In the case of Mildred and Richard Loving, the young couple was arrested for being in an interracial marriage in 1958 Virginia, a state in which the union between people of different races was banned. Directed by Jeff Nichols, Loving, the fictionalized version of the Lovings' story, stars Joel Edgerton as Richard and Ruth Negga as Mildred in an Academy Award-nominated performance. The politically relevant film shows the couple as they tackle the unjust law. But what’s most inspiring is the quiet, tender devotion they show one another, despite their difficult circumstances.
Loving is now available on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD.
The Theory of Everything
For the brainy Valentine, look no further than the Academy Award-nominated The Theory of Everything, which tells the heart-wrenching story of Stephen Hawking, the renowned astrophysicist, as he falls madly in love with fellow Cambridge student Jane Wilde. In an Academy Award-winning performance, Eddie Redmayne plays Hawking, who learned at age 21 that he has a debilitating motor neuron disease. Despite the medical odds, Hawking pursues his ambitious study of time with Jane (Felicity Jones), now his wife, by his side. Based on Jane Wilde Hawking's memoir, Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, the film doesn't sugarcoat the ups and downs of the couple's tumultuous relationship. But nobody ever said true love would be easy.
Watch The Theory of Everything now on iTunes.
From the plot description alone, you might not peg Beginners as a love story at all. Yet, it's deeply romantic. Mike Mills’s autobiographical feature stars Ewan McGregor as Oliver, a lonely guy unlucky in love, who learns that his elderly father, Hal, played by Christopher Plummer in an Academy Award-winning performance, is gay. As Oliver watches his father embrace his new identity and battle with terminal cancer, he makes peace with his own past. Hal's relationship with his young lover (Goran Višnjić) shows Oliver that it's never too late to find love. When he meets the beautiful and impetuous Anna (Mélanie Laurent), he allows himself to open up to romantic love and the result is transcendent.
Watch Beginners now on iTunes.
Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind
We realize that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is not an obvious pick for Valentine’s Day, especially since the first line of the film trashes Cupid's holiday. As the hapless Joel (Jim Carrey) says, it's "a holiday invented by greeting card companies to make people feel like crap." But soon after, Joel meets Clementine (Kate Winslet), a kooky girl with blue hair, and the chemistry between them can't be denied. It's almost as if they've met before… Without giving away too much about the inventive plot, we can say that even social misfits can find true love and even if you try to erase someone from your life, the heart remembers. Ultimately, with all of its imperfections, disappointments, heartache and boredom, love is still worth the effort. As Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly put it in his review of the film, "Watching Eternal Sunshine, you don't just watch a love story – you fall in love with what love really is."
Watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind now on iTunes.
There are many types of love on display in Tom Hooper’s 2012 adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel Les Misérables: parental love, love of God and romantic love. Set in France during the early 19th century, the sweeping drama tells the story of Jean Valjean, an ex-convict who sets out to redeem himself. His love for his adoptive daughter, Cosette, gives him purpose. Played by a wide-eyed Amanda Seyfried, Cosette finds love at first sight with Marius, the dashing young student revolutionary brought to life by Eddie Redmayne. Though circumstances conspire to keep them apart, the two young lovers are meant to be together. A perfect movie to watch with your history-loving partner. Just be sure to keep tissues handy.
Watch Les Miserables now on iTunes.
When we think "young love," we don’t usually have pre-teens in mind. Set on an island off the coast of New England in the summer of 1965, Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom tells the story of 12-year-old Sam (Jared Gilman), an orphaned junior khaki scout, and Suzy (Kara Hayward), a juvenile delinquent in a mini dress. The misfit pen pals hatch a plan to run away together. Evading a troop of khaki scouts, Suzy's feuding parents, the local police, and Social Services, the two have a makeshift wedding ceremony and spend a romantic night in a tent on a beach. With their undying dedication to each other, the two young lovebirds manage to find their own small piece of paradise while teaching the adults to be better people. As Suzy says, "We're in love. We just want to be together. What's wrong with that?" As far as we can tell, nothing.
Watch Moonrise Kingdom now on iTunes.
Pride & Prejudice
You've seen the romantic comedy where two people meet and instantly hate each other and you know at once they’ll end up together. It's the opposite of love at first sight, but the attraction can be just as strong. In director Joe Wright's Pride & Prejudice, based on Jane Austen’s classic tale of love and misunderstandings in class-conscious England at the end of the 18th century, Keira Knightley plays the strong-willed, quick-witted Elizabeth Bennet, who is determined to marry for love, and takes an immediate dislike to a certain Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen). You'll be rooting for the two of them to realize they're meant to be together and you'll swoon when Darcy finally woos her with one of cinema's most romantic speeches ever. "You have bewitched me body and soul," he tells her. We're bewitched too.
Watch Pride and Prejudice now on iTunes.