A quick poll of the Finstock crew will confirm: we are not a sentimental bunch. Averse to sappy and downright allergic to schmoopy, it’s not so much that we don’t like love, it’s that so much stuff labeled “romantic” is just a little, well, dumb.
But love’s not dumb, right?
So in honor of Valentine’s Day, we’re offering up 14 heart-worthy films that aren’t just slapping a schmaltzy soundtrack over flustered meet cutes and twirling make out sessions in the rain. A little brash with a bit of bite, these movies give love the respect it deserves and won’t insult your intelligence this V-Day. Watch them with someone who gets you.
Palm Springs (2020)
Of the few dozen original films Hulu has made, Palm Springs is the best of their narrative efforts. The easiest way to sum it up is Groundhog Day for the millennial set, but the simple fact that two people are looping (instead of just one) gives this time loop movie the necessary differentiation—especially considering one of them has been looping for what amounts to decades. Andy Samberg and sharp-as-a-tack Cristin Milioti star as wedding guests in the titular desert, trapped in a wedding they just can’t leave.
When Harry Met Sally (1989)
Sometimes you wonder why they still write romantic comedies since Nora Ephron’s script pretty much perfected the genre back in 1989. Harry meets Sally when they drive from Chicago to NYC just after college to start their new lives. Through a dozen years of chance encounters, they eventually develop a friendship which, naturally, leads to more. Quotable from beginning to end, it’s a masterclass in what makes love hilarious, baffling, and essential.
Punch Drunk Love (2002)
Wait, the guy who directed There Will Be Blood made a rom com? Starring Adam Sandler? Yes. And it’s beautiful. Sandler plays Barry, a guy suffering from rage issues who sells novelty toilet plungers and puts up with his seven terrible sisters. His two current passions are exploiting a loophole in a Healthy Choice promotion to get a million frequent flier miles, and enjoying his found harmonium. When the reprecussions from calling a scammy phone-sex line threaten to complicate his budding relationship with Lena (Emily Watson), Barry directs his rage so maybe he can finally let it rest.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Taking the idea of burning your ex’s photos one step further, Clementine (the excellent Kate Winslet) has her ex physically erased from her memory. When Joel (played by Jim Carrey in one of his non-terrible more serious roles) figures out he’s been erased, he undergoes the procedure too. With Charlie Kaufman writing and Michel Gondry directing, Eternal Sunshine gets imaginatively weird, like a picture book about love and heartache that comes to life and catches a train to Montauk.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
People with mental illnesses deserve love too. Silver Linings Playbook pairs up Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence as two heartbroken people who train for and enter a dance competition. Why? To woo back/get over their respective exes. To win a bet. To help the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Cowboys. And also because watching two non-pro dancers give dancing their all is cinematic cookie dough. With a smart script, choice performances, and tight direction, it’s a rom-com minus anything saccharine.
Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)
You get the feeling that Crazy, Stupid, Love has seen all the other rom coms out there. Part of it wants to do something totally different, the other part wants to celebrate its favorite tropes from the genre—the schlub-to-chic makeover, the lothario finding true love, the Dirty Dancing lift. Every player is excellent here, including Emma Stone, Steve Carrell, Jullianne Moore, and Ryan Gosling—who really leans into his dreamboat status to bravura effect.
High Fidelity (2000)
Combining a killer soundtrack, encyclopedic pop culture references, and exhaustive introspection, High Fidelity stars rom com alt hero John Cusack as a record shop owner who just lost Laura. Convinced she didn’t mean that much to him, he deep-dives into his past relationships trying to understand just went wrong. Full of lines you’ll work into your everyday vernacular, it’s an eternally rewatchable lovesong that offers cinematic closure to the decade of the ‘90s.
Harold & Maude (1971)
Skip back four decades to a movie that comes *this close* to being too dark to qualify as a comedy. The Harold portion of Harold & Maude is a 19-year-old obsessed with death. Maude is a carefree, vibrant woman approaching her 80th birthday. Needless to say, the two fall in love. Staging elaborate faked suicides and murders to subvert his mother’s overbearing plans for his future, Harold finds in Maude what was missing in life. And isn’t that what any rom com should do?
This bright and super saturated French film tells the story of a solitary waitress at a Paris café who spends her time happily interfering with, forging connections between, and regenerating wonder in everyone around her. Plot rules dictate that at some point she’ll need to turn her matchmaking powers on herself. Before, during, and after that happens, Amélie offers a euphoric moped ride through a Parisian wonderland that makes it worth reading the subtitles.
Groundhog Day (1993)
Like I said earlier, Palm Springs adeptly uses its time loop conceit (as do Edge of Tomorrow and Source Code before it). But none quite compare with the delightful novelty Bill Murray et al gave us back in 1993 with Groundhog Day—aka the grandfather of all day-on-repeat movies. When a grouchy TV weatherman gets stuck in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania he has to live the eponymous day over and over until he successfully woos his field producer—by making himself a better person.
The Big Sick (2017)
What’s missing from so many romantic comedies (I’m of course referring to those that didn’t make this list) is perspective. What better way to get perspective than to have a rom-com script written by (and about) a real-life married couple? And what better subject matter for a movie about love than autoimmune disorders, arranged marriages, culture clashes, and a medically induced coma? Kumail Nanjiani plays a version of himself, Zoe Kazan plays a version of Nanjiani’s wife, Emily. The two meet, start a relationship, and break up five months later. Then Emily is hospitalized and Kumail gets the call.
Roman Holiday (1953)
Stupid Covid messed up everyone’s vacation plans. So watch Roman Holiday and spend two hours on location in Rome—alongside the incandescent Audrey Hepburn and venerable Gregory Peck. Shot in 1953, the film follows an American reporter and a European princess spending one fine day together in the Italian capital. It’s exactly as lovely now as it was then and the vision of a post-WWII Italy recently emerged from under a long dark shadow is particularly therapeutic.
I Love You Phillip Morris (2009)
So yeah, Jim Carrey appears twice on a list of movies that purport to not insult your intelligence. That surprised us too. Like The Big Sick, I Love You Phillip Morris is a based-on-fact love story, but the facts here are slightly more insane. When a cop (Carrey) comes out as gay, he becomes a con man. After landing in prison, he falls in love with inmate Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor) and goes on increasingly bonkers escapades which include elaborate cons, a faked death, embezzling, and prison escapes (plural).
Set in a magical land known as 1980s “movie Brooklyn,” Moonstruck centers on a widow (Cher) who is settling for a nice man she doesn’t love (but likes just fine). When she meets the guy’s tragic baker brother (Nicolas Cage), things get fiery. With plenty of the familial yelling and hand gestures that signal the cinematic Italian-American family, it’s an endlessly charming comedy with a whip smart script and superb performances from a seriously talented cast.