25 Most Romantic Films You've Probably Never Seen

Romantic movies the Oscars missed.

couple watching movie on laptop Jacob Lund / Shutterstock

What's your favorite romantic movie — Gone With The WindWest Side StoryThe Notebook? Yawn.

Sure, those are great, heart-swelling films, but you've probably seen them numerous times.

If you're looking for something a little different, check out our list of love stories that the Academy, in its infinite wisdom, somehow missed.

Below are 25 gems of romantic films you've probably never seen — some you'll have heard of and some will be brand new, but all of them will leave you enchanted — and maybe a bit teary:

1.  L'ATALANTE (1934)

This French film is a simple story about a young barge captain (Jean Dasté) who falls in love with a woman (Dito Parlo) he barely knows, marries her, and brings her aboard his cramped ship for a working honeymoon. Her only company, while her husband is busy steering, is Jules, the tattooed first mate, and his collection of felines. 


For entertainment, she gets to watch her callow husband smash plates, terrorize the cats and crew, and confirm your suspicions that getting a captain's license does not require a maturity test. When the ship docks in Paris, the wife runs off to get a taste of big city lights, and her husband, feeling rejected, casts off without her.

The film includes a remarkable sequence in which the lovesick captain dives into the water and makes no effort to surface. Floating there, he's a poetic image of romantic depression, a broken man who can only drift in the hopes that he'll be carried to a place where his woman might be waiting for him. Will they get back together? You'll have to watch to find out.


SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Picture; Best Director (Jean Vigo); Best Supporting Actor (Michel Simon); Best Cinematography (Boris Kaufman)


In 1991 the Disney cartoon version of this story was nominated for Best Picture, but the Academy badly misplayed its hand in ignoring this sumptuous live-action fairy tale, directed by Jean Cocteau. Josette Day plays Beauty and Cocteau's frequent leading man (and onetime lover) Jean Marais is lushly made up and elegantly costumed, as the feline-faced Beast. Later versions of this film have taken visual cues from Cocteau's masterpiece, but none has surpassed it.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Picture; Best Director; Best Makeup (Christian Berard); Best Cinematography (Henri Alekan); Best Costumes (Antonio Castillo and Marcel Escoffier)


Richard Linklater made his directorial reputation as a Gen-X wiseguy with Slacker and Dazed and Confused, then made a quantum leap as a filmmaker with this unexpectedly heartfelt romance that just about created an indie sub-genre: the guy-and-girl-open-up-to-each-other-over-the-course-of-a-night-and/or-day movie.


The film makes falling in love look like the easiest thing in the world. (It also makes getting a good performance out of Ethan Hawke look like the easiest thing in the world; unfortunately, all available evidence points to this not being the case.) In 2005, Linklater, his co-writer Kim Krizan and the leads, Hawke and Julie Delpy, reunited for a sequel, called, naturally enough, Before Sunsetthat one was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. In Hollywood, ten years to catch on isn't all that bad.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Picture; Best Director; Best Original Screenplay; Best Actor; Best Actress


A departure from the populist-folksy Americana mode that people now associate with director Frank Capra's name, this film is a visually rich, swoony fantasy about an American missionary (Barbara Stanwyck) who visits Shanghai during the Chinese Civil War and finds herself at the mercy of the powerful, philosophical, and hunky General Yen (Nils Asther).

They never actually get it on but the film, which blessedly predates the Hays Code, maintains a sophisticated erotic atmosphere. It's impossible to know what Stanwyck's dreamy smile in the final shot is meant to say, but I doubt anyone with feeling below the waist imagines she's thinking, "Hot dog! Now I can get back to missionary work."


SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Director; Best Actress; Best Actor; Best Supporting Actor (Walter Connolly)

5.  CHASING AMY (1997)

Kevin Smith has a slight problem as a movie director: he isn't one. His camerawork is about as expressive as a police lineup and you can experience more sensuous visual flow clicking through View-master reels. He can write when he's of a mind to, though, and this movie, his third, was received with rapturous abandon when it was first released.

Twelve years later audiences still relate to its story of a comic book artist (Ben Affleck) who falls in love with a friend (Joey Lauren Adams) who identifies as a lesbian—the movie's anything-goes confusion is more like real life than most formulaic Hollywood love stories.

Smith's feel for post-collegiate bohemian lifestyles and his weakness for cultish in-jokes—like the scene where the characters rework the "my scar can beat your scar" exchange from Jaws as a dirty joke—helped him to reel in smart geeks by making them feel that they, too, could find love at the movies.



6.  CHOOSE ME (1984)

Writer-director Alan Rudolph should have won gold with this silly but sexy romantic comedy set in the plush homes and seedy neighborhoods of Los Angeles. The main male character is insane (which helps disinfect some of the goofier dialogue) but also honest, wise, and effortlessly seductive.

The film's comic highlight is a therapist who dispenses love and sex advice on talk radio, a topic she knows nothing about. In between scenes devoted to (sort of) furthering the plot, pimps and hookers promenade the streets as if they were about to break into a dance number, while Teddy Pendergrass, all sexual confidence, growls yearningly on the soundtrack.

I don't know much, but I do know that if Teddy Pendergrass would croon into a speaker that I could attach to my shoulder while I'm on dates, the world would be a better place.


SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Director; Best Actor (Keith Carradine); Best Cinematography (Jan Kiesser); Best Music (my own personal Oscar category)


Sometimes, when an actor doesn't find success until later in life his stage presence reveals that he's lived a little—especially when compared with the entertainers who've been minding their images since their twenties. Heartbreakers, written and directed by Bobby Roth, stars Peter Coyote and Nick Mancuso as a couple of Los Angeles buddies who are each hung up on a different woman.

The film's special glow comes from Coyote—a former member of the '60s anarchist group the Diggers who didn't get his Screen Actors Guild card until he was 40. Coyote convincingly embodies the hoary but appealing artist as a romantic hero cliché. His amazing performance is so open and convincing that you never want to stop watching him, even when you feel embarrassed for his character, Blue.

Blue is an unknown painter content to live hand to mouth until his girlfriend (Kathryn Harrold) leaves him for a more famous, financially secure artist (Max Gail). Energized by loneliness, despair, and resentment, Blue talks his way into a gallery show and commits to making himself a success; he fantasizes that if he can sell out a show the woman he loves will come back to him.


SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Actor (Coyote); Best Supporting Actor (James Laurenson); Best Supporting Actress (Carol Wayne);  Best Cinematography (Michael Ballhaus)

8.  HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940)

Howard Hawks' classic screwball comedy is actually a play—Hecht and MacArthur's The Front Page—refitted as a romantic comedy via a simple sex change. In the stage version, a newspaper editor will do anything to keep his star reporter from quitting the business to get married. In the screen rendition, a newspaper editor (Cary Grant) will do anything to keep his star reporter and ex-wife (Rosalind Russell) from marrying her new fiancée (and also to keep her from quitting the business, but the two now go hand in hand).

By making editor Walter Burns and reporter Hildy Johnson lovers Hawks placed them in the great tradition of motor-mouthed sparring couples that goes back at least to Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing. Theirs is a romance that is short on tender moments; His Girl Friday is pure romance among wisecracking equals. It's the perfect film for people who dream of long winter evenings huddled in front of the fire, trading biting, witty insults as the coals burn down. 

SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actor; Best Actress; Best Supporting Actors (Pick any five names)


RELATED: 100 Great Movies To Watch Alone (Or As A Couple)

9.  I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING! (1945)

This small black and white film is a treasure. Its main character is Joan Webster, a saucy, self-assured young workingwoman who carries herself like a duchess and addresses her father in public as "Darling." Joan sets out for the Scottish island of Kilairn, where her wealthy, older fiancé has a gala wedding planned. Due to inclement weather, she's forced to land on a nearby island and wait out the storm. It's there that she meets a naval officer (Roger Livesey) who, it turns out, is the Laird of Kilairn. The Laird has fallen on hard times and has been forced to lease his home to Joan's betrothed. Can you guess what happens next?

With its Scottish locations and wind-whipped seas to go with its emotional heroine, the movie has a strong, dramatic sense of place, which is all the more impressive for the fact that the filmmakers had to do without their leading man's actual presence during the location shooting; Livesey was doing a play in London and had to shoot his scenes separately in a studio.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Directors (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger); Best Actress (Wendy Hiller); Best Actor (Livesey); Best Cinematography (Erwin Hiller)


10. LOCAL HERO (1983)

The romance in this sweetly eccentric comedy is between a man and a place. The hero, Mac (Peter Riegert), is a yuppie junior executive at a Houston oil company who is sent to a remote village on the coast of Scotland to buy up properties so his firm can roll in and despoil the natural beauty.

The soon-to-be-rich locals can't wait for their land to be devoured, but the more Mac gets to know the town the less zeal he has for his mission. By the time his billionaire boss (Burt Lancaster) choppers in to see how things are progressing Mac has misplaced his business suit, razor, and hairbrush, and the oilman doesn't recognize him. This is a story of unrequited love; for all his eagerness to go native, Mac is doomed to return to Houston.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Picture; Best Director (Bill Forsyth); Best Actor; Best Supporting Actors (Lancaster; Denis Lawson); Best Original Screenplay (Forsyth); Best Cinematography (Chris Menges)

11. A MAN'S CASTLE (1933)

With ten of his films recently unearthed and now being sold as part of a big DVD box set, and with a biography (subtitled "The Life and Films of a Hollywood Romantic") hitting bookstores next month, the director Frank Borzage may be primed for a real comeback. He had a special ability to create a compassionate, dreamy world even when the backdrop was hard-bitten, Depression-era reality.


A Man's Castle stars the painfully beautiful Loretta Young as Trina, a starving waif who falls in love with Bill, a scuffling mug played by Spencer Tracy. Bill treats Trina dismissively but Tracy manages to make you feel for the unappreciative bastard; you fear what might befall him if Trina ever decides to leave his gruff ass.


12. MIDNIGHT (1939)

In this film a taxi driver tries to convince a woman (Claudette Colbert) to marry for love—that is, marry him—instead of for a bankroll. The wild card is Georges (John Barrymore), a rich old dude who loves his wife (Mary Astor) and rather wishes that she'd stop canoodling with a handsome young gigolo named Jacques (Francis Lederer). Mr. Wealthy makes a deal to pay the woman to attract Jacques so he'll stop kissing up on Georges's wife. Directed by Mitchell Leisen and written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, this is 1930s romantic comedy at its most lushly frivolous and elegantly designed.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Director; Best Actress; Best Supporting Actor (Barrymore); Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Cinematography (Charles Lang)


13.  MRS. SOFFEL (1984)

Mel Gibson has never been more beautiful or given a better performance than in this true story. Set in Pittsburgh at the start of the 20th century, the film centers on a pair of brothers—Ed and Jack Biddle, played by Gibson and Matthew Modine—who was imprisoned for murder.

The title character, Mrs. Soffel, (Diane Keaton) was the prison warden's (Edward Herrmann) wife. She and the couple's children lived in the prison building until fed up with her lifeless marriage and holding-cell living, she helped the brothers escape—and she left with them.

The movie was filmed at the actual prison where these events took place, and the big, dark, stony building is a physical manifestation of the impossible odds against finding romantic happiness in the world, especially for a woman like Mrs. Soffel. This is a movie about people who use each other to screw up what's left of their lives, and who, when they have nothing left but each other, seem to believe that it was worth it.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Picture; Best Director (Gillian Armstrong); Best Actress; Best Actor (Gibson)



This unjustly obscure movie is a straight-up love story with just enough quirkiness to save it from sentimentality.

It starts off at Christmastime in a New York courtroom where the District Attorney (Fred MacMurray) postpones the trial of a smooth shoplifter (Barbara Stanwyck), rather than see the jury let her go in the spirit of holiday forgiveness. Then, feeling just the teensiest bit guilty about what a cold-blooded bastard he is, he pays her bail and gives her a lift home to visit her Ma.

Things change decisively when he gets a load of the icy reception Ms. Five-Finger-Discount gets from her dead-eyed mom, so he stuffs her back in the car and takes her home to meet his folks—talk about diving right into a relationship… By the time they return to New York, The DA is ready to blow the case for her and she's eager to confess her sins so he won't damage his career by behaving like a romantic ass. Sturges summed up the idea behind the movie thusly: "Love reformed her and corrupted him."

SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress (Georgia Caine), Best Cinematography (Ted Tetzlaff)


RELATED: 50 Best Murder Mystery Movies Of All Time

15.  ROXANNE (1987)

Of all the successful comedians who've made it in the movies, Steve Martin may have the most romantic soul. He plays ardor with an open heart and full commitment, which can be pretty funny when, as in his great mad-scientist movie The Man with Two Brains, he's sitting in a rowboat seducing a disembodied brain in a glass candy jar. In his more grounded roles, he adds a vulnerability that feels bone-deep, as if he'd had some experience at things not working out and was trying to shake off the temptation to just give up hope.

Roxanne, which Martin wrote for himself, is probably his most graceful stab at playing a romantic lead. A modern-dress update of the play Cyrano de Bergerac, he plays the fire chief of a paradisical little town in the Pacific Northwest who's resigned himself to being alone because of a nose that juts out of his face like a breadstick. Unlike the play, Roxanne has a happy ending, which, shockingly, may be an improvement on the original.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Picture, Best Director (Fred Schepisi), Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay


16. SAY ANYTHING (1989)

In this classic '80s flick directed by Cameron Crowe, John Cusack delivered his first mature performance as Lloyd Dobler, a recent high school graduate with a mediocre academic record and no worldly ambitions except an absolute conviction that he and Diane (Ione Skye), the brainiac A-lister he has his eye on, would be good for each other.

Cusack makes his character's awareness of his limitations and willingness to commit to Diane add up to something honorable, if not heroic. Lloyd isn't threatened by the fact that Diane is cut out for grander things than he is; he just doesn't want people telling her that's a reason to reject him.

The movie was hailed as an instant classic by everyone—except the Academy; it went unmentioned at that year's ceremony. Nonetheless, the image of Cusack serenading Diane with a boombox held above his head has been an icon of youthful longing ever since.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Actor; Best Supporting Actor (John Mahoney); Best Supporting Actress (Lili Taylor); Best Original Screenplay (Crowe)



Do you know those movies where two people spend the whole film insisting that they hate each other's guts and then at the end realize they really love each other? This is the movie they were all trying to be though you'd have to be half-blind and maybe a little plastered to mistake this gem for most of its imitators. (That includes the official remake, 1998's You've Got Mail.)

It stars James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan as co-workers in a Budapest shop who spend their days sniping at each other and their evenings writing to their lonely hearts pen pals. The twist, of course, is that without realizing it they've been exchanging love letters with each other.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Picture; Best Director (Ernst Lubitsch); Best Actor; Best Actress; Best Adapted Screenplay (Samson Raphaelson)

18.  SOLARIS (2002)

This science fiction flick, based on a novel that first made it to film in Russia in 1972, is a love-it-or-hate-it affair. Some people think it's one of the most boring things ever threaded through a projector, but for all its slow, humorless airs, its lonely ache tugs the heartstrings of some movie-goers (myself included). 


George Clooney plays a psychiatrist sent on a mission to a space shuttle orbiting a planet called Solaris. Soon after he boards the ship he starts seeing visions of his dead wife (Natasha McElhone). The movie boasts a terrific performance by Viola Davis, as the most hardheaded member of the crew; it should have gotten her some of the attention she's finally won this past year for her Oscar-nominated performance in Doubt.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Actor; Best Supporting Actress; Best Cinematography ("Peter Andrews", a pseudonym for Stephen Soderbergh)

19.  SOMETHING WILD (1986)

Five years before he became Oscar bait with The Silence of the Lambs, Jonathan Demme directed this awesome take on the screwball-romance road movie.  It starts out as a celebration of cheap thrills and transgressive fun and turns into something darker and more challenging.

Melanie Griffith plays a kook who picks up a businessman (Jeff Daniels) at lunch on a Friday and, tempting him with such delights as cheap booze and handcuffs, shanghais him along for her high school reunion. Then her ex (Ray Liotta) shows up. The characters shuck off conventional restraints for what at first feels like a wild three-day weekend. They develop real feelings for each other when they're forced to risk their self-images, their place in society, and maybe their lives.


SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actor (Daniels); Best Supporting Actor (Liotta); Best Supporting Actress (Margaret Colin); Best Original Screenplay (E. Max Frye); Best Cinematography (Tak Fujimoto)

RELATED: 74 Sad Romantic Movies That Will Make You Cry

20.  THIEVES LIKE US (1974)

Robert Altman's take on the Bonnie and Clyde theme is set in Mississippi in the 1930s and stars Keith Carradine and Shelley Duvall. He plays Bowie, a sweet, ingenuous kid who just escaped from a prison chain gang; she's Keechie, a skinny country girl with a rabbity smile who gives him refuge when he's been injured in a car accident. They have the special magic of two people who really do seem to be made for each other, which makes the fact that he's doomed that much more affecting.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actor; Best Actress; Best Supporting Actor (John Schuck); Best Supporting Actress (Louise Fletcher); Best Cinematography (Jean Boffety)


21.  TIN CUP (1996)

You may not remember this, but Kevin Costner was once a big star and a major romantic idol. (Costner himself might remember but based on the later roles he chose, there's a pretty good chance that he never understood his own appeal.) Tin Cup was made in Costner's earlier days, and he looks great.

The film casts him as a talented but hopelessly undisciplined golf pro whose courtship of a flustered psychiatrist (Rene Russo) is romantic, rowdy, and a rollicking good time. When they finally tumble into bed together, they generate enough steam to give hope to single, aging fortysomethings everywhere.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Actor; Best Actress; Best Original Screenplay (John Norville and Ron Shelton)


This gorgeous jewel of a movie was made by the same team responsible for The Shop Around the Corner, but they're quite different (aside from the fact that they're both damn near perfect). The film is set among the astronomically rich, and the tone is stylish, crystalline high wit.


Herbert Marshall plays an elegant, cultured thief who hooks up with a colleague—a beautiful clothes-horse of a woman (Miriam Hopkins) with whom he engages in a seductive round of competitive pocket-picking. All is good until Marshall goes to work schooling a rich woman, Kay Francis, in the ways of high society as only an amoral fraud could master them. Hopkins begins to worry that his heart isn't in fleecing Francis because, of course, he's falling for her.

Sly, shimmering lines of dialogue flow through this film like a champagne tree. To succeed at this kind of entertainment you have to have a supernatural level of skill and inspiration—and these filmmakers had 'em both. 

SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Picture; Best Actor; Best Director Ernst Lubitsch); Best Adapted Screenplay (Samson Raphaelson)

23.  TRULY, MADLY, DEEPLY (1991)

This was the first movie directed by the late Anthony Minghella, who later made The English Patient. That film cleaned up at the 1996 Oscars, but this wonderful little movie went unnoticed, though at the time it inspired a lot of reviewers to praise it as, basically, Ghost for smart people.


The criminally undervalued Juliet Stevenson plays Nina, a woman who shuts down after the untimely death of her boyfriend, Jamie (Alan Rickman). Then Jamie reappears, sets up camp in her apartment and they have a grieving lover's dream reunion. But Jamie begins to slowly irritate the hell out of Nina, constantly complaining about the cold and inviting all his ghost pals to cram into her living room for a video night.

The movie doesn't reveal if Jamie is a ghost or Nina's fantasy; either way, their extra time together allows Nina to de-romanticize her memory of Jamie and move on with a new guy. Truly, Madly, Deeply may be the most entertaining grief counseling session ever filmed.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actress; Best Actor; Best Original Screenplay (Minghella)


This high-style screwball comedy stars Rex Harrison as a famous symphony conductor whose peerless aplomb is shaken when he's given reason to doubt that his beautiful young wife (Linda Darnell) has been faithful. The movie is a head-spinning mixture of rowdy slapstick and spectacular verbal wit. Seeing the magisterial Harrison, who rips through his comic monologues like a concert violinist hitting one golden note after another, doubt his potency is both funny and touching. (A 1984 remake starred Dudley Moore as the conductor. Dude, it's not the same.)


An extended sequence in which Harrison's character fantasizes about murdering his wife may have been too bold for audiences in 1948. It may also have hit too close to home: it came out the same year that Harrison was caught up in a scandal involving the actress Carole Landis, who dies by suicide during their affair.

Its subsequent box office failure helped destroy director Preston Sturges's career. Ironically, he may have been working out his own issues in the script. Sturge married some much younger women in his time, and the film includes speeches about how an older man should be grateful for the time and interest of a beautiful woman.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actor; Best Supporting Actor (Edgar Kennedy); Best Original Screenplay (Sturges)

25.  ZOO IN BUDAPEST (1933)

This one-of-a-kind fantasy is set in a studio-made Budapest. The hero is an early PETA-type (Gene Raymond) who lives in the zoo and steals animal furs off the backs and necks of people wearing them. (He burns them, which makes throwing red paint seem kind of measly.)


Our animal lover meets Loretta Young, an orphan, and potential indentured servant, during her class trip to the zoo. He persuades her to slip away and turn fugitive, joining him in a private idyll in an anthropomorphic world. It's a movie that defies all known categories, which might have confused the Academy, but won't dampen your enjoyment. 

SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Director (Rowland V. Lee); Best Actor; Best Cinematography (Lee Garmes)

RELATED: 80 '80s Movies That Are Still Iconic Today

Phil Nugent is a contributor to YourTango who writes about films and media.