From La La Land (2016) to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), we rank the best romantic movies of the 21st century.
Love is a universal theme in films; it weaves its way into every genre and can instantly make a fantastical scenario both realistic and relatable. Films like Gone With the Wind (1939), It Happened One Night (1935), and Doctor Zhivago (1965) introduced the power of love stories to the silver screen. While those are well-known, there are plenty of indie films that are just as powerful in their characters and storytelling.
Romantic movies can be touching and beautiful, feel-good and funny, and also heartbreaking and tragic. They aren’t all sappy lovey-dovey stories with happy endings. And they don’t all come out of Hollywood, either. Some of the most romantic movies come from countries, like France and South Korea, and across languages.
At the same time, some of the most romantic moments in film aren’t from classic romantic movies. Think about your favorite movie. It might not be a romantic movie, but it has romance in it, doesn’t it? Think of The Addams Family with Morticia, Gomez, or Lee and Evelyn in A Quiet Place. No wonder, romance genre is the most well-represented in cinema. Quickly then, here’s lining up the most swoon worthy romantic films of the 21st century. Remember, the list covers films 2000 onwards; we didn’t forget Casablanca.
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Best Romantic Movies of the 21st Century
50. Jab We Met (2007)
A chance meeting between two strangers on a train leads to events that will change their lives forever. This light-hearted romcom stands out for the sparkling chemistry between its leads. Shahid Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor Khan deliver exceptional performances, bringing their characters to life with authenticity and charm.
49. (500) Days of Summer (2009)
The boy meets the girl and falls in love. While that is the essence, it isn’t the average love story. Starring Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon Levitt, 500 Days of Summer is a heartfelt tale with many sad, naturalistic moments despite its romantic Hollywood ending.
48. The Notebook (2004)
Based on the book by Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook is one of the most romantic movies of all time. It’s a tearjerker that reminds audiences to cherish what they have and to remember just how fast time flies. Rachel McAdams’ performance is a stand-out in her career.
47. Wake Up Sid (2009)
Ayan Mukerji’s coming-of-age film masterfully explores the journey of self-discovery. Ranbir Kapoor’s stellar performance and Ayan Mukerji’s adept storytelling blend seamlessly, making the film an appealing, emotionally resonant treat for cinephiles. It has a great rewatch factor that stands the test of time.
46. High Fidelity (2000)
High Fidelity is a romantic comedy that shows us what it’s like to fall in and out of love. It’s a musical romp in which the characters learn about themselves while making the audience laugh. It also features Jack Black, which makes it worth the watch.
45. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
At its core, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a feminist romance. It’s widely regarded as a horror film, but its romantic elements are undeniable. It’s shot in beautiful monochrome and depicts the wanderings of a lonesome vampire. The movie is unforgettable, and it’s mesmerizing to watch.
44. Take this Waltz (2011)
The simplicity of this movie is undeniably what makes it so appealing. Seth Rogen and Michelle Williams play the roles of a happily married couple until Williams’ Margot meets the handsome Daniel. It’s an engrossing romance that is full of truth and heart.
43. Moulin Rouge (2001)
Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor inspire audiences and celebrate love and life in the musical spectacular Moulin Rouge. It’s visually beautiful, and it still holds up decades later. It’s a ground-breaking tour-de-force that is the gold standard of movie musicals.
42. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
The award-winning Silver Linings Playbook looks at mental health through a new lens. It shows the audience two truly flawed characters that go through very real-life situations. Lawrence and Cooper are endearing and a joy to watch.
41. The Fountain (2006)
The Fountain is a stand-out film that takes a mythological approach to love through the ages. It centers around the concept of the Tree of Life and asks us, what lengths would we go to to save the one we love? It’s a mystical and beautiful poem of a film.
40. Dil Chahta Hai (2001)
Dil Chahta Hai (2001) is a refreshing take on friendship and love, breaking away from the traditional Bollywood narrative. Directed by Farhan Akhtar, the film is a realistic portrayal of the lives of three best friends, played by Aamir Khan, Saif Ali Khan, and Akshaye Khanna, each with their unique perspectives on life and love.
39. Once (2006)
Looking for a poignant Irish musical romance? Once is the film for you. It takes the audience through all the stages of falling in love. You root for the characters because even though they don’t seem compatible, their music transcends the fact that they aren’t a typical pair.
38. My Sassy Girl (2001)
My Sassy Girl is a realistically messy rom-com that is so much fun to watch. It has its cliche moments but is still undeniably original and refreshing. The first half invites the audience to have a good time, and by the last act, leaves you sentimental.
37. Goodbye First Love (2011)
Goodbye, First Love is an intimate drama that effortlessly evokes memories of young love. Director Mia-Hansen Love gracefully avoids the melodrama that comes with the subject and instead focuses on tender, sensitive emotions. The film is beautiful and heartbreaking.
36. Love Actually (2003)
Love Actually follows the love lives of various couples as they all go through different challenges. It shows the very real moments of meeting the one, falling out of love, having an affair, and searching for love. With its all-star cast, it’s hard not to love.
35. Raincoat (2004)
Raincoat is a romantic drama which is based on a short story by Manoj Basu. It revolves around two former lovers brought together by destiny to spend a day. The ensuing conversations are seeped with nostalgia and yearning, and they gradually learn the truth about their current lives.
34. Pariah (2011)
Pariah is a simple Indie film about an African-American teenage lesbian living in Brooklyn. The teenager’s sexual expression, however, threatens her relationship with family and friends. It’s full of symbolism, powerful dramatic acting, and nothing but good intentions.
33. Brooklyn (2015)
Brooklyn isn’t the typical sappy romance movie. It is an emotionally intelligent story of a teen girl facing very real decisions in her young life. The film is a faithful look at the time period (1950s Brooklyn) while still being a positive tear-jerking romantic drama.
32. Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Luca Guadagnino’s introspective, heart-breaking drama tells the story of 17-year old Elio. Set in the summer of 1983 near a village in northern Italy, Elio is smitten with Oliver, a graduate student who comes to work with his professor father. Guadagnino intimately depicts the longing, excitement, agony, and doubt that love brings.
31. Loving (2016)
Loving is a poignant portrayal of the real-life struggle of an interracial couple. The film’s strength lies in its understated performances, particularly Ruth Negga, and its subtle yet powerful narrative. It’s a compelling testament to love’s power to overcome societal barriers.
30. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000)
Aside from being an incredible Kung-fu movie, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon has the essence of a love story. It has romantic endeavors, fervent desire, unrequited love, and Michele Yeoh. Ang Lee weaves a poignant love story amidst breathtaking action, creating a cinematic experience that is as emotionally stirring as it is visually stunning.
29. Moonlight (2016)
Moonlight is a poignant exploration of identity, sexuality, and black masculinity, told through a triptych narrative. The film’s tender exploration of the protagonists’ relationship is heart-rending, capturing the nuances of their emotional connection.
28. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Wes Anderson brings us the defiant story of two kids in love. It’s a series of events that perfectly and accurately portray young love and the feeling of finding someone who gets you. Moonrise Kingdom is a sweet, touching, and a feel-good fun film.
27. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
Only Lovers Left Alive has a great flow and depicts sex, blood, and rock ‘n’ roll. It’s about punk rock vampires (played by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton) who reunite after centuries. It’s fun and sensual, and the chemistry between the two leads is palpable.
26. Weekend (2011)
Weekend is about self-expression and gaining the power to live your life the way you want. It’s fearless in its efforts to inspire audiences to wake up to the reality of the world we’re living in. It doesn’t try too hard, it’s riveting, and above all, it’s human.
25. 96 (2018)
Watching 96 is an experience, rich in nostalgia and sensitivity. The film is about the unconditional love between two alleged soulmates. It’s a mature high school romance that is breezy and beautiful and then just heart-wrenching.
24. Submarine (2010)
Submarine is a romantic coming-of-age comedy with a spectacular point of view. Richard Ayoade created an original film that is truly one of a kind. It transcends typical British rom-com films by taking risks and being self-aware. This darkly comedic movie is a must-see.
23. Head-On (2004)
This film is beautiful and brilliant in that it confronts the audience with its fearlessness and nihilism. It’s a hopeful story that shows character development through desperation, destructive behavior, and finding love in places you would never think to look.
22. The Lobster (2015)
If you’re looking for an original movie, The Lobster is the film for you. It’s unbelievably funny and utterly strange in the best way. It takes human emotion to the extreme in a satirical style that is truly diabolical and so much fun to watch.
21. The Lunchbox (2013)
Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox is a tender, incredibly moving romance. The film follows a couple that meets serendipitously. It’s a slow-burn film that features great acting, love, loss, and a yearning for companionship. If you dislike romance films with formula or stereotypes, The Lunchbox is your pick.
20. Paterson (2016)
Paterson shows a week in the life of an average couple. Jim Jarmusch’s slice-of-life movie that shows life’s beauty through its highs and lows. It’s simple and innocent, allowing the audience to reflect on everyday life and the little things.
19. What Time Is It There? (2001)
What Time is it There is a fever dream full of emotion, loneliness, and complex characters. The movie is funny, hopeful, and mildly absurd. It’s interesting to watch characters deeply yearning for love, getting all caught up in their own quirks and obsessions.
18. Talk to Her (2002)
This film shows how love and relationships can be viewed very differently. Pedro Almodóvar’s Talk to Her is two love stories in one and revolves around men in relationships. It nurtures and shows the power and importance of patience when it comes to those you love.
17. La La Land (2016)
The Ryan Gosling-Emma Stone starrer famously lost the Oscar, but is still an incredible movie that is successful in its own right. La La Land is a believable tale of struggling artists in LA. The movie uses music and color to bring the fantastical world it creates to life.
16. Wall-E (2008)
Wall-E doesn’t seem like a romance on the surface, but it absolutely is. It’s innocent and unassuming, but its clever use of storytelling and sound design makes it incredibly exciting. Andrew Stanton’s animated masterpiece is as much for adults as it is for kids.
15. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
This film is so successful in what it set out to do. It’s frustrating and heartbreaking to watch two men deny their feelings for each other for the sake of society. Moreover, Brokeback Mountain begs the question of what it means to be a man. It’s a must-see.
14. Blue Valentine (2010)
This is the third entry on the list featuring Ryan Gosling, and Blue Valentine is as real as it gets. It portrays a couple that got married for the wrong reason, and now feels trapped. It’s somber and painful to watch, which is a testament to the acting and the director’s sensibility.
13. Carol (2015)
Carol is the story of women who are playing with fire. It shows the turmoil of having a lesbian relationship in 1950s America. It keeps the audience on edge as we discover if they will go the distance for love. It’s a beautifully shot film that celebrates love and femininity.
12. Lost in Translation (2003)
Lost in Translation is a romantic drama that doesn’t explicitly feature romance. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson star brilliantly in this film, along with the magical score and intelligent writing. The movie reflects on freedom, friendship, heartbreak, and soul searching.
11. Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013)
Blue is the Warmest Color is triumphant in its ability to explore womanhood and portray the feeling of falling in love for the first time. It chronicles sexual frustration, self-discovery, and young lesbian love culminating in a real-life scenario.
10. Tabu (2012)
The stylistic Portuguese black-and-white film revolves around an old wealthy woman reminiscing about her younger, rebellious self and how she fell in love with a man during her stay in colonial Africa. It’s a surprisingly modern tale that explores time and wealth through a dream-like journey that evokes fond memories.
9. Before Sunset (2004)
Before Sunset is the story of the one that got away. It’s technically a sequel but could easily stand alone as its own movie. There is a lot of dialogue that allows the audience to feel like they’re in on the conversation and living in real-time with the characters.
8. Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
Punch-Drunk Love, starring Adam Sandler in an unexpectedly poignant role, deviates from cookie-cutter love stories, offering a raw portrayal of vulnerability, anxiety, and genuine connection. It masterfully melds Paul Thomas Anderson’s auteur touch with Sandler’s unexpected depth, creating a quirky yet poignant romance. A visually captivating, offbeat romance that surprises and resonates. An atypical gem in Sandler’s repertoire.
7. Her (2013)
Her is a science fiction romance that reminds us how technology can both isolate and bring us together. It’s an eccentric tale about a simple man falling in love with an AI. Spike Jonze invites the audience to indulge and allow themselves to feel lonely.
6. Y tu mamá también (2001)
One of the best movies of all time, Y tu mamá también consists of a road trip and life lessons. Two boys grow and mature together as they invite a woman to travel with them. It is sexually graphic, but it adds to the integrity of the film. It’s so real that everyone can relate to it in some way.
5. Amour (2012)
Michael Haneke’s Amour is emotionally taxing to watch, and yet is an absolute must-see. The elderly couple faces a hard decision that tests their love and decades-long relationship. It’s heartbreaking, beautiful, touching, and, above all, romantic.
4. Your Name (2016)
This compelling anime film is a critically acclaimed sci-fi fantasy about a small-town girl and a big-city boy. It gains momentum as it goes on and creates an enchanting world for the characters to fall in love. Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name is a brilliant and original romance of dreams.
3. Amélie (2001)
Amélie is the story of finding your own happiness. It’s a Parisian fairytale in which a woman discretely improves the lives of everyone around her. This film is for the dreamers who imagine meeting a handsome stranger and falling in love.
2. In the Mood for Love (2000)
A visually stunning masterpiece, Wong Kar-wai’s romantic piece captures unspoken desires and fleeting moments, set against a backdrop of 1960s Hong Kong with its evocative storytelling. In The Mood For Love is a slow burn that is sexy and stylized and also sad and brutal. It’s a story of loss and betrayal that can come with finding a new, passionate, and intense sweet love.
1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a mesmerizing exploration of love and memory. From Gondry’s storytelling to Charlie Kaufman’s Oscar winning-screenplay, the film is a haunting, surreal cinematic experience. This isn’t just a film. It’s an introspective journey that challenges our perceptions of love and the memories we choose to keep or erase.
There we are! That is our ranking of the 50 best romance movies of the 21st century. Grab your tissues, open your heart, and dig into our list of love. If you want even more love from the past 23 years, check out Pride and Prejudice (2005), Love and Basketball (2000), and Josee, the Tiger, and the Fish (2020). What are the best romantic films that have your heart? Let’s talk in the comments below.
I’m an actor, singer, writer, and artist, incredibly passionate about film and other art forms. Outside of work, I love spending time with my dogs and eating Poke.