Romantic Films for Valentine's Day Movie Marathons Don't Have to Be Outrageously Unrealistic
Sometimes the best thing you need on Valentine's Day, whether in a relationship or not, is a healthy dose of romance movie realism that gives positive vibes (mostly).
When it comes to romance, Hollywood loves following a generic formula. So much so that there’s no guessing required with most romantic films — you know the story beats and that there will inevitably be a happy ending. These feel-good romantic comedies and dramas serve their purpose: To entertain (and increase sales of tissues). Come Valentine’s Day, romantic movies are always on the menu for an evening in or for singles who enjoy torturing themselves.
Romance movies tend to create unrealistic relationship expectations for those of us who live in the real world and don’t have Hugh Grant managing the local bookshop, Meg Ryan rendezvousing atop the Empire State Building, Julia Roberts waiting for her life-changing knight in shining armor, or Keanu Reeves as a pen pal.
But every once in a while, it’s a relief to watch a romantic film that is actually relatable to that thing called “real life.” It’ll still require tissues; you just may not be tearing up because of a fairytale-like happy ending.
Here are six of the best romantic movies to watch on Valentine’s Day when you’re craving a dose of relationship realism, even if some are still packed with whimsy and heart fluttering moments.
6. Friends and Lovers Are Not the Same Thing - My Best Friend’s Wedding
The 90s produced a slew of romantic comedies, but none like My Best Friend’s Wedding. Major spoiler alert: Julia Roberts doesn’t get the guy! It’s okay, she’s not meant to be with him, and that’s the lesson learned by the time the credits roll.
Before then, of course, her character Jules tries her best to break up best friend Michael’s wedding so they can be together. She only realizes they are soulmates when he announces his engagement — obviously. And her sabotage results in many an embarrassing moment. It also makes her look like a monster. Michael doesn’t want Jules romantically, and she comes to terms with that, while realizing she’s being ridiculous.
Best friends, whether of the same sex or gender or not, are just that. There’s no rule that one day they’ll end up married with two kids and a picket fence, even if Hollywood has sold that fantasy time and again.
5. Abortion and Romance Can Coincide - Obvious Child
Abortion isn’t a topic you’d expect a romantic Valentine’s Day movie recommendation to revolve around. Director and screenwriter Gillian Robespierre doesn’t agree, as displayed with Obvious Child, the story of fledgling stand-up comedian Donna who, after a wild one night stand with a man who is not “her type,” discovers she’s pregnant.
Will he be pro-choice or pro-life? When Max shows up with flowers, you’ll be screaming inside, assuming the movie is going to take the “don’t do it, I love you, let’s get married, and have a baby” route. It doesn’t because Obvious Child takes an authentic approach to life.
These two people barely know one another, and the film demonstrates that neither is in a position to have a child. It’s with this mutual understanding, kindness, and support that the real romance begins, just as the film ends.
4. Go Right or Left, It All Works Out Anyway - Sliding Doors
Everything happens for a reason. That’s a go-to favorite phrase for consolation when a relationship ends. And surely everyone has thought at one time or another that if they’d made a different decision — in love, especially — their life would be so much better.
Sliding Doors addresses that idea by showing how a woman’s life, romantically and professionally, plays out based on whether she makes the subway after being fired — it dictates if she finds her boyfriend in-the-act of cheating or not. The two storylines run parallel, together yet separately providing romance, comedy, sadness, determination, and joy. And just when you think you know how it’ll all wrap up, Sliding Doors offers up an unexpected twist.
That twist is a perfect example of how unexpected life can be and helps you realize that regardless of the route you take, the destination may, in fact, be the same. And love just may be waiting when you get there. Whether it’s your go-to Valentine’s Day movie or what you watch on a random Tuesday, Sliding Doors will always make life look a little brighter.
3. The Best Romantic Film to Save Your Life - (500) Days of Summer
The entire notion that a movie can save your life is ridiculous. Until you’ve had your heart broken in a million pieces, feel that all hope for a sparkling future is gone, and then find yourself watching (500) Days of Summer. Life saved, completely.
This story of a man who can’t let go of his ex-girlfriend, who has clearly moved on from him, breaks your heart, and it’s a perfect Valentine’s Day movie for singles. You’ve been there, swearing your ex was the one, and you’ll never find another. That’s not true. You will, and with time shall come to realize that facing the truth and seeing the relationship for what it actually was, heals.
With romantic films you expect the happy ending to include the couple reuniting. In (500) Days of Summer, it’s the male lead realizing his ex wasn’t the end-all, getting his ability to romanticize back, and moving on. You may press playfully capable of bursting into tears, but by the film’s end, you’ll be grinning and full of excitement for what the future brings.
2. Love Is Really Quite Miserable - Revolutionary Road
Choosing Revolutionary Road, which reunites Titanic stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, as one of the best romantic movies is asking for trouble from every romance film lover. It’s not kind towards marriage or the notion of enduring love; it’s cruel and painful, full of shouting matches and agonizing silence.
Revolutionary Road attempts to bring its once madly in love couple back together, mainly by setting them up to break free of suburban monotony and move to Paris. Sadly, that isn’t realized. Revolutionary Road lays bare unwelcome truths about relationships — they can lead to misery and tragedy. It’s an emotionally devastating film to watch because of its romantic failures and doesn’t leave a viewer unscathed.
If you’ve been considering ending your relationship, this may be the best Valentine’s Day movie choice to get the conversation started.
1. The Trifecta of Romance for a Valentine’s Day Movie Marathon: Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight
If there is a filmmaker that can be blamed for bloating romantic expectations, it’s Richard Linklater. With Before Sunrise, he made us dream of the day we’d meet a stranger and embark on a romantic, otherworldly night. That person will be, of course, our soulmate, which is implied in the film and realized in its sequel, Before Sunset (nine film/real years later).
The two films together are life-ruining because of the romance that is oozing off the screen (the chemistry between Ethan Hawke’s Jessie and Julie Delpy’s Celine is what makes it so successful). Linklater, though, is smart. He knows relationships change with time, and the third installment in the franchise, Before Midnight, explores whether soulmates can live up to expectations.
The couple we’ve dreamed of emulating is in a rough patch — thank goodness! That doesn’t mean it’s over, it’s just going to take work to stay together. That’s life. Linklater’s three-part opus is love explored over time. It’s a beautiful portrait of a relationship. And as romantic films go, the ambiguity-filled trilogy knows no comparison.
The next time you need a romance film reality check or are gearing up for a Valentine’s Day movie marathon to celebrate love’s quirkiness, get your binge on with these films and enjoy the laughter, tears, and clarity they each provide in a unique way.