The Best Romantic Movies on Netflix That Will Make You Feel Like Love Isn’t Dead
Everyone loves a love story, whether you’re ready to admit that or not. No matter how we get to the ending—be it happy or sad—the most human types of stories are the ones where we open our hearts up and give a piece of it to another person. And, no, maybe you don’t want to go to a theater and let people see you crying your eyes out because Hollywood has captured the story of a 20th century biracial couple who paved the way for couples like them who simply want to be married (oh, I think we just told on ourselves). So instead, do it from the comfort of your house: your couch, your tears, your prerogative, dammit.
Netflix has a whole library to choose from, from historical romances to romantic comedies to everything in between. If you’re looking to sob into some tissues, or maybe just to chuckle about all the hijinks it takes to get two people down the aisle, then have we got a list for you.
Expect romance of all varieties from this list: star-crossed, forbidden, historical, and so on. We’re talking a range from sexy heists to strait-laced dramas to teenage romances set in the first blush of young love. If you’re coupled up, these movies will make you grateful you’re off the market, and if you’re looking for love, they’ll remind you that real love is out there in abundance. Settle in with some wine, some chocolate, some oysters—whatever aphrodisiacs you like—and press play to be swept off your feet.
Dance of the Forty One
Based on the true story of an explosive Mexican scandal, this tragic romance dramatizes the events leading up to the Dance of the Forty One, a lavish 1901 party attended by gay men and raided by police. Though the government was eager to bury the incident, as the party’s attendees were members of society’s upper crust, the press was determined to break the story, as the incumbent president of Mexico’s son-in-law was in attendance. Ornate and erotic, Dance of the Forty One locates the human story within this important chapter of Mexico’s queer history.
Nights in Rodanthe
Chances are, your mom has loved Richard Gere for years—Nights in Rodanthe might be the reason. Gere reunites with Diane Lane for their third on-screen pairing in this tender Nicholas Sparks romance about second chances. Lane plays Adrienne Willis, a troubled woman swept into a North Carolina beach town to watch over her friend’s inn, where the only guest is gruff Dr. Paul Flanner (Gere). When a hurricane approaches the coast, sparks fly.
Holding the Man
Based on a memoir by activist Timothy Conigrave, Holding the Man is the story of Conigrave’s romance with his longtime partner John, beginning during their schoolboy days in Melbourne and ending tragically during the AIDS crisis. Movingly tracing the couple’s fight to love freely in a bigoted world, the film follows their sweeping love story with honesty and tenderness.
The Time Traveler’s Wife
Adapted from the bestselling novel by Audrey Niffenegger, this romance centers on Henry (Eric Bana), a librarian with a rare genetic disorder causing him to drift uncontrollably through time, and Clare (Rachel McAdams), the love of his life. As Henry’s disorder throws roadblocks into their shared life at every turn, the film constructs a passionate study of love and time’s intersection.
Whether you’ve seen Ang Lee’s tragic romance a thousand times or you completely missed the phenomenon back in 2005, Brokeback Mountain never gets old. Based on a gritty short story by Annie Proulx, the film stars Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as two cowboys in the conservative American West, who carry out a furtive affair over decades. Epic and heartbreaking, Brokeback Mountain explores the psychic toll taken by a world where lovers can’t live authentically.
Netflix’s remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca can’t hold a candle to the original’s spookiness, but what it can do is offer steamier romance. Daphne Du Maurier’s eerie psychological thriller about a woman driven mad by her new husband’s late wife is faithfully rendered here, with the dial on the twisted romance turned all the way up.
Crazy Stupid Love
Crazy Stupid Love is like three rom coms in one. There’s a bit of a divorce comedy, paired with a coming of age story that will make your toes curl from embarrassment, and of course, a prequel to La La Land that has all the charm your heart could handle. And Ryan Gosling naked in a locker room. It’s a thing.
It’s less of a rom com and more of a com(e get your degree and leave your loser boyfriend in the past). Reese Witherspoon stars in the comedy staple about a prototypical dumb blonde who is anything but when she throws her California life out the window for a law degree at Harvard. While it may start with her chasing a man, it ends with her realizing her own potential to be a legal powerhouse.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
It’s easy to forget that Eurovision is a bit of a romantic comedy. Starring Rachel McAdams and Will Ferrell as Icelandic singers who have hopes of becoming famous via the infamous Eurovision Song Contest, the story is a slow burn about two people realizing that the greatest victory is finding the love that’s been next to them the whole time.
It’s also a PSA to not cross elves. Watch. You’ll understand.
In this historical romance based on a true story, Dakota Fanning stars in the titular role as a young woman struggling to build a marriage with her much-older husband, an influential writer disinterested in any of the emotional or physical intimacies of marriage. Effie Gray depicts its leading lady’s psychological despair as her marriage deteriorates, culminating in a passionate affair with a painter and the eventual annulment of her marriage.
My Week With Marilyn
When Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) lands a gig as a production assistant on The Prince and the Showgirl, he quickly falls under the spell of newly-married megastar Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams), who is plagued by self-doubt, but eager to gain respectability and prestige. During a pause in production, Colin spirits an exhausted Marilyn away to the English countryside, where he sees the nervous, insecure, and often goofy woman behind the Hollywood facade. My Week With Marilyn is a tender tribute to a misunderstood icon.
Gina Rodriguez stars in this charming romantic comedy as Jenny, a music journalist bracing for a new beginning on the West Coast after a devastating break-up with her longtime boyfriend Nate (Lakeith Stanfield). Jenny’s last night out in New York with her best friends leads to some startling realizations about the love story she’s mythologized, making for a bittersweet story about heartbreak and self-love.
In this Best Picture winner directed by Barry Jenkins, we meet an unforgettable young man named Chiron, who grew up Black, poor, and queer in a rough Miami neighborhood. Chiron’s tumultuous journey to manhood is underpinned by a slow-burning romance with a classmate, who comes back into his adult life years later in a sweeping story of love and longing.
James Ivory’s sweeping adaptation of E.M. Forster’s inimitable classic novel stars Helena Bonham Carter as Helen Schlegel, a spirited young intellectual rebuffed by Paul Wilcox, the scion of a wealthy family. Helen’s sister Margaret (Emma Thompson) grows close to Paul’s ailing mother, who bequeaths the family home to Margaret upon her death, but the will soon disappears—until Margaret falls for her late friend’s widower (Anthony Hopkins). Romantic, passionate, and teeming with remarkable performances, Howards End is a sumptuous investigation of class, privilege, and gender.
Listen. Julia Roberts is queen of rom coms. There is simply no other competition. And we have Mystic Pizza to thank for that. Based off a real pizzeria in Mystic, Connecticut, the film follows three teenage girls whose lives take all types of turns in pursuit of growing up, getting out, and finding love.
To echo all the sentiments above, it’s Julia. You can’t go wrong. But a decade or so after Mystic Pizza, she became Maggie Carpenter: a woman who is lucky enough in love… just not so lucky that she’s able to seal the deal with a marriage. After a big city reporter outs her story for his salacious column, he gets fired and sets out to officially meet the woman who has evaded not one, two, or three proposals… but four.
50 First Dates
What if the woman of your dreams was kind and beautiful and funny… but forgot who you were every morning that she woke up. Yikes. Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler star in this romantic comedy about a couple who experience just that. But don’t think it’s serious. This is 2000s Sandler, after all.
Get it—it’s a movie about time, but it’s also about time. Ok, we’ll let the joke tell itself. Domhall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams star in this time travel romance about a man who discovers men in his family can travel through time. He attempts to go back to solidify the relationship with a woman he loves, but he soon finds out… love is not something to be toyed with.
Always Be My Maybe
Hey. No shame. Everyone has a hometown fling that crosses your mind every once in a while, but the issue in Always Be My Maybe is that the fling is rekindled 15 years after high school. Ali Wong and Randall Park star in the charming film that explores if two people, from now-seemingly different worlds, can actually reignite a flame that’s been burning on the low for over a decade.
The Love Birds
Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani are a perfect duo in the accidental crime movie, The Love Birds. After a couple on the town for the night end up in a precarious, if not super dangerous, position, they must work together to stay alive and clear their names for a murder they didn’t commit.
Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher front this comedy about a couple who seem plenty fine with the somewhat mundane married life they’ve carved out for themselves. That is, until she finds out he was a hitman in a past life. Details like that do tend to throw a wrench into an otherwise healthy relationship.
Bonnie & Clyde
You know what? You say Bonnie and Clyde is a heist movie about real life criminals, and yes. You’re right. But there’s also some twisted-ass romance in there, too. Faye Dunaway and Warren Betty are stunning in Bonnie & Clyde, which also happens to be one of the best films of the 20th century.
Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga play the Loving couple—a real duo who reckoned with America’s antiquated notion of who should be allowed to marry whom. The interracial marriage they pursued in 1958 paved the way for interracial couples to come.
Originally a Broadway musical, The Prom tells the story of a lesbian girl who is not allowed to attend prom with her girlfriend because we’re still in a time, somehow, where this is a debate. That story catches the attention of Broadway stars who head to her small town to upend everything the townspeople believe, but they end up shifting their own perspective in the process.
A Secret Love
Why not throw a documentary into the mix? A Secret Love is a precious film about two women who had a decades-long romance that they kept secret. Years later, they came out to everyone in their lives, though coming out in the later chapters of your life comes with its own set of crosses to bear.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
This irreverent and energetic movie stars Michael Cera as a slacker musician who hits the romantic jackpot when he meets his new girlfriend Ramona Flowers—but must defeat her seven evil exes in manic, video game-inspired fashion.
Set It Up
Two corporate assistants (Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell) are tired of their domineering bosses (Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs), so they scheme to hook them up in order to lighten their workload (and, naturally, also happen to fall for each other, too).
She’s Gotta Have It
Spike Lee’s first feature film is an indie black-and-white romantic comedy starring Tracy Camilla Johns as a young woman in Brooklyn who juggles three potential boyfriends.
The Incredible Jessica James
2 Dope Queens’ Jessica Williams proves her leading lady status as a struggling New York playwright who, following a breakup, bounces back by dating a recently single older guy (played by Chris Dowd).
The Kissing Booth
Elle Evans (Joey King) might not be the most popular girl in school, but her social status definitely rises when she volunteers to run the kissing booth at the school carnival—a scheme to lock lips with her crush, who just happens to be her best friend’s brother.
The Theory of Everything
This is based on the love story of the late Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and his first wife, Jane Hawking (Felicity Jones).
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Lara Jean Covey is your typical lovelorn teenage girl, drafting love letters to her former crushes for her eyes only. But when the letters wind up being mailed to the former objects of her affection, her life is thrown into chaos as the boys confront her about her former feelings.
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp) has a lot on his plate. He has to care for his younger brother, Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his mother; his father died by suicide when Gilbert was young. On top of that, he has an affair with a married woman named Betty (Mary Steenburgen). When that ends, he builds a romance with a young woman named Becky (Juliette Lewis) who brings happiness to Gilbert’s challenging life.
Justin Kirkland is a writer for Esquire, where he focuses on entertainment, television, and pop culture.
Adrienne Westenfeld is a writer and editor at Esquire, where she covers books and culture.
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