As couples celebrate Valentine’s Day, curling up and watching a romantic movie will no doubt be a way several choose to spend their evening. Falling in love is arguably the most universal theme a film can have (since it’s something that happens to just about everybody), and there are plenty of options to pick from when movie night doubles as date night.
Unfortunately (for men), several movies that are considered “date friendly” are also negatively branded as “chick flicks” (see: any entry in Matthew McConaughey’s rom-com résumé), meaning that they are purposely designed to appeal to a female audience (much like action movies are theoretically designed for guys). While it’s true films like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and The Notebook have their demographic, they don’t always make for ideal couples viewing, since there isn’t much for the male to enjoy. Luckily, there are also many examples of movie love stories that manage to appeal to both genders, making the film an entertaining viewing experience for everybody. Here are some of our picks for movie love stories men AND women can enjoy.
Andy Tennant’s entry into the rom-com genre was criticized by some pundits for its predictable nature, but it by and large succeeded with audiences thanks to its charm and entertainment value. If you’re looking for a fun watch this holiday, this is a good place to start.
The film features dual love plots for its two male leads, but it’s the chemistry between Will Smith and Kevin James that makes Hitch what it is. The stars are perfectly mismatched as the smooth-talking lady’s man and loveable loser, providing fans with humorous banter and physical stunts that compliment Hitch’s romantic scenes. The duo comes off as very likeable and relatable, making it easy for us to root for them to end up with the women of their dreams.
As an added bonus, the lessons of Hitch can be applied to real life. Male viewers can learn how to improve their dance moves and attract a women’s attention. We wouldn’t recommend quitting your job to make her notice you, but sometimes it does work out.
The Princess Bride
Rob Reiner’s genre-blending cult hit may not be the first film that comes to mind when you think of great movie love stories, but The Princess Bride cracked the American Film’s “100 Years, 100 Passions” list for a reason. The romance between Westley and Buttercup is only a single cog in this great wheel, but fighting for the noble cause of true love is ultimately what fuels this swashbuckling adventure to its riveting conclusion.
William Goldman’s screenplay is what makes The Princess Bride a treat for anyone to watch – not just couples. The movie has a witty comedic edge and several laugh-out-loud sequences, including “Chatty Duelists” and “Miracle Max.” Working as pure escapist entertainment, the film’s sense of fantasy and fun gives it a cross-generational appeal that many love stories wish it could have.
It’s a testament to The Princess Bride’s strength as a film (and not just a “love story”) that its most famous scene doesn’t even involve Westley or Buttercup. Inigo Montoya’s quest for revenge satisfies the cravings of action junkies by giving the movie another substantial plot line to follow. We may all want the two lovers to get together, but it’s also fun to root for the good-natured Inigo to accomplish his mission.
Set in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse, 50/50 director Jonathan Levine offers viewers an unusual spin on Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet by using young lovers R and Julie as the catalysts for bringing two worlds together. Using deadpan humor and amusing performances, Levine draws the audience in from the film’s funny opening minutes and allows them to remain invested throughout this heartwarming tale.
In zombie films, the undead are usually the villains, but Warm Bodies is told from R’s perspective and paints him as a victim of his situation; someone who aspires for more, but is a little directionless. By saying things like he’s “conflicted” about feasting on human brains, it’s safe to root for R. Giving audiences a new riff on a classic trope, Nicholas Hoult’s well-meaning, kind-hearted character helps change our perception of the monsters and we want to see him “live” happily ever after.
Also adding to the film’s appeal is the extensive world building and mythos established. The inclusion of the Boneys not only adds an interesting component to an already fascinating film, it also gives the audience more reason to hope R succeeds since they exist as a warning for what our hero could become if he gives up all hope.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Edgar Wright’s comic book adaptation may not be a couple’s first pick for movie night, but the Ant-Man director crafted a film that’s certainly worth your time. With stunning visuals, self-referential humor, and great comedic performances, this story of one man’s battle against seven evil exes is sure to win over the hearts of all.
Usually, the only source of drama in a romantic movie is whether or not the would-be lovers will end up together. Scott Pilgrim ups the stakes in a major way by making our hero battle to the death against his beloved Ramona’s former partners. Not only does this make the film work as a terrific action movie, it also is an extreme way of illustrating how far someone will go for true love.
Wright’s directorial flair also makes this a worthwhile option since it is one of the more unique films ever made. The film’s world is designed like a video game (complete with graphics and experience points) and Wright uses this element to infuse some style in with the substance, making this tale of self-respect and romance a blast to watch.
It may have spawned such memorably cheesy lines like “you complete me” and “you had me at hello,” but Cameron Crowe’s Best Picture nominee is arguably the perfect date night movie. Thanks to the film’s just-as-iconic sports storyline (“Show me the money!”), both men and women had a subplot they could invest in throughout its run time. After all, the movie’s big emotional breakthrough takes place during Monday Night Football.
Cuba Gooding, Jr. won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as Rod Tidwell, and the actor is a big reason why Jerry Maguire was as successful as it was. The charismatic, loud-talking receiver was not only comedy gold, he offered a great riff on the diva superstar that so many NFL fans are familiar with. By pulling the curtain back on agent-player relationships, the film also allowed guys to see the sport they love in a different light. It was interesting to see the inner workings of a sports agency and how athletes and agents complement each other.
While the men are left wondering whether or not Tidwell will score his mega contract, females get drawn into the love story between Maguire and his secretary Dorothy Boyd. Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger had great chemistry (big assist to an adorable child Jonathan Lipnicki) and the duo is responsible for several sweet and heartwarming moments – including the aforementioned “you complete me” sequence. Their “will-they-or-won’t-they” dynamic would have been a strong enough movie on its own, but the romantic and sports aspects – sorry – complete the film.
Sleepless in Seattle
It’s not quite as iconic as When Harry Met Sally, but this Nora Ephron script delivered a movie that was just as successful – if not more. Grossing $126.6 million when it was released in the summer of 1993, the film found traction on the awards circuit, scoring two Oscar nods and three Golden Globe nominations. Using an unconventional setup (the main characters don’t meet until the final scene) and solid performances, the film was able to appeal to a wide audience.
Sleepless in Seattle overcomes the traditional rom-com trappings in large part to the casting of Tom Hanks, who lends credibility to whatever project he signs on for. Making Sam Baldwin’s relationship with his son Jonah the emotional crux of the story proved to be beneficial, as the two characters treat viewers with scenes that are funny (“Have you ever seen Fatal Attraction?”) and heartfelt. By focusing on the father/son dynamic for a majority of the film, Ephron (who also directed the film) gave the movie a different vibe that separated it from similar titles.
The film further stands out thanks to its premise, which follows two individual storylines that eventually tie together. Most rom-coms follow a strict formula that becomes easy to predict, but given that the two leads live cross-country and – for lack of a better term – are unaware of each other for a bulk of the running time, it gives Sleepless in Seattle an extra layer of mystery and intrigue. We’re convinced Sam and Annie would be right for each other, but we don’t know if it will ever happen.
Silver Linings Playbook
David O. Russell’s film may have been jokingly referred to as the “token rom-com nomination” when it scored eight Oscar nods in 2012, but it proved it was much more than that. Featuring a terrific ensemble that included Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert De Niro, the movie’s critical and commercial success transcended its genre and ended up offering a much more deeper story than your typical “chick flick.”
It helps that the love relationship between Pat and Tiffany isn’t the main focus of the narrative (until the very end). A majority of the film follows the two characters as they work on bettering themselves as human beings and search for optimism in even the darkest situations. Watching them work towards these goals gives Silver Linings Playbook an inspiring narrative that anyone can turn to when the going gets tough. It’s not so much a love story as it is an overcoming adversity story.
Similar to Jerry Maguire, Russell’s film contains a sports angle that’s appealing to anyone with knowledge of the NFL. As we wait for Pat and Tiffany to realize they’re perfect for each other, seeing De Niro’s superstitious Pat, Sr. in action gives football fans a character they can fully relate to and an opportunity to see how the film’s themes can apply to them or others they know.
James Cameron’s Oscar-winning epic has a (mostly) negative stigma attached to it thanks to overly-simplified characters and a weak screenplay (it became the first Best Picture winner since 1966 to not have its writing nominated), but with a box office total of over $600 million and a record 11 Oscars to its name, there’s no denying that the film managed to appeal to multiple demographics when it was released.
If nothing else, cinephiles should be able to look past the Jack and Rose romance and appreciate the amazing craftsmanship viewers got to witness. A history buff and lover of the ocean, Cameron painstakingly made sure every last detail was right, building a life size replica of the ship and giving the large cast period-appropriate costumes. Digital and practical effects are seamlessly blended, making Titanic a (visual) wonder to behold. It’s easy to criticize hammy performances, but it’s clear that Cameron truly cared about his passion project as he once again pushed the boundaries of filmmaking.
While the love triangle takes up the better part of the film’s first two acts, it’s the suspenseful finale that earns Titanic a spot on our list. Cameron went back into action director mode and he was most comfortable helming the horrifying depiction of the ship’s fateful encounter with the iceberg. Combining elements of horror and action thrills, the third act is gripping cinema at its finest.
Films don’t win Best Picture without having multi-gender appeal, and the classic Casablanca certainly has it in droves. Widely considered to be one of the greatest movies ever made, Michael Curtiz’s romantic drama scored eight Oscar nominations (including three wins) and found itself on several of the American Film Institute’s “100 Years, 100…” lists, which praised everything from the characters to the quotes to the music.
A big factor for the film’s overwhelming success is the presence of screen legend Humphrey Bogart. The actor had made a name for himself starring in film noir projects including High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon, which made him a favorite amongst male moviegoers. While female Casablanca viewers were attracted to Rick’s handsomeness and charm, the character had a cynical edge that helped raise the hero above the trappings of the stereotypical romantic male lead. A well-written character (instead of a one-note caricature) is also more fascinating to watch.
Using World War II as a backdrop, Casablanca also has higher stakes than your typical romance film, as the question of “life or death” overcomes “will they or won’t they.” Victor Laszlo’s quest for safety in America provides much of the dramatic tension. Like so many other films on our list, the fact that the love story is only part of what makes this film great is the main reason for its appeal. The main plot is about a man trying to do the right thing and its themes of morality and sacrifice give it a number of layers.
When Harry Met Sally
The film that dared to ask the question “can men and women be friends?” is an easy pick for our list. Rob Reiner’s hit romantic-comedy isn’t just one of the best in its genre, it’s widely considered to be a great film all-around. Nominated for five Golden Globes (including Best Picture – Musical or Comedy and Best Director), this influential film set a new standard and raised the bar for the many imitators that followed. Feeling both old-fashioned and contemporary, it’s earned a reputation as a timeless classic that will be viewed for many years to come.
A lion’s share of the credit must go to Nora Ephron’s exceptional screenplay, which received several accolades (including an Oscar nomination). Diving into the male and female psyche, viewers of both genders had a perception they could relate to. Ephron crafted two strong protagonists to carry us through the film, making it easy for men to see Harry as the main character and women view Sally as the lead.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan had phenomenal chemistry. From the film’s hilarious opening minutes to its heartfelt, emotional conclusion, it’s obvious that these two were perfect for each other. Creating a likeable pair worth rooting for, Sally’s mix of beauty and brains made her an ideal romantic partner while Harry’s neuroses provided several big laughs.
Romantic movies that strive to appeal to both genders will continue to be prevalent in Hollywood until the end of time. Similar to how an animated film should have something for kids and adults, studio executives should keep in mind that the target audience for the ideal “date night” movie should be both halves of the couple and become more than just a “chick flick.”
Here are a few honorable mentions that just missed the cut:
- About Time: An interesting sci-fi spin adds a thought-provoking element to a story about learning the value of enjoying your life as it is.
- Garden State: A coming-of-age tale for 20-somethings that also offers a Grammy-winning soundtrack.
- Risky Business: A star-making turn for Tom Cruise in an entertaining, wild satire of suburban youth (pictured above).
Of course, these are just our picks for movie love stories men and women can enjoy. Be sure to list some of your selections in the comments below and let us know what you’ll be watching with your significant other this Valentine’s Day.
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