The 45 Best Romance Movies of the 21st Century, from ‘High Fidelity’ to ‘Carol’

What would movies be about if not for love? Since well before the days of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in “Casablanca,” romance has driven countless classic stories, setting up some of the highest highs in cinematic history to follow. Be it Cary Grant and Grace Kelly seeing stars in “To Catch a Thief” or Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal disturbing diner patrons in “When Harry Met Sally,” the 20th century was chock full of iconic romances that helped humanity fall in love with the movies. Of course, those titles were dominated by white artists telling largely heteronormative tales — meaning many (but not all) of the best and most inclusive romances have arrived this millennium.

Now, the best romance movies of the 21st century both resonate and surprise, showing audiences characters they might recognize from their own lives in new and surprising ways. Yes, finding “the one” is exceedingly well-frequented thematic territory, but that makes sense. It’s something many people have done or will do and seeing it reflected on screen can give audiences cause for hope, a chance to reflect, or a bit of both. Movies like “Cold War,” “Disobedience,” “Love & Basketball,” and “In the Mood for Love” illuminate the rich specificities of humanity’s limitless capacity for connection, while making room for the intangible magic needed to finally get that first kiss.

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Whether you’re laughing at giddy actors bumbling through a rom-com or weeping alongside a heartbroken character whose life reflects your own, romantic movies remind us what makes life worth living in even the darkest of times. So cut that peach “Call Me by Your Name” fans, and get your creamed spinach and poached eggs ready, all you lovers of “Carol.” Excluding most romantic comedies (because there’s a separate list for that, of course), here are the 45 best romance movies of the 21st century.

With editorial contributions from Alison Foreman, Christian Zilko, Samantha Bergeson, David Ehrlich, Michael Nordine, Proma Khosla, Christian Blauvelt, Kate Erbland, Eric Kohn, and Anne Thompson.

45. “Pride and Prejudice” (2005)

“Pride and Prejudice” - Credit: ©Focus Films/Courtesy Everett Collection
“Pride and Prejudice” - Credit: ©Focus Films/Courtesy Everett Collection

©Focus Films/Courtesy Everett Collection

Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” is one of the original romantic comedies, but Joe Wright’s 2005 adaptation decidedly prioritizes the “romantic” half of the equation. Wright made many changes to the story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy’s courtship, setting it in an earlier era and emphasizing sweeping romance over comedy of manners. The edits make it a divisive adaptation among Austen purists, but the film also has a loyal fanbase, and it’s hard to deny the appeal of its lush and swoony tone. It helps that the movie has ringers as its leads, with Keira Knightley as a grounded Elizabeth and Matthew Macfadyen breaking out as an awkward, shy (but still very hot) Darcy. —WC

44. “Jab We Met” (2007)

“Jab We Met” - Credit: Courtesy Prime Video
“Jab We Met” - Credit: Courtesy Prime Video

Courtesy Prime Video

Indian romantic comedies might be known worldwide for scale and spectacle, but this humble 2007 film from writer and director Imtiaz Ali holds a special place in the hearts of many. Kareena Kapoor and Shahid Kapoor (no relation and at the time, a real-life couple) star as Geet and Aditya, two dichotomously different strangers who meet on a cross-country train (which they later miss after getting off at a stop). The journey brings them together and gives way to unlikely romance — and not uncomplicated, since Geet has a boyfriend back home who she plans to marry. “Jab We Met” subverts rom-com tropes while embracing the best of them, especially with its characters; Aditya is reserved and frankly depressed, while Geet’s bubbly joie de vivre lives right next to a short temper and choice curse words. Pritam’s soundtrack sounds unlike any of its contemporaries (or his other work), and it’s just one of many aspects that makes the film so indelible. From Ali’s script and vision to Natarajan Subramaniam’s cinematography to subtle, endearing performances from two of the era’s top stars, “Jab We Met” is a rom-com you’ll want to get to know immediately. —PK

43. “Once” (2007)

“Once” - Credit: Buena Vista International
“Once” - Credit: Buena Vista International

Buena Vista International

Frames frontman Glen Hansard and Czech singer-songwriter Markéta Irglová had already released one album as The Swell Season before Hansard’s old bandmate, filmmaker John Carney, approached them about turning their work (and, eventually, their own relationship) into a scrappy musical romance about a mismatched duo who find salvation in their street tunes. Perhaps that’s why the 2007 indie hit feels so intimate and real, as if Carney somehow managed to slip his camera (and a script) between two people just as they were beginning to explore how their emotions could inspire a romance and an enviable album filled with hits.

Shot over the course of just 17 days (and chronicling about half that time in actual narrative), the Indie Spirit winner and box office hit follows first-time actors Hansard and Irglová as loosely imagined versions of themselves, both singer and songwriters, struggling to make it on the streets of Dublin. When life (read: music) brings them together, they set about on a charming journey that sees both of them opening up to each other and the world around them.

While parts of the film keep things at a remove — the characters are never named, and important biographical details are slowly meted out over time, with a language barrier to boot — the chemistry between the duo, both emotionally and musically, ensures it keeps a firm hold on the audience’s heart. Rife with instant hits, like the Oscar-winning “Falling Slowly” and the truly clever “Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy,” it’s the sort of film that will leave you singing out joyfully after a watch, only to remember, perhaps too late, the pain of the journey there. —KE

42. “Right Now, Wrong Then” (2015)

“Right Now, Wrong Then”
“Right Now, Wrong Then”

South Korean director Hong Sang-soo’s work tends to blend together, but that usually enhances its appeal. There has rarely been a better instance of this phenomenon than his latest feature, “Right Now, Wrong Then,” which is actually the same movie played through twice with slight variations — and equally charming results.

So many of Hong’s movies involve neurotic-but-endearing characters, one of whom is usually a filmmaker; at some point, he usually drinks too much, argues and obsesses over women, career woes and creative aspirations. Throw in a couple unassuming structural gimmicks — flashbacks, voiceovers, an unreliable narrator or two — and the entertainment value of Hong’s oeuvre maintains a comforting routine for those keen to its appeal.

The filmmaker’s deceptively simple approach of static camerawork, occasionally interrupted by the wandering pan or abrupt zoom, belies canny storytelling tactics lurking in the texture of his narrative. Hong’s films offer a distinct entertainment value embedded in their clever designs. “Right Now, Wrong Then” follows a conceit not unlike “Groundhog Day,” with characters enduring an identical experience and making small but notably different actions that lead to varied outcomes.

Just as Bill Murray learned to seduce women through a process of failure, so too does respected film director Ham Sung (Jae-yeong Jeong), as we watch him go through the process of romancing shy painter Hee-jung (Min-hee Kim). While Murray’s Phil knew he was trapped in a cycle of repetition, however, the two versions of Ham Sung’s story are self-contained. Still, like “Groundhog Day,” Hong’s movie expertly plays with the endless network of possibilities created by every moment. –EK

41. “A Star Is Born” (2018)

“A Star Is Born” - Credit: ©Warner Bros/courtesy Everett Collection / Everett Collection
“A Star Is Born” - Credit: ©Warner Bros/courtesy Everett Collection / Everett Collection

©Warner Bros/courtesy Everett Collection / Everett Collection

Every generation gets the “Star Is Born” version they deserve, but after nearly a decade spent in development hell and cycling through an enviable array of attached talent (Clint Eastwood and Beyonce, Christian Bale and Jennifer Lopez, the combinations were as endless as they were fascinating), it didn’t seem as if the Millennials and the Gen Z-ers and the Zoomers were ever going to get theirs. And then came…Bradley Cooper?

The lauded actor (and also voice of a cartoon superhero raccoon) pulled out all the stops for his directorial debut, not just slipping inside his rough-and-tumble Jackson Maine, but turning that dedication toward every facet of the feature itself. He hired Lady Gaga and Sam Elliott. He sang all his own songs and made them sound good alongside Gaga’s formidable pipes. Mostly, he found new levels of cinematic craftsmanship and honest heartbreak in a story that had been engineered to do just that, repeatedly.

The film pulled in eight nominations at the 91st Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Cooper), Best Actress (Gaga, who ultimately won for Best Original Song), and Best Supporting Actor (Elliott). It was a box office smash and proof positive of Cooper’s directing chops and Gaga’s acting cred, but all that splashy stuff aside, what makes Cooper’s “Star” such a standout are the elements that go beyond box office take and award accolades: the songs and the emotion.

From the spine-tingling chills of Gaga’s raw “aww—awww—awwwwww!!!!” to kick off “Shallow” to the heart-rending final song a distraught Gaga sings to a crowd of assembled peers, the film conceives of a wholly realized musical world for its inhabitants in which they work out what’s happening to them. But the film also lives and dies by the smaller moments, a glimpse from Gaga at Cooper during their first meeting, a barely concealed grimace from Elliott during his last meeting with Cooper, a lovingly prepared last meal. Life might not always be worth singing about, but “A Star Is Born” bridges the gaps between each note, finding music even in the silence. —KE

40. “Amélie” (2001)

“Amélie” - Credit: Miramax/Everett Collection
“Amélie” - Credit: Miramax/Everett Collection

Miramax/Everett Collection

Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “Amelie” is one of the fluffier entries on this list, but few films leave their audiences feeling happier when the credits roll. Audrey Tautou gives a career performance as a shy young woman with an uncanny talent for improving the lives of those around her. The whimsical film establishes a unique color palette and visual style from the very first frames, and dishes out massive doses of positivity as it finds magical ways to portray the power of kindness. Some might accuse the unapologetically happy movie of being too Pollyannish, but it’s so uplifting and easy on the eyes that you would have to be heartless to gripe about it. —CZ

39. “If Beale Street Could Talk” (2018)

“If Beale Street Could Talk” - Credit: Annapurna Pictures/Everett Collection
“If Beale Street Could Talk” - Credit: Annapurna Pictures/Everett Collection

Annapurna Pictures/Everett Collection

If “Moonlight” established Barry Jenkins as an exciting new voice to watch, “If Beale Street Could Talk” proved that his knack for telling warm-yet-understated Black love stories was unquestionable. Jenkins’ follow up to the (eventual) Best Picture winner is warmer and more mainstream than “Moonlight” in just about every way, while maintaining the unique stylistic aspects that established him as an essential filmmaker. Telling the story of a pregnant woman who is determined to prove that her boyfriend is innocent of the crime he’s being accused of, the film succeeds because it does all of the small things right. Anchored by two phenomenal performances by KiKi Layne and Stephan James, it eschews excessive stylistic flourishes in favor of telling a pure love story. “Moonlight” is a better film, but there’s a strong case to be made that “If Beale Street Could Talk” is an equally great love story. —CZ

38. “Disobedience” (2017)

“Disobedience” - Credit: Bleecker Street Media/Everett Collection
“Disobedience” - Credit: Bleecker Street Media/Everett Collection

Bleecker Street Media/Everett Collection

Sebastián Lelio’s burning-yet-elegant “Disobedience” is more than the familiar feminist rebellion you might think. In the exquisitely melancholic lesbian romance, Rachel Weisz plays Ronit, an excommunicated Jewish woman who unexpectedly returns home after the death of her father. She’s soon reunited with her old friend Dovid, a conflicted Alessandro Nivola, and Esti, David’s wife and Ronit’s secret childhood sweetheart played by a shapeshifting Rachel McAdams. The trio’s impromptu exploration of freedom, intimacy, and the conflicts inherent therein offers not just a compelling LGBTQ love story, but a powerful reflection on the rules we choose to follow and those we fight to defy. —AF

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