14 Unconventional Films for Celebrating Romance


“The Kiss” painting by Francesco Hayez (1791 – 1882) public domain

I’m a big movie lover. As a writer, I also like watching films to study story structure. My tastes tend toward science fiction or thrillers most of the time, the cheesier the better. I usually won’t voluntarily watch a romance. In fact, I dislike a lot of popular romantic movies. I hated Love Actually and The Holiday. Don’t judge. I’m not a bad person, I promise.

Last week I watched Casablanca, one of my few traditionally romantic faves. What a perfect movie. Great story, dialogue, acting, even the lighting. Just perfect. But even though it’s one of the greatest love stories on film, it’s not your typical trope. Spoiler alert in case you’ve never seen it: boy doesn’t get girl. What’s so romantic then? Boy sacrifices his happiness for girl’s greater good.

That’s what great about Titanic, too. The bittersweet idea of true love discovered and then fate mixes things up. And also Old Rose. She rocks.

You might be thinking, girl, what’s the matter with you? I find broken journeys much more compelling. I think love is a diamond hardened over time in the fires of life’s afflictions. And more often than not it doesn’t hold up under the pressure. You know I’m a recovering pessimist, right?

That’s why when we find love, we have to cherish it, protect it, nurture it, and mostly work hard at it. Love does happen, but enduring love is a choice and a daily action. I’m so privileged to have Keeper Hubby in my life for 28 years and counting. He encourages me to be my best self, discover my true beauty, inside and out, and to seek out fulfillment through my gifts and talents. And he’s taught me the importance of laughing at life, and myself, and embracing playfulness, which I’ve been pretty deficient in most of my life. We know each other very well, and although we don’t agree 100% of the time, we still like staring deep into each others’ eyes. He’s a Keeper.

Okay enough of the mushy stuff. In honor of Valentine’s Day, here’s my list of 14 films to celebrate romance. Some couples end up together, some don’t. I endorse watching with your pet, who won’t judge you when you blubber at the all the romancey parts.

The list, in random order: (no detailed spoilers):

1. Doctor Zhivago (1965)

A love story set over the backdrop of the Russian revolution. If you can hang in for over three hours, and follow all the fatalistic hook ups and plot twists, it’s an epic movie. You may not find rainbows and happy dust, but there’s haunting music and lots of snow.

2. House Of Flying Daggers (2004)

This Chinese film was nominated for the 2004 Academy Award for Best Cinematography. Color used like a character in the story, elements of Chinese opera, ballet-like martial arts effects, and thrilling action set it apart, but the bones of the film is the love story. It leaves you hoping throughout that the lovers reach their goal. The blizzard scene is wondrous.

3. Ladyhawke (1985)

Anyone remember this 80’s fantasy film? Set in Medieval Europe, the thief Philippe Gaston, known as Mouse, escapes the dungeons of Aquila to be taken in by Navarre, a man hunted by the evil Bishop. Navarre avoids the Bishop’s traps with the help of a trained hawk. The Bishop hates Navarre because he is the love of the beautiful Isabeau, whom the Bishop wants for his own. Navarre and Isabeau have a torturous secret, and when Mouse learns a way they can be set free from the secret, he goes into action. 1980’s icons Matthew Broderick, Michelle Pfeiffer, and the incomparable Rutger Hauer star.

4. Zombieland (2009)

Zombies in a love story? Of course! I love this movie because it has all my favorite elements: zombies, killing zombies, a budding romance, sarcastic zingers, pop culture references, and Bill Murray. Because, Bill Murray. Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone as the tentative sweethearts are just plain cute.

5. Conspiracy Theory (1997)

Who isn’t intrigued by the possibility that conspiracy theories could be real? Who really killed JFK? Aliens on earth? The Illuminati? Moon landing staged? Genetically modified food? Oh, well, um, yeah…

This movie stars Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts. Jerry is a taxi driver with some nutty ideas about conspiracy theories. He tells them to Alice, a Justice Department lawyer who tolerates his rants because he saved her from a mugging. After Jerry is put into a hospital for his hallucinations, Alice becomes suspicious and checks into things. The one constant in Jerry’s psychosis is his love for Alice. Are the theories real, or a figment of Jerry’s fertile imagination? What’s totally real: Jean-Luc Picard (Sir Patrick Stewart) as a bad guy. Awesome.

6. The Saint (1997)

Val Kilmer on his A-game makes this one worth watching. He is Simon Templar, a thief, with the skills of a super spy, and the heart of a romantic poet. His job: steal a top secret weapons formula from super-smart but naive scientist Emma, played by Elizabeth Shue. When Simon realizes his gig could help start World War III, it will take all his skill to protect the world, and Emma. Lots of good banter between the characters, and Val Kilmer’s ability to portray so many ‘people’ make this one of my favorites.

7. In A Lonely Place (1950)

Classic film noir, Humphey Bogart is at his charming yet menacing best, as has-been screenwriter Dixon Steele. Dix gets caught up in a murder investigation, but his neighbor Laurel, played by Gloria Grahame, vouches for him, and they drop him as a suspect. Dix becomes intrigued by his beautiful neighbor, and they fall in love. But strange things begin to happen. Could Dix be the murderer after all? I first saw this movie on a lazy Saturday afternoon of couch potato television in my twenties, and loved it. This film is quintessential noir genre.

8. Elf (2003)

This Christmas movie has a ton of quotable quotes and a fun plot, but the love story between innocent Buddy and skeptical Jovie makes me happy every time I watch it. “I think you’re really beautiful and I feel really warm when I’m around you and my tongue swells up. So… do you want to eat food?”

9. Xanadu (1980)

I saw this at the movie theatre when it first opened in 1980. I was a sophomore in high school, and my friends and I agreed this was the perfect movie. A trippy musical, lots of dancing, a handsome leading man, flowing costumes with leg warmers, ELO on the soundtrack, and roller disco! Others didn’t like it as much, and Xanadu was considered so bad, it was the inspiration for the Golden Raspberry Awards, which recognizes the worst movies and movie performances each year, so proceed with caution. Plot: A starving artist forced to work as an album cover designer to make ends meet, Sonny falls in love with one of the nine Greek muses, played by Olivia Newton John. Will the Gods let them live happily ever after? Will Sonny get his creative mojo back?Can ELO jam the tunes throughout eternity? Very cheesy, lots of fun. Look for a great cameo by Gene Kelly, because what’s a musical without Gene Kelly?

10. Deja Vu (2006)

A great mashup of genres (I’d call this a sci-fi action political thriller romance!), Denzel Washington stars as Special Agent Doug Carlin, working for the ATF in New Orleans investigating a domestic terrorist attack aboard a ferry that kills hundreds of U.S. Navy sailors. A young woman found floating in the river is thought to be linked to the attack. As Carlin investigates the woman’s home, he sees the phrase ‘U Can Save Her’ spelled out in magnetic letters on her refrigerator. With help from a mysterious FBI scientific unit, Carlin explores Claire’s life, and falls in love with her. He is determined to discover the truth. Lots of action and strange twists.

11. My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)

Okay, this is more in the vein of a traditional rom-com, but I think everyone can relate to My Big Fat Greek Wedding on some level. Disappointing your parents, breaking out to live an independent life, family traditions, and crazy wedding days! It’s just funny. Will Toula and Ian be able to bridge their cultural differences and live happily ever after? As long as there’s Windex on hand…Me likey.

12. The Mummy (1999)

I love this movie! I watch it just about every time it shows up on cable (which is a lot). What’s more romantic than saving your sweetheart from an ancient high priest mummy rising from the grave to bring on the apocalypse? Besides scary mummies, there are flesh-eating bugs, desert nomads, the ten plagues of Egypt, and snappy dialogue.

Evie: “Look, I may not be an explorer, or an adventurer, or a treasure-seeker, or a gunfighter, Mr. O’Connell, but I am proud of what I am.”

Rick: “And what is that?”

Evie: “I am… a librarian.”

The Mummy is a cheesy action adventure that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and that’s what makes it so endearing. It’s a pretty simple premise, with a lot of cool special effects thrown in. As the hero Rick O’Connell himself says “Rescue the damsel in distress, kill the bad guy, save the world.” Make a lot of popcorn and have a double feature with the sequel The Mummy Returns.

13. Salt (2010)

This action thriller stars Angelina Jolie as Evelyn Salt, a CIA operative who is accused of being a double agent for Russia. Salt must escape CIA custody and find the Russian accusing her. Although it’s not the primary arc, Salt’s relationship with her scientist husband is key to the story. Does Agent Salt do what she does for king and country, or for love? I know what I think, watch it and tell me what you think.

14. Open Range (2003)

I like this movie for two reasons.

#1 It’s a western, and westerns are awesome. Well done, they are the American equivalent of Shakespeare, IMO.

#2 The love story is about old people. What? Old people can fall in love? Have THOSE kinds of feelings? I know the actors aren’t old-old in the real world, but sweet romances between people over the age of 30 portrayed in Hollywood are the rarity, although it seems to be shifting a bit. Great acting from Kevin Costner, Robert Duvall, and Annette Bening.

Charley and Sue have both been waiting a long time for love. It seems a range war is going to get in their way. Is it too late for them?



I wrote this list of movie favorites just for fun, but I’d love to hear your viewing suggestions. Do you have a favorite romance movie? Can you convert me to become a romance movie fan? Maybe it’s tried and true, maybe it’s a little non-traditional. What should I put in my Netflix queue?


6 thoughts on “14 Unconventional Films for Celebrating Romance

  1. I am surprisingly (or not surprisingly) in agreement with many on your list. I saw a lot of movies as a kid, partly because the theater in Poteau, OK where I grew up had a Sunday afternoon movie. After church, my family would eat at a downtown cafe because my dad, who owned a lumber yard until 1968 did a trade out for building materials with the cafe owner. The Victory Theater was across the street and my parents allowed me to go to the movies by myself beginning around age 9. That was a good trade out for my parents and I, because I was occupied for a couple of hours and they were able to do whatever. Not sure, and didn’t care at the time what they did with my little sis who was three years younger. I was enthralled by the movies for a couple of hours.

    I completely fell in love with Geraldine Chaplin’s character in Dr. Zhivago, pregnant and all. It’s probably the reason I didn’t run when my wife to be told me when we met at age sixteen that she wanted to me a stay at home mother of two sons and two daughters. It’s exactly how our lives turned out. I also saw Goldfinger in 1964 and have been in love with Bond girls ever since.

    Like most writers, I have a zombie story on the back burner. Zombieland really put me in my place adnd my zombie story will remain on the back burner for a while. A love story? Absolutely!!!! Val Kilmer and Elisabeth Shue have never looked so good as they did in The Saint. Great story, great romance and as close to a Bond movie as it can be without being an Actual Bond movie.

    My late wife was a big fan of musicals, so of course we watched and liked Xanadu. Elf is the, It’s a Wonderful Life of our time. Somehow, I only discovered Deja Vu last year. Wow, what a story and I completely agree with your review. Salt solidified me as a fan of Angelina Jolie forever. Probably because it’s a Bond movie with a female lead. At age 60, I have to agree with you on Open Range. Older people can and should fall in love again.

    Finally, I have a love/hate relationship with Love Actually. Because of losing the love of my life after 36 years in 2008, it pulls at my heart strings. I really like all the people in it and wish I’d managed to summon up the courage of the young boy in the movie to express my feelings for some of the girls I went to school with way, way back in the day. I guess my shyness saved me since I did end up with the love of my life after all. I’ll be watching Casablanca on the OETA movie club tonight on Valentine’s Day, then I’ll put on the only James Bond movie where 007 got married, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Love prevails, even if it is followed by tragedy.


  2. I love this list – so diverse! I’m pretty picky about romance flicks, too. Bridges Over Madison County and The Giant Mechanical Man are two of my faves. We saw The Rewrite in the theater yesterday–loved it, too. 🙂


  3. Oh man, I loved this post way more than I thought I would. Especially this line- “love is a diamond hardened over time in the fires of life’s afflictions.” I may start quoting this from time to time if it’s ok with you. 🙂 Loved your movie list! There were a lot that I haven’t seen. It’s a good thing today is Friday. 🙂


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