I’m a romantic at heart and love a happy ending as much as the next person. Particularly, in a world where true love is hard to come by. However, as we know, not all romances end with happily ever after. This does not detract from their legitimacy or sincerity. For this reason, I also have a special regard for romantic tragedies. Sometimes a sad ending to a love story makes it even more poignant and moving. For as the poet Alfred Tennyson once said, “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

RELATED: Top 50 Classic Romances in Film That Will Make You Swoon

To this end, I have created a list of romantic tragedy films, both classic and contemporary. Many of these are adapted from novels, plays or even real-life stories. Not all of them are flat out tragedies, some just lack the happy ending. But all of them feature at least one romantic pairing whose love story ends with separation. For the purposes of this list, I have excluded films from the film noir and suspense genres. The emphasis of this list is on romantic stories.

SIXTY ROMANTIC TRAGEDIES

(in alphabetical order)

#SPOILERS

1.  21 Days Together (aka 21 Days) (1940)

Romantic Tragedies ListWhy You Should Watch: Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier are one of the most famous couples both on stage and in classic films.  They made three films together including this one about a couple spending their last days together before he goes on trial for murder. They wring every last bit of happiness they can out of those days without descending into self-pity.

Content Note: Not rated. Murder and an affair are discussed and implied, but not show.

Where to Watch: Airing on TCM, May 22 at 8:15 AM EST. Purchase on DVD.

2.  Above and Beyond (1952)

Romantic Tragedies List

Photo: MGM

Why You Should Watch: This picture starring Robert Taylor and Eleanor Parker presents an interesting question about the emotional fallout of the effects of war on marriage and family. Not all sacrifices can be measured by physical or monetary costs.

Content Note: Not rated. No objectionable content.

Where to Watch: Rent or buy on Youtube, Google Play and Vudu. Purchase on DVD.

3.  Algiers (1938)

Romantic Tragedies List

Photo: Public Domain

Why You Should Watch: A remake of the famous French film  Pépé le Moko, it stars the popular French-American actor Charles Boyer who embodies the doomed jewel thief Pepe. This story personifies the mouse in a trap cliché, but in an entertaining way. And it co-stars the stunning Hedy Lamarr.

Content: Not rated. But there is nothing explicit.

Where to Watch: Stream on Amazon Prime, Epix, and Tubi. Rent or buy on Amazon. Purchase on DVD.

4.  Anna Karenina (Adaptations)

Anna Karenina (2013) Review

Photo: Nordic Productions and Lux Vide

Why You Should Watch: One of Leo Tolstoy’s novels, Anna Karenina, is a celebrated work of fiction with complex characters, storylines, and themes. Plus, it provides a glimpse in the Russian mindset that is uniquely Tolstoy. It is also an intriguing study of personal relationships mixed with societal expectations.

Content Note: Ratings vary depending on the adaptation from PG to R. But adultery is a large part of the story and there is a suicide which takes place off-screen. Some versions include profanity.

Where to Watch 1935 adaptation: Airing on TCM, March 12 at 1:30 AM EST. Rent or buy on Youtube, Google Play or iTunes. Purchase on DVD

Where to Watch 1948 adaptation: Airing on TCM, April 15 at 2:15 PM EST. Purchase on DVD

Where to Watch 1961 adaptation: Purchase on DVD

Where to Watch 1967  adaptation: Purchase on DVD

Where to Watch 1977 adaptation: Purchase on DVD

Where to Watch 1985 adaptation: Rent or buy on Vudu, Youtube, Google Play or iTunes.

Where to Watch 1997 adaptation: Purchase on DVD

Where to Watch 2000 adaptation: Stream with Acorn. Rent or buy from Amazon. Purchase on DVD

Where to Watch 2012 adaptation: Rent or buy on Amazon. Purchase on DVD.

Where to Watch 2013 adaptation: Stream on Amazon Prime.

5.  Atonement (2007)

Robbie and Cecelia
Photo: Focus Features

Why You Should Watch: Nominated for seven Oscars, this story of love lost due to a tragic betrayal is an unforgettable one. Not to mention the performances are excellent and the costuming perfectly captures the characters and their place in time.

Content Note: Rated R for sexuality, strong language, and war violence.

Where to Watch: Stream on Netflix. Rent or buy on Amazon, iTunes, and Vudu. Purchase on DVD.

6.  Autumn in New York (2000)

Romantic Tragedies List

Photo Credit: Lakeshore Entertainment & MGM

Why You Should Watch: It’s rare to see a May-December romance portrayed favorably on screen as this one is. It is also nice to see the character arc of Richard Gere’s playboy character. His interactions with a dying young woman are not just about romance but about personal growth.

Content Note: Rated PG-13 for language and sensuality.

Where to Watch: Rent or buy from Amazon or Vudu. Purchase on DVD.

7.  Becoming Jane (2007)

Photo: Miramax Films

Why You Should Watch: There are numerous adaptations of Jane Austen’s works, but fewer films focusing on her life. This one in particular looks at her younger years, a potential romance and the people and events who may have helped shape her stories.

Content Note: Rated PG, but does contain a few uses of mild profanity and sensuality, including one scene with nudity.

Where to Watch: Stream on Netflix. Rent or buy on Amazon, Youtube, Google Play, iTunes and Vudu. Purchase on DVD.

8.  Brief Encounter (1945)

Photo Credit: Eagle-Lion-Distributors

Why You Should Watch: Classic film fans have all heard of this movie about a love affair between two married, but lonely people.  It is considered a masterpiece of film-making thanks to understated performances by Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson directed by David Lean.

Content Note: The whole film is about an affair, but nothing is shown. Unrated.

Where to Watch: Rent or buy on Amazon and iTunes. Purchase on DVD

9.  Bright Star (2009)

Bright Star a dance

Photo: Apparition and Warner Brothers

Why You Should Watch: The short life of poet John Keats plays out in this film. It depicts his sweet but sad romance with Fanny Brawn. It also shows the price that talent or genius extracts from those who bear it.

Content Note: Rated PG for one use of profanity, some mention of sensuality.

Where to Watch: Rent or buy on Amazon, Youtube, Google Play, iTunes and Vudu. Purchase on DVD.

10.  Bonjour Tristesse (1958)

Romantic Tragedies List

Photo: Columbia Pictures

Why You Should Watch: Portraying the consequences of selfishness and hedonism, it also features a rather toxic and unhealthy father, daughter relationship.  The use of a unique device in switching back and forth between black and white and color to differentiate flashbacks from the present time makes this movie special. Directed by Otto Preminger, it stars David Niven and Deborah Kerr as well as Jean Seberg in a brilliant performance.

Content Note: Not rated. Nothing inappropriate is shown on screen, but the themes are probably not appropriate for young children.

Where to Watch: Stream on Amazon Prime. Rent or buy on Youtube, Google Play and iTunes. Purchase on DVD.

11.  Camille Adaptations

Photo: Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions/ CBS

Why You Should Watch: This story of a courtesan who falls in love with an innocent young man is taken from a novel by the younger Alexander Dumas. It is a beautiful depiction of the sacrifice of love and the power of love to transform.

Content: PG-like.

Where to Watch 1936 adaptation: Rent or Buy on iTunes, Google Play, Youtube or Vudu. Purchase on DVD

Where to Watch 1984 Colin Firth adaptation: Purchase on DVD

12.  Casablanca (1941)

Rick & Ilsa in Casablanca Review

Photo: Warner Bros.

Why You Should Watch: Thankfully, no one dies in this classic film and it isn’t exceptionally sad, but rather inspiring. As part of the public lexicon, it is a must-see film with star-making performances by Humphrey Bogart, Claude Rains, and Ingrid Bergman

Content Note: Not rated, but there is little objectionable content.

Where to Watch: Rent or buy on Youtube, Google Play, iTunes and Vudu. Purchase on DVD.

13.  City Lights (1931)

Photo: United Artists

Why You Should Watch: Often considered one of Charlie Chaplin’s masterpieces, City Lights displays his matured talent on screen. It has a mix of humor and pathos that is Chaplin’s trademark. I dare you not to cry as his Tramp seeks to help the blind flower girl in an act of sacrificial love.

Content Note: Rated G.

Where to Watch: Stream on Kanopy. Rent or buy on Amazon, Youtube, Google Play and Vudu. Purchase on DVD.

14.  City of Angels (1998)

Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

Why You Should Watch: Is it cheesy nineties romance? Sure. But it was at the head of the trend telling tales of supernatural characters falling for humans. It also examines the theme of sacrifice for the sake of love. The soundtrack is nineties gold. And you can never go wrong with Meg Ryan as the star.

Content Note: Rated PG-13 for language and sexuality, including some nudity.

Where to Watch: Rent or buy from Youtube, Google Play and Vudu. Purchase on DVD.

15.  Dark Victory (1939)

Romantic Tragedies List

Photo: Warner Bros.

Why You Should Watch: The great Bette Davis stars as a shallow wealthy woman whose perspectives on life undergoes a transformation when she learns she is dying. This is often considered one of Davis most outstanding performances and a favorite among her fans.

Content Note: Not rated, but contains nothing objectionable.

Where to Watch: Rent or buy on Youtube, Google Play, iTunes and Vudu. Purchase on DVD.

16.  Doctor Zhivago Adaptations

Romantic Tragedies List

Photo: MGM

Why You Should Watch: Originally a novel written by Russian author Boris Pasternak, it is set in the first half of the twentieth century, a time of great change in Russia. The 1965 version won five Oscars and was nominated for another five. It is often listed on “best of” film lists.

Content Note:  Rated PG-13 and TV-14 for sexuality, mild language, and moderate violence.

Where to Watch 1965 adaptation: Stream on Netflix. Rent or buy Youtube, Google Play and Vudu. Purchase on DVD.

Where to Watch 2002 adaptation (Verges on TV-MA): Stream on Britbox. Rent or buy on iTunes. Purchase on DVD.

17.  The Duchess (2008)

The Duchess

Photo: Pathe & Paramount

Why You Should Watch: Historically, women didn’t have the freedom and independence to make choices regarding their lives as we do today. That is the tragedy depicted in this film about the celebrated Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Her quest for these things came with consequences. This movie features a stellar cast, beautiful costuming and cinematography.

Content Note: Rated PG-13 for sexuality, brief nudity, and language.

Where to Watch: Stream on Netflix. Rent or buy on Youtube, Google Play, and Vudu. Purchase on DVD.

18.  The English Patient (1996)

Romantic Tragedies List

Photo: Miramax Films

Why You Should Watch: This quietly beautiful film won nine Oscars and for good reason. With an excellent cast, talented director and creative story-telling it weaves together romance, drama, tragedy, sacrifice, and understanding in an unforgettable way.

Content Note: Rated R for sexuality, violence, and language.

Where to Watch: Stream on Netflix. Rent or buy on Amazon, Youtube, iTunes, Google Play or Vudu. Purchase on DVD.

19.  The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

Gus (Ansel Elgort) and Hazel (Shailene Woodley) in a scene from “The Fault in Our Stars” | Photo: Fox 2000 Pictures

Why You Should Watch: The novel by John Greene was a hit when it released and made him a household name. The film captures the emotions of teenagers simultaneously fighting a scary illness while also falling in love, thanks to sensitive performances by Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort

Content Note: Rated PG-13

Where to Watch: Rent or buy on Amazon, Youtube, Google Play, iTunes and Vudu. Purchase on DVD.

20.  Forrest Gump (1994)

Romantic Tragedies List

Photo: Paramount Pictures

Why You Should Watch: Who doesn’t love this modern classic about an innocent young man who witnesses many of recent history’s great events? But it is Forrest’s steadfast, patient love for his childhood friend Jenny which always captures the hearts of viewers. Tom Hanks won a well-deserved Oscar for this role.

Content Note: PG-13

Where to Watch: Rent or buy on Amazon, Youtube, Google Play, iTunes and Vudu. Purchase on DVD.

21.  The Great Gatsby Adaptations

Movie: The Great Gatsby. Photo Credit: Warner Bros

Why You Should Watch: Arguably F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most famous novel, it has certainly been adapted for film more than any other of his published works. The doomed romance between the main character and his lost love is a searing portrait of ambition, class consciousness and selfishness.

Content: Varies by adaptation with newer versions including language and sexuality.

Where to Watch 1949 adaptation: Purchase on DVD

Where to Watch 1974 adaptation: Stream on Starz and Amazon. Rent or buy on Amazon, Youtube, Google Play, iTunes and Vudu. Purchase on DVD

Where to Watch 2012 adaptation: Purchase on DVD

Where to Watch 2013 adaptation: Rent or buy on Youtube, Google Play, iTunes and Vudu. Purchase on DVD.

22.  Gone With the Wind (1939)

Scarlett and Rhett; Meet Cute List

Photo Credit: Selznick International

Why You Should Watch: This features one of the best anti-heroines ever written. Setting Scarlett’s quest for security during the Civil War and Reconstruction Eras heightens the conflict as well as the viewer’s compassion for a selfish protagonist.

Content: Rated PG

Where to Watch: Playing in select theaters March 3, 2019, through Fathom Events. Airing on TCM, April 14 at 8:00 EST. Rent or buy from iTunes, Google Play, Vudu and Youtube. Purchase on DVD

23.  He Who Gets Slapped (1924)

Romantic Tragedies List

Photo: MGM

Why You Should Watch: Silent film actor Lon Chaney is famous as “the man of a thousand faces.” He was a stalwart of classic horror films. Here he is teamed with another MGM film star Norma Shearer in a story of rescue and unrequited love. He plays a clown who secretly loves another circus performer played by Shearer. I doubt you will ever feel more compassion for a movie clown as you do for Chaney, who plays the part with great pathos.

Content Note: This is unrated, but there are some scenes of menace and violence.

Where to Watch: Purchase on DVD

24.  Humoresque (1946)

Romantic Tragedies List

Photo: Warner Bros.

Why You Should Watch: This pairing of John Garfield with Joan Crawford makes for an intense and explosive drama.  These two do justice to the depiction of a toxic, extra-marital affair which only serves to drag them both down.

Content Note: Unrated. The affair and an implied suicide happen off screen.

Where to Watch: Rent or buy on Youtube, Google Play, iTunes and Vudu. Purchase on DVD.

25.  Hunchback of Notre Dame Adaptations

Romantic Tragedies List

Photo: RKO Radio Pictures

Why You Should Watch: The story of a deformed outcast originally penned by Victor Hugo is set in the Paris of the 15th century. It shares certain similarities with the more familiar Beauty and the Beast, but without the happy ending. It depicts the devastation that occurs when the marginalized of society are left unprotected. Overall, it’s a bittersweet but beautiful unrequited love story.

Content Note: Content varies by adaptation. But nothing too graphic or explicit is portrayed.

Where to Watch 1923 adaptation: Stream Amazon Prime, Kanopy or Epix. Purchase on DVD

Where to Watch 1939 adaptation: Airing on TCM March 11 at 4PM EST. Rent or buy on Youtube, Google Play, iTunes and Vudu. Purchase on DVD

Where to Watch 1957 adaptation: Purchase on DVD

Where to Watch 1982 adaptation: Rent or Buy on Vudu, Youtube or Google Play

Where to Watch 1982 adaptation: Purchase on DVD

Where to Watch 1996 Animated adaptation: Rent or buy on Google Play or Amazon. Purchase on DVD

26.  La Boheme (1926)

Romantic Tragedies List

John Gilbert & Lillian Gish Photo: Public Domain

Why You Should Watch: As someone who isn’t a fan of opera, I appreciate when the stories can be found in other mediums. For instance, film. This is the story of starving artists in 1830’s Paris whose love is not enough to keep them together. Silent film legends Lillian Gish and John Gilbert give heartbreaking portrayals of lovers torn apart by poverty.

Content Note: PG -like.

Where to Watch: Airing on TCM April 4 at 4:30 AM EST. Purchase on DVD.

27.  La La Land (2016)

La La Land

Photo: Lionsgate

Why You Should Watch: Capturing the magic of classic film musicals, while also adding a modern twist, this film is unique in recent years. Its depictions of the triumphs, challenges and the mundanity a couple experiences in their lives together is spot on. Even the fact that the outcome of this relationship can hinge on the small things feels true to life, though sad.

Content Note: Rated PG-13

Where to Watch: Rent on Amazon, Youtube, and Google Play. Buy on Amazon, iTunes, Youtube, Google Play and Vudu. Purchase on DVD.

28.  Love Actually (2003)

Love Actually - Keira Knightley and Andrew Lincoln

Photo: Universal Pictures

Why You Should Watch: Yes, I know the film is considered a modern romantic holiday classic. Still several of the characters do not get their happy endings and it’s enough to make me cry every time. This film features an outstanding cast of British talent and is a lovely film to watch any time of year.

Content Note: Rated either PG-13 or R depending on which version you watch. It has been edited for television viewing. The original cut includes a storyline about porn film stand-ins and more sexuality on screen.

Where to Watch: Stream on Starz. Rent or buy on Amazon, Youtube, Google Play, iTunes and Vudu. Purchase on DVD.

29.  Love Story (1970)

Romantic Tragedies List

Photo: Paramount Pictures

Why You Should Watch: Before Taylor Swift’s popular song, there was this famous film. The story of a rich kid falling for a poor one has been told many times, but rarely in such a memorable way. This film made both Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal household names. It also spawned the famous line “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

Content: Rated PG

Where to Watch: Stream on Kanopy. Rent or buy on Amazon, Youtube, Google Play, iTunes and Vudu. Purchase on DVD.

30.  Madame Bovary (adaptations)

Romantic Tragedies List

Photo: 20th Century Fox/Warner Bros.

Why You Should Watch: Adapted from a novel by Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary is heart-breaking to watch. The title character destroys her life as she seeks pleasure and happiness instead of being thankful for what she has. It’s a potent reminder to appreciate the small blessings of life.

Content Note: Ratings vary from PG to R. The story does revolve around a woman pursuing her passions, so the later versions include more sexuality.

Where to Watch 1949 adaptation: Airing on TCM on March 11 at 6 PM EST. Rent or buy on Youtube, Google Play, iTunes or Vudu.

Where to Watch 1975 Series adaptation: Stream on Amazon Prime. Buy on Amazon, iTunes or Vudu. Purchase on DVD.

Where to Watch 1991 adaptation: Purchase on DVD

Where to Watch 2000 adaptation: Purchase on DVD

Where to Watch 2015 adaptation: Stream on Netflix. Rent or buy on Amazon, Youtube or Google Play. Purchase on DVD.

 

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