When I say ‘Classic Romances in Film,’ what does that mean exactly? Well, no one standard meaning actually exists. The definition of a classic film varies from person to person. For instance, some may say that a classic is just a movie that is old or ‘ancient.’ A few may consider black and white films dated and therefore a classic, while another may just consider a recent film an instant classic (though I’m not sure the latter makes much sense).
My own classic film definition defines the movie as one that has stood the test of time and endured despite any obstacles; a film that has proven significance and worth (and not just by a select group of experts) because it has not been forgotten. Did you know, for example, that It’s a Wonderful Life was originally panned by critics? It just goes to show that critics don’t know what will capture the hearts of audiences over time, only time itself will tell that story.
What makes classic romances so entrancing is that the old-fashioned love stories may have been over the top at times, but they were never afraid to actually ‘be’ a love story, whether tragic or even downright silly.
And, because this list considers only films that have endured, I stayed away from modern films, focusing instead on mainly the Golden Age of Hollywood where classiness stood strong in the midst of actor contracts (typically married to one studio), most of the acting was stylized, and if onscreen chemistry worked it was re-utilized time and time again (Why don’t we do this today?).
Romance is the other key factor. What makes classic romances so entrancing is that the old-fashioned love stories may have been over the top at times, but they were never afraid to actually ‘be’ a love story, whether tragic or even downright silly. I miss the days of screwball comedies between Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy or the endless Cary Grant films opposite an assortment of Hollywood’s best starlets.
There must be something about these stories that still speak to us so why do we fear them? Let’s fully embrace romance again! But until then, here are 50 stories full of romance, undeniable chemistry, and quotes that will hopefully never be forgotten. Here’s to hoping, these fifty films will remain classics for another hundred years. So, grab a hot cocoa, get under the covers, and pick one of these romantic films guaranteed swoon worthy!
MY SELECTION CRITERIA
- Feature-Length Fiction Film: This must be a full-length movie. No TV shows allowed.
- American or Foreign Film: I do not exclude films made outside of America so a foreign film or two may make the list.
- Release Date: 1920-1969: For the purposes of this article, I only consider films from the 1960s or earlier. So no Sleepless in Seattle or even The Way We Were. When I say classic, I mean ‘classic.’
- Romantic Love Story: Whatever the type of story from screwball comedy to war film, romantic suspense, to an epic historical, there must be strong romantic elements in the film that will make your heart swoon (so nothing like Brief Encounter that is just too stressful to watch) or at least pull at the heartstrings. Also, both happily ever after and tragedy are allowed.
- Worth Re-watching: Some classics are a little on the dull side. If I don’t feel entertained enough to want to see it again, that film will not make the list. Therefore, several very silly films made the cut (ones not meant to be taken seriously).
- I’ve seen it: There are so many great classic films out there that I just haven’t seen them all yet. So it’s possible, certain films just did not make this list for that very reason.
Top 50 Classic Romances in Film
#50: Guys and Dolls: (1955):
Nathan Detroit: I have been running the crap game since I was a juvenile delinquent.
Miss Adelaide: Speaking of chronic conditions, happy anniversary.
#49: The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947):
Richard Nugent: Thank you, Your Honor, may I go?
Judge Margaret Turner: You’ve just got here, don’t you like our court?
48: Camille (1936):
Marguerite: I shall love Armand always. And I believe he shall love me always too.
47: West Side Story (1961):
Maria: Loving is enough.
Tony: Not here. They won’t let us be.
Maria: Then we’ll run away.
46: The King and I (1956):
King: You will say no more!
Anna: I will say no more because there is no more to say!
45: The Pirate (1948):
Serafin: Don’t tell me you’ve never longed for a prince instead of a pumpkin.
44: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964):
Guy Foucher: With the war in Algeria, it will be a long time before I can come back.
Geneviève Emery: But I would never be able to live without you!
43: Top Hat (1935):
Dale Tremont: How could I have ever fallen in love with a man like you![Dale slaps Jerry, then storms off]
Jerry Travers: She loves me.
42: Romeo and Juliet (1968):
Romeo: But soft; what light through yonder window breaks? It is my lady! O, it is my love. O that she knew she were.
41: City Lights (1931):
The Tramp: You can see now?
A Blind Girl: Yes, I can see now.
40: A Patch of Blue (1965):
Selina D’Arcy: I know everything I need to know about you. I love you.
39: Portrait of Jennit (1948):
Eben Adams: I want you, not dreams of you!
38: Woman of the Year (1942):
Sam Craig: I don’t want to be married to Tess Harding any more than I want you to be just Mrs. Sam Craig. Why can’t you be Tess Harding Craig?
Tess Harding: I think it’s a wonderful name.
37: Dark Victory (1939):
Judith: Nothing can hurt us now. What we have can’t be destroyed. That’s our victory – our victory over the dark. It is a victory because we’re not afraid.
36: His Girl Friday (1940):
Hildy Johnson: Walter, you’re wonderful, in a loathsome sort of way.
35: The Enchanted Cottage (1945):
Mrs. Abigail Minnett: Do you know what loneliness is, real loneliness?
Laura Pennington: [Heavy with sadness] Yes.
34: Some Like it Hot (1959)
Sugar: [singing] I wanna be loved by you, just you, nobody else but you. I wanna be loved by you alo-o-one. Boop boop e doo.
33: The Shop Around the Corner (1940):
Klara Novak [In her letter to Alfred]: Oh, my Dear Friend, my heart was trembling as I walked into the post office, and there you were, lying in Box 237. I took you out of your envelope and read you, read you right there.
32: Bringing Up Baby (1938):
David Huxley: Now it isn’t that I don’t like you, Susan, because, after all, in moments of quiet, I’m strangely drawn toward you, but – well, there haven’t been any quiet moments.
31: It Happened One Night (1934):[after Ellen stops a car by showing her leg]
Peter Warne: Why didn’t you take off all your clothes? You could have stopped forty cars.
Ellie Andrews: Well, ooh, I’ll remember that when we need forty cars.
30: Jezebel (1938):
Julie Marsden: Shall I cry for you? Nobody ever made me cry but you… And that was only twice!
29: Waterloo Bridge (1940):
Myra Lester: Every parting from you is like a little eternity.
28: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967):
John: After all, a lot of people are going to think we are a shocking pair.
27: Meet John Doe (1941):
Ann: This is no time to give up. You and I, John, we… Oh, no, no, John. If you die, I want to die too. Oh, oh, I love you.
26: The Awful Truth (1937):
Lucy Warriner: I wouldn’t go on living with you if you were dipped in platinum. So go on, divorce me. Go on, divorce me! It’ll be a pleasure.
25: A Tale of Two Cities (1935):
Sydney Carton: I know myself better. But, this I know, too: I would embrace any sacrifice for you and for those dear to you. Will you hold me in your mind as being ardent and sincere in this one thing? Think now and then that there is a man who would give his life to keep a life you love beside you?
24: La Belle et La Bete (1946):
La Bête: Belle, you mustn’t look into my eyes. You needn’t fear. You will never see me, except each evening at 7:00, when you will dine, and I will come to the great hall. And never look into my eyes.
23: Jane Eyre (1943):
Edward Rochester: Jane, Jane… you strange, almost unearthly thing. You that I love as my own flesh.
22: For Me and my Gal (1942):
Harry Palmer: Why didn’t you tell me I was in love with you?
21: The Philadelphia Story (1940):
Tracy Lord: I’m going crazy. I’m standing here solidly on my own two hands and going crazy.
20: Pillow Talk (1959):
Jan: Wonder how it would be to have someone to pillow talk with me?
19: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947):
Lucy Muir: He took me unaware!
Captain Gregg: [laughs] My dear, since Eve picked the apple, no woman ‘s ever been taken entirely unawares.
18: To Have and Have Not (1944):
Slim: You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and… blow.
17: It’s A Wonderful Life (1946):
George Bailey: What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey. That’s a pretty good idea. I’ll give you the moon, Mary.
16: Rebel Without A Cause (1955):
Judy: I love somebody. All the time I’ve been… I’ve been looking for someone to love me. And now I love somebody. And it’s so easy. Why is it easy now?
15: Pride and Prejudice (1940):
Elizabeth Bennett: Oh, if you want to be really refined, you have to be dead. There’s no one as dignified as a mummy.
14: Notorious (1946):
Alicia: Say it again, it keeps me awake.
Devlin: I love you.
13: Sabrina (1954):
Linus Larrabee: [sadly] Paris is for lovers. Maybe that’s why I stayed only thirty-five minutes.
12: Doctor Zhivago (1965):
Lara: Wouldn’t it have been lovely if we’d met before?
11: Splendor in the Grass (1961):
Wilma Dean: [voiceover] Though nothing can bring back the hour of splendor in the grass, glory in the flower, we will grieve not; rather find strength in what remains behind.
10: Singin’ in the Rain (1952):
Kathy: I said some awful things that night, didn’t I?
Don Lockwood: No. I deserved them. But I must admit I was hurt by them. So hurt in fact that I haven’t been able to think about anything but you ever since.
9: The Sound of Music (1965):
Captain von Trapp: You brought music back into the house. I had forgotten.
8: Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961):
Holly Golightly: I’m like cat here, a no-name slob. We belong to nobody, and nobody belongs to us. We don’t even belong to each other.
7: An Affair to Remember (1957):
Terry McKay: And all I could say was, “hello.”
6: Wuthering Heights (1939):
Heathcliff: If he loved you with all the power of his soul for a whole lifetime, he couldn’t love you as much as I do in a single day.
5: Roman Holiday (1953):
Princess Ann: At midnight, I’ll turn into a pumpkin and drive away in my glass slipper.
Joe Bradley: And that will be the end of the fairy tale.
#4: Rebecca (1940):
Maxim de Winter: You thought I loved Rebecca? You thought that? I hated her!
3: Gone with the Wind (1939):
Scarlett: After all, tomorrow is another day!
#2: Now, Voyager (1942):
Charlotte Vale: Oh Jerry, don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars.
#1: Casablanca (1942):
Rick: Here’s looking at you, kid.
Did I leave any of your favorite Classic Romances off the list? Sound off below and tell us what romances make you swoon…
Featured image at top: Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Photo: ParamountPin this article to read later! And make sure to follow us on Pinterest.