In life, love can blossom when, and where, you least expect it. So it’s probably no surprise that romance on the silver screen is often just as unpredictable – not to say ubiquitous and multi-faceted. After all, love stories have found their way into practically every cinematic genre for decades now. This in turn means that the definition of a romantic movie is pretty wide-ranging. And yet whether the characters involved are battling against technology with perilous ramifications for the future or up against the conflicting expectations of all-singing, all-dancing gangs, the only thing that really matters is that affairs of the heart are at stake. Need further proof? Take a look through our definitive guide to the best romantic films streaming on Netflix as of May 21, 2019.
If you also appreciate a good fight scene or two, however, then check out our list of “The 25 Best Action Movies On Netflix Right Now.” Want a film that appeals to anyone, no matter how young or old? Then take a look at our guide to “The 25 Best Family Movies On Netflix Right Now.” Or perhaps you just need cheering up? Then check out our list of “The 25 Best Comedy Movies On Netflix Right Now.”
If you like your films fantastical, on the other hand, then have a glance at our definitive guide to “The 25 Best Sci-Fi Movies On Netflix Right Now.” Fan of scary flicks? Then head over to our list of “The 25 Best Horror Movies On Netflix Right Now.” If you’re more up for nailbiting tension, though, then check out “The 25 Best Thriller Movies On Netflix Right Now.” And then there’s our list of “The 50 Best Movies On Netflix Right Now” – the cream of the crop.
To establish which movies should be included on this list, we first turned to New on Netflix USA’s ratings of films currently available on Netflix. We then selected the romantic films with the highest scores on that site. In addition, we conducted our own independent research to ensure that we featured only the very best movies out there.
To establish our ranking, we then gathered ratings for those 25 movies from each of the following touchstone sites: IMDb, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes. Any film for which only an IMDb rating was available was subsequently disqualified; and this was also the case for any movie with a Rotten Tomatoes rating based on fewer than 15 reviews.
The ratings were then combined to give each movie an average score out of 100, and the 25 films with the highest average scores were concluded to be the best currently streaming on Netflix in the U.S. These scores also, of course, determined the final ordering of the movies.
25. Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
After Paul Thomas Anderson completed work on the acclaimed Magnolia, he felt the need to change tack completely. As the director explained to Roger Ebert in 2002, filming the drama had left him with the desire to “make [himself] happy [and] get rid of all this cancer and crying.” So, Anderson enlisted none other than Adam Sandler for his next project. And while this casting may have initially seemed a little off the wall given Sandler’s penchant for farce, the comedian was in fact an unexpectedly great fit for Punch-Drunk Love. The romantic dramedy sees the Happy Gilmore star ably portray Barry Egan – a lonely salesman caught up in both an adult hotline scam and a burgeoning romance with Emily Watson’s Lena Leonard. What’s more, Sandler’s performance in the movie went on to gain him his sole Golden Globe nomination to date.
24. Chasing Amy (1997)
Kevin Smith hasn’t shied away from talking about the parallels between events depicted in Chasing Amy and his own life. Indeed, in an essay that the director wrote in 2000, he explained, “[When] watching [the] film, the viewer can find me in every nook and cranny.” For starters, Chasing Amy’s protagonist, Holden – played by Ben Affleck – is apparently “the closest [character] to [Smith] that [he’s] ever written.” Then there’s the fact that Holden’s love interest, Alyssa, was based in part on Joey Lauren Adams – the actress who portrays her on screen. It may have helped, too, that the filmmaker and his leading lady had had their own real romance from which to gather inspiration. But there’s one marked contrast between Adams and her character: Alyssa defines herself at first as a lesbian. Thanks to this twist, then, The New York Times lauded Chasing Amy for “redefining the boy-meets-girl formula.”
23. Blue Jay (2016)
Blue Jay writer and star Mark Duplass didn’t know at first whether the film that he had conceived would ever really come together. After all, although he had cooked up a premise – a pair of former sweethearts reconnect for the first time in more than two decades – this by itself wasn’t sufficient as the basis for an entire movie. Ultimately, though, Duplass got together with Sarah Paulson and other members of the crew to participate in what were essentially “group therapy sessions,” as the actors told Entertainment Weekly in 2016. And using these intense get-togethers as inspiration, the screenwriter then filled in the blanks in his script before turning the production over to director Alex Lehmann. The process seems to have yielded great results, too; just check out Blue Jay’s impressive 90 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
22. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)
Fortunately for Netflix, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before was a pretty sizeable success. Yes, although the streaming service is often coy about revealing just how many people sit down to watch its content, in October 2018 it was happy to declare that the romantic comedy is among its “most viewed original films ever.” The movie also apparently benefitted from “strong repeat viewing”; and not only that, but it practically catapulted its stars into the limelight. One of said leads is Lana Condor – here portraying a teenager who is mortified to discover that her clandestine love letters have somehow been sent to her secret crushes. Condor’s character, Lara, then finds herself up against lies, betrayal and – inevitably – love as she deals with the fallout. Oh, and if you find yourself smitten with Susan Johnson’s flick, good news: a sequel is on the way too.
21. Tramps (2016)
On the surface, Tramps’ premise doesn’t obviously set the scene for romance. In Adam Leon’s movie, you see, wannabe criminals Danny and Ellie – played by Callum Turner and Grace Van Patten, respectively – team up to retrieve a briefcase after Danny mistakenly passes the item to the wrong person. So it is that, naturally, the duo subsequently set out to reclaim the package. And yet while Danny and Ellie are on the hunt, they also find something else: yes, love. Sounds like an odd chain of events? Maybe. But according to The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday, the whole thing somehow works. In her review of Tramps, Hornaday commended Leon in particular for infusing the picture with “buoyant energy.” and “winning infectious charm.” Turner earned the critic’s praise, too, in his case for being “a revelation” in the rom-com.
20. She’s Gotta Have It (1986)
In a 1986 interview with The New York Times, Spike Lee posed a rather pointed question: “How often have you seen a black man and woman kiss on the screen?” The answer? Not often enough for the director, who addressed the imbalance head-on in his first feature-length flick, She’s Gotta Have It. That said, the film’s self-assured protagonist, Nola – played by Tracy Camilla Johns – goes a lot further than merely locking lips with her trio of suitors. She also initially refuses to choose between the three guys Lee has described as “dangling at her fingertips.” Naturally, therefore, tensions build, although the movie’s fraught moments are often leavened with wit. And the romantic dramedy – which was made on a shoestring budget of just $175,000 – has since received its fair share of acclaim. Most notably, She’s Gotta Have It picked up the “Award of the Youth” at Cannes in 1986.
19. Outside In (2018)
In Lynn Shelton’s Outside In, Jay Duplass assumed the role of Chris – a guy who has just been released after spending the past two decades in prison. Then as the ex-con attempts to acclimate to life outside the big house, he also falls for his former teacher Carol – played here by Edie Falco. But there’s one small problem: Carol has a husband, meaning that Chris’ affections threaten to ruin her marriage. Plot aside, though, the drama succeeds in a big way thanks to its stars – at least according to Vulture, which opined, “Falco and Duplass’ complicated, nakedly searching performances are [Outside In’s] main event.” Newsweek applauded the film, too, in the magazine’s case for “never accepting a pat resolution of the frictions” between its two leads. All of this, then, makes Outside In one of the best romance movies on Netflix.
18. East of Eden (1955)
Rather astonishingly, James Dean’s reputation as a cinematic legend hinges on just three films. And, what’s more, the iconic star got to watch merely one of those pictures in full prior to his death. The movie in question is Elia Kazan’s East of Eden – a loose adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel and perhaps the best of Dean’s small but well-respected oeuvre. Here, the late actor portrayed farmer Cal Trusk, who battles to earn the respect of his strong-willed father. All the while, though, Cal harbors a secret passion for his brother’s girlfriend – who may just love him in return. It appears that the drama has stood the test of time, too. That’s certainly the opinion of Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan, who in 2005 wrote, “East of Eden is not only one of Kazan’s richest films… [but it] also arguably [provides Dean’s] best performance.”
17. Bull Durham (1988)
While Bull Durham may now be a much-loved sports classic, it’s actually lucky that the romcom was ever made at all. Why? Because almost every studio tapped to put Ron Shelton’s movie into production passed on the opportunity. And while Orion Pictures ultimately took the project on, execs handed Shelton a budget of just $9 million – a paltry sum for a Hollywood picture even back in 1988. The proof was in the pudding, though, as Bull Durham pulled in over $50 million at the U.S. box office. Plus, the baseball comedy has aged well; in 2003 Sports Illustrated even named it the best sports movie ever made. But you don’t need much knowledge of America’s favorite pastime to enjoy Shelton’s work, which sees Kevin Costner’s “Crash” Davis try his hardest to coach an erratic player as he simultaneously falls in love with Susan Sarandon’s Annie.
16. The Lobster (2015)
In a 2016 interview with the British Film Institute, Yorgos Lanthimos said of The Lobster, “We wanted to do something about a relationship and couples and the way people view them.” If the finished movie is anything to go by, then, the director and his co-writer, Efthimis Filippou, don’t seem to think that our culture has much patience for singletons. You see, in this dystopian comedy, Colin Farrell’s David has less than two months in which to acquire a partner – or else he’ll be turned into an animal and cast adrift in the wilderness. Perhaps due to this bizarre premise, The Lobster didn’t exactly set the box office on fire. And yet that’s not to say the film has gone entirely without acclaim. Quite the contrary, in fact, as Lanthimos’ weird romance scooped the Cannes Film Festival’s prestigious Jury Prize back in 2015.
15. Blue Valentine (2010)
Blue Valentine isn’t a date movie – unless, that is, you think your love interest won’t be deterred by a heartbreaking drama about the dissolution of a marriage. The way in which the film plays out hardly helps matters, either. In fact, by alternating scenes of Ryan Gosling’s Dean and Michelle Williams’ Cindy in the final throes of their relationship with those moments set in happier times, director Derek Cianfrance goes straight for the tear ducts. It’s fair to say, too, that the actors were committed to doing a good job. After all, the pair lived together for a month as a pretend couple in a bid to lend the movie verisimilitude; both also put on 15 pounds or so each. And the stars’ efforts didn’t go unnoticed, either, as Williams scored Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for her role, while Gosling received a Golden Globe nod of his own.
14. On Body and Soul (2017)
In its review of On Body and Soul, The Sydney Morning Herald lauded Ildikó Enyedi’s Hungarian drama as being “one of the most startling, original and poised films” of 2018. But given the events that unfold on screen, “original” is almost an understatement. The rundown here is that protagonists Endre and Mária discover they are each spending their nights inside the same dream. What’s more, despite being practically strangers in the real world, the pair are lovers – and, umm, deer at that – during slumber. When the slaughterhouse employees actually meet at work, however, it seems that literally turning their dreams into reality won’t be a simple process. Perhaps thanks in part to this novel plotline, On Body and Soul earned a nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 2018 Academy Awards.
13. Daughters of the Dust (1991)
After Beyoncé released her “visual album,” Lemonade, in 2016, Daughters of the Dust shot right back into the spotlight. There were, after all, clear parallels between Julie Dash’s historical romance and the themes of the pop star’s hit record. And perhaps Queen B was aware of the movie’s significance for African-American representation in Hollywood. You see, despite hitting theaters in 1991, the picture was actually the first directed by a black woman ever to receive a widespread release in the U.S. But even beyond its cultural impact, Daughters of the Dust is, most people agree, a special film. The non-linear drama – which follows an early-20th-century Gullah family as they make ready to head to the mainland – has even been inducted into the National Film Registry.
12. The Spectacular Now (2013)
Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller are the stars who take center stage in critically acclaimed romance The Spectacular Now – a cinematic reworking of Tim Tharp’s National Book Award-nominated novel. In James Ponsoldt’s film adaptation, Teller portrays Sutter – a devil-may-care student who seemingly prefers partying to planning his future outside of education. Woodley, on the other hand, plays socially stunted Aimee, meaning that she and Sutter clearly make for an unlikely couple. And while some of the movie’s tropes may be well worn, the picture does do its best to sidestep clichés. Certainly, Roger Ebert found at least one refreshing aspect to The Spectacular Now in 2013, with the late critic writing, “Here is a lovely film about two high school seniors who look, speak and feel like real 18-year-old middle-American human beings. Do you have any idea how rare that is?”
11. The Graduate (1967)
When Paul Simon played Mike Nichols a snippet of an unfinished song that he’d been working on, he did so with the caveat that the music wasn’t intended for the director’s upcoming movie. At that point, the tune didn’t reference the film’s leading lady, either. But Nichols had a gut feeling about the track, it’s said, and so he not only convinced Simon to hand over the tune but also to change its lyrics. In that moment, then, “Mrs. Robinson” – arguably one of the most iconic movie songs of all time – was born. And its title refers, of course, to the seductress played by Anne Bancroft in Nichols’ Academy Award-winning dramedy. The film famously depicts the married woman beguiling the fresh-out-of-college Benjamin Braddock, played by Dustin Hoffman in his first major big-screen role.
10. Frances Ha (2012)
After Greta Gerwig appeared in Greenberg, Noah Baumbach’s 2010 outing, the director felt compelled to cast the actress in his next movie. This time round, though, the duo teamed up on a script together before production started, with the result being the screenplay for breezy dramedy Frances Ha. Naturally, Gerwig plays the title character – a 20-something woman whose life begins to flounder once her best buddy decides to up sticks to somewhere new. What’s more, the events that unfold are as much testament to the love between the female friends as they are to the burgeoning relationship between Frances and potential boyfriend Benji. In all, then, the film is perhaps more of a “soromance” – as The Guardian put it in a 2013 review – than a traditional romcom. And while parallels have been drawn between Frances Ha and Woody Allen’s Manhattan, Baumbach’s work certainly stands up well to the comparison.
9. Little Women (1994)
The string of big names in Gillian Armstrong’s screen version of Little Women makes for quite the roll call. After all, Winona Ryder, Claire Danes and Kirsten Dunst portray three of the four title characters, while support is offered by the likes of Christian Bale, Susan Sarandon and Gabriel Byrne. Yet star power is far from the only reason to cozy up to this beloved period drama. Critic Roger Ebert hailed this take on Louisa May Alcott’s coming-of-age novel as “surprisingly sharp and intelligent,” for one. And it’s fair to say that the 1994 movie has stood the test of time, too, with Ryder’s performance as spirited writer Jo March – one of the so-called “little women” we watch grow up in the film – casting a long shadow over all others who step into her shoes.
8. An Education (2009)
An Education is a coming-of-age tale about a 16-year-old girl, played by Carey Mulligan, who embarks on an affair with Peter Sarsgaard’s much older man. According to Vanity Fair, this premise led some viewers to initially label An Education as “that pedophile movie.” But director Lone Scherfig doesn’t agree with such an assessment. “The age gap was not that much of an issue for me,” she told the publication in 2009. “You have cigarettes, racism [and] a young girl who has a sexual appetite [in there]; all of this adds to the credibility and, in a way, the innocence of the film.” The potentially contentious subject matter didn’t appear to deter the Academy, either, since the film ultimately earned three Oscar nominations, including one for Mulligan.
7. West Side Story (1961)
Although adapting a play for cinema may be risky, West Side Story proves that it can be done with aplomb. The film version of the Broadway musical went on to land ten Academy Awards, in fact, while critics virtually fell over themselves to laud the Natalie Wood-led picture. The New York Times even went so far as to label the picture “a cinematic masterpiece” – high praise indeed. But what of the viewing public? Well, it seems that ’60s audiences were similarly enamored of West Side Story, as Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’ feature ultimately raked in over $43 million – the equivalent of $505 million today – at the U.S. box office. And there’s probably no better time to rediscover this Romeo and Juliet-inspired tale of warring gangs, since a Steven Spielberg-directed remake is currently gearing up for production.
6. Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013)
In 2013 the Cannes Film Festival’s jury gave stars Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos and director Abdellatif Kechiche the Palme d’Or award for Blue Is the Warmest Color. Steven Spielberg was part of that jury, too, and he went on to praise the film as a “great love story” about “deep love and deep heartbreak.” Yet almost as soon as Blue Is the Warmest Color was screened at the festival, it made headlines. Firstly, it was claimed that members of the behind-the-scenes crew had been subject to terrible working conditions. Then the author of the original graphic novel argued that the movie’s love-making scenes were virtually akin to “porn.” And Seydoux herself would similarly allege that the filming experience had been “horrible.” Nevertheless, in its review, The Globe and Mail maintained that the finished product “is too exceptional a film to be defined by its controversy.”
5. Howards End (1992)
Howards End could hardly have come with a higher pedigree. The film emerged from the lauded Merchant Ivory Productions company, after all, and it’s packed with top British thespians of the caliber of Sir Anthony Hopkins, Helena Bonham Carter and Dame Emma Thompson. Thompson in fact took home an Academy Award for her performance, while the production itself earned two additional Oscars alongside a further six nominations. And yet while all this may suggest that Howards End is just another comfortable period drama, it’s actually rather nuanced. Roger Ebert noted, for instance, that the movie “[seethes] with anger, passion, greed and emotional violence.” Adapted from the novel of the same name by E.M. Forster, the film follows the fortunes of three families as they battle over the estate of an upper-class woman.
4. God’s Own Country (2017)
Although God’s Own Country has been compared by some critics to both Brokeback Mountain and Call Me by Your Name, Francis Lee’s movie very much stands alone. The drama tells the story of a morose farmer, played by Josh O’Connor, who embarks on a relationship with Alec Secareanu’s immigrant employee. The bleak setting serves as a reminder of the hard lives that the men lead, while their feelings for each other are revealed in a suitably dispassionate fashion, too. O’Connor and Secareanu have certainly received praise for their performances; The Guardian, for example, called their acting “sharp, intelligent and emotionally generous.” And director Lee has also had his share of plaudits, with the Houston Chronicle dubbing God’s Own Country an “electrifying feature debut.”
3. Carol (2015)
When Carol first screened at Cannes, audience members reportedly gave it a standing ovation for a whole ten minutes. And according to Metacritic, Todd Haynes’ movie – which centers around a lesbian relationship between Cate Blanchett’s titular character and Rooney Mara’s Therese – was the best-reviewed flick of 2015. Perhaps, then, the 18 years that the feature took to develop were worth it after all. Fortunately, at any rate, Carol’s writer, Phyllis Nagy, actually knew Patricia Highsmith, who penned the novel on which the film is based. “I found [the book’s] treatment of the sexuality of the two female characters quite radical – especially for something that had been published in 1952,” Nagy told Creative Screenwriting in 2015. All in all, then, Carol has more than earned its place among the best love movies on Netflix.
2. Her (2013)
In Spike Jonze’s Her, Joaquin Phoenix slowly falls in love with an operating system voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Yet while that may sound like an odd premise for a movie, the consensus is that it works. The New York Times certainly seemed to think so, dubbing Her a “deeply sincere romance,” while Time Out wrote that the quirky sci-fi is “quietly dazzling.” Jonze would even end up bagging a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award for writing the movie. But there’s also an interesting bit of backstory about the casting; you see, Johansson was only brought on board when it came to post-production. British star Samantha Morton had initially portrayed the role of the operating system on set, having read her lines from a makeshift sound booth.
1. Annie Hall (1977)
In 1977’s Annie Hall, Woody Allen takes the lead as a New York comedian searching for answers about his failed romance with the movie’s eponymous heroine. Meanwhile, Diane Keaton famously portrays Hall – a role that Allen had originally penned with her in mind. It may have helped, too, that the actress and the filmmaker had once had their own real-life liaison from which to draw potential inspiration – although Allen has actually denied that the work is in any way autobiographical. Regardless, the offbeat comedy seemingly wowed the Academy, as in 1978 it scooped four Oscars, including one for Best Picture. Critics at the time were suitably impressed as well; Variety, for instance, described the movie as “a touching and hilarious love story.” And in 2010 The Guardian named Annie Hall as the best comedic film that has ever been committed to celluloid – although it’s also a top-notch romantic film, too.
Not to be forgotten…
The following were previously on our list of the 25 best romance movies on Netflix, but they’ve either now left the streaming service or have since been pushed out of the top 25. Even so, these films are still very much worth watching.
The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)
In 2005 The New York Times claimed that Steve Carell’s “sheer likability… [is] crucial to making [The 40-Year-Old Virgin] work as well as it does.” Yet according to Carell himself, the comedy was almost axed because Universal Pictures thought he “[looked] like a serial killer” as Andy Stitzer. Perhaps, though, this singularly unusual combination helped bring in the crowds. At the very least, it didn’t stop the heavily improvised movie – about a quest to get an awkward, middle-aged nerd some action – from taking $177 million worldwide. And even Carell’s octogenarian parents lined up for Judd Apatow’s flick, as the star revealed to The Guardian in 2005. What’s more, while the actor’s folks were in the movie theater, they would have seen their son endure a very real chest wax, which was shot by no fewer than five cameras to ensure that every painful detail ended up on film.
The English Patient (1996)
The English Patient sees Ralph Fiennes portray a severely scarred WWII veteran who ends up languishing in a makeshift hospital. And while recuperating, the man tells the story of a tragic affair that plays out on the screen in flashbacks. Yet Anthony Minghella’s drama is both more nuanced and eventful than this brief précis suggests, with such complexity perhaps going some way to explaining its stunning critical and commercial success. Yes, the romantic epic was no stranger to awards ceremonies – and it ultimately pocketed a pair of Golden Globes, five BAFTAs and a whopping nine Oscars. Audiences turned out in droves, too, pushing worldwide box-office takings to more than $230 million. Plus, even two decades on, one of The English Patient’s stars continues to harbor fond memories of the film. As Kristen Scott Thomas told The Guardian in 2016, “[The picture] was made from the heart… and it’s beautiful.”
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Scriptwriter Charlie Kaufman took much of the praise – and most of the awards – for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind upon its initial release. However, stars Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet and director Michel Gondry also deserve credit for their roles in creating a film that was voted by a 2016 BBC poll of critics as the sixth best movie made in the 21st century. What’s it all about? Well, the sci-fi-tinged romance sees Carrey’s Joel agreeing to have Winslet’s Clementine literally deleted from his memory – only to ultimately change his mind about the procedure. The premise is somewhat out there, then – and apparently it did initially make the studio a little uncomfortable. Fortunately for audiences everywhere, though, production went ahead anyway; and the resulting feature is now among the best romantic films on Netflix.