Romance is a tricky thing to get right, not just in real life, but in the movies, too.
As in real life, when it comes to romantic moments on film – whether it’s a sweeping gesture, an emotional speech or something in-between – those that truly stand-out do so because of the genuine connection we as an audience feel between the loved-up couple on screen.
With that in mind – and in honour of Valentine’s Day today – the following list provides a rundown of the 10 big screen romantic moments where just such a connection takes place, and which are guaranteed to set your heart aflutter!
10. “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore)” – Truly, Madly, Deeply
If you’ve never heard of Anthony Minghella’s Truly, Madly, Deeply, maybe the best synopsis comes courtesy of legendary film critic Roger Ebert, who labelled it “Ghost for grown-ups”. It’s true that the two films (both released in 1990) share the same basic premise: a grieving woman is visited by the ghost of her dead boyfriend, who helps her find closure following his unexpected death.
However, where Ghost is an entertainingly overblown affair, Minghella – along with Juliet Stevenson as Nina and the late, great Alan Rickman as her deceased bae Jamie – has crafted something a lot more nuanced and moving.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Truly Madly Deeply’s big romantic showcase, an upbeat musical duet of Frankie Valli’s “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore)” between Nina and Jamie that crackles with both vibrant tenderness and deeply felt longing, which – Rickman’s 90s pornstar ‘tache aside – exudes more sexy vibes than Ghost’s iconic pottery love-making scene could ever hope to muster.
9. Han Solo plays it cool – The Empire Strikes Back
Everyone remembers Star Wars – Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back as being so much darker than its predecessor, however it’s worth pointing out that it’s also a much more romantic adventure than the first Star Wars, too.
Watching charming scoundrel Han Solo (Harrison Ford) trade romantic banter with the vivacious Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) is one of the real joys of the movie, as is witnessing their mutual attraction blossom into out-and-out love.
All of this comes to a head when Han is about to be frozen alive by the evil Empire, a potentially fatal scenario that forces Leia to declare her true feelings to Han, following a passionate lip-lock.
His now-classic response, “I know” (improvised on set by Ford himself), is not only perfectly in-character for the cocky pilot, its lack of concrete reciprocation brilliantly sums up the still unresolved nature of their relationship, which is quite literally about to be put on ice.
8. “Shut up and deal” – The Apartment
Billy Wilder’s classic comedy, which won the 1960 Academy Award for Best Picture, stars Jack Lemmon as Bud Baxter, a working schlub who loans his apartment to his lecherous office managers so that they can conduct their extramarital affairs, in the hope it will allow him to climb the corporate ladder.
Along the way, he falls for co-worker Fran (Shirley MacLaine), who it turns out is involved in one of the executive-level flings. As the pair begins to grow closer, Bud ends up proving his love for Fran by caring for her following a failed suicide attempt, which includes selflessly allowing himself to be publicly shamed rather than see her risk humiliation and disgrace.
In the end, Fran realises her own feelings for a dejected Bud, arriving at his apartment just as he is planning to leave, and, handing him a deck of cards – a nod to the games they played as part of Bud’s efforts to keep suicidal thoughts from Fran’s mind – playfully demands that he “shut up and deal”, tacitly kicking-off a relationship between them.
7. The Man of Steel literally moves the Earth for Lois – Superman: The Movie
I know for some readers, Spider-Man kissing Mary-Jane Watson in Spider-Man is probably the superheroic romantic gesture to end them all, but for me, nothing will ever top the moment in Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie when Superman (Christopher Reeve) literally shifts the planet to save the life of the woman he loves.
Having rescued California from a devastating earthquake, the Man of Steel takes a moment to catch his breath and reflect on a job well done. It’s only in the subsequent quiet that his super hearing picks up the sound of his crush Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) being, well…crushed. Despite racing to the scene, Superman is too late, and Lois lies dead, her car at the bottom of a deep crevasse.
What happens next is a great example of the outrageous “science” of Silver Age comics in motion: ignoring the words of his long-dead father, who forbade the Man of Steel from “interfering with the course of human history”, he streaks around the planet at the speed of light, reversing not only its rotation but time itself as well, restoring Lois to life.
Sure, it makes no sense – won’t the same events just take place again, given Supes didn’t actually do anything to change them? – and it’s a massive cop-out from a storytelling perspective, but thanks to sheer emotion involved (check out the relieved sigh from Superman he sees Lois alive and well again), it’s still the “flights and tights” romance moment to beat.
6. Melvin pays Carol a compliment – As Good As It Gets
It says something about James L. Brooks’ As Good As It Gets that on a list of couples that includes a ghost, two robots and a superhero, its two leads are still the most unconventional pairing.
Jack Nicholson turns in an Oscar-winning performance as Melvin, a successful yet misanthropic author who suffers from OCD, with Helen Hunt also nabbed an Academy Award for her work as Carol, a kind hearted and long-suffering waitress at Melvin’s favourite breakfast haunt.
After a complex series of events sees Melvin escorting his gay neighbour Simon interstate and dragging Carol along for the ride, author and waitress find themselves together for a romantic dinner, an occasion Melvin nearly ruins with a careless, hurtful comment about Carol’s dress.
Faced with being left alone, Melvin rises to Carol’s challenge to pay her a meaningful compliment, revealing that in response to her recent declaration that she would never sleep with him (it made sense at the time), he has begun to take pills that could make his disorder more manageable – in essence, she makes him want to be a better man.
Sure, Melvin ruins the mood shortly after, but at the time, he has Carol – and the whole audience – legitimately swooning.
5. Peter only claims expenses – It Happened One Night
It Happened One Night was the first film to win the “Big Five” Academy Awards, including gongs for director Frank Capra and stars Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, which may have been a shade generous given it’s a fairly slight – if not exceedingly charming – romcom.
The flick follows wealthy heiress Ellie (Colbert), who has eloped with a roguish pilot and now finds herself on the run from her father, who wishes to have her marriage annulled before she can reunite with her new groom. Along the way, she encounters newly out-of-work reporter Peter (Gable), who promises to deliver Ellie to her hubby in exchange for the scoop on her story.
In true Hollywood tradition, Ellie and Peter quickly fall in love, although in an equally time-honoured turn of events, a simple misunderstanding leads the pair to believe that their feelings for each other are no longer reciprocated.
Once Ellie has arrived back home safe and sound, Peter marches into her father’s study – seemingly to callously collect the huge reward offered for her safe return. Instead, it turns out Peter’s only there to collect $39.60 in expenses he feels owed on principle, and once pressed, he admits to his love for Ellie, winning over her father and eventually winning back Ellie as well.
4. Serenaded…with a boombox! – Say Anything…
All of Cameron Crowe’s movies share a strong connection with music (he started out as a journalist for Rolling Stone, after all), which explains this simple yet incredibly sweet moment from Say Anything…
At the urging of her overbearing father, Diane (Ione Skye) has recently broken up with boyfriend Lloyd (John Cusack). Tossing and turning in bed early the next morning, a visibly upset Diane suddenly hears Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” (the first song she and Lloyd ever…canoodled to) blaring on the street outside.
Going to the window, she looks down to see Lloyd – who has taken a friend’s advice to man up and fight to win her back – standing on her lawn, a boombox above his head. As romantic gestures go, it’s not exactly reversing time or knocking back a small fortune, but as sincere and direct expression of heartfelt affection, it’s easy to see why Diane soon ended up back in Lloyd’s arms.
3. The best worst dance ever – Silver Linings Playbook
It has to be said that Pat (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), the leads in David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, come pretty close to rivalling Melvin and Carol in the “dysfunctional couple” stakes.
He’s a bi-polar sufferer recently divorced from (but still totally hung-up on) his wife, and she’s a widow with assorted issues, including depression. As you’d expect, when life pushes these two together, the results are fairly volatile, and yet an unspoken attraction develops between the pair.
This comes to a head during the film’s finale, when both enter into a dancing competition, the result of which will save Pat’s father from financial ruin (because of course it will).
The dance routine the follows is refreshingly amateurish by big screen standards – Pat and Tiffany’s attempt at a Flashdance-style aerial manoeuvre is equal parts hilarious and excruciating to watch – but also leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind that this unlikely pair are deeply in love with each other.
2. WALL-E stands by EVE (while she is on standby) – WALL·E
As we all (should) know by now, not all loving relationships are between a man and a woman, and nowhere is this more true than in Andrew Stanton’s WALL·E, where our two lovebirds aren’t even human!
Titular character WALL-E is a cute little trash compactor robot left behind to clean-up the mess humankind has abandoned on a long-since uninhabited Earth. Fascinated by the traces of human culture he harvests – particularly a romantic clip from the film Hello, Dolly! – the lonely bot meets EVE, a sophisticated probe sent to uncover any evidence of ecological recovery on the planet, and immediately falls head over wheels for her.
Proving that persistence is key, WALL-E eventually manages to make a connection with the initially standoffish EVE, only for her to automatically enter standby mode the instant she gets her electronic mitts on a tiny seedling.
Desperate to bring the hibernating EVE back online, WALL-E embarks on a tireless quest – which involves Christmas lights, sunset views and more than one electrocution – both to care for her and wake her from her digital slumber, a heart-warming a gesture that proves that true love can come from anywhere.
1. Harry’s New Year’s Eve speech – When Harry Met Sally…
Whilst Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally… is based on an inherently flawed premise – that a guy and girl can’t ever just be friends (have he and screenwriter Nora Ephron never heard of the friendzone?!) – it’s still without doubt one of the all-time great romcoms.
The flick charts the relationship between Billy Crystal’s Harry and Meg Ryan’s Sally as they go from feuding casual acquaintances to the best of friends, right through to the eventual moment when they give in to their mutual attraction and spend the night together. Freaking out, Harry completely mishandles things the next morning, and it looks as though he has pushed Sally out of his life forever.
Jump forward to New Year’s Eve, and Harry has finally come to terms with his romantic feelings for Sally, and he tracks her down to express to her all the ways in which he loves her, before clinching things with two of the greatest lines ever:
“And it’s not because I’m lonely, and it’s not because it’s New Year’s Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
As Harry and a tearful Sally finally reconcile with a kiss, the finishing touch on this moment – the greatest romantic moment in all of cinema – is complete.
So there you have it – my top 10 big screen romantic moments! Agree? Disagree?