The 40 Best Romantic Movies on Netflix

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The 40 Best Romantic Movies on Netflix

Ahhh…romance. There are few things more hard-wired in all of us than the desire to find a soulmate, and few more common motivating principles in movies. We’ve dug through all 478 pf the romantic movies on Netflix to find the best, with the caveat that we’re not experts on the many Bollywood selections available there. From historical romance to romantic comedies to one true-life romantic documentary, here are the 40 best romantic movies on Netflix:

irreplaceable-you-poster.jpg 40. Irreplaceable You
Year: 2018
Director: Stephanie Laing
Netflix has gifted us with two Gugu Mbatha-Raw movies in the same month. One of them is a creative disaster and a sign of bad things to come for the streaming giant’s philosophy on original releases. One of them is Irreplaceable You. Upfront, Irreplaceable You is aggressively mushy and cutesy as hell, but Mbatha-Raw is an effortless charmer, and director Stephanie Laing is clearly a wizard because she found a way to scrub Michiel Huisman of his typical stubbly hipster douchiness. He’s still a brooding hottie, but an awkward nerd brooding hottie, and he’s good at playing the part. He and Mbatha-Raw match up well as Sam and Abbie, childhood sweethearts newly engaged and also staring down her terminal cancer diagnosis. In medical terms, she’s a goner. So she does what any type-A person would do in her position and interviews candidates for her replacement after she dies. She loves Sam so much she can’t stand the idea of him being alone. If you’re diabetic this synopsis probably has you reaching for an insulin dose, but for all of its obvious manipulations, watching Irreplaceable You is the equivalent of downing a heart-shaped box of chocolates. You might go into sugar shock and you’ll need to brush your teeth when it’s over, but you won’t regret the indulgence all the same. —Andy Crump

sleeping-with-other-people.jpg 39. Sleeping With Other People
Year: 2016
Director: Leslye Headland
The romantic comedy is a genre crying out for an update. We’ve had a few worthy entries in the 21st century—the imaginative Amelie, the clever and quirky Silver Linings Playbook, even the irreverent Knocked Up. But none of those films embraced the genre and all its tropes quite like the latest from Leslye Headland does. With her third film, which is little more than 90 minutes of sexual tension building between two friends, Headland has managed to create a direct descendent of Frank Capra, Billy Wilder, Rob Reiner and Nora Ephron—and make it just as uproariously funny as its forebears’ best works. Sleeping With Other People pushes at every boundary without ever feeling unnecessarily tawdry; it’s the Cards Against Humanity version of When Harry Met Sally (there’s even an “I’ll have what she’s having” moment involving a bottle of tea). Alison Brie could be our decade’s Meg Ryan, and Sudekis could be our Hanks—but there’s no doubt that Leslye Headland will keep making us laugh for years to come. —Josh Jackson

rev-road.jpg 38. Revolutionary Road
Year: 2008
Director: Sam Mendes 
If Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet’s passionate affair in 1997’s Titanic detailed the timeless appeal of star-crossed love, their reunion a decade later for Sam Mendes spoils the illusion by showing what happens after the honeymoon ends and resentment replaces infatuation. Based on Richard Yates’ novel of the same name, this is the story of Frank (DiCaprio) and April Wheeler (Winslet), a couple of idealistic newlyweds who become trapped in the American Dream circa 1955—2.5 children, picket fence and a desk job. Mendes has proved an expert choreographer of the human animal pushed to its limit in adverse environments, and here he creates a bleak journey through familiar realities, punctuated by desperate characters searching for purpose. The film’s skill at capturing corrosive romance is both its greatest strength and detriment—while frighteningly moving, it’s also the best example of cinematic birth control since Rosemary’s Baby. Be warned that there’s little peace of mind in the perpetual entropy of the Wheelers’ drowning relationship. But it’s hard not to cheer for these characters. This is pure art as parable, with Oscar-worthy performances to support it. —Sean Edgar

my-golden-days.jpg 37. My Golden Days
Year: 2016
Director: Arnaud Desplechin
We can run from the past, hide from the past or forget the past, but we can’t help but be defined by the past. Our histories inevitably shape us into the people we become, and often in ways we can’t predict. That’s the stuff of Arnaud Desplechin’s My Golden Days, a film that’s as scattered and sprawling as a life lived from boyhood to unintact manhood. Twenty years ago, Desplechin released his third film, My Sex Life… or How I Got into an Argument, a coming-of-age drama of sorts where coming of age is deferred for its protagonist, Paul Dédalus. My Golden Days is a prequel to that picture, though if you are unacquainted with mid-’90s French cinema, fear not: My Golden Days plays even if you don’t know Paul from Adam. More necessary is the quality of patience, to say nothing of undivided attention. My Golden Days is a deliberate movie spun from caprice. We leap from the present to the past, back to the present, and then to another point in the past further along from where we last left it. My Golden Days is all about the connections, big or small, between yesterday and today. It’s a film where Paul’s adolescent travails as a student, as a lover, and as the oldest child of an unstable home link back to his current situation as a man adrift in his own life. (It’s also a film that gets to be a spy thriller, a grim family drama, and a teen rom-com.) Reflecting on life inevitably leads a person down twisting, unforeseeable paths. Desplechin captures that sensation with deft, chaotic skill. His film may be fundamentally messy, but there’s real beauty in his contemplative clutter. —Andy Crump

mr-nobody.jpg 36. Mr. Nobody
Year: 2013
Director: Jaco Van Dormael
So much of our lives is out of our control: Shouldn’t that fact terrify us? What makes Mr. Nobody work so well is that Belgian writer-director Jaco Van Dormael balances both the awe and terror of that eternal mystery. This existential sci-fi drama stars Jared Leto as Nemo Nobody. Waking up one morning, Nemo discovers he’s an elderly man living in the late 21st century—and that he’s the last mortal left alive in an advanced civilization that views him as a fascinating oddity. Nemo has no memory of how he got so old—last he remembers, he was born in 1975 and living his life in the early 21st century. The film is structured around old Nemo’s stories to a journalist who’s writing a story on him. We see much of Nemo’s younger life, but the problem is that we’re not sure which version of his life is correct. According to the old man, he either grew up in the U.K. and fell in love with a woman named Elise (Sarah Polley) or he moved with his mother to Canada and fell in love with a woman named Anna (Diane Kruger). But even those versions have their own divergent narratives: Did Nemo meet Anna as a teen (Juno Temple) and then never reconnect with her in adulthood, or did they find each other again? This storytelling complexity is not new for Van Dormael, who helped make his name on the world stage with 1991’s Toto the Hero, which also told the story of a man’s life in flashbacks that weren’t always accurate. Fantasy and reality mix just as readily in Mr. Nobody; in one plot strand, Nemo adventures to Mars to be part of a colony, although we assume what we’re seeing is a product of Nemo’s imagination as a boy. In Mr. Nobody, despite the myriad variations of Nemo he’s playing, there’s a consistent damaged quality to the character that binds them together. Leto isn’t trying to essay distinct personalities for each Nemo—they’re really all versions of the same soul. —Tim Grierson

atonement-210.jpg 35. Atonement
Year: 2007
Director: Joe Wright
To say love hurts would be a devastating understatement for Robbie and Cecilia, the protagonists of Atonement. The British romance takes place on the brink of World War II and spans the war, following the story of two people who grew up together but never really showed any real affection towards one another until a secret note was discovered. Thus begins a sweeping love story that combines wartime romance and summer flings. Starring James McAvoy, Keira Knightley and a very young Saoirse Ronan, Atonement is an epic romance about betrayal, secrets, lies and the punishment for not telling the truth. It’s also a good reminder that when you do embark on a long-simmering affair, make sure the door to the library/study is locked. —Mike Mudano

to-the-wonder.jpg 34. To the Wonder
Year: 2012
Director: Terrence Malick 
Since his nearly two-decade-long hiatus in between the release of Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line, filmmaker Terrence Malick has become, by his standards, almost prolific. The problem is, he seems to be sinking into a similar pattern as of late, making beautiful, ethereal, purely cinematic features that rely a bit too much on what have now become his signature filmic techniques—dreamy, lushly shot sequences to esoterically poetic voiceover narration. To the Wonder begins in Europe, where an American environmental inspector, Neil (Ben Affleck), meets a beautiful Ukrainian woman named Marina (Olga Kurylenko) in Paris. The two travel to the island of Mont St. Michel, just off the coast of Normandy, where an abbey sits impressively off the coast. They frolic and gaze at one another, but soon head back to Neil’s home in rural Oklahoma with Marina’s daughter in tow. After what seems like an impossibly languid love affair, reality sets in as things begin to settle back to earth, fights and disenchantment take hold. As you might be able to tell, there isn’t much of a story here. Still To The Wonder is at times painfully beautiful, and Malick is a master at finding the wonder in even the most mundane natural phenomenon. He is capable of making a wind-swept prairie in the Midwest look just as remarkable as an ancient Norman castle. As far as the meshing of sound and vision, the film is a marvel, perhaps one that should really be considered more as an experimental, Maya Deren-esque art piece than as a narrative feature. —Jonah Flicker

incredible jessica james movie poster.jpg 33. The Incredible Jessica James
Year: 2017
Director: Jim Strouse
Jessica Williams plays Jessica James, twenty-something theatre fanatic trying to get one of her plays produced while simultaneously dealing with a breakup. The ex? Damon, played by the equally wonderful Lakeith Stanfield (Atlanta, Short Term 12), who can’t manage to stay out of Jessica’s dreams. When she meets a new fling, played by the comically refreshing Chris O’Dowd, she begins to re-evaluate her love life while clinging to her goals. When do you know you’ve made it? As lighthearted as the film can be, it’s rooted in an exploration of the deeper questions with which any artist, or person for that matter, grapples. Williams is hilarious, which we all know from her time on The Daily Show. She’s also incredibly powerful, showcasing a feminine strength that’s so crucial to a passion for her craft that’s the opposite of the indifference often associated with millennials. —Meredith Alloway

echo-park.jpg 32. Echo Park
Year: 2016
Director: Amanda Marsalis
Why do people always go back? Is going back—to a person, or a place—always synonymous with going backwards? Echo Park isn’t the first film to deal with that awkward stage some adults experience, when friends are starting families and beginning to settle down, but it stands out as a story that really problematizes notions of maturity in romantic and familial relationships. A beautifully shot and perfectly soundtracked tale from acclaimed photographer-turned-filmmaker Amanda Marsalis, Echo Park succeeds as a romantic story that resists grand, clichéd declarations and depictions of love, and also as its own love letter of sorts, to a distinctive part of Los Angeles. It centers on an interracial couple, and it’s absolutely refreshing that the term never comes up. Echo Park does not suggest that race and class issues are nonexistent, but in keeping them as parentheticals to the greater narrative, the story balances its lighthearted presentation with a necessary authenticity. —Shannon M. Houston

CoverUpintheAir.jpg 31. Up in the Air
Year: 2009
Director: Jason Reitman 
Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) lives his life traveling, and he loves it, even though his job is to fire workers for employers who can’t break the news themselves. The gig’s a downer, but at least he gets to fly. His remote boss is played by the great Jason Bateman, Vera Farmiga plays a fellow traveler, and when these actors pair off they’re fantastic. The film is primarily a portrayal of Bingham’s isolation and the depressing circumstances of his job, and in doing so provides a spot-on illustration of the the life of the jaded business traveller who knows his way around an airport better than his own home. —Ryan Bort

win-it-all.jpg 30. Win It All
Year: 2017
Director: Joe Swanberg 
Joe Swanberg, bless his unfailing tenacity, appears to get behind the camera and hope everything works out for the best. His style is chancy, but it’s hard not to admire his unabashed love of spontaneity. This is especially true when it does work out for the best, as it does in Win it All. Swanberg co-wrote the film with your underachieving dream boyfriend, New Girl’s Jake Johnson, ostensibly a direct result of their actor-director collaborations in Drinking Buddies and Digging for Fire; Johnson, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the star here, too, playing that aforementioned scruffy gambler, Eddie, a career loser who takes any wager-earning gig he can get by day before flinging his earnings down the crapper playing games of chance at incalculably grimy casinos by night. There is, in grand Swanberg tradition, a looseness to Win it All that remains for the duration of the film, hanging off of Johnson’s central performance. Whether because of his contributions on the page or on the screen, Johnson feels like a key component to Win it All’s success as a narrative: The story hangs off of him, off of his work, his emoting, the physical quality to his self-presentation before a lens. It means a lot that Swanberg and Johnson both care on a profoundly human level for Eddie. Who couldn’t? You probably have an Eddie figure in your life, whether you know it or not: The gregarious, amiable rascal, the kind of dude who just can’t slam the brakes when he’s careening toward trouble, and knows it. He’s a lovable schmuck, his own worst enemy. The people in his life care about him, his creators care about him, and so of course we care about him, too, even at his worst, even as he invites troubles and hazards into his life against all fair warnings given him by his support system. Win it All, in other words, is a Joe Swanberg movie, a domestically-focused tale about a slacker in conflict with his demons washed in the texture of 1960s and 1970s cinema. —Andy Crump.

rust-bone.jpg 29. Rust and Bone
Year: 2012
Director: Jacques Audiard
In its treatment of romantic and familial love as both sweet and savage, Rust and Bone has many of the qualities that critics and audiences love about French film (even as it is reminiscent of movies like Fight Club and Million Dollar Baby, and as bloody as a Tarantino revenge flick). It does not care if it moves too quickly, or if it does not commit to one genre, or if it is too unbelievable for words. It only cares to tell a great story and to tell it beautifully, seemingly without pause or hesitation, and even as it mimics the mosaic image we see throughout—a collection of beautiful moments pieced together—in the end, Rust and Bone is finally and absolutely a love story, a father/son story, a story of triumph. With standout performances from Matthias Schoenaerts, Marion Cotillard (whose various transformations bring on many of the film’s amazing twists and turns) and the entire supporting cast, Rust and Bone is a phenomenal piece of filmmaking. —Shannon M. Houston

40.LikeWaterForChocolate.NetflixList.jpg 28. Like Water For Chocolate
Year: 1992
Director: Alfonso Arau
An adaptation of Laura Esquievel’s novel about Mexican cooking and magical realism, Like Water for Chocolate depicts the passionate but forbidden love between two young people, Tita and Pedro. As Tita cooks, her moods and emotions directly enter her food, evoking violently powerful reactions—sometimes positive, sometimes disastrous—in all who eat her cooking. —Emily Riemer

sliding-doors.jpg 27. Sliding Doors
Year: 1998
Director: Peter Howitt
An inventive charmer from England, Sliding Doors grafts the rom-com treatment onto the philosophical notion of the “butterfly effect,” which asserts that the smallest incidents can have a profound impact on one’s life. In the case of the film, this defining moment is a young woman’s s attempt to catch a train. From here, her life splinters into two parallel realities—one in which she catches the train and discovers her boyfriend’s infidelity and one in which she misses her ride and remains oblivious to his indiscretions. While much of the film’s energy goes into servicing this complex gimmick, it’s the sharp writing and charming performances from the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, John Hannah and John Lynch that keeps this from merely feeling like a needless exercise in story structure. —Mark Rozeman

chocolat.jpg 26. Chocolat
Year: 2000
Director: Lasse Hallström
A year before Amelie, another lovely, quirky French character with an impish streak made us swoon. Juliette Binoche plays a single mother opening up a chocolate shop in a tiny French village. Binoche is at her most charming in a delightful and fantastical romantic comedy of the sort that doesn’t get made anymore. Nomadic chocolatier Vianne causes a scandalous stir in the conservative village when she opens her shop during lent, making an enemy of the village mayor (Alfred Molina). Things only escalate when she befriends a band of “river rats” led by Roux (Johnny Depp, making the other half of the audience swoon). Both Binoche and Judy Dench as Vianne’s landlady and confidante earned their Oscar nominations for this 20th-century fable about embracing life with vigor.—Josh Jackson

breatheposter.jpg 25. Breathe
Year: 2014
Director: Mélanie Laurent
Nothing’s more effective at shaking a teen out of their monotonous high school routine than the arrival of a new student. That’s the stuff actress/director Mélanie Laurent’s sophomore film, Breathe, is made of: mystery and allure, with generous dollops of adolescent rivalry, sexual awakening and verbal abuse spooned on top. Think of Breatheas a distant European cousin to the fraught teen movies of Larry Clark as well as Catherine Hardwicke’s Thirteen, stories of imperiled youth, loneliness and volatile sentiment. —A.C.

Year: 2014
Director: Daniel Ribeiro
Based on Daniel Ribeiro’s 2010 short I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone, the Brazilian drama The Way He Looks (Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho) follows one teen’s ingenious coming-of-age story. Consistency is at the center of Leo’s world, from weekly visits with his grandmother to the walk home from school with his best friend, Giovana. That’s because Leo is blind, a condition that makes adapting to unforeseen changes difficult. As the high schooler’s desire for self-sufficiency grows, his behavior begins to confuse and alienate those closest to him. Much of that growing disconnect stems from his new friendship with Gabriel, a boy whose innocent insensitivity towards Leo’s visual impairment forces the shy teen out of a stifling routine. Ribeiro’s exploration of the experiences that catapult us through the complicated throes of teenhood is at times subtle, but always grounded and ultimately the film’s greatest strength. When and how do we become independent from our parents? What type of verbal or physical commitments does a relationship require? Where is the line between friendship and something more? And most interestingly, what does it say about the biology of sexuality, and the chemistry of love, when you can’t see the person you’re attracted to? The Way He Looks is no traditional tale of growing up. It’s a tender illustration of the coming out we all experience as we cross the threshold of young adulthood.—Abbey White

seeking-a-friend.jpg 23. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Year: 2012
Director: Lorene Scafaria
Released in mid-summer of last year, director Lorene Scafaria’s (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) feature film directorial debut came and went without much fanfare. To be fair, it was a hard sell. An apocalypse comedy/rom-com/road trip movie starring the likes of Steve Carell and Keira Knightley, two actors who don’t seem like they belong in the same world together let alone in a romantic pairing, the movie was never going to be a runaway hit. It’s certainly not without its flaws, with a tone that oscillates sharply between comedy and drama. And yet, Carell and Knightley’s combined charm and chemistry make this one end-of-the-world road trip worth checking out.—Dan Kaufman

drinking-buddies.jpg 22. Drinking Buddies
Year: 2013
Director: Joe Swanberg 
If you feel compelled to go full indie and can’t stand love stories with tidy, happy endings, Drinking Buddies should be your pick. It’s an unconventional romance in that most of the characters never commit to the relationships or infidelities we expect them to. Instead, it’s about temptation, the lies we tell ourselves in a relationship and the boundaries between friendship and romantic feelings. A scion of—but not full-fledged entry into—the mumblecore genre, its largely improvised dialog lends an air of reality to the conversations, but those expecting typical genre conventions may find themselves perplexed when you don’t get anything resembling the “wedding bells” ending of the typical romantic comedy.—Jim Vorel

i-give-it-a-year.jpg 21. I Give It a Year
Year: 2013
Director: Dan Mazer
Wile many romantic comedies ending at the alter, Dan Mazer’s British film I Give It a Year begins there. After a whirlwind romance, Nat (Rose Byrne) and Josh (Rafe Spall) get married, much to the dismay of their friends. Problems arise immediately, and the film is structured between a marriage counselor’s office and flashbacks of their squabbles. On the surface it’s an anti-rom-com, but it’s also a frank look at a couple committed to at least giving the marriage a go when even as it’s attacked from all sides.

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