Love has been depicted in a number of ways over the history of film. Many movie love stories depict relationships between a man and woman. Others involve parents and children. Same-sex love, like that in “Brokeback Mountain,” has come to the screen more recently. There is happy love, as in the term “all’s well that ends well.” And there is tragic love, when one or more characters in a story either die or disappear. In “Casablanca,” one of the lovers simply gets on a plane and disappears into the fog.
24/7 Tempo has picked the greatest movie love story of all time, based on almost 70 years of cinematic history, using a ranking created by the American Film Institute for its report “AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Passions.”
We could have looked at a number of other lists from sources that include IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes. However, the AFI list is probably the most well regarded and widely used.
The films we considered include classics featuring such iconic romantic leads as Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, Bette Davis, Lana Turner, Greta Garbo and Cary Grant. Dramas, supernatural fantasies, mysteries and screwball comedies were all represented. Not all these stories conclude with fairy tale endings; many end in tragedy or heartbreak. As in life, lovers can be forced apart by accidents, misunderstandings, illness, incarceration or forced marriages to others. These films cover every one of those scenarios and more. Unrequited love, affairs, murder and suiсide are not uncommon themes.
It should be noted that these cinematic love stories are overwhelmingly tailored to a heterosexual audience. As the strict Hays Code forbade explicit displays of homosexuality for three decades in early Hollywood, and prejudice has kept queer love stories off-screen for even longer, the list of great romantic movies of the past represents only a fraction of the possibilities love offers.
The greatest love story in movie history is the aforementioned “Casablanca.” Released in 1942, it stars Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid and Claude Rains. This iconic film was both set and released during World War II, and it portrays a love triangle involving a bar owner in Morocco who is reluctant to participate in the war until a woman he loves shows up with her husband, a wanted resistance leader, and requests his help escaping from the Nazis.