Love is rarely tidy. It can provoke extreme behavior from the most unassuming of characters. Throughout history, people have performed both extraordinary and downright despicable acts in love’s name. The stories of their passion are great fodder for the big screen, as there is perhaps nothing more relatable in the human experience than our desire to love and be loved.
24/7 Tempo has assembled a list of the 50 greatest movie love stories of all time, spanning almost 70 years of cinematic history, using a ranking created by the American Film Institute for its report “AFI’s 100 Years…100 Passions.”
The flist includes 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 are all represented (speaking of which, here are the best romantic comedies of all time).
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, this list of great romantic movies of the past represents only a fraction of the possibilities love offers. For films featuring LGBTQ characters, check out the 30 best LGBTQ movies of all time.