Top 25 Romance Films of the 21st Century

It’s Valentine’s Day today! Can’t think of a better day to talk about some of the great modern romance films we have. Romance films come in many different forms whether they be comedies, dramas, sci-fi, or animated. So let’s jump right in with the twenty-five best romance films to have been released since the year 2000.

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25. “Enough Said” (2013), dir. Nicole Holofcener

“Enough Said” is an immensely charming, underrated gem from a few years back. While certainly following a formula, the chemistry between Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late, great James Gandolfini is effortless. The way Nicole Holofcener writes these characters brings a beautiful authenticity to their relationship, effectively showing how they bring out the best within one another. What a delight.

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24. “What If” (2014), dir. Michael Dowse

This overlooked romcom focuses on a a subject so many people are familiar with – the friend-zone. Daniel Radcliffe stars as a man who slowly falls in love with someone who is in a relationship, played by Zoe Kazan. “What If” is undeniably cutesy, but does such a terrific job at realistically conveying this endearing friendship that these two people have whilst getting into Radcliffe’s head about his desire for something more.

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23. “(500) Days of Summer” (2009), dir. Marc Webb

Before director Marc Webb took on the now defunct “Amazing Spider-Man” franchise, he burst onto the scene with “(500) Days of Summer,” a film that right up front admits that it’s not a love story. Instead, we see the fluctuating relationship between two people across, you guessed it, 500 days. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel do an amazing job at bringing a lot of complexity to their characters and challenging each other as the intimacy between them changes.

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22. “Moonrise Kingdom” (2012), dir. Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson’s distinct directing style is a perfect match for this quirky romance between two 12-year old kids. The girl, played by Kara Hayward, leaves her home to meet with the boy, played by Jared Gilman, who left his camp of boy scouts. Like any other Anderson film, the dialogue is absolutely hilarious, but what makes “Moonrise Kingdom” so special is the incredible amount of heart at the center with these kids. Certainly an unconventional romance film, but that only helps make it stand out.

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21. “Anomalisa” (2015), dir. Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson

Charlie Kaufman’s stop-motion story follows a man voiced by David Thewlis who is fed up with the mundane life he’s living until he bumps into a woman, voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh, who immediately lights him up. Not many movies out there feel as painfully human as “Amonalisa,” a story that could only be told through animation. There’s truly nothing else out there like it.

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20. “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” (2011), dir. Glenn Ficarra, John Requa

Following multiple relationships within an all-star cast featuring the likes of Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, and Emma Stone, “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” is criminally underrated. The stories between these characters are so perfectly balanced making for such an entertaining time thanks to sharp comedic writing and excellent chemistry between all the actors.

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19. “The 40 Year-Old Virgin” (2005), dir. Judd Apatow

Of course when bringing up one Steve Carell romcom, it only makes sense to go right into another one. “The 40 Year-Old Virgin” has remained one of the funniest movies of this generation. That being said, the thing that makes this film particularly great is how heartfelt its main character is as he struggles to find someone that suits him and Carell knocked it out of the park. Very few raunchy comedies since this have been able to replicate the perfect balance between hard-R hilarity and wonderful sincerity.

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18. “The Big Sick” (2017), dir. Michael Showalter

Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon wrote their real love story, clearly pouring so much of themselves into one of the most beautiful romance films in recent years. Making her second appearance on this list, Zoe Kazan plays Gordon while Nanjiani plays himself and the passion shines bright across the entire film. “The Big Sick” is not just amazing because it’s a laugh-out-loud funny, gorgeous romance, but it’s also deeply personal and hits hard as a result.

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17. “Your Name.” (2016), dir. Makoto Shinkai

This anime sensation from a couple years ago is a sprawling epic about two strangers, Mitsuha and Taki, from completely different areas in Japan who unknowingly swap bodies. Through this experience, they begin to learn about one another. There’s so much more to “Your Name.” underneath the surface, but to avoid going into spoilers, all that must be said is that this is one of the most visually stunning, wholly unique pieces of filmmaking in recent years, animated or otherwise.

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16. “Scott Pilgrim Vs The World” (2010), dir. Edgar Wright

It was hard not to put last year’s “Baby Driver” on this list as another outstanding romance done by director Edgar Wright, but what gives “Scott Pilgrim Vs The World” the edge as the superior film is that the relationship between Michael Cera’s Scott Pilgrim and Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Ramona Flowers has a hilarious hipster charm. Wright expertly balances the kinetic action sequences as Scott fights the seven evil exes with that central relationship. It’s one of the most relentlessly entertaining films made in a long time.

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15. “Like Crazy” (2011), dir. Drake Doremus

This is a raw romance that is a tough, but incredibly rewarding watch with tremendous performances from both Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin, who tragically passed away just under two years ago. The characters feel so real as they convey the richness of their intimacy. It’s heartbreaking that Yelchin wasn’t able to continue on with his amazing career, but “Like Crazy” is definitely a glowing highlight.

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14. “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” (2008), dir. Nicolas Stoller

Jason Segel is one of the funniest people working in comedy today and his role in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” is him at his best. The concept of a man going on vacation to forget about his ex only to bump into her when he gets there is ripe for comedy and this film delivers in spades. Similar to “The 40 Year-Old Virgin,” the balance between the raunchy jokes and genuine heart is pitch perfect.

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13. “Phantom Thread” (2017), dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

The most recent entry to this list is the masterful “Phantom Thread.” Paul Thomas Anderson does breathtaking work in showing this unconventional relationship between Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps. Day-Lewis in his supposedly final film performance is a revelation while Krieps gives a star-making turn as Alma, oftentimes upstaging her co-lead. It’s still in theaters now so if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s a must.

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12. “The Shape of Water” (2017), dir. Guillermo del Toro

Guillermo del Toro’s latest fairytale is a magical experience unlike any other. Sally Hawkins elegantly conveys the need to be loved as she falls for a gorgeous underwater creature. “The Shape of Water” embraces the power of unconditional love and how it can thrive even when those around you don’t understand. The more I think about it, the more I myself fall in love it.

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11. “The Spectacular Now” (2013), dir. James Ponsoldt

From the writers of “(500) Days of Summer,” “The Spectacular Now” is another beautiful romance between two high school students. Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley give the most emotionally vulnerable performances of their careers as people who try to make a potentially toxic relationship work as best as it can. It never avoids the difficulties of young love but rather welcomes the challenges head on.

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10. “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008), dir. Danny Boyle

Nearly ten years ago, Best Picture winner “Slumdog Millionaire” took the world by storm, telling the mesmerizing story of Jamal Malik, played by Dev Patel, as he plays a game of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” just to find his lost love, using his remarkable life experiences to help answer each question. The incredible determination that Jamal has throughout the film is inspiring not just in experiencing life at its fullest extent, but to always hold loved ones close to you.

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9. “Once” (2007), dir. John Carney

One of the best movies about music ever made, “Once” is a wonderful, original film with a captivating romance between Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. The soundtrack is an emotional roller coaster, filled with powerful lyrics that pierce through the soul. John Carney is clearly an incredible talent when it comes to crafting these strong stories revolving around music and this is no exception.

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8. “Call Me By Your Name” (2017), dir. Luca Guadagnino

Man, oh man the perfection that is “Call Me By Your Name.” Luca Guadagnino’s beautifully intimate romance set in 1980’s Italy oozes passion from frame one. Timothée Chalamet gives arguably one of the best performances of all-time by a young actor and his chemistry with Armie Hammer is truly amazing. By the time the film is over, tears will be streaming down your face.

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7. “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012), dir. David O. Russell

David O. Russell is at his best when he handles relationships between dysfunctional characters and “Silver Linings Playbook” is a prime example of when that works at its finest. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are the best they’ve ever been taking what could so easily be horribly unlikable characters and elevating them to be sympathetic and vulnerable.

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6. “Before Sunset” (2004), dir. Richard Linklater

Obviously I can’t talk about romance films without gushing about the masterpieces of Richard Linklater’s career, the “Before” trilogy. Since the first film, “Before Sunrise,” was released in 1995, that disqualifies it from this list, but “Before Sunset” is equally outstanding. The infectious chemistry between Ethan Hawke’s Jesse and Julie Delpy’s Celine carries over into this sequel so well as it’s evolved in the nine years that they’ve been apart.

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5. “Before Midnight” (2013), dir. Richard Linklater

Nine years after the release of “Before Sunset,” we got the third chapter of Jesse and Celine’s story. Continuing to evolve their amazing romance beautifully, “Before Midnight” is the most complex of the three films, at times being hard to watch while consistently remaining captivating. It’s a remarkable journey across three equally perfect films.

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4. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004), dir. Michel Gondry

There might not be a more original love story than “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” not surprising coming from the mind of “Anomalisa’s” Charlie Kaufman. Jim Carrey was robbed of an Academy Award for his heartbreaking performance and Kate Winslet is equally remarkable. We need to get more challenging, innovative films like this made far more often.

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3. “WALL-E” (2008), dir. Andrew Stanton

In the late 2000’s, Pixar was making the best films out there and “WALL-E” was their crown jewel. The love between these two robots that rarely say anything other than each other’s names feels more genuine and human most romance stories out there. Combined with the rich animation, “WALL-E” is an all-time great.

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2. “La La Land” (2016), dir. Damien Chazelle

Last year’s (almost) Best Picture winner was a global phenomenon, and for great reason. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling carry over their amazing chemistry from “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” and take it to incredible heights. The songs are out of this world, the production design is unparalleled, the musical score is some of the greatest ever composed, I can go on and on and on. “La La Land” is an absolute triumph.

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1. “Her” (2013), dir. Spike Jonze

The best romance film of the 21st century ironically is half artificial intelligence. Spike Jonze crafted something that feels so real, bringing the audience along for a journey that challenges what it really means to fall in love, what it means to be lonely, and what it means to be human. The love that Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson are able to bring out of these characters is unbelievably powerful. Several years later, “Her” has continued to get more and more timely as people continue to connect with each other through technology as opposed to human interaction.

That does it for my list. What are some of your favorite romance films? Are there any that you feel were left off of the list? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments section below.

Expect a review for “Black Panther” this weekend as well as reviews for the remaining Best Picture nominees I haven’t reviewed yet, “Darkest Hour,” “Dunkirk,” “Get Out,” and “Lady Bird” by the end of the month.

If you want to stay updated with all my reviews of films as soon as I see them, follow me on my Letterboxd.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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