Our Valentine's Day Must List for everyone, whether you're a curmudgeon or hopeless romantic
We've got 20 romantic pop culture recommendations for any mood.
It's February, which means it's once again time for hearts full of chocolate, romantic movies, and bad hot takes on the romance genre (none of which you shall find here).
Whether you're spending your pandemic Valentine's Day cooped up with your special someone or counting the number of potential meet cutes it's taken off your life, we have a recommendation for you. Because if there's anything that this past year has taught us, it's that love in all its forms should be celebrated loudly and often.
So no matter what mood you find yourself in, check out our list to find your pop culture Valentine.
If you’re looking for a real throwback, consider one of the most sterling examples of the screwball comedy: It Happened One Night. This romantic comedy was the first of only three films to win all five major Oscars (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay). It stars Clark Gable as recently unemployed newspaper reporter Peter Warne who agrees to help runaway spoiled heiress Ellen “Ellie” Andrews (Claudette Colbert) return to her fortune-hunting husband if she gives him an exclusive story. But as the two travel by Greyhound bus and hitchhike from Florida to New York City, they fall in love. Directed by Frank Capra (It’s a Wonderful Life), it’s witty and genuinely funny, while also engaging with social issues of the day. Plus, it famously includes a scene where Gable removes his shirt to show his bare chest, sending the 1934 sales for men’s undershirts plummeting. Hot.
Your further reading soulmate: Claudette Colbert's best performances on video
Friendship is love too. Some of the most profound, lasting relationships come via our bonds with our closest friends. Whether your friendship is more mellow like a monthly book club or totally wild like a girls trip, these are two great films that celebrate the (girl) power of love. Book Club stars Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen, Candice Bergen, and Diane Keaton as old friends whose decision to read 50 Shades at their book club sparks new paths in their lives. Girls Trip follows Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Tiffany Haddish, and Jada Pinkett Smith to the Big Easy for an outrageous trip that puts their friendships to the test. Curl up with a glass of your favorite wine, queue up a remote viewing party with your bestie, and make it a double feature.
Girls Trip available on: Hulu Live TV
Your further reading soulmates: What went down behind the scenes of Book Club — and how well the cast really knows Fifty Shades of Grey,
The To All the Boys I Loved Before trilogy comes to an end this Valentine’s Day weekend as the third and final film drops on Netflix. Beginning with the 2018 breakout Netflix hit, letter-writing Lara Jean (Lana Condor) and cute jock of our dreams, Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo), captured our hearts. Don’t worry, we see you too, John Ambrose fans. With its heart-on-its-sleeve exploration of young love, it’s the perfect feel-good rom-com to watch with the whole family. Plus, we can’t get enough of Lara Jean’s bond with her sisters and dad, even if it does lead to plenty of hijinks in her love life. P.S. We love everything about these movies.
Available on: Netflix
Your further reading soulmates: To All the Fans: Lana Condor, Noah Centineo, and Jordan Fisher on what happens after happily ever after
Already binge watched the latest season of The Crown multiple times? Well, if you’re a royal lover and have yet to read Red, White & Royal Blue, you are obliged to do so. This 2019 romance follows Alex Claremont-Diaz, the first son of the United States, as he must fake a friendship with his nemesis, Britain’s Prince Henry. Only once they start spending time in each other’s company, they find their mutual dislike fading to something entirely unexpected. EW named it one of our best romances of 2019 and called it “a royal romance with a fizzy effervescence that leaves the reader soaked in a champagne haze of frothy delight.” How’s that for an eventful Valentine’s Day without ever leaving your couch?
Buy it! $13.99 (orig. $16.99) at amazon.com
Yes, the “friend zone” is a sexist concept that should die, but let’s be honest, sometimes it really can suck being in love with a best friend who sees you in a strictly platonic sense. Perhaps few movies understand that yearning quite as well as Some Kind of Wonderful where tomboy Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson) pines for her friend Keith (Eric Stoltz), who is himself on a mission to date the most popular girl in school, Amanda (Lea Thompson). Written by John Hughes and directed by Howard Deutch, the film paints a love triangle with poignant sensitivity — from the eroticism of Watts’ “practice” kiss to Amanda’s frustrations with men’s inability to do anything but put her on a pedestal. Plus, it has an ending — and a soundtrack — for the ages.
Your further reading soulmate: 'John Hughes was a romantic. He was in love with love': An oral history of Some Kind of Wonderful
Okay, so this isn’t that different than the last one, but that’s just because feeling like everyone is lucky in love but you is just so gosh darn relatable. This movie is an underrated gem that got panned by critics, but quickly rose to become a favorite in the rom-com cable rotation. Katherine Heigl stars as “plain” Jane, the perfect bridesmaid, who is obsessed with helping others have their dream wedding while she fantasizes about her own. When her sister Tess (Malin Akerman) gets engaged to Jane’s boss (and longtime crush), things get complicated by the presence of cynical reporter Kevin (James Marsden). Come for the Katherine Heigl in an awful bridesmaid dresses montage, stay for her and James Marsden drunkenly singing “Bennie and the Jets.”
Your further reading soulmates: 27 Dresses cast reunites 11 years after the film's release
Most of the recommendations here are bubbly and bright, but if you’re looking for something a little darker, there’s Big Bad Wolf by Suleikha Snyder. This paranormal romance launches Snyder’s Third Shift series about a group of shadowy supernatural crime fighters, working to help the marginalized in a dystopic political environment ruled by fear and intolerance. The first book follows wolf shifter and murderer Joe Peluso as he goes on the run with his criminal psychologist Neha Ahlwulia. It’s a high-octane, action-packed thriller with a high heat level, if you need something hot and heavy this year.
Buy it! $6.74 (orig. $8.99) at amazon.com
We love this queer rom-com about Jessica Stein (Jennifer Westfeldt), who discovers she might not be as straight as she thought when she begins an intense friendship with career-focused Helen Cooper (Heather Juergensen). Westfeldt and Juergensen co-wrote this insightful take on love and sexuality, creating this still all-too-rare LGBTQ rom-com. It has moments of genuine humor, but also poignantly engages with questions of identity not often explored in comedic Hollywood love stories.
Your further reading soulmate: The secrets behind Kissing Jessica Stein, a rare LGBTQ rom-com
Look, let’s be honest, when it’s finally safe to start non-virtual dating, we’re all going to be a little rusty. So we could probably use the advice (and smooth moves) of a relationship expert like Hitch. We’re not saying watching Hitch will suddenly make you a swiping Casanova, but it will make you laugh and give you all the feels. Will Smith stars as the titular love expert, who is hired by mild-mannered Albert (Kevin James) to help him win over his dream girl. But the difficult task only gets more complicated by the presence of Hitch’s most unlikely perfect match, gossip columnist Sara (Eva Mendes).
Your further reading soulmate: Why Hitch is the greatest rom-com of all time: Opinion
Do you miss traveling? Or maybe you’re just feeling extra thirsty? Scratch both itches with these television series that feature beautiful people in stunning vistas. Journey to Ireland and Scotland for truly envy-inducing shots of rolling green hills and impossibly lush vistas. If you want a tragic romance, Normal People will have you in your feelings, but if you’d rather just enjoy a travelogue led by two roguish men in kilts, then Starz has you covered. No matter what, you’ll get gorgeous humans in eye-catching settings with notable accessories (Connell’s chain! Sam Heughan’s kilt!).
Normal People available on: Hulu
Your further reading soulmates: Best of 2020 (Behind the Scenes): How Normal People's intimacy coordinator made those sex scenes so sexy
Sometimes we all just want a fresh start. Probably now more than ever. Based on the best-selling series of novels by Robyn Carr, Virgin River explores just that, following widowed nurse practitioner Mel (Alexandra Breckenridge) as she attempts to escape to a new life in the sleepy titular town. But from her ornery boss, Doc Mullins (Tim Matheson), to the hunky bar owner fixing up her cabin, Jack (Martin Henderson), things are a lot more complicated than she bargained for. Virgin River has the coziness of a Hallmark movie with a bit more edge (and the small town mountain setting shot on a Netflix budget), making it a safe bet for anyone longing for a love story that feels both familiar and like the start of something new.
Available on: Netflix
Your further reading soulmates: From The Ring to Virgin River, the roles of Martin Henderson
We’re a sucker for a great ensemble romance, and few get it quite as right as this charmer written by This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman. We won’t ruin all the clever ways the story intertwines, but the connections are myriad in this tale of a middle-aged man, Cal (Steve Carell), who enlists the help of playboy Jacob (Ryan Gosling) to win back the affections of his wife. Meanwhile, Jacob embarks on a surprisingly serious romance with the adorable Hannah (Emma Stone), winning her over with some Dirty Dancing moves.
Your further reading soulmates: Ryan Gosling used the Dirty Dancing move in real life and other Crazy, Stupid, Love secrets
Hollywood is in the business of crafting great love stories, but sometimes we can’t resist the ones that take place behind the scenes (real or fake). Meryl Wilsner crafts an exquisite LGBTQ romance about Hollywood-child-star-turned-showrunner extraordinaire Jo Jones and her assistant, Emma. When the two are photographed at the SAG Awards, it sends the tabloids aflutter with relationship rumors — but what if the rumors are picking up on an attraction the two of them have been too blind to see? Wilsner expertly tackles the workplace romance, handling the uneven power dynamics adroitly to create a slow-burn romance of the highest order.
Buy it! $13.59 (orig. $16) at amazon.com
We love a good rom-com makeover and after a year of home haircuts and sweatpants, we could really use one. Lucky for us, there’s no better cinematic glow-up than that of Gracie Hart (Sandra Bullock) in Miss Congeniality. When the F.B.I. uncovers a plot to bomb the Miss United States beauty pageant, the low maintenance Gracie has to primp and preen herself into a believable contestant. It’s an empowering tale of female friendship and celebration of the value of “girly” things disguised as an ugly duckling becomes beautiful swan rom-com. What more could you want? Besides world peace, of course.
Your further reading soulmate: Makeover Magic: The secrets behind your favorite romantic comedy makeovers
Stella Meghie’s romantic drama gifts audiences not one, but two love stories that intertwine through past and present as Mae (Issa Rae) both seeks to learn the truth about her past and starts to fall for reporter Michael (LaKeith Stanfield) as he investigates a photograph of her mother. Even if the mystery is a tad easy to solve here, it adds an extra element of intrigue and conflict to the romance. Pair it with Meghie’s stunning visuals, and the result is a deeply romantic film that keeps you guessing until the end.
Sometimes all we want is to escape into a good costume drama. If you still haven’t watched Bridgerton, this is your official invitation to do so. Based on a best-selling romance novel, it takes the trappings of Jane Austen’s Regency England and spins them into a frothy, heartfelt, inclusive world that is divinely lush and escapist. But if you prefer to go full Austen, might we recommend 2020’s Emma, which understands the writer’s sense of humor and satirical pen better than most.
Your further reading soulmates: Emma star Anya Taylor-Joy on that nosebleed scene and the joys of playing 'messy' women
We think it might be actually impossible to feel bad after watching a Nora Ephron movie. So if you’re in the need for a pick-me-up, there’s nothing we’d recommend more than the gold standard of romantic comedies: When Harry Met Sally. With an impeccable script bursting with Ephron’s sublime observational wit enhanced by Rob Reiner’s astute direction, there are few movies that capture the idiosyncrasies of love and the relationships between men and women as well as this classic. We will have what she’s having over and over again.
Your further reading soulmates: The secrets behind the most iconic scenes of When Harry Met Sally
When you’re feeling blue, sometimes the only thing that helps is a good cry. You can go old school to one of the most sentimental, beloved weepies of all time, Love Story, starring Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw as doomed college sweethearts. Or try something new with Supernova, starring Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci as partners grappling with a dementia diagnosis and their limited time remaining together. We love happy endings, but the sad ones can be the most cathartic.
Your further reading soulmates: Love Story originally had a horrible theme song called 'Jenny's Dead'
Returning to an old favorite can be oh so comforting, and we highly recommend Love Jones as a way to do that. This classic romantic dramedy follows Chicago poet Darius Lovehall (Larenz Tate) as he hooks up with photographer Nina (Nia Long). But when Nina decides to test whether their relationship is just based on lust or something more, complications ensue. Over 20 years later, it’s still sharp, modern, and resonant.
Your further reading soulmate: Love Jones: A love letter on the cult classic's anniversary
Perhaps the purest, or at least most flashy way to express your love is in song. Movie musicals have made an art of it, with the biggest feelings coming out in a song or dance. There’s no shortage of great love stories in movie musicals, but we’ll suggest the flashy, tragic romance of Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge!, which pairs the doomed 19th-century romance of courtesan Satine (Nicole Kidman) and writer Christian (Ewan McGregor) with a pop-pastiche score. It’s spectacular, spectacular.
Available on: Amazon Prime Video
Your further reading soulmate: How Moulin Rouge! The Musical turned a smash soundtrack into a Broadway show