We've learned a lot of love's toughest lessons from iconic on-screen duos. From watching relationships develop to seeing our favorite characters don their wedding dresses, say their vows, and tie the knot on the big screen, some movies truly offer lessons of a lifetime.
Some of the most iconic movies about relationships are beacons of hope. Some are passionate but brief, and others are tragic heartbreakers. But they also all share one thing in common—they each tell love stories that connect us to each other and to parts of ourselves we didn't previously know. Plus, they're super romantic. And though you may never truly understand the impact of an experience until you live through it yourself, it's always helpful to see what we can learn from others.
These movies are perfect for a girls' night, date night, or a random night in where you just want to feel all the feels. Just make sure you have tissues on hand—they can be total tearjerkers!
From 500 Days of Summer to Brokeback Mountain, here are 20 of our favorite iconic movies about relationships.
500 Days of Summer
It's easy to get your heart broken when you fall in love with the idea of a person rather than who that person actually is. And just because you're both interested in the same things doesn't mean you're a match made in heaven. The lead character in this flick, Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), learns that lesson after falling for Summer (Zoey Deschanel). The movie walks you through a non-linear timeline from Tom's perspective as his monotonous life suddenly becomes exciting once he lays eyes on her.
While there are many, many lessons to learn from this movie (and date ideas to steal), our biggest takeaway is that true love requires patience, because it doesn't always work out right away. The movie follows the tale of Noah (Ryan Gosling) and Allie (Rachel McAdams) who enjoy a whirlwind summer together, experiencing an epic first love that will last them a lifetime—even when she develops Alzheimer's. Luckily, Noah's tender patience and care allow the couple to keep their love eternal by reading her their summer tale from a worn-in notebook.
Romeo and Juliet
Were these two star-crossed lovers meant to be no matter how trying the situation? Or was it the opposite in that they fought fate and forced something that wasn't meant to be, ultimately dying tragically? We've been asking ourselves that one since the seventh grade, and honestly, we still aren't quite sure. This version of Shakespeare's time-old tale is classic. When Romeo and Juliet (played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes) meet, they instantly fall in love and will do anything to be together, even though their families are sworn enemies.
Spoiled teenage step-siblings Kathryn (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Sebastian (Ryan Phillippe) entertain themselves by taking advantage of vulnerable teenage girls to impress one another—that is until Sebastian meets Annette (Reese Witherspoon). When the step-siblings make a bet on whether or not Sebastian can seduce Annette, a virgin, things quickly turn ugly. Although Sebastion does truly fall in love with Annette, he only realizes the consequences of his manipulative actions once it's too late. This movie is evidence that if you play with people's hearts, you're the one who will lose out in the end.
This film follows three Black women who made history at NASA, and it's based on a true story to make it all the more inspiring. Though Katherine (Taraji P. Henson) and Colonel Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali) are the central love birds in Hidden Figures, we're huge fans of Mary (Janelle Monáe) and Levi Jackson's (Aldis Hodge) supportive relationship as well. Mary is a hard-working and independent trailblazer with a stellar sense of humor, and the support her husband Levi shows her is truly heart-warming.
The Danish Girl
This brilliantly acted film follows Greta (Alicia Vikander) and Einar (Eddie Redmayne) as they navigate his gender identity, revealing the transcendent power of love. The only thing more inspiring than this film is the true relationship it was based on between Lili Elbe and Gerda Gottlieb. They each discover things about themselves, growing as individuals. The film completely contests the accepted notion of a "successful" marriage as they ultimately find other partners, all the while loving one another unconditionally.
Her follows Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a sensitive, solitary man, as he navigates the end of his marriage to Catherine (Rooney Mara), his childhood sweetheart. The romantic science-fiction plot is set in a futuristic Los Angeles. Along the way, he purchases an operating system upgrade for himself with AI. He gives the system a female voice and calls her Samantha (Scarlet Johansson). While it all may sound a bit far-fetched, the concept quickly becomes believable and the inventive plot begs some complex questions, like the meaning of connection and Samantha's maturing past the intentions of the programmers, developing a capacity to exist outside of Theodore’s needs.
You never know when love will sneak up on you, and Carol tells the story of exactly that. Set in 1950s New York, the film follows Carol (Cate Blanchett), who is trapped in a loveless marriage. She meets Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara), who is younger than her, working the job of a department store clerk. The duo’s connection deepens, turning into a complicated romance along the way.
In an effort to get to know the suave Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze), Baby (Jennifer Grey) volunteers to be his dance partner for the summer floor show, despite her lack of experience. Her expectedly boring summer suddenly turns passionate as she tries to demonstrate to her stubborn father that her summer romance is for real. She teaches us that you never know what kind of magical moments you'll experience until you get outside your comfort zone.
Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) meet one summer when they herd sheep together in the rural Wyoming mountains. They realize they have romantic feelings for one another and act on them, which evolves into a secret love affair. Throughout the years they meet up and go on adventures in the wilderness, which disrupts both of their marriages in different ways. To Jack and Ennis, Brokeback Mountain was the only place in the world they felt safe enough to actually love each other. So even though the secrecy sometimes made them feel trapped, it also provided a means for them to be true to themselves. When Jack tells Ennis, "I wish I could quit you," it's clear we cannot choose who we love.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
If you haven't seen this (arguably) dystopian fantasy, the basic premise is that a couple, Clementine (Kate Winslet) and Joel (Jim Carrey), undergo a medical procedure to erase their memories of each other post-breakup. But no matter how much grief you feel in the aftermath of a breakup, you can't just will away the memory of an ex-lover. And even if you could erase the memories with a medical procedure à la Dr. Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson) and Mary (Kirsten Dunst), you'd probably regret it. When Clementine and Joel try to erase theirs, they not only forget about each other but also lose parts of themselves that grew out of the relationship.
Talk about an iconic movie. If anything groomed us to believe in eternal love, it was Rose and Jack. Rose (Kate Winslet) and Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) cross paths while on the Titanic voyage from Europe to New York City. She's a young socialite engaged to an awful but wealthy man of similar rank when she falls in love with the free-spirited Jack and realizes that she doesn't want to lead the elitist life. It's another take on the classic tale of forbidden love, as well as the immortal nature of love itself.
10 Things I Hate About You
Sisters Kat (Julia Stiles) and Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) couldn't be more different. Bianca is the younger, precocious popular girl while Kat, though equally precocious, is introverted, studious, and brilliant. When their loving but overprotective dad forbids Bianca from having a boyfriend until Kat starts dating, the real fun begins—i.e., Patrick (Heath Ledger) swoops in and steals Kat's heart (and ours). Kat taught us that you should never change who you are to fulfill societal expectations. As long as you stay true to yourself, the right person will come along and accept you as you are.
Moonlight takes us through multiple periods of Chiron's (played by Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes) life from a young kid all the way up to adulthood. He grows up in a Miami home with a drug-addicted mother, bullied almost every day. Through the ups and downs of Chiron's life, he meets Kevin (played by Jaden Piner and Jharrel Jerome), and while he battles the idea of masculinity, Kevin shows him it's okay to be himself. As their relationship develops, Kevin serves as a saving grace for Chiron. The film ultimately shows the two later on as adults confessing they still love each other, even though their lives have both changed dramatically.
Blue Valentine traces Cindy (Michelle Williams) and Dean's (Ryan Gosling) relationship as it quickly progresses from a youthful, loving adventure to a tense marriage before it ultimately unravels. The film explores how love changes over time, especially when a couple is under stress. Cindy says it best: "How do you trust your feelings when they can just disappear like that?" Dean and Cindy share an undeniable connection, but as strong as their attraction is, so is their volatility. When so many love stories (especially Hollywood love stories) rely on happy endings, we appreciate a tragic, but real, goodbye for its relatability.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
When American friends Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) venture to Barcelona for the summer, they both fall for a handsome local artist named Juan (Javier Bardem). The feeling is mutual, but he also still has a thing for his erratic ex, María Elena (Penelope Crúz). You can learn from passion and experimenting, but it's probably not the most sustainable form of love if you want it to have longevity. The movie shows that you'll probably get swept off your feet by a romantic stranger at some point or another, and you'll learn a lot from that love, so it's totally worth it, but don't risk it all for someone who might be a player.
This comedy follows the tale of Armand (Robin Williams), who owns and operates a drag club in South Beach, Florida. He's openly gay and runs the club with his partner Albert (Nathan Lane). Armand's son falls in love and hopes to introduce Armand and Albert to his girlfriend's parents, but they're not exactly as accepting as Armand would hope. The duo pretends to be straight for a portion of the movie, but ultimately are able to reveal their true selves, showing that their relationship is perfectly acceptable (and even helpful throughout the movie!) just as it is.
Mira Nair's award-winning dramatic comedy is a dynamic portrait of an arranged marriage in India and the foremath of the typical wedding festivities that go along with it. When a Punjabi couple from Delhi arrange a marriage for their only daughter, Aditi (Vasundhara Das) to the Houston, Texas-based Hemant (Parvin Dabas), their relatives from all over the globe come together, revealing the complexity of familial ties, love, and culture. Even as Aditi's father becomes increasingly concerned about finances, the bride-to-be has an affair with a married man, the wedding planner becomes overwhelmed, and family secrets surface, the film ultimately exudes jubilance and celebration in a fashion not typical in American culture.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
This star-studded comedy may be one of the best break-up films of all time. When TV actress Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell) breaks up with her long-term boyfriend Peter (Jason Segel), a composer, for music sensation Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), Peter falls into a depression and compensates for his sadness in a variety of unproductive ways. He jets to Hawaii to escape it all, only to find that his ex and her new beau are staying at the same resort. While Peter navigates his so-called vacation and tries to dodge Sarah and Aldous, he forms a bond with concierge Rachel (Mila Kunis), and they develop feelings for one another. This hilarious rom-com is both entertaining and heartwarming, proving that there's always another fish in the sea who may be better for you than the last.
Save the Last Dance
This 2001 film centered around dance explores not only romance but social and cultural issues, too. When 17-year-old ballet dancer Sara (Julia Stiles) moves to the South Side of Chicago from the suburbs, she begins attending a majority-Black high school, where she befriends Chenille (Kerry Washington). Chenille takes Sara to a hip-hop nightclub, where she meets Chenille's brother, Derek (Sean Patrick Thomas), who has a criminal past. The two dance together and eventually become a couple. Down the road, things get complicated, and both are forced to confront their demons. In the end, the two prove their love for each other and push one another to pursue their dreams.