Today is Valentine’s Day, whether you like it or not. Since you’ve probably been bombarded by sentimental consumerism for a couple months, I thought I’d put together a list of movies that are romantic in much subtler ways. None of these titles can be found in the romance category; their plots are much bigger than boy and girl meet cute and bicker until they realize they’re meant for each other. But while something else is going on, while some of these characters are enmeshed in life-or-death struggles, love happens anyway and that’s my favorite kind: the unexpected romance that can’t be denied.
So, instead of the latest rom-com dreck from Jennifer Aniston or Katherine Heigl, why not watch or review one of these instead?
**Might be spoilery if you haven’t seen these movies**
- The Terminator. Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), a freaked-out waitress being chased by a cyborg from the future who wants to kill her, falls for the soldier sent to protect her. In the midst of all the craziness, she and Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) make love in a hotel room, a good thing for the future resistance but bittersweet for them and viewers.
- Casino Royale. After a deadly fight in a stairwell, James Bond (Daniel Craig) goes back to his hotel room and finds Vespa (Eva Green) sitting fully clothed and shivering in the shower, in shock from the events she witnessed. He gets into the shower with her, tux and all, turns up the hot water, puts his arm around her and her fingers in his mouth when she said she couldn’t wash the blood off them. (I, um, need a moment after writing that paragraph.)
- Out of Sight. The beginning scene in the trunk of the car, when U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) is locked in with newly-escaped-from-prison Jack Foley (George Clooney), isn’t hot enough for you? How about the scene when they meet in a bar that’s cross-cut with them slowly undressing and getting it on?
- District 9. This might be a sci-fi film about aliens and genetic engineering, but for me it’s about an everyman, Wikus (Sharlto Copley), trying to survive a nightmare and get back to his wife, Tania (Vanessa Haywood), whom he calls an angel. The final scene when she receives a scrap-metal flower she can’t bear to throw away, followed by the glimpse of a grotesque prawn delicately making such a flower, just breaks my heart.
- Witness. While Detective John Book is undercover in Amish country to protect a young boy who witnessed a murder, he’s drawn to the boy’s mother, Rachel (Kelly McGillis). Their dance in the barn to Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World” is sweet enough, but their walk towards each other at dusk, with Rachel throwing down her bonnet before they kiss feverishly, is swoon-worthy.
- Notorious. Yeah, yeah, it’s about the daughter of a Nazi spy sent undercover to gather intelligence on one of her father’s old friends, but it contains that kiss between Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) and her handler, Devlin (Cary Grant). The classic scene of them talking while kissing for over two minutes, bypassing a Production Code regulation at the time banning onscreen kisses lasting over three seconds, makes it notoriously sexy.
- House of Flying Daggers. Police deputy Jin (Takeshi Kineshiro) pretends to be a wandering rogue and breaks Mei (Zhang Ziyi) out of jail, hoping she’d lead him back to the lair of the Flying Daggers so he can kill the leader of the rebel group. Despite warnings from his colleague, Jin develops feelings for Mei along the way. When she discovers his true identity and is ordered to kill him, Mei takes him out to a field and ends up rolling around in it with him instead. It’s a hot stolen moment before they have to get back on their horses and flee from people who want them dead.
- The Empire Strikes Back. The Empire is on their tail and the Millenium Falcon is experiencing some mechanical troubles but while Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) is trying to fix something, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) comes along and “helps” by kissing her after massaging her sore hands. Later on, when she finally tells him she loves him before he gets encased in carbonite, Solo says, “I know,” a perfect rejoinder that’s much more romantic than anything else he could’ve said.
- Superman. Supes (Christopher Reeve) shows Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) his bird’s eye view of Metropolis by taking her on an evening aerial tour while John Williams’s score of “Can You Read My Mind?” soars. For a while, that scene ruined me for first dates. I wanted to be flown through the skies and how could mortals live up to that? Good thing no one was offering me any kind of dates at the time and I was able to avoid massive disappointment. (I later became a news reporter but no one ever gave me an interview that good.)
- Wall*E. The title character is a robot cleaning up a waste-laden Earth in the future. The object of his affection is EVE, a robot who searches for signs of life. The two are machines that don’t talk, but somehow their love affair is one of the most poignant in recent years. If you didn’t feel a lump in your throat during the scene near the end when it looks like the damaged-then-repaired WALL*E has lost all memory of EVE, you might not be human.
What movies have you found unexpectedly romantic?