The best Valentine's movies for every stage of a relationship

From first glance to second chance, Andrew Collins takes a tour of films to melt your heart

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The best Valentine's movies for every stage of a relationship
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Andrew Collins

1 Love at first sight

“Meet cute” is enduring Hollywood shorthand for a romantic encounter, covering everything from Gene Kelly jumping into Debbie Reynolds’s car in Singin’ in the Rain to Emily Blunt surprising Matt Damon in the men’s room in The Adjustment Bureau (Wednesday, Sky Sci-Fi/Horror). 

But it’s not always cute. David Niven’s doomed fighter pilot falls in love with radio operator Kim Hunter in A Matter of Life and Death without meeting her. And in film noir Double Indemnity (Tuesday 21 February, Sky Classics), Fred MacMurray is seduced by Barbara Stanwyck’s femme fatale when she comes downstairs buttoning her blouse. Ker-pow! Who wouldn’t?

2 First date

First dates are awkward affairs and 50 First Dates features, well, 50 of them, as Adam Sandler repeatedly woos Drew Barrymore, a woman with short-term amnesia. But few onscreen assignations are as varied as those notched up by Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally... (Saturday, Sky Showcase), “friends” who meet in a car, on a plane, at a bookshop and at various eateries (most noisily, a New York deli) before succumbing to each other. 

Conversely, in comic “bromance” I Love You, Man, Paul Rudd goes on a series of platonic “man dates” prior to marrying Rashida Jones.

3 First kiss

One of the first commercial moving pictures was The Kiss (1896), a celebrated 20-second smooch that set a lip-smacking tone for the next century. Twilight (Monday 20 February, Film4) fans were in delirium waiting for Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart’s first kiss, with the stars’ rumoured offscreen romance fuelling the fire. 

Though audiences almost despaired waiting for Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan to get beyond the chatroom in e-romance You’ve Got Mail (tonight then Monday 20 February, both ITV2).

4 Magic moments

Love means many things in the movies, and it takes many splendoured forms: Andie MacDowell not noticing that it’s raining at the end of Four Weddings and a Funeral; Paul Newman and Katharine Ross sharing a bicycle in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; and Woody Allen listing the things that make life worth living in Manhattan, ending with the girl he’s just broken up with. 

Even the somewhat mercenary Valentine’s Day (Tuesday, Sky Showcase) gave us veterans Shirley MacLaine and Hector Elizondo touchingly renewing their marriage vows.

5 Moving in

A loved-up couple moving into a new flat often spells horror in the movies. But it’s not always Rosemary’s Baby. In uber-weepie Love Story (tonight, Sky Drama/Romance then Sunday 19 February, Sky Showcase), snow-frolicking newlyweds Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal move into a run-down top-floor apartment when his rich dad stops his allowance, demonstrating that true love conquers the privations of cohabitation.

In honorary 1980s (actually released in 1990) classic Pretty Woman (tonight, then Friday 17 February, Sky Showcase), Richard Gere’s corporate raider rents Hollywood Boulevard hooker Julia Roberts for a week and she moves into his Beverly Wilshire suite, where, naturally, their business contract thaws into something less formal.

6 End of the line

In the movies, breaking up can take the story anywhere. Bafta-nominated A Separation (Wednesday-Friday on FilmFlex) sees an Iranian divorce plotted in fascinating detail, while in Ghost (Tuesday 21 February, Sky Showcase) not even death can keep Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore apart. In Love Actually (Tuesday 21 February, Sky Modern Greats), the most moving moment is Emma Thompson’s private reaction to Alan Rickman’s apparent infidelity. 

And An Affair to Remember (tonight, then Friday 24 February, Sky Classics) would have been far less memorable if it had ended with Cary Grant simply standing alone on top of the Empire State Building after the non-arrival of Deborah Kerr.

7 Second chance

Enough young lovers! Autumnal romance doesn’t mean the party’s over. In The Bridges of Madison County, Clint Eastwood’s 50-something photographer has a tryst with 40-something Meryl Streep. Jack Nicholson gives grandmother Shirley MacLaine a run for her money in Terms of Endearment

In the 15-years-later sequel, The Evening Star, she takes up with toy boy Bill Paxton. Makes you wonder who will catch her eye in the next series of Downton Abbey...


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