Film & Television · General Medical

The Romantic-Movie Survey! And the Winner is . . .

If you want to see friends let their guard down, just ask them what one film they’d choose as the most romantic movie ever. People sigh into their reveries of certain scenes, reminisce about that look before the kiss, wax philosophical about gender and generation, and express their secret wishes for themselves.

They give you a glimpse into their own hearts.

Our loyal readers and the new friends sent to us by BabyHeart did that over and over again in response to our Valentine’s Day Romantic Movie Survey,  and our hearts swelled as a result.


Speaking of results … without further ado, here they are.

The winner by a mile: The Notebook.

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A decade ago we watched Allie and Noah, The Notebook’s star-crossed lovers (he an island-bred country boy, she a 17-year-old heiress summering—and simmering—on the island) be defeated by the decrees of her Charleston parents, only to reunite years later. She has moved on. He has held on to the belief that she will be his when he finishes the restoration of the house he once promised her.

The chemistry between Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling alone could have made this a winner, but the story of two old people that is both background and overlay for the film is where the lifeboats of poignancy deliver us from the waters of predictability. We get to know James Garner as “Duke,” and Gena Rowlands (the director Nick Cassavetes’s mother) is clearly Allie, though suffering from dementia and traveling in and out of lucidity.

No spoilers for those of you who have never dipped into The Notebook, because we recommend it (as Roger Ebert did when the movie was released in 2004) as a wonderful way to spend time on a winter weekend. Bring a full box of tissues.

As for the runners-up, any of them could have been winners, in your opinion. We quote Mickey, who summed up the contest with these words, “So many movies, so many types of love! Unrequited. Divided by time, places, people, etc. Sigh. Thanks so much.”

Below is the list of the nine other films that made the Top Ten, with a comment that is representative of the many each film generated. Wish we could have quoted all of you, because we know we were so lucky to have such informed and intelligent voters. While we are on the topic of voters, we want to thank BabyHeart—the nonprofit organization that treats children with heart disease in developing countries— for bringing us the kind of readers and voters who aren’t our usual audience—men. The male contingent was invested, articulate, and plentiful, which made the Survey even more fun.

2. Love Actually (2003):
Cindy Fuener: Love Actually . . . exhibits the real heartache that often accompanies the idea of love. You don’t always get what you want, so you learn to appreciate love in whatever form you find it, be it romantic, parental, platonic, brotherly/sisterly.”

3. Casablanca (1942):
John Jennings: “A great love gives way to a greater love, set at a time and place of fighting, hate, and loss. A love story greater than a story about only two people.”

4. Pretty Woman (1990):
Francine Kaufman: “I loved Pretty Woman because it showed a fairy tale story of a young woman who, with brains, did what she thought she had to do and then changed her feelings about herself and what she could do to change her life.”

5. Sleepless in Seattle (1993):
Lora Baum: “1. Because Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan were the hottest couple ever. 2. Because the scene of her trying on her mother’s wedding dress should happen in every family. 3. Because it is a movie about what every girl just wants to have happen to her.”

6. When Harry Met Sally (1989):
Jason K: . . . “Finally a close friendship blooms between Harry and Sally, and they both like having a friend of the opposite sex. But then they are confronted with the problem: “Can a man and a woman be friends?” In the end, love conquers all.”

7. Gone With the Wind (1939):
John Bills: “Clark Gable is manly and treats Vivien Leigh well. Vivien Leigh plays a beautiful, emotional, irrational woman who doesn’t really know what she wants—until it’s too late! Mirrors reality in many cases!”

8. An Affair to Remember (1957):
Susan Klatsky Cohen: “It has everything: finding love, losing it, and then finding it again. And a great quote: ‘Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories; we’ve already missed the spring!’”

9. Dirty Dancing (1987):
Lydia McKenzie: “Dirty Dancing has all the great elements of a great romance: first love for a girl poised on the edge of womanhood, a tough young man whose heart is softened by that love, a great oldies soundtrack and some really inspired dancing. The dancing is so inspiring in fact, that my husband was inspired to surprise me with ballroom dancing lessons for Christmas, and now we are choreographing our own dirty dances!”

10. Pride and Prejudice (the TV series, 1995, and the movie, 2005):
Victoria Smith: “I would have voted for Pride and Prejudice starring dashing Colin Firth as the enigmatic Mr. Darcy (believing Firth plays the hottest Mr. Darcy to date), but I remember this was technically a TV miniseries, not a movie for the big screen. Thus, I vote for my second favorite Pride and Prejudice, with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfayden in the starring roles.” [Most of the voters preferred the BBC TV miniseries, with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy.]

The Top Ten were praised over and over, but they weren’t the only movies praised. Here are some of the films that just had to be mentioned—for their clear romantic vision, or out of just plain surprise that they had any votes at all.

Roman Holiday (1953):
Ro Howe: “Though it depicts romance limned with enchantment and a wash of innocence, the story is hung on a gracefully disguised infrastructure of the inevitable angst of the loss of childlike gaiety. Forging growth through exploration and past delight into the recognition and responsibility of adulthood, it is a fairy story told in reverse, with attendant moral attached.”

Titanic (1997):
Brian Forsberg: “’I’ll never let go, Jack.’ (Rose DeWitt Bukater, Titanic). What every man wants to hear.”

Bridges of Madison County:
Kristie Tapp: “It is a love-hate movie. I love that she sacrifices her ‘once in a lifetime love’ for the sake of her husband, children. I hate that she chooses her family to lose her ‘once in a lifetime love.’”

Deliver Us from Eva (2003):
Donald Fitzgerald: “The movie tells us what men have to go through with women sometimes.”

Ghost (1990):
Barbara Thompson: “Nothing sexier or more loving than the pottery scene!”

Say Anything (1989):
Michael Strane: “It was time and place for me. I was in HS when it came out, and it was the first HS movie that treated teenagers as complete people, and treated the relationship with respect and not making a big joke about it. At the same time, aptly noting what WAS actually funny about high school and being that age.”

Wuthering Heights (1939)
Stacey Bewkes: “A powerful and compelling tale of tragic romance that explores the true meaning of the term soulmates. It is a story not just of passion but also of revenge, class, and prejudice, as well as Bronte’s intense vision of the human psyche . . . Headstrong Heathcliff and beautiful, ethereal Cathy—they are light and dark, day and night. . . opposites that attract and repel, yet cannot exist without the other.”

Waterloo Bridge, (1940):
Leslie Elliot offers a compelling, all-in-three-sentences synopsis of this heartbreaker: “Exquisite ballerina Vivien Leigh drops purse on Waterloo Bridge, aristocratic officer Robert Taylor returns it, whirlwind, proposal. He’s called to front, she cuts performance to say bye, gets fired, reads he’s killed, no marketable skills, reduced to plying—on Waterloo Bridge. False report, he disembarks Waterloo Station, sees her on bridge, she fibs, reunion, confesses to his mother (“I’m so sorry my dear but you can see it’s impossible”), throws self in front of lorry rumbling across—Waterloo Bridge.”

Notorious (1946):
Nora Brossard: “The combination of suspense and romance is irresistible is this spy thriller, with the fate of western democracy hanging in the balance. The sexual chemistry between the two stars is explosive. If I had to be carried to safety down a flight of stairs past glowering Nazis, who better than Cary Grant?”

Thank you all for your enthusiastic participation in what, in the end, wasn’t meant to be a poll, but rather a boost for an organization that does so much for the truly helpless—infants in countries where their survival is deeply at risk. We salute BabyHeart as we offer you our gratitude. The donation amount will be announced on Monday. You should all be proud of how you proved that having a little fun can do good, too.


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  • Roz Warren February 15, 2014 at 12:20 pm

    I am patting myself on the back for participating, although I am shocked to see that apparently nobody else voted for my own favorite romantic movie, Blazing Saddles.

  • Mickey February 15, 2014 at 12:20 pm

    Oh, wow, wow, wow. Just had my 15 minutes, no, how many characters? of fame! I’m so excited that I was quoted!

    The Notebook? Oh, no. I probably won’t see it. It sounds like one I won’t like.

    You mentioned the movie with James Garner and Gena Rowlands. Here in Arizona, Sandra Day O’Connor, retired judge,(lovingly, I like to think) divorced her husband to enable him to marry again. (He died in 2009.) Huffington Post (no byline?) printed this: “The family also shared a poignant development, saying that O’Connor [the husband] struck up a romance with a fellow Alzheimer’s patient after moving into an assisted living center in Phoenix. The relationship changed his outlook for the better, their son, Scott, said, adding that his mother was just glad that he was comfortable.” Well, she was a federal judge, after all. That your husband (since 1952) couldn’t remember you anymore was surely a character test. But I can’t help but feel Judge O’Connor was, is a very brave, caring and loving woman.