Valentine’s Day is a holiday built on agonizing. Either you’ve sprained your Google-finger trying to find the perfect restaurant, floral arrangement, or fleet of birds trained to fly in heart formation–or you’re torturing yourself over not having a date to agonize about. (There’s also the third option of being well-adjusted enough not to care too much one way or the other, but what fun is that?) One part of the holiday that shouldn’t be too much of a slow-motion forehead-slap, though, is choosing a movie to watch.
Not all Valentine’s Day dates involve going to the movies, of course. After this year, there won’t even be any more new Fifty Shades movies, a vacuum that may render V-day theatergoing a thing of the past. Movies will forever come into play, though, at that pivotal moment between returning from the outdoor portion of the date and determining how the night will end. Not to be over-dramatic, but everything is riding on this movie. It could be the rocket fuel that sends you both soaring to the top of Make-Out Mountain, or it could be an awkward church-fart that renders the preceding good time a moot point. That second scenario is probably pretty rare, but better to not chance it.
(Side note: It’s also important to be careful what movie you watch if you’re single on Valentine’s Day. For the sake of your sanity–and your neighbors’ presumed aversion to sport-crying–don’t watch anything along the lines of Closer, Lost in Translation, and perhaps most egregiously, Blue Valentine, while single on Candy Heart Day.)
Since the decision of which movie to watch should be more like picking a meal from the menu than choosing a restaurant out of all the options in the entire tri-state area, here are 21 trusty ideas, sorted by every level of relationship from First Date to Long-Time Married Couple.
First Date Movies
If you’re going on a first date this Valentine’s Day…why are you doing that? There’s less pressure to recite one’s wedding vows without incident than there is on two people trying to will chemistry into being on Valentine’s Day. Reasons for breaking this rule may include meeting someone for the first time the day before Valentine’s Day, thereby becoming so addicted to each other’s company that social norms no longer apply–and that’s about it. Merely not wanting to be alone on this day is not enough, and in fact almost guarantees a night of regrets. If you’re reading this on Valentine’s Day, however, it’s too late to cancel, so you might as well have one of these movies ready.
- Warm Bodies, the elusive zombie romantic comedy that ISN’T Shaun of the Dead, Warm Bodies is romantic enough to feel timely, and features about as much yearning as it does intestinal tracts.
- Something Wild, an in-depth look at the pleasures and perils of instant attraction, and also just a tremendously cool choice.
- Hitch, a romantic comedy so breezy, inoffensive, and thoroughly not bad, nobody in history has ever cried during it or stopped watching partly through.
Third Date Movies
If you’ve made it to this point together, you’re clear to watch something a little sexier and/or more substantive than the kind of thing you watch when you’re just trying to discern whether this person is a serial killer or not.
- Y Tu Mama Tambien, warning: side effects of this film may include extreme horniness, light melancholy, and a desire to smoke a bunch of pot.
- Amelie, every frame of this movie looks like a gorgeous, sensual album cover, and the accordion soundtrack somehow inflames the part of your brain that produces dopamine.
- Beginners, for a less outwardly seductive option, let this celebration of life and love usher in the feel-good vibes.
New Couple Movies
As a new couple, it’s nice to watch other new couples realize they’re bonkers about each other. “That’s us!” would be too obvious a thing to say out loud, but you’re both hopefully thinking it a little.
- The Big Sick, This newly Oscar-nominated indie success story from last year is equal parts funny and sweet.
- My Summer of Love, Emily Blunt’s first film role—a couple years before The Devil Wears Prada—finds her falling for a young woman despite class differences.
- Moonrise Kingdom, perhaps Wes Anderson’s most earnestly romantic film, featuring a pair of extremely young, troubled lovers trying to carve out a space for themselves.
Established Couple Movies
You’ve been around as a couple long enough that you can watch movies featuring weddings on Valentine’s Day and have it not be weird and suggestive. Savor that.
- The Wedding Singer, Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore are so cute and funny here, they’ll distract you from thinking about how this movie is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and thus your own mortality.
- The Wedding Banquet, Ang Lee’s film about a gay man in a happy relationship, who marries a woman in order to avoid coming out to his parents, will make you appreciate your hopefully less complicated situation.
- Love and Basketball, all relationships are at least a little bit competitive but this movie somehow makes that drive feel like a form of affection.
Engaged Couple Movies
Now that you’re going to be together forever, you can watch movies about sadly fleeting romance–clinging to each other and letting your love burn brightly, lest it burn out too soon.
- Once, two musicians fall for each other as you fall for the music they create.
- Ghost, beyond the immortal pottery scene, this movie lets you imagine a love that continues beyond the grave.
- Shakespeare in Love, so stuffed with elements from, and nods to, Shakespeare’s plays, it’s like a sumptuous buffet of classic romantic drama and comedy.
Married Couple Movies
Congratulations–you’re now boring enough to watch the classics (and perhaps some new classics) without any care as to whether you’re being too on-the-nose.
- The Notebook, you can either identify with Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams’s young volatile lovers, or lament James Garner and Gena Rowlands’ heartbreaking fate; this movie is giving you options.
- Sleepless in Seattle, give each other permission to date again after you pass away only if similar circumstances to this movie apply.
- Moonlight, watch Chiron’s journey toward love and appreciate how comparatively easy you had it.
Long-Time Married Couple Movies
If you’ve been married for years and years, you’re probably just watching Altered Carbon on Netflix or whatever it is you’d otherwise be watching anyway on a Wednesday night. But here are some choices if you’re in the market for something more thematically appropriate.
- Up, the first 10 minutes will rip out your heart and the remaining 90 will gently restore it back in place.
- Before Sunset, the middle part in a trilogy of films each unfolding over the course of a day while unspooling whole worlds of relationship textures.
- When Harry Met Sally, although it may not hold up when gazed through the prism of social dynamics in the woke era, Nora Ephron’s sparkling script still might make you happy to be married to your friend.