Hollywood romances are super popular, but not always truthful depictions of what really happens in love. Here are 10 realistic movies about love… well, as realistic as Hollywood can be anyway.
Love can be such a complicated and layered topic at times. Even moreso when it’s your own love life you’re looking at. It can be much easier to critique or explore the issues of love when you’re looking at someone else’s life.
And even if it’s not a real life, but a fictional one – watching someone else’s drama can be an escape from your own. Or perhaps more healthily, it can be used as an opportunity to evaluate and explore your own experiences.
Now you might have read this title and gone, “Matt you’ve gone insane, Hollywood romance isn’t realistic at all”. And I would concede your point, slightly. There are a ton of terrible depictions of love out there, my least favourite being the “hey I just met you and this is crazy but here’s my number so marry me in 10 minutes after meeting me” type.
Movies that come to mind in that terrible category of depicting love are almost every action movie (meet, get annoyed at each other, nothing in common, no conversation, you’re both hot, get married at the end of the movie after a few days), or rom coms and romance dramas that are not much more than emotional porn (character is designed to appeal to the insecurities of the audience perfectly and couldn’t possibly exist in real life).
But I’ve found in a world of Hollywood fluff that there are actually a number of realistic movies about love out there. A movie is always going to be a hyper-depiction of reality, even just because they’re only 90-360ish minutes long and real life runs on a longer time scale. But there’s quite a few movies that come to mind for me when I think of those that really tackle the nitty-gritty intricacies of what finding and keeping a life partner is really like.
A few notes – sticking with movies/movie-length so no long running TV series like the so brilliantly fleshed out Jim/Pam Michael/Holly from NBC’s The Office, and the movies have to centre around the relationships (so no Aragorn/Arwen identity struggle and sacrifice from LOTR). Also, keep in mind the film’s rating with viewer discretion advised, but you won’t find any movies with explicit or simulated sex in them – more on that in 5 Ways Sex Scenes Ruin Your Love Life.
So, off we go! Here are 10 realistic movies about love, more or less.
Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind
Starting off with a heavy and unforgiving deep dive into the struggles of long-term love and wanting to forget, a couple goes to do just that – Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet are Joel and Clementine after a break up. Joel’s life is thrown into chaos when he finds out Clementine has made use of a brain surgery whereby a person can be completely deleted from your memory to forget Joel entirely, and Joel decides to try to do the same to forget Clementine.
It’s a deep dive into the inner psyche of why we fight, what we want, and what happens to love as a relationship moves beyond being new and exciting into the long-term territory of seemingly mundane and boringly familiar.
Very arthouse-y and somewhat strange, the themes on love are spot on and challenging to consider.
Single By 30
This is a little bit of a stretch on the term “movies” as this is actually fantastic little mini-series for YouTube Premium (formerly YouTube Red) by Wongfu Productions.
This was my inspiration for this list after a recent rewatch. The story follows two high school friends, Peter (Henry Shum Jr) and Joanna (Kina Grannis), who jokingly make a pact that if they’re both still single by 30 they’ll get married.
As 30 approaches, both find themselves single again after other relationships, and a reunion prompts them to put themselves out there – with others, and with each other.
I love this little mini-series because it’s super charming whilst having a great array of characters depicting what every season of love is like – there’s the struggling friends trying to find people on apps and in person, there’s the couple where one person is still trying to conquer insecurities and the fear of settling down and the other is stuck negotiating that, and the married couple trying to help their friends out whilst managing their own challenges.
Super, super recommended as it really tackles the modern challenges associated with dating and marriage. I wish this series got as much press as it deserves. It’s not exactly one of the realistic movies about love but given the run time it’s about the same as watching a movie, so… it’s here.
This one is a classic and a bit more on the Hollywood fluff side but we needed a 90s movie on here, didn’t we? Besides, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are mega cute in their second rom com as bookstore tycoon Joe Fox and smalltime children’s bookstore owner Kathleen Kelly.
Joe and Kathleen are both dating people they’re not fully sold on, and on the side have an email penpal relationship with each other, only under aliases so they don’t know their real identities. Their careers lead them to meet in a business clash with Joe’s Borders/Dymocks size corporation opening a new store next to Kathleen’s smalltime New York favourite.
By day they’re enemies and by night they’re more than strangers who help each other through their problems. I call it realistic because their transition from penpals to friends to something more grows through their sustained efforts and shows love can overcome breakups, personal hurt, and seeing someone at their worst and still loving them anyway.
Good luck trying not to smile during this one.
Am I crazy? An anime movie on a list of realistic movies about love? With a sci-fi twist?
This is a movie about two people who wake up in each other’s bodies every other day, and fall in love with the person not by interacting with them directly, but by finding out who this person is just from the people around them.
When they go to their school, their workplace, or interact with their family, they hear all the things this person does for other people and how they’re seen by those around them. Piece by piece they put together a picture of who this person is they’re inhabiting to the point that they desperately want to find each other for real as the character they’ve seen put forward has captivated their attention and interest.
I think something that doesn’t always get a lot of attention (and it should) is how important of a statement it is when multiple people who know you all have good things to say about you. Character is a severely underrated quality when it comes to dating and finding marriage material and I think the way in which these two learn about this person from others covers a really powerful dynamic in real love and relationships – that who they are with everyone else is who they will eventually be with you.
So this one is realistic to me in its portrayal of the power of character, and it’s told in a very beautiful way indeed.
This surprise hit from Netflix starts Adam Driver and ScaJo as a couple getting a divorce. It takes an uncomfortable microscopic look at the small and big things that affect how a couple relates to each other over a long period of time – specifically how they see and appreciate each other’s hopes and dreams, the presence of a child in the relationship dynamic, and the effects the voices around us have on our decisions as a couple.
There is a brutally humbling scene in the last few minutes that serves as a powerful reminder of how an attitude of gratitude in a marriage can make all the difference. Although the movie is about a divorce, I think it was apt of the movie creators to call it Marriage Story as it is a case study on what not to do and one that will make you really take stock of how you treat your own partner, as all marriages are the same to an extent.
Four Holidays/Four Christmases
Back to a bit of a fun, more Hollywood type movie, two children of divorce are forced into doing something they’ve been trying to avoid since they got together – spending time with their four families (mum and dad’s new families on each side) at Christmas time.
I normally don’t really like Vince Vaughn movies but this one is an exception, with himself and Reese Witherspoon giving a humourous but measured look at the role of the family of origin on relationships, both in the past and in the future. Views on marriage, kids, how well we know each other, and what we want in life – all tackled with a great cast and a lot of laughs.
Crazy Rich Asians
A movie that markets somewhat as an eccentric take on wealth in South-East Asia actually takes a bold look at how success, culture, family pressure, friends and socioeconomic status play into how two people can love and live together.
There’s quite a few relationships on display here when a best friend’s wedding in Singapore brings the whole family back together. Henry Golding’s Nick takes his economics professor girlfriend Constance Wu’s Rachel back home to meet everyone and be a part of his friend’s wedding, and ends up going head to head against the expectation of Nick’s property tycoon (and crazy rich indeed) mother played by Michelle Yeoh.
This is an absolutely brave look at quite a few relationship issues and in particular the cultural expectations and pressures I have seen and known some of my south-east Asian friends and colleagues to have faced in their own relationships. That said, something for everyone, and another great movie about the heightened obstacles and challenges all relationships face as they move from dating into marriage. The best realistic movies about love cover it all, and this one does it extremely well.
Also, Harry Shum Jr and Kina Grannis from Single By 30 have short but meaningful cameos in this movie.
Arrrrr-thur is a doodley doo.
Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law and Jack Black are absolutely fantastic in this charming movie about two women getting over bad breakups by swapping houses with each other.
I think this is the movie I’ve recommended the most to people when a man or a woman in their life is stringing them along but never fully committing to them. Seeing Kate Winslet’s Iris finding enough self esteem and gumption! to move beyond the quasi-relationship will-we-won’t-we-what-the-heck-are-we-doing she’s settled for for years with a co-worker is a very real and rewarding experience.
This movie does stray a bit into the territory of falling in love within a few weeks for two couples, but the issues tackled during the process more than make up for it for me. Realistic movies about love are still movies, after all, and it’s love around Christmas so it has to be fairly quick.
Jude Law’s Graham and Cameron Diaz’s Rebecca turn the instant love trope on its head when they actually start to get to know each other and realize that each of them carry with them many more additional concerns than at first appearance.
Bonus points – John Krasinski, and a timeless Hans Zimmer soundtrack.
If you’re looking for confronting and charming, take a look no further than Love, Rosie. Two high school best friends plan for life and end up going separate ways and reuniting several times over the span of what seems to be about 15 years. They have always liked each other but never at the same time it seems, and the back and forth as life happens to both of them is chaotically real.
Sam Caflin and Lily Collins are absolutely outstanding as Alex and Rosie. Their potential relationship early in life is derailed when Rosie falls pregnant during a high school prom mishap and changes her life forever. All her plans, including Alex, seem out of the window. Enter life’s long journey for both of them and their journey back to each other.
No person is perfect, and this movie does an amazing job of showing how you can navigate your imperfections and your ever changing expectations as you grow older and more things in life happen.
I absolutely love this movie, and I’ve definitely mentioned that before. It’s funny because the first time I watched this movie, I absolutely hated it. In fact I was furious after watching it. An hour later I realised – wow, that movie was absolutely how people are when it comes to love and life, and my anger quickly turned to deep appreciation for what a realistic portrayal of many relationships I just watched.
The movie is about Kate Hudson’s Darcy being engaged to Colin’s Dex, who ends up having a one-night stand with her best friend Jennifer Goodwin’s Rachel after her 30th birthday party. It was definitely wrong, but why did it happen?
It turns out these university friends have both been living their lives never really saying what they truly mean, and this movie takes a heartbreaking and frustrating look at every single little moment and word that got in the way of what they both wanted. No stone is left unturned – the role of friends, family, choosing between multiple options, lying about your true feelings, turning 30, the influence of your career, waiting too long, not saying what you mean, and ultimately how our choices affect other people’s choices in life altering ways.
By the time the credits roll, you will recognise yourself or your own actions no doubt in at least one of the characters. It’s the best and the worst of the realistic movies about love that you’ll ever watch – in fact most people get angry at me for suggesting it as a good watch! But I think the fact it highlights what all of us get wrong in love so many times that makes it so good.
So you didn’t tell the girl or guy you like how you really felt because it sounded like they weren’t interested. What’s your life look like years later as a result? What does theirs? What about the other friends and potential lovers waiting in the wings? In my opinion, nothing gets more uncomfortably real than Something Borrowed.
Honourable mention to 12 Dates of Christmas – Hallmarky lifetime style movie about a woman repeating a Groundhog Day type of circumstances and her slow warm up to a man of character. Cute and tackles those parts of us that are more shallow than we accept. And of course, 500 Days Of Summer, which is on every list like this.
Love can be complicated, and usually made even worse when we live and love on autopilot instead of taking honest stock of how we’re going in this area. What I love about all these movies is they provide a safe space to explore and review our own decisions and approaches when it comes to love. They may be fictional depictions with characters who don’t really exist, but a lot of their decisions and attitudes and experiences are exactly in line with many of us.
How about you? What are some other realistic movies about love that you enjoy?