23 Best Romance Movies On Criterionchannel

Staff & contributors

Is love in the air? It sure is all over streaming platforms, where there’s no shortage of romance to cuddle up to. From intimate dramas to love-fuelled adventures, here are the best romance movies and shows to stream now.

Called a masterpiece by many and featured on many best-of-the-21st-century lists, Director Wong Kar-wei has created a thing of singular beauty. Every frame is an artwork (painted, as it were, with help of cinematographer Christopher Doyle) in this meticulously and beautifully crafted film about the unrequited love of two people renting adjacent rooms in 1960s Hong Kong. These two people, played by Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, struggle to stay true to their values rather than give in to their desires, while they both suspect their spouses of extramarital activities. The flawless acting, stunning visuals, and dream-like beauty of In the Mood for Love perfectly captures the melancholy of repressed emotions and unfulfilled love. The cello motif of Shigeru Umebayashi's main theme will haunt you long after you finished watching.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Chan Man-Lei, Charles de Gaulle, Cheung Tung-cho, Chin Tsi-Ang, Joe Cheung, Joe Cheung Tung-Cho, Julien Carbon, Kelly Lai Chen, Laurent Courtiaud, Maggie Cheung, Mama Hung, Paulyn Sun, Ping Lam Siu, Rebecca Pan, Roy Cheung, Siu Ping-lam, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Tsi-Ang Chin

Director: Wong Kar-wai

Rating: PG

Wong Kar-wai’s dreamlike masterpiece is a perfect portrayal of the wilderness of a city at night. A hitman trying to get his job done, a woman hunting the prostitute who stole her boyfriend, and a mute who loves his father's cooking: each of the characters in Fallen Angels is eccentric and interesting in their own way. Along the watch, you may find yourself overwhelmed by all the events taking place as each character fights to stay alive and satisfy their desire, but this is exactly where the beauty lies. A hazy view of Hong Kong is the backdrop for the characters' riveting stories, blending loneliness, lust, as well as missed opportunities. Fallen Angels is a remarkably balanced film that not only exposes the coldness of people in the city, but also their warmth.

Genre: Action, Crime, Drama, Romance

Actor: Benz Kong, Benz Kong To-Hoi, Chan Fai-Hung, Chan Man-Lei, Charlie Yeung, Karen Mok, Karen Mok Man-Wai, Kwan Lee-Na, Leon Lai, Michelle Reis, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Toru Saito

Director: Kar-Wai Wong, Wong Kar-wai

Rating: R

, 2000

Edward Yang’s masterful and lush Yi Yi follows the lives of the Jian family and their respective, middle-class worries. The father agonizes over a business deal and, at the back of his mind, an old flame. The mother struggles with emptiness, the daughter with sensuality, and the son with his burgeoning artistry. In the periphery are other family members trying to get by as best they can despite having no certain future to look forward to. The story, which is bookended with life and death, is punctuated with these lingering anxieties but also, crucially, with moments of potent, profound joys. 

The premise seems simple, but Yang weaves a breathtaking epic out of the mundane. The mise-en-scene is immersive, the dialogue delicate, and the direction effectively real. The understated elegance of each piece coming together to build a rich whole is what makes YiYi Yang’s legacy to the world of cinema.

Genre: Drama, Family, Romance

Actor: Adriene Lin, An-an Hsu, Chen Yiwen, Cheryl Yang, Danny Deng, Edward Yang, Elaine Jin, Hsi-Sheng Chen, Hsu Kuei-ying, Issey Ogata, Jonathan Chang, Kai-Li Peng, Kate Yeung, Kelly Ko, Kelly Lee, Kenjiro Tsuda, Lawrence Ko, Leon Dai, Liang-Tso Liu, Luo Bei An, Ru-Yun Tang, Shau-Ching Sung, Shu-shen Hsiao, Tang Ru-Yun, Tang Tsung Sheng, Wang Chi-tsan, Wu Nien-Jen, Yi-Wen Chen

Director: Edward Yang

At nearly four hours long, A Brighter Summer Day is a sprawling, beautifully composed film that follows young Xiao Si’r and his eventual entanglements in nearly everything, from love to youth gangs to politics. While parts of the story, particularly its bone-chilling climax, are based on true events, the film is largely reconstructed from Edward Yang’s memories of the era he grew up in. As a result, the visuals feel crisp and true, tinged with just the right amount of nostalgia to balance the grittiness of its realism. 

As coming-of-age films go, A Brighter Summer Day is certainly more on the tragic side. It’s also seminal in its specificity and depth—an absolute must-watch for any and all filmgoers. 

Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alex Yang, Chang Chen, Chang Han, Chang Kuo-chu, Chen Chang, Chen Shiang-Chyi, Chen Yiwen, Chiang Hsiu-Chiung, Chin Tsai, Chuan Wang, Danny Deng, Elaine Jin, Emily Y. Chang, Feng Guoqiang, Han Chang, Hsi-Sheng Chen, King Shih-Chieh, Kuo-Chu Chang, Lang Tsu-Yun, Lawrence Ko, Lisa Yang, Ni Shu-Chun, Ru-Yun Tang, Stephanie Lai, Tan Chih-Kang, Tang Ru-Yun, Tsu-Yun Lang, Wang Bosen, Wang Chi-tsan, Yi-Wen Chen

Director: Edward Yang

Rating: Not Rated

From Drive My Car director Ryusuke Hamaguchi comes another film featuring long drives, thoughtful talks, and unexpected twists. An anthology of three short stories, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy ponders over ideas of love, fate, and the all-too-vexing question, “what if?” 

What if you didn’t run away from the one you love? What if you didn’t give in to lust that fateful day? What if, right then and there, you decide to finally forgive?

Big questions, but without sacrificing depth, Hamaguchi does the incredible task of making every single second feel light and meaningful. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy will leave you with mixed emotions: excited, startled, dejected, hopeful. But one thing you won’t feel is regret over watching this instant classic of a film.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Aoba Kawai, Ayumu Nakajima, Fusako Urabe, Hyunri, Katsuki Mori, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Kotone Furukawa, Shouma Kai

Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Rating: R-13

Éric Rohmer’s The Green Ray is the kind of film that you come away from being more honest with yourself. That effect is thanks to the contagious directness of its protagonist: Delphine (Marie Rivière), a newly single young French woman whose summer vacation plans have just been unceremoniously upturned after the friend she was going away with takes off with a man instead. Now at a loose end, the indecisive Delphine meanders between her home in Paris and several gorgeous holiday spots, but that old saying — “wherever you go, there you are” — proves true. Neither the beaches of Cherbourg and Biarritz nor the lofty beauty of an Alps resort can soothe her restlessness or give her what she’s looking for, probably because she doesn’t quite know what that is herself.

Delphine’s is an achingly familiar search for anyone who’s ever felt like they’ve drifted off of life’s path, but blessedly, the conversation-driven Green Ray doesn’t leave us wallowing in that despair. That’s partly thanks to its final moments — which rank among cinema’s most stunning — but mostly because Rivière, who improvised much of her incisive dialogue, puts into words things that so many have felt but few would admit. In that sense, The Green Ray feels as much like a miracle as its last shot does.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Béatrice Romand, María Luisa García, Marie Rivière, Rosette, Vincent Gauthier

Director: Éric Rohmer

Based on the Austrian novel, The Piano Teacher is as brilliant and as disturbed as its protagonist. The film follows Erika Kohut (Isabelle Huppert), the repressed masochist in question, and the trainwreck of a relationship that she develops with her student Walter Klemmer (Benoît Magimel). Their dynamic is undeniably toxic. Austrian auteur Michael Haneke frames each scene with clinical detachment, but it is absolutely brutal how the two characters try to assert control over each other, engage in sadomasochism, and repeatedly violate each other’s boundaries. Huppert’s heartrending performance fully commits to the merciless treatment Erika receives. But more tragic is the way Erika’s unusual relationship could’ve freed her, could’ve helped her process her abuse, and instead, reinforces her repression. It’s scary to make yourself vulnerable by admitting your desires, only for them to be used against you.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Anna Sigalevitch, Annie Girardot, Benoit Magimel, Eva Green, Georg Friedrich, Gerti Drassl, Isabelle Huppert, Liliana Nelska, Susanne Lothar, Udo Samel, Vivian Bartsch

Director: Michael Haneke

Rating: R

Two angels wander the streets of a monochrome Berlin, invisible to the colorful world that bustles around them. When one of them falls in love, he begins to question his place and yearns to give up immortality to join the ranks of the living. Wim Wender’s exceptional film is a poetic meditation on faith, cinema, and a mournful tour of a city in the grip of the Cold War. 

Wings of Desire is bursting with poetry and heartbreaking humanism emphasized by the tender performances by Bruno Ganz, Otto Sander, and Peter Falk, while serving as a beautiful love letter to a city yearning for change. If you’ve only seen City of Angels, the loose American remake, then you owe it to yourself to experience the raw poetic power of the real deal.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Annelinde Gerstl, Beartice Manowski, Beatrice Manowski, Bernard Eisenschitz, Blixa Bargeld, Bruno Ganz, Chick Ortega, Curt Bois, Didier Flamand, Elmar Wilms, Hans Martin Stier, Johanna Penski, Jürgen Heinrich, Nick Cave, Otto Sander, Paul Busch, Peter Falk, Sigurd Rachman, Solveig Dommartin, Teresa Harder, Thomas Wydler, Ulrike Schirm

Director: Wim Wenders

Rating: PG-13

, 1987

Vivid, seductive, and highly romantic, Rouge starts as an enchanting tale of a ghost courtesan that haunts a modern-day couple to look for her lost lover. It’s easy to be swayed by the ghostly lovers – the courtesan Fleur (Anita Mui) and wealthy pharmacy chain heir Chan Chen-Pang (Leslie Cheung) start off the film courting each other (and the audience) through lush visuals, dramatic declarations, and Cantonese song. They agree to a suicide pact and promise to find each other in the next life. However, as Fleur haunts newspaper journalists Yuen and Chor, it’s clear how different Hong Kong has become. From its culture to its attitudes towards romance, Rouge suggests that while modern day Hong Kong may be more cold and standardized, the past as we know it is only a gorgeous dream. And that dream hides a tragic, sordid reality.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Mystery, Romance

Actor: Alex Man, Anita Mui, Emily Chu Bo-Yee, Irene Wan, Kara Hui, Lau Kar-Wing, Leslie Cheung, Patrick Tse Yin, Ruby Wong, Tam Sin-Hung, Wong Yu

Director: Stanley Kwan

Rating: Not Rated

Forlorn longing envelops Days of Being Wild, where the act of dreaming is as valuable as its actual fulfillment. “You’ll see me tonight in your dreams,” Yuddy tells Su Li-zhen on their first meeting, and indeed, this line of dialogue sets the film’s main contradiction: would you rather trap yourself in the trance-like beauty of dreams or face the unpleasant possibilities of reality? Wong Kar-wai’s characters each have their own answers, with varying subplots intersecting through the consequences of their decisions. In the end, happiness comes in unexpected ways, granted only to those brave enough to wake up and dream again.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alicia Alonzo, Andy Lau, Anita Mui, Carina Lau, Hung Ling-Ling, Jacky Cheung, Leslie Cheung, Maggie Cheung, Maritoni Fernandez, Rebecca Pan, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai

Director: Kar-Wai Wong, Wong Kar-wai

Rating: Not Rated

Asako is in love with Baku—deeply and almost delusionally, in a way that can only manifest in young love. But when the freewheeling Baku ghosts Asako for good, she moves from Osaka all the way to Tokyo to start a new life. Years later, she's startled to meet Baku's doppelganger in Ryohei, an office man whose solid dependability and lack of artfulness, while endearing, could not place him any further from Baku. Confused and lonely, Asako tiptoes around her feelings for Ryohei and, in the process, raises thought-provoking questions about the meaning, ethics, and true purpose of love.

 

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Ariei Umefune, Atsushi Kaneshige, Daichi Watanabe, Erika Karata, Fusako Urabe, Koji Seto, Maki Nishiyama, Masahiro Higashide, Misako Tanaka, Nao Okabe, Rio Yamashita, Ryotaro Yonemura, Sairi Ito

Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Rating: Not Rated

This drama was the first feature written and directed by an out Black lesbian, Cheryl Dunye, and it is an absolute joy: a cheeky faux-documentary that ingeniously blends lesbian dating life with a historical dive into Black actors in 30s Hollywood.

Dunye plays Cheryl, a self-effacing version of herself, an aspiring director working at a video store who begins to research an actress known as the Watermelon Woman for a documentary. The more Cheryl dives into her research, the more she sees parallels between her subject and her own relationship. 

As incisive as it is funny, The Watermelon Woman shares some common ground with other major indie debuts of the era like Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It and funnily enough Kevin Smith’s Clerks, but Dunye’s style is wholly her own and a dazzling treat to experience.

 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Brian Freeman, Camille Paglia, Cheryl Clarke, Cheryl Dunye, David Rakoff, Guinevere Turner, Irene Dunye, Lisa Marie Bronson, Sarah Schulman

Director: Cheryl Dunye

"California Dreamin'" by the Mamas and the Papas. You will fall in love with that song (if you haven't already) after watching this movie. Two stories, entangling into one; both about Hong Kong policemen falling in love with mysterious women. It was recommended by my friend after I said I loved Frances Ha. I don't know whether you can call this as offbeat romance.. but to me it was, and it's well worth the watch.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Brigitte Lin, Chen Jinquan, Faye Wong, Jimmy Wong Chi-ming, Kwan Lee-Na, Lee-na Kwan, Liang Zen, Lynne Langdon, Piggy Chan Kam-Chuen, Rico Chu, Rico Chu Tak-On, Songshen Zuo, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Valerie Chow, Vickie Eng, Wong Chi-Ming, Zhiming Huang

Director: Kar-Wai Wong, Wong Kar-wai

Rating: PG-13

Once banned by Chinese censors, Suzhou River depicts love and obsession amidst the gritty, urban underbelly of Shanghai. As the film is portrayed through an anonymous videographer, seen only by his hands, it’s easy to fall in love as he does, with the mesmerizing Meimei (Zhou Xun), performing as a mermaid in a dive bar. However, he can’t seem to trust her, as she flits in and out of his life, with no clear notice. Likewise, the tragic romance told by motorcycle courier Mardar can’t be trusted, given that the river’s inhabitants warped it into folklore. Faces can’t even be trusted, especially with the double casting of actress Zhou Xun as Meimei and as innocent rich daughter Moudan. Because of these contrasts and its ambiguity, Suzhou River sweeps us into an alluring, mysterious tale, but reminds us not to get caught by the current.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Jia Hongsheng, Zhou Xun

Director: Lou Ye

Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay both won Berlinale Best Actress and Best Actor for this movie. They play a couple who are only a few days away from their 45th marriage anniversary when they learn that the remains of the husband’s first lover have been found. He then starts obsessing about his previous relationship, to the extent that when the day of the anniversary comes, there might not be a marriage left to celebrate. This is a very ‘adult’ movie – it’s quiet, sometimes slow, very well-executed, and overall a fascinating look at marriage.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Camille Ucan, Charlotte Rampling, David Sibley, Dolly Wells, Geraldine James, Hannah Chalmers, Richard Cunningham, Rufus Wright, Sam Alexander, Tom Courtenay

Director: Andrew Haigh

Rating: R