Writing a list that claims to showcase the top five romance scripts ever written is no easy task. There have been countless iconic romance films since the inception of cinema, and no matter what I put on this list, someone will most likely have an issue with it. I suppose that’s the beauty of cinema.
Regardless, below are, at the very least, some of the best romance scripts, in my personal opinion. No matter what list you view, a combination or at least one of these films will pop up. So, let’s discuss what makes these scripts and films great. There’s a lot to talk about, so let’s dive in!
P.S. don’t get mad at this list; plenty of other great romance scripts are worthy; you just can’t cover every film.
Still from 'Before Sunrise'. Photo credit: Sunway Echo Media
Logline - A young man and woman meet on a train in Europe and spend one evening together in Vienna. Unfortunately, both know that this will probably be their only night together.
The Before trilogy is a staple of the romance genre; with us getting introduced to the characters with Before Sunrise in 1995. The likability and unbelievably realistic dialogue between Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) are thanks to its constant rewriting on-set.
The relatability of the film is what makes it such a powerful story. It centers around two characters who are searching for self-fulfillment and self-discovery, possibly through a significant other (which develops throughout the trilogy). As heartbreaking and beautiful the film is by the end, the chemistry between the two is fun and electric.
Furthermore, Before Sunrise is one of few films that hones in on just two characters. No matter the film you bring up, you’ll see many other characters supporting the central plot or acting as comic relief. Instead, Before Sunrise is about Jesse and Celine’s one day together and their eventual separation. There aren’t any other real side characters except for the occasional person or worker they run into together.
Logline - When their relationship turns sour, a couple undergoes a medical procedure to erase each other from their memories forever.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is arguably a perfect script. It’s incredibly well-written and allows its story to spin and crash throughout its narrative without totally confusing the viewer. Staying interesting to that degree can sometimes burden the viewer, but the film chooses a route that rolls through it so well.
What I love most is how the story focuses on the notion of the value of outcomes. Most people look at something ending as a failure. In this case, it’s a relationship. It almost presents an optimistic lens (as depressing as the film is) about being grateful for every deep and intangible moment throughout our lives, no matter how it ends.
Logline - Socially frustrated Barry Egan calls a phone-sex line to curb his loneliness. Little does he know it will land him in deep trouble and jeopardize his burgeoning romance with the mysterious Lena.
As quirky and hilarious as Punch-Drunk Love is, there’s much to learn from the film. First, it’s a reminder that no matter who you are, you deserve the love you receive in your life that isn’t forced or out of pity. The film captures the essence of anxiety well, even in its most ridiculous scenes.
Barry (Adam Sandler) is a very likable character despite his flaws. We see him as an alienated individual who can easily lose their control. The loneliness of Barry is pushed to the max thanks to Sandler’s excellent performance and the fantastic dark comedic nature of the script.
Logline - A faded movie star and a neglected young woman form an unlikely bond after crossing paths in Tokyo.
Lost in Translation takes the classic story structure of a fish out of water with Bob Harris (Bill Murray), an American, in Japan. The script does an excellent job of allowing viewers to take what they want from the film, thanks to its somewhat ambiguous ending and powerful performances from Murray and Scarlett Johansson.
It’s a depressing film in a sense, while the emotional overtone of the film is staggering. The characters, as privileged and unreal as they seem, feel relatable in many ways. We see the loneliness and emptiness of both character’s life, one who is aging and one who has their life ahead of them.
Logline - Two men reaching middle age with not much to show but disappointment embark on a week-long road trip through California's wine country just as one is about to take a trip down the aisle.
Sideways does the unthinkable of taking the most mundane subject on Earth (wine), with two unlikable characters in Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church), but has us fall in love with its story. Whether it’s Miles's complete arrogance or self-destructiveness or his relationship with Jack, there’s so much to appreciate about the dynamic of complex characters.