Movies to watch when you’re not in the mood for a sappy ending.
Sure, popping on a cheesy rom-com now and then is fun, but life’s hard, love is messy, and relationships are complicated. And rom-coms just aren’t real. Contrary to the plotlines of most romantic movies, love stories don’t always have happy endings. And maybe you find comfort watching other people live out their sadness on screen — there’s something cathartic about it. (Maybe that’s why research shows we tend to feel calmer while listening to songs about heartbreak.)
So if you’re in the mood to feel all the feels, this list of alternative romantic movies is for you. It’s filled with flicks that prioritize friendship and self-love over romance (perfect for a Galentine’s Day movie night), couples that don’t end up together, and stories that move beyond the stereotypical ideal of what love should look like. We even have an unpredictable horror film that explores what can go terribly wrong during the “meet the parents” stage. Some are dark, some are lighthearted, but they’re all a refreshing break from ordinary love stories.
The Best Alternative Movies About Love
Blue Valentine (Roku, Vudu, iTunes)
Ryan Gosling stars opposite Michelle Williams in this deeply dark romantic drama. As the film cuts between the falling in love and falling apart stages of a relationship, you’re pulled into a story about how sweet young love can evolve into destruction and loathing over the years. If you’re on the hunt for the antithesis of a cheery rom-com, Blue Valentine is a must watch.
500 Days of Summer (Prime Video)
After getting dumped by his matter-of-fact girlfriend (Zooey Deschanel), hopeless romantic Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) goes down a rabbit hole examining key dates in their relationship to figure out what went wrong. In the process, he realizes that hindsight is 20/20 — and that only remembering the best parts about a past relationship will hold you back.
The Big Sick (Prime Video)
Inspired by the real-life love story of actor Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon, The Big Sick examines what happens when a new couple must grapple with an unexpected diagnosis — and different religious backgrounds. When Emily suddenly goes into a coma, Kumail, whose family expects him to marry a fellow Pakistani, ends up bonding with her parents and ultimately realizes that love has no boundaries.
Nappily Ever After (Netflix)
Convinced she’s getting proposed to on her birthday, type-A Violet Jones (Sanaa Lathan) loses it when the gift isn’t a ring. A standard case of a couple being on different pages, they break up over it. When her ex suddenly starts dating someone else, she drunkenly decides to shave off all of her hair (something she took great pride in). Nappily Ever After has an empowering message: That sometimes it takes a devastating breakup to figure out what truly matters to you.
My Best Friend’s Wedding (Pluto TV, Prime Video)
This ’90s rom-com classic starts with Julianne (Julia Roberts) falling off her bed after her best guy friend (with whom she had “one hot month” in college) tells her he’s engaged and getting married to the rich daughter of the White Sox owner — played by a virginal Cameron Diaz. Roberts heads down a rabbit hole, trying to sabotage their wedding, and must come to terms with whether she actually loves her best friend, or if she’s just afraid of losing him.
Get Out (iTunes, Prime Video)
If you’re looking to sit on the edge of your seat this V-day, writer and director Jordan Peele’s game-changing film Get Out is an unexpected choice. Every relationship reaches a point where it’s time to meet the family. Only when Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) road trips to his girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) hometown, he’s got a lot on his mind about what her parents will think about their interracial coupling. To his horror and shock, a series of disturbing encounters reveals a truth about her upbringing that he’ll have to (quite literally) grapple with.
The Break Up (peacock)
When Gary (Vince Vaughn) and Brooke (Jennifer Aniston) get into a squabble over a dinner party they’re hosting, they decide to call their two-year relationship quits — then continue to live together after dating. But as they navigate being newly single while living under the same roof, they realize they might’ve made a mistake. Set in Chicago, this rom-com proves that sometimes love isn’t enough to make a relationship work.
Heartbreaking and lovely, this movie absolutely deserved the 2017 Best Picture Oscar (but not the shenanigans that came along during the award ceremony). This LGBT movie is a meditative look at three periods in a man’s life as he grows up, comes out, and settles into himself. The cinematography is stunning, as is the thoughtfulness of the setup — it’s a quiet film, but one that says so much.
La La Land (Hulu)
A musical starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling set against the backdrop of Hollywood sounds like it could be super cheesy or totally tantalizing. With six Oscars, the stunning film falls into the latter category. As Mia (Stone) struggles to find success acting in Hollywood, she meets Sebastian (Gosling) who’s also navigating the ups and downs of his career as a pianist. The two pitter and patter around the City of Angels, falling in love, and eventually, into success. But the sacrifices they must make in the name of stardom will become the ultimate relationship test.
Marriage Story (Netflix)
Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story is a raw exploration of the pitfalls of marriage and the effect divorce can have on a child. Heartbreaking and triumphant at once, this romantic drama reveals how sometimes the end of one relationship can open you up to a deeper connection to yourself and the world around you.
Someone Great (Netflix)
Taylor Swift’s Death by a Thousand Cuts was inspired by this rom-com from writer and director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson. Taking place across one night in New York City, the film follows Jenny Young (Gina Rodriguez) as she leans on her best friends following a split from her boyfriend of nine years. A celebration of female friendship, Someone Great is a perfect choice for a Galentine’s day movie night.
Brokeback Mountain (Apple TV, Prime Video)
Set against the jaw-dropping backdrop of the Wyoming mountains, Brokeback Mountain sees Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as two cowboys who form a secret emotional and romantic relationship — out of sight from their wives and families. The heartbreakingly raw and emotional picture won three Academy Awards and begs the question, which secrets are meant to be found out?
House of Gucci (iTunes)
The 2022 Oscar noms are out. And while House of Gucci scored just one nod in the best hair and makeup styling category, fans are saying the Academy snubbed Lady Gaga for her role as Patrizia Reggiani, the scorned wife of Maurizio Gucci. The film, based on a true story about the inner workings of the Gucci family in the 90s, explores the tragic lengths Reggiani went to get payback on her ex. It’s devastatingly poor and ultimately heartbreaking.
The First Wives Club (Hulu)
Sometimes you drift away from your college friends as you get older. Other times, you reunite at a friend’s funeral only to realize you’re all going through your first divorce at the same time. At least that was the case for Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, and Bette Midler, who play three New York City women that make a pact to seek revenge on their exes who left them for younger women. This is proof that true love can be found among your friends. This is unmissable — especially the last scene.
Your Sister’s Sister (iTunes, Prime Video)
Written and directed by Lynn Shelton, Your Sister’s Sister feels like living through one heck of a dramatic weekend away. A complicated mess brews when Jack (Mark Duplass), who’s coping with the loss of his brother, gets invited to take some time at his best friend’s (Emily Blunt) empty lakehouse. Except when he arrives for his restorative trip, he unexpectedly runs into her lesbian sister who’s staying there. Chaos ensues, sparks fly, and tears are shed. Funny and serious at once, this one’s a turbulent treat.