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12 Best Movies About Unrequited Love That Touched Our Hearts

What makes us gravitate toward romance flicks? Perhaps it's that ability to soothe our aching hearts after a breakup, or maybe because they give us a brief opportunity to be whisked away into a world where our protagonists get a happy ending. Sadly, love is usually messy when it isn't depicted on the big screen, and sometimes, audiences crave something a little bit more realistic.

This is where films about unrequited love come into play. Missed connections, one-sided romances, and flings that simply aren't meant to stand the test of time are the unfortunate reality of many of our lives. Like a cold and bleak winter, heartbreak is an inevitability of life, and sometimes, a story ends before spring. "Love is a matter of timing," declares Tony Leung's character in "2046" (via Time). "It's no good meeting the right person too soon or too late."

For this following list of movies, we've added some classics, as well as some lesser-known gems from around the globe. Heartache comes in many forms, so have a box of tissues handy as we dive into the following tales of unrequited love that touched our hearts.

1. In the Mood for Love

Wong Kar-wai may be one of the most celebrated filmmakers in the world who masterfully portrays stories of unrequited love. He's been called a "fetishist of romance" by publications such as IndieWire, and the director's cinematic superpower is his ability to hone in on the minute. "I've never worked with someone who's put so much emphasis on a single moment," declared Jude Law to The New York Times of his experience working with the filmmaker.

Wong's most acclaimed movie is 2000's "In the Mood for Love," — a heartbreaking tale that oozes sex appeal and keeps audiences hooked with its tremendous attention to detail. The story revolves around two central characters in '60s Hong Kong: Journalist Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) and his neighbor, Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung), a secretary. Their respective spouses are always busy and rarely around (in fact, we don't even get to see their faces), and our leads slowly come to the devastating realization that they're being cheated on. As Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow begin spending time with one another, their bond grows into an intoxicating romance — yet one that never crosses the line.

"In the Mood for Love" focuses on the mundane passing moments yet injects them with an overwhelming sense of loneliness. Empty corridors in the pouring rain, cigarette smoke slowly engulfing a room, and painful silences showcase utter defeat. Couple all that with voyeuristic yet lush cinematography and a gorgeous score, and this classic is bound to leave your heart pounding.

2. 500 Days of Summer

Upon starting, "500 Days of Summer" immediately declares to its viewer that what they're watching is not a love story. It's a clear warning, sure, but it's one that audiences very quickly forget about — a regretful decision to make by the end of the film's 95-minute runtime. A peculiar sort of rom-com by Marc Webb, "500 Days of Summer" rejects classic tropes of its genre and instead teaches the viewer some incredibly raw lessons in love.

We meet Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a greeting-card writer who has recently been dumped by the girl he was seeing, Summer (Zooey Deschanel). Audiences see Tom in a state of utter misery before taking a stroll back in time to witness how their relationship initially unfolded. From here, it's difficult not to get invested in the grandiose moments that seem to follow the pair. Sadly — although the film came with a cautionary message — the devastating outcome of Tom and Summer's almost-relationship is a straight sucker punch to the heart.

Of course, many viewers (and Tom) saw Summer as the antagonist of this 2009 tale — and have refused to let their heartbreak go. This has even resulted in Gordon-Levitt taking to Twitter in 2018 to tell a fan, "Watch it again. It's mostly Tom's fault. He's projecting. He's not listening. He's selfish." "500 Days of Summer" is one of those films that's great to revisit as your life experiences grow, leading to some meaningful revelations about these two beloved characters and our own ideas about love.

3. Her

The plot of Spike Jonze's "Her" seems almost laughable when summarized, but it's nearly impossible not to be charmed by this bizarre, sci-fi-inflected love story. In the not-so-distant future, we follow Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely, recently-separated man who, ironically enough, works at a company that writes personalized (and sometimes romantic) letters for people that can't seem to do that themselves. One day, Theodore buys an upgrade for an operating system that comes with an AI virtual assistant, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).

Theodore begins having long conversations with Samantha, and eventually, the pair start going on "dates." What our lead fails to realize, however, is that he's falling for a system based on an algorithm responding to his desires, and naturally, things don't turn out the way he wants. "Her" was a hit at the time of its release, even scoring an Academy Award for best original screenplay.

During a chat with NPR, Jonze explained the major themes of his flick that definitely resonate after watching it, especially in today's digitally-obsessed age. "Our yearning to connect, our need for intimacy, and the things inside us that prevent us from connecting," he mused. Clearly, the filmmaker leaves audiences with much to chew on regarding human affection versus the isolating technological world.

4. La La Land

Similar to how "500 Days of Summer" looked at the concept of someone's expectations versus reality in a romantic relationship, 2016's "La La Land" explored the difference between one's professional dreams and the struggling reality of success. In this Damien Chazelle-directed musical, audiences are introduced to Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actor who works as a barista to A-listers, and Sebastian, a jazz musician who makes a living playing piano in bars. When the pair meet, their mutual drive to climb to the top of Tinseltown propels their romance — yet real life is very different from the elaborate, swooning love stories they see on the big screen.

For any fans of Hollywood's Golden Age, "La La Land" is a beautiful and colorful explosion of visuals combined with some incredible music and dance sequences — the kind that feels like a modern-day take on Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' iconic numbers. It's easy to get swept up in its joyous charm, and yet, just like "500 Days of Summer," its ability to bring you back to a sobering reality is downright crushing.

"La La Land” received stellar reviews upon its release and was an awards-circuit darling, sweeping up a whopping six Academy Awards. As Chazelle told The Verge, his film was relatable due to its ability to capture the life of a struggling artist. "Sometimes the loneliness that can come with that, and the ways you have to balance love and art, or dreams and reality," he shared.

5. Casablanca

An obvious classic brought up whenever someone mentions films about unrequited love, 1942's "Casablanca" remains one of the most quotable romantic movies ever made. This enduring drama was ranked second on the American Film Institute's "100 Greatest American Movies Of All Time" and won three Oscars for best picture, best director, and best screenplay. Simply put, "Casablanca" is legendary.

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman star as Rick Blaine and Ilsa Lund — two former flames who run into one another in Casablanca, Morocco, during World War II. Rick runs a nightclub in the city, and it's there that he spots Ilsa and her husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) — a Czech Resistance leader and fugitive. From here, we watch our two leads engage in a will-they-won't-they rekindling of their romance as Rick is suddenly forced to decide between choosing the woman he loves or helping her escape with her current beau.

"Casablanca" is moody and atmospheric, filled with lighting effects and shadows that signify our characters' emotional conflict. Bogart and Bergman also shine on camera together, and while their performances may come off as melodramatic, that's precisely the sort of thing that makes this Old Hollywood staple so effective.

6. Decision to Leave

Don't be fooled by the synopsis of Park Chan-wook's neo-noir "Decision to Leave" — it's actually a swooning love story with an ending that'll make you realize the gravity of its title. Detective Hae-joon (Park Hae-il) is tasked with investigating the death of a mountain climber whose body is found at the bottom of a mountain. He begins interviewing the man's widow, Seo-rae (Tang Wei), and although she appears to have an alibi, something seems amiss. Nevertheless, the more time Hae-joon spends with this alluring stranger, the more he becomes infatuated with her — even though he has a wife at home.

The first act of "Decision to Leave" plays out like a classic Hitchcock thriller, yet halfway through, the movie takes a sharp turn while our lead wrestles with his strict moral code and the woman he's slowly falling in love with. Pay attention to how our two protagonists interact with one another — although they may not always directly say how they're feeling, their subtle gestures paint a much stronger picture of the depths of their forbidden romance. Once you finish the movie and the dust settles, everything will resonate so much more.

Anyone who's seen other Park films will immediately notice that this 2022 release lacks the gratuitous violence and brutality of his previous films. Yet, when the filmmaker spoke at the Toronto International Film Festival, he revealed that he always thought his movies were romantic. "[People] even laugh when I make that kind of comment ... This time around, I really had to subdue these things to show something different" (via IndieWire).

7. Brokeback Mountain

When Ang Lee's "Brokeback Mountain" was released back in 2005, it was revolutionary for mainstream queer cinema. Categorized as a neo-Western romantic drama, Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger play rodeo cowboy Jack Twist and ranch hand Ennis Del Mar, who are tasked to work together as sheepherders in Wyoming. Throughout their summer together in 1963, the two men slowly begin a complicated romantic relationship, yet as the season changes, it sadly must come to an end. Eventually, Jack and Ennis start their own families, but even as their marriages disintegrate, the two still make time to see one another, even if it's in the form of little fishing trips.

One thing becomes painfully clear throughout the movie's 134-minute runtime: There's so much wasted time between the two cowboys. Moreover, because of the stigma associated with their sexual preferences, there isn't much Jack and Ennis could do — they were simply born in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"Brokeback Mountain" took home three Oscars after its release, including Lee's monumental win as the first Asian to snag the Academy Award for best director. However, this was an even more satisfying achievement at the time since not everyone praised this captivating tale. According to ABC News, Christian conservatives dubbed it "gay propaganda," while China and Malaysia outright banned the film from being released (via The Guardian).

8. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

A stunning period piece with a love story guaranteed to make your heart flutter, Céline Sciamma's "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" is a masterpiece, boasting a solid 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. Set in 18th-century Brittany, we follow Marianne (Noémie Merlant), a portraitist who is tasked with painting Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), the daughter of an aristocratic countess. The artwork is meant to be a wedding portrait, yet Héloïse refuses to pose for anyone, as she's miserable about her forced nuptials. The two women share an emotional connection, and tensions slowly build up, with secret, stolen glances turning into gazes filled with longing.

Héloïse and Marianne's time together is brief, and viewers will certainly feel the pain of their unrequited love — especially during the film's final few scenes. For fans of Ingmar Bergman, you may notice some striking similarities to his film "Persona." While the movies share some similar themes — both are set in remote locations and feature two female leads — "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" includes some striking imagery that feels like an homage to Bergman's 1966 classic.

What makes this movie even more meaningful, however, are the real-life players involved. According to Vanity Fair, Sciamma and Haenel were romantically involved after filming the director's 2007 movie, "Water Lilies." What's more, after a traumatic event Haenel suffered as a teenager while filming Christophe Ruggia's "The Devils" in 2002, she told French publication Mediapart that it was her relationship with Sciamma that allowed her to heal.

9. Splendor in the Grass

An over-the-top melodrama revolving around stifled teenage sexuality, 1961's "Splendor in the Grass" is worth checking out — especially since it features Warren Beatty in his first feature film role. In late '20s Kansas, we meet Deanie (Natalie Wood) and her high school beau, Bud (Beatty). The two are madly in love, yet they both come from incredibly different backgrounds — Bud is the heir of an oil tycoon, while Deanie comes from a working-class family. Their parents manipulate them into forgoing a sexual relationship, leading to incredibly repressed emotional desires.

"Splendor in the Grass" features some heartbreaking elements that seem eerily prophetic if you look at the life of its lead star. Earlier on in the flick, Deanie attempts suicide by drowning herself in a lake. Wood had a lifelong fear of drowning, and as Kazan once revealed to Newsweek (via The Conversation), he refused to give the actor the stunt double she begged for. Exactly 20 years later, on November 29, 1981, while on a yacht trip with her husband, Robert Wagner, Wood's body was found mysteriously floating near Catalina Island, California. Ironically, Wood and Wagner's yacht was named "Splendour" (via Vanity Fair).

Directed by the incredibly influential Elia Kazan (the filmmaker behind "East of Eden" and "A Streetcar Named Desire"), it's not just Kazan's directorial prowess that's displayed here — Wood gives the performance of a lifetime as the volatile Deanie, with her tragic psychological breakdown powerful enough to earn her an Oscar nomination

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

10. Y Tu Mamá También

Alfonso Cuarón's 2001 beloved road trip movie, "Y Tu Mamá También" is a visually lush and layered film, touching upon love, friendship, loss, and even classism — which Cuarón later expanded upon with 2018's "Roma." The story revolves around two sex-crazed teenage boys, Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael García Bernal), who, after befriending the much older Luisa (Maribel Verdú), decide to embark on a road trip that leads to some pretty significant emotional discovery for the two young men.

Don't be fooled by the initial sex comedy vibes à la "American Pie," as this is an incredibly heartfelt tale that explores Mexican machismo culture, stereotypes involving sexuality, and a personal connection to Cuarón himself. Fellow director — and friend of Cuarón — Alejandro González Iñárritu told The New York Times, "It's about us, about our country. That's a childhood we all share."

While the connection that Julio and Tenoch share with Luisa is enough to leave you in a tragic state of despair by the end of the film, it's the relationship between the two male leads — and the queer subtext — that truly touched our hearts and left us utterly devastated. A quote near the flick's end perfectly summarizes this coming-of-age journey: "Life is like the surf, so give yourself away like the sea." 

11. Call Me by Your Name

Luca Guadagnino's coming-of-age drama, "Call Me by Your Name," was an instant hit upon its 2017 release, winning an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay. A visual delight that makes viewers yearn for a hot Mediterranean summer, this love story follows 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) throughout one summer in Northern Italy in 1983, as he falls for Oliver (Armie Hammer), a grad student working for Elio's father. Of course, like many romantic films that see our leads blossom into adulthood, Elio and Oliver's romance is short-lived, passionate, and heartbreaking.

Guadagnino takes inspiration from French New Wave directors and adapts them to our modern age beautifully. While watching "Call Me by Your Name," it's impossible not to think of the sun-baked scenery found in Éric Rohmer's "La Collectionneuse" or Jacques Deray's lazy Mediterranean visuals in 1969's "La Piscine."

After the success of "Call Me by Your Name," Guadagnino made plans for a sequel (via Entertainment Weekly). Yet, the idea of revisiting Elio and Oliver's romance seems less likely due to Hammer's sexual misconduct scandal and subsequent shocking docuseries that came out in 2022. If the idea of a sequel is revived, it seems most likely that it will solely focus on Elio, and until then we still have this impassioned romantic drama that you can revisit and stream online.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). 

12. Chungking Express

We get two unrequited love stories for the price of one in Wong Kar-wai's third feature film, "Chungking Express." In this 1994 hit, we see two forlorn Hong Kong police officers — Cop 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Cop 663 (Tony Leung Chiu-wai) — as they pine for their respective failed romances. Cop 223 embarks on a journey of buying a can of pineapples every day for a month (with an expiry date of May 1) — symbolizing the final day he'll decide to move on. Cop 663, on the other hand, is devastated after a former breakup, and after meeting waitress Faye (Faye Wong) at a local late-night cafe, he becomes utterly oblivious to the romantic gestures she sprinkles into his life.

"Chungking Express" may be one of the greatest films that symbolize unrequited love, simply due to the constant feeling of loneliness audiences see in front of them. With two simple plots that play out like vignettes, this cinematic meditation on love is instantly relatable. In both narratives, cinematographer Christopher Doyle creates beautiful imagery through mirrors and reflections that symbolize long moments of introspection within our characters.

With so much attention to detail, "Chungking Express" is filled with little images and moments that'll resonate with you long after the credits roll. When you open up a small can of pineapples or listen to The Mamas & the Papas' "California Dreaming," you'll be reminded of Wong's exquisite visual poetry.