10 Alternative Love Stories That Are Worth A Watch

What are the first things you think about when someone asks you to go see a rom-com? Predictable? Boring? Cheesy? Wikipedia can reduce the entire genre to a very specific formula, unlike any other genre, which suggests that love is frustratingly misrepresented in these films.

After all, when is it ever really that simple? Rarely. Love is complex. It spawns lust, passion, anger, jealousy. And there should be films out there that represent this shouldn’t there? If you require more from your romance movies than a simple ‘boy meets girl’, look no further. Here is a list of alternative love stories that will definitely make you think, if not move, disturb and tickle you. Enjoy!

10. Punch-Drunk Love

punch-drunk love
Adam Sandler gets the gal in Punch-Drunk Love

Adam Sandler may star, but don’t be fooled. This is anything but a classic Hollywood romcom. This off-the-wall quirky comedy from genius Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights, The Master) sees Adam Sandler as Barry Egan, a lonely and socially awkward business owner.

In the hands of another director, this character would be the same persona in all Sandler’s comedies. Nice and polite whilst plagued with anger management issues but ends up with the girl anyway because of his charm. But fans looking for another Happy Gilmore will be disappointed. As Anderson himself describes it, it is more of ‘an art-house Adam Sandler film’.

Anderson tempers Sandler’s comedic talent to capture a career-defining performance as they create a character crippled with so many levels of mental anguish hidden inside himself that sometimes they erupt into violent rages. The result makes for restless viewing as we never know what is going to happen next. But Barry is so aware of his plight and embarrassed of himself we can’t help but root for his relationship with Lena (Emily Watson) who doesn’t seem to mind his awkwardness, instead patiently nurturing him to become more open and happy.

Now if only he hadn’t gotten entangled in an extortion racket (headed by Phillip Seymour Hoffman) after he rang a sex line in search of a little affection, everything would be perfect. But his love for Lena provides newfound strength and he suddenly finds a use for all that pent up anger.

No spoilers though. Just know that if you can be as patient as Lena and tolerate the unending awkwardness – from the first baffling phone conversation to Barry’s mad dash to Lena’s apartment with a harmonium – you will be rewarded with a heart-warmingly cute romance that makes this love story alternative indeed.

9. The Time Traveler’s Wife

time travel
The start of a lifelong struggle in The Time Traveler’s Wife

How do you shake up the classic sickly sweet love story? Give one of them a genetic disorder that sees him uncontrollably slipping through time…naked. Planning a date is pretty much impossible; never mind a life with your significant other. But Henry and Clare are so in love, they’re determined to give anything a shot.

This movie was scarred by polarised reviews with some people calling it a success while others condemned it for lacking depth and not doing the book justice. Nevertheless, it is an intricate twist on a classic that will tug at your heartstrings as it is inevitable (if not a little exhausting) that you will sympathise with the star-crossed lovers as they try frustratingly to sync up their lives. It is saved from mediocrity by the casting of Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams who put in committed and emotional performances as Henry and Clare. Without their believable chemistry, the film would have lacked any emotional weight.

All in all, The Time Traveler’s Wife makes for an entertaining enough movie experience that’s worth a watch if you’re after a chick flick with something a little different. And if the story doesn’t do it for you, there’s a frequently naked Eric Bana to keep you occupied. As the most melodramatic entry on the list, don’t worry fellas, the rest avoid the chick flick genre altogether.

8. Matador

Dangerous liasons in Matador

This film is not one for the fainthearted and if you’re not familiar with Almodovar’s style, you may want to brace yourself. Nevertheless, this is a love story of sorts, just more the stuff of nightmares than dreams, especially for the censors. Two serial killers, one a female lawyer (Assumpta Serna) and the other an ex-bullfighter (Nacho Martinez), who are aroused by the act of murder end up unwittingly stalking each other and entering into a violent fetishist relationship. Meanwhile, a young Antonio Banderas tries to fight his overly religious upbringing and adopts Martinez as his mentor, leading him to rape and murder as a way of asserting his masculinity.

It may be difficult to digest and is not traditional in any sense of the word, but there is a darkly disturbing courtship between the two leading psychos and in a strange way, their respective fetishes complement each other in an alarmingly unexpected way. The movie reaches an appropriate climax when they consummate their relationship with the same violence and passion they bestow on their victims.

A stylishly seductive and surprisingly funny film about the darkest sides of human nature. You probably won’t want to accompany this with popcorn or watch it with your mother but it’s a fascinating contemplation on sex and violence.

7. Secretary

A bit of office S&M in Secretary

Throw all expectations of movie romance clichés out the window before sitting down to watch this peculiar but moving love story. But don’t forget that’s exactly what it is, a love story. The assertion that there is somebody out there for everybody and the right person will help you be comfortable with yourself, no matter what.

When Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is released from a mental institution, she tries to bury her impulse to harm herself and instead fit in to society by getting a job as a legal secretary. Her boss is the ruthlessly uptight and efficient attorney E. Edward Grey (James Spader) who constantly belittles Lee for the tiniest mistakes. Instead of being offended, though, Lee seems to thrive in the hostile work environment, developing a crush on her boss and the fondness is mutual. As their relationship becomes more bizarre, they soon discover a surprising compatibility as they explore their deepest inner sadomasochistic desires.

As we watch the relationship flower, there’s something sweet in the way the two nurture each other’s insecurities. The film avoids cheap sleaze as it handles their relationship with a sensitivity that exhibits the trust and mutual acceptance the couple must share. Lee’s frustration at her attempts to feel ‘normal’ is entirely sympathetic and we can’t help but root for her. With an exceptional performance from both actors but especially Gyllenhaal in what was undoubtedly a challenging role, the final scenes depict complete love and affection for each other as Edward gives Lee a bath while she tells the audience it is the first time she has felt beautiful.

6. Notes On A Scandal

Tense encounters in Notes on a Scandal
Tense encounters in Notes on a Scandal

You’d be forgiven if you scoffed at the inclusion of this film on a list of love stories but all the tropes are there as an awkwardly obtuse love triangle spawns lust, jealousy and revenge in this skin-crawlingly brilliant psychological thriller. Judi Dench is exceptional as the sour-faced sociopath, Barbara, who longs for any kind of affection so much so that she habitually manifests completely one-sided relationships in her head, misconstruing an uncomfortable level of intimacy.

The victim of this unsettling affection is new teacher Sheba (Blanchett) whom Barbara also seems to simultaneously despise. Trapped in a loveless marriage, Sheba gets drawn into an impulsive and sordid affair with a pupil, Steven Connolly (played by the actual school-aged Andrew Simpson which only adds to the shocking impact of the relationship). When Barbara catches them in the midst of the kind of extracurricular activity that could land a teacher in prison, Sheba is trapped at the mercy of Barbara who decides to use this new information to lure Sheba into a false friendship.

Emotional blackmail and heartbreak ensue as it becomes apparent that Barbara wants a little more than just cups of tea from Sheba. Jealous of the lustful intimacy Sheba shares with Steven, Barbara sets about destroying everything as she slyly lets slip the details to other teachers and all hell breaks loose. With two phenomenal performances from Blanchett and Dench, specifically in an explosive exchange at the film’s climax, this is one twisted love story that will make your skin crawl.

5. Badlands

On the run in Badlands

This directorial debut from Terrence Malick makes for essential viewing as he delivers a masterclass in creating the perfect crime thriller. Based loosely on the Charles Starkweather murders, the film tells of an impressionable teenage girl, Holly (Sissy Spacek) who catches the attention of psychotic rebel wannabe Kit (Martin Sheen) and, after killing her father for trying to split them up, they embark on a crime spree together throughout South Dakota.

Whilst the film ultimately serves to depict their relationship as mutually destructive, it is allowed some genuinely romantic interludes as the two characters, especially Holly, get swept up in their heated romance. Holly’s idealised narrative voiceover sounds like it’s directly out of a romantic novel and the violence of the film is perforated with tender moonlit kisses and exclamations of unending love.

Martin Sheen delivers a dangerously charismatic performance as his Southern manners never abandon him, making his psychotic acts all the more chilling. It’s not difficult to imagine how Holly could get caught up in his charm and deluded self-assurance. Malick builds on this by capturing their journey with a dreamlike splendour and denying them the tragic, overly romanticised end that Bonnie and Clyde come to. As free and experimental as its protagonists, this film isn’t what you would consider a traditional love story, but the intoxicating infatuation is present throughout and leads to some dangerous atrocities.

4. The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover

The Cook
An awkward dinner in The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover

CAUTION: Do not watch this film if you value Michael Gambon as the wise and dignified Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series. His portrayal as Albert (The Thief) is possibly one of the ugliest characters ever to be written and you will never see him in the same way again.

A voluptuous Helen Mirren plays with fire as she conducts an affair during meals at her gangster husband’s restaurant, aided by the Chef. At the table she is humiliated and tortured as much as her husband’s victims but in the toilets and pantries, she seeks comfort in an exquisite romance with a fellow diner from the restaurant. But in true Jacobean style, it does not end well as in the face of escalating violence, the truth all comes out and revenge spawns revenge in a stately final act.

It would be easy to be offended by this film’s monstrous exploration of excess and self-indulgence but the visual style and powerful performances are breathtakingly captivating. Michael Gambon as Albert is brilliantly repugnant and hideous. Decked in eye-popping Jean-Paul Gaultier costumes, Mirren as the melancholy, adulterous Wife brings all the elegance to make this a powerfully tragic romance. With her solace snatched from her as abruptly as she discovers it, there’s no happy ending in sight. This gruesome medley of sex and death will not be for everybody but is a visceral and evocative love story nonetheless.

3. Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback mountain
Intimate bong in Brokeback Mountaint

This is a beautifully passionate adaptation of Annie Proulx’s short story by director Ang Lee, one of the industry’s more diverse artists. Set in the early 60s, the story tells of two farmhands (Gyllenhaal and Ledger) who take a job farming sheep in the isolated area of Brokeback Mountain. During the lonely months, they form an intimate bond that becomes a sexual relationship and, set against the idyllic backdrop of the great outdoors, we are gifted a tender and amorous romance.

Unfortunately though, it is short-lived as soon enough they must come down from the mountain and take up their expected roles in society. Unusually for a romantic drama, the couple actually spend a predominant portion of the rest of the film far apart from each other, instead engaging themselves in the grind of their newly established lives. The film transforms into a tragic elegy as the memory of their affair lingers. Jack (Gyllenhaal) is more reluctant to repress their passions while Ennis (Ledger) is the realist who readily buttons down his feelings to comply with society’s attitudes.

Lee’s film expertly explores the way regret paralyses these men’s lives and not only affects them but the lives of everyone around them. The casting of Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger proves to be one of the film’s greatest achievements as the chemistry between the two is what gives the story its power. They perfectly complement each other as the tragic lovers but it is especially Ledger’s frustrated and tortured performance as Ennis Del Mar, which was ground-breaking for the actor, that makes this film a triumph.

2. Rushmore

Max falls in love in Rushmore
Max falls in love in Rushmore

Max Fischer is a 15 year old student at the prestigious Rushmore Academy and loves every minute of it. He’s a poor scholar but a passionate advocate of the school’s extracurricular activities and after being threatened with expulsion, decides to refocus his academic efforts, that is, until he lays eyes on elementary school teacher, Rosemary Cross.

He tries to seduce her in unusual ways, including saving the Latin programme at Rushmore and attempting to build an aquarium in her honour. But, alas, there’s a spanner in the works. Max’s industrialist friend Herman Blume is as enamoured with Ms Cross and is obviously more appropriately aged. Let the childish antics ensue with hilarious outcomes.

This is a refreshingly eccentric high-school comedy from director/writer team Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson (yes, that Owen Wilson) and is sure to have you in stitches with its sharp dialogue that is full of quotable one-liners. Yet Max’s affection for Ms Cross also creates some surprisingly compassionate and poignant moments as he comes to realise it is a wholly unreciprocated love.

The casting is genius. In his breakout role, Jason Schwartzman is entirely convincing as the self-assured brat who is sure to annoy the hell out of some viewers. Bill Murray as his ridiculous adult companion going through a midlife crisis is comedic gold as he descends in to adolescence when retaliating to Max’s hostility. And Olivia Williams completes the absurd love triangle with a sensitivity that makes the guys’ infatuation entirely believable.

Overall, a clever and off-beat high-school comedy that avoids the obscenely ridiculous but instead captures the spirit of high-school infatuation. Passionate and spirited with overblown gestures that eventually explode before fizzling out of sight.

1. Her

Theodore Twombly in Her
Theodore Twombly in Her

As the new recipient of the Best Original Screenplay Academy Award, this film had to make an appearance on this list of alternative love stories and is arguably its most remarkable entry. Set in an unknown future time, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a withdrawn writer who is struggling to move past the heartbreak of his divorce. To soothe his pain, he decides to change his highly advanced operating system to the female voice. Enter Samantha (Scarlett Johansson).

Samantha helps Theodore reorganise his life. She gets him back on track and makes him happy again. Through long late-night conversations and contemplation of big life issues, the couple form a nurturing bond with an unlikely level of intimacy. What unfolds is a beautifully written and directed love story from Spike Jonze (Adaptation, Where the Wild Things Are) that will make you laugh. It’s a very obvious and intelligent satire on our current relationship with technology but there is more to it than that. It is also a genuine meditation on what love really is and hints at darker implications of this kind of reliance on technology. In a world where real human interaction is being rapidly replaced with social media, is it so absurd to think a man could fall in love with an advanced operating system designed to meet his every need?

This exploration is helped by very compelling performances from Phoenix and Johansson. Theodore seems completely closed up, initially incapable of forming any kind of meaningful relationship with anyone. Meanwhile, Scarlett Johansson was the perfect (albeit last minute) casting decision for the voice of Samantha. Her vocal performance achieves a magnificent range of emotion and mood, from curiosity to enjoyment to flirtatiousness, making her feel just as human if not more so than Theodore. With a strong supporting cast and a visual brilliance, this is one love story that will at once move you whilst also contemplate the deeper issues at the heart of the film.

So there you have it. If you’re bored of the usual boy meets girl and are looking for more interesting interpretations of finding our significant other, there’s more than enough here to get you started. Ranging from terrifying to touching with funny and tragic thrown in for good measure, a love story doesn’t have to be predictable. What do you consider to make a great love story? What are some other films that put a wonderful twist on love? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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  1. I am not exactly sure if I would be okay considering “Brokeback Mountain” as an “alternative love story,” when, in fact, it is a very typical and ordinary love story filled with emotion, distance, stubbornness, love and the meshing of two separate lives that yearn to be considered and recognized as one. However, that being said I do like the fact that it is on the list.

    • KatieFeehan

      well I did think it could be taken the wrong way but then I maintain that the narrative structure, the fact their apart for most of the film, setting and absence of a happy, conclusive ending qualify it for the list. Thanks for the comment. It’s a great film anyways lol

      • I agree that when i saw it on the list i was a little confused, because the level of alternative life styles seems a bit more drastic in the other examples at first. After a closer look i realized that you were right. It was a confusing, detached, long distance relationships between two people with relationships with other people respectively. The passion between the two is actually really amazing considering their distance, and the seasonal nature of their romance. So upon further inspection I’ve come to agree that the romance is rather unique.

  2. This list is pretty much amazing. Only a few films that I believe should have been mentioned. First and foremost, Out of Africa. It’s a fantastic and meaningful movie. Beautifully romantic. Wonderfully acted by Meryl Streep and hunky Robert Redford. The others are a bit more mainstream, but I believe they should have deserved a spot. First, the 2012 version of Jane Eyre. Mostly due to excellent acting. Also deliciously romantic. And actually a thoroughly good movie. Pride and Prejudice (2005), I think, deserves a spot because it almost matches The Notebook in how much it has affected young people. It was well-reviewed, and the cast was excellent, not only because of Keira Knightley (in the very beginning of her career) but also because of the excellent supporting cast. Garden State, as well, is an excellent film, as well as an excellent romance, coming out of the indie film world. Natalie Portman and Zac Braff both do an excellent job. Definitely one of my favorites, along with The Graduate and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, both of which rightfully appear on this list. Lastly, I have to say that Love Actually should certainly have been included. It’s very cheesy, certainly, but it’s become such a staple in both the romantic comedy world and the Christmas movie world. It was also one of the, if not THE, first romantic film to host various interlocking stories. And the CAST. I can’t even. Besides these few that I feel could have been included, I think this list does a great job. Especially appreciate that it gives equal wait to classic films like The Apartment and recent films like The Silver Linings Playbook and Moonrise Kingdom.

    • KatieFeehan

      Thanks! I absolutely adore the music from Out of Africa but have shockingly never seen it! Shameful i know. Silver Linings Play Book would have been a great entry on this list! Good shout!

  3. Virtual Pam

    There are so many that qualify, but my favorite was never thought of as a love story. It tells the story of another time, of people who have nothing except their passion for life and for love, and the enormity of sacrifice for love and the willingness to give up all that people have sought for their entire life – that film is Spartacus!

  4. Liz Kellam

    I enjoyed the article. The only problem I have with The Time Traveler’s Wife is, like most book to film, the book is so much better a telling the story. Without comparing, the film is still pretty good. I think Love Actually is a great alternative love story. There are several different kinds of love stories told throughout the film, displaying many different kinds of romance and love.

  5. If you are looking for an excellent movie that combines terrific actors, beautiful scenery and a wonderful story, look for “Somewhere In Time.” Handsome Christopher Reed and beautiful Jane Seymour……a mystery, a great love and an amazing ending……couldn’t ask for more. “Somewhere In Time” should be in the top 10 of Best Romance Movies.

  6. Austin

    It’s a great list, and I myself was going to mention Out of Africa, but looks like someone beat me to it. I’m going to have to watch some of these myself.

  7. Louise Robinson

    My favourite Romantic Movie is Roman Holiday. Love Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck so charming and stylish and the romance of being in Rome oooh it’s what dreams are made of. The Mouth of Truth so funny and i have seen this in Rome and stuck my hand in and laughed. Good old Romance the thrill of the chase and the comedy between the 2 actors it’s enchanting to watch.

  8. Nilson Thomas Carroll

    I never understood Punch Drunk Love…it’s like a film length music video for sped up elevator music. There’s some beautiful cinematography though…

  9. Mikel Rock

    Who compiles a list about love stories and omits “Gone With The Wind” but includes Brokeback Mountain???

    • A list that is made up of ALTERNATIVE romance movies and not one of the most critically acclaimed of all time i think

  10. I decided to revisit some of the movies on the list – Brokeback Mountain deserves its great reviews by the way …and visit some l hadn’t seen.

  11. How about Splendor in the Grass, A Place in the Sun, Cleopatra, Butterfield 8

  12. Great stuff, but what about what about Susanne Bier’s “Open Hearts”?

  13. I admit you have a solid taste in movies.

    It feels invigorating and rejuvenating when you watch a fine piece of art that doesn’t make you feel like you wasted your time and took away nothing from it.

    I overall really enjoyed your selection.

  14. No Lord of the Rings trilogy?!! Frodo and Sam?!! That is the ultimate movie bromance! Kidding…

  15. K-Temple

    I was really happy that I have watched many of them but I also haven’t seen about half of them.

  16. Stephanie

    I have not yet seen Broke back Mountain; your comments make me think it’s worth a watch…thanks for the great recommendations

  17. angelwings5199

    This was a great read! Being a fan of the romance/drama genre myself, I found this article interesting and compelling. There are movies on this list I have seen and are absolutely in love with and movies I have never heard of before. You’re in depth explanations of their plots and how they relate and differ from other romance stories make me want to watch all of them! Well done!

  18. I think your list is great! Almodovar always pushes boundaries with characters and plots, and his films are amazing. In addition, “Secretary” is a wonderful film, and I think it is definitely underrated. Another alternative love story I always enjoyed is the 1983 film “Class.” It features Rob Lowe and John Cusack as youngsters, which I think is great. I always thought rom-coms were boring and predictable — “No Strings Attached” is one that always comes to mind — so I’m really happy to see this list.

  19. Thanks for the list! To the Time Traveler’s Wife haters out there: Although the book better captures the “love story”, I still believe the movie is worth a watch! Have only seen 4 out of the 10, but I’ll definitely try and get through the rest of them 🙂

  20. Love the addition of Badlands. Its a movie that a lot of people in today’s generation haven’t seen and its one of the most beautiful films ever made. a great way to expose youth to a more stimulating film than a classic boy meets girl rom com

  21. dlunise

    Wow! that’s an awesome lists, and i love romantic movies..even though i cry every time LOL – I have yet to see the movie “Her”

  22. chasea2010

    I love the article! Well written and certainly hit on some key alternative choices. I’ am an absolute sucker for the rom-com Netflix isle, and I absolutely adore your choices! I might add something like Drinking Buddies for it’s twist on what we generally expect from such movies; the film really lures us into a seemingly predictable love story – the buildup of the characters allure, and tenacious chemistry – and then it ends up being not at all what it once seemed it would be. It was an pic film. But- loved the article and I look forward to reading more!

  23. I love that you included Brokeback Mountain as one of your suggestions. I think all the other movies that were included were great suggestions and had great explanation as to why they should be viewed. Well done!

  24. This is a great list, although I would have added in “The Baxter”, it’s basically a romcom but from the perspective of the guy that the female lead leaves at the alter. It’s a weird bit of genre deconstruction. I would also nominate “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”

  25. Roxanne

    I’ve definitely been anticipating watching “Her” since the first time I saw the trailer. I’ve heard such good things about it.

  26. Great idea for a list – Happy to see Rushmore and Her on it.

  27. It’s not clear what you call “alternative.” It’s like when they say “alternative music,” but it’s pretty much pop music.

  28. Angelina Gardner

    Thanks for this. These are definitely not the standard.
    Maybe you can help me with my problem… I’m realizing the genre I’m looking for doesn’t really exist. basically all the romance movies for people in their 30s, but with people like me… Gen X about to hit 50, because right now, a lot of us feel and still look like the 30s crowd and want Romance that reflects our lives. Death to the highly successful Ken and Barbie model! What about hippies, carpenters, Yoga teachers with problems that reflect the current economic/housing crisis? Man Up was hilarious. If I type middle age romance movies and see Dustin Hoffman and Pierce Brosnan as the object of my fantasy, I think I’ll vomit. Where’s sexy early 50’s (pronounced 40’s bc we look THAT good!) real life, not financially secure, trauma informed, health focused, casually tattooed without the played out rebel stigma, facing ageism together with bullet proof laughter and more resilience than our adult kids, HOT love stories, please?!!

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