Let’s face it, Valentine’s Day is overrated. What used to be a day dedicated to love and romance has since turned into a commercial nightmare – because what says “I love you” like a bouquet of wilted roses from the local garage and an over-priced, badly-cooked three-course meal?
So if you’re giving the table for two a miss this Valentine’s Day, fear no more. We’ve compiled a list of the best anti-Valentine’s Day movies for all the cynics and ill-fated romantics out there.
20. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind delves into themes of love, loss and morality, with Jim Carrey starring as introverted oddball Joel. In the film, Joel resorts to unorthodox methods to erase ex-girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet) from his mind, with unexpected consequences. Unfortunately for him, Joel soon starts to realise too late that some things are best left unforgotten.
As he desperately tries to cling on to his fading thoughts of Clementine, we are granted access into the inner workings of Joel’s mind – a chaotic mess of abstract ideas and notions of loss. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind might well leave you in floods of tears, but if you’ve ever wished you could simply erase your long-lost love from your mind, this film may convince you to reconsider.
19. Gone Girl
Despite Anne Hathaway once joking in an interview that Gone Girl is her favourite romantic comedy of all time, it doesn’t meet any of the traditional criteria for romance or comedy by a long shot. David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel shows that a spurned lover is capable of going to extremes beyond our wildest dreams, and if you’re in the middle of a particularly anguished love affair, it might just give you some ideas.
The film ends with the central couple (Ben Affleck and an Oscar-nominated Rosamund Pike) in a tense stalemate, forced to pretend they’re in love for the cameras, in a perverse inversion of romance. Being in the midst of a relationship in breakdown can definitely feel like a psychological thriller in its own right, and Gone Girl captures that tension perfectly.
18. Lars and the Real Girl
Lars (Ryan Gosling) is just an ordinary, if somewhat socially awkward, young man who is delighted when he gets the chance to introduce his family to his new girlfriend, Bianca. Lars is a true romantic, staunchly protective and head-over-heels in love with his newfound partner. There’s just one small problem: Bianca is actually a sex doll.
Throughout the film, we see the small town where Lars lives slowly begin to treat Bianca as if she is real, ironically leading Lars to interact with more people than he ever has before – even finding a real-girlfriend by the end. This might be a sweet message if it wasn’t for the movie’s grotesque and surreal tone.
17. Get Out
Offering commentary on racial tension and power dynamics, Get Out sees young black man Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) heading out to meet the family of his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams). At the family’s remote estate, Chris uncovers a dark secret, and is left fighting for his life. The directorial debut of comedian Jordan Peele, Get Out goes to show how blinded we can become by love and serves to demonstrate that morality is somewhat of a spectrum.
The film (which won Peele the Best Original Screenplay Oscar) illustrates the way in which perfectly compatible couples are forced to deal with bigger issues such as family, race and class – even if in this case, the girlfriend is hardly innocent. If any movie would ever put you off meeting your partner’s parents, it’s this one.
16. The Girl on the Train
What happens when the person you love doesn’t want you anymore, and you are forced to endure a daily reminder of the life you left behind? This is what happens to Rachel (Emily Blunt) in this hard-hitting thriller based on Paula Hawkins’ novel. In a haze of alcohol, Rachel obsesses over the life of her former husband, his new wife and their neighbours – who all seem to have the perfect life.
However, outside of the train and behind closed doors, all the lives of the aforementioned are individually crumbling in much the same way as Rachel’s, unbeknownst to her at first. If there’s one thing to take away from The Girl on the Train, it’s that alcohol is never the answer to your personal and emotional problems.
15. Fatal Attraction
An anti-Valentine’s classic, Fatal Attraction demonstrates the lengths some will go to in the name of “love.” Glenn Close stars as Alex Forrest, the original deranged bunny boiler who – after an impulsive one-night stand with married man Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) – tries to make herself part of his life. Alex’s obsession with Dan soon spirals out of control, with a family destroyed and an innocent rabbit murdered in the process.
This psychological thriller is guaranteed to make you reconsider any thoughts of an extra-marital affair for the foreseeable future. With that said, Glenn Close’s Oscar-nominated performance is so unhinged and the character so perfectly portrayed that it almost circles all the way back around to awesome.
14. Ex Machina
Ex Machina demonstrates what happens when you tread the fine line between morality and making your dreams a reality. What could be considered a simple love story becomes warped with the knowledge that one of the participants in the ‘romance’ is in fact a robot. Despite the quasi-romantic set-up, writer-director Alex Garland’s film is more preoccupied with questions of autonomy, freedom and ethics.
The claustrophobic drama comprises of a series of tense power plays, in which we have to closely watch the shifts in tone and dialogue to figure out who is actually in control: Domhnall Gleeson’s programmer Caleb, Alicia Vikander’s artificial intelligence Ava or her creator, Oscar Isaac’s Nathan. What might have been a standard sci-fi thriller proves a thoughtful, art house drama.
13. Gerald’s Game
Gerald’s Game is a film that will either make you appreciate your vanilla sex life anew, or at least have you consider cutting a spare key when it comes to experimenting with handcuffs. When Jessie (Carla Gugino) and her husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) arrive at their isolated holiday home for a romantic break, things soon start to go awry when Gerald suddenly dies of a heart attack – leaving Jessie handcuffed to the bed.
Even when she is not wrestling with her emotions and past trauma, or physically wrestling to try and escape her handcuffs, Jessie is tormented by a mysterious figure at the foot of her bed, who may or may not be real. Based on one of Stephen King’s finest, this psychological thriller-horror is delightfully horrific and thought-provoking in its exploration of the workings of the inner mind.
12. The Lobster
A dystopian nightmare for the 21st century, in Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster, single people are given 45 days to find a partner. If they do not succeed, they will be turned into an animal, with the only small comfort being that they get to choose what kind of animal they get to be. In this bizarre black comedy, Colin Farrell plays David, a recently divorced man who must battle against the clock to find the woman of his dreams, desperately aware of the consequences of failure.
The whole thing is made even more complicated by the rule that all couples must have something in common, whether it’s short-sightedness, a love of biscuits, or acute cruelty. The Lobster is a social commentary, about how “coupling up” is at the forefront of many of our minds as a result of intense societal pressure, making it perfect for a romantic cynic.
The screen adaptation of Patrick Marber’s stage play, Closer casts Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Natalie Portman and Jude Law as two couples falling in and out of love with one another. The whole movie is a tangled web of infidelity, lies and quiet resentment – with ex-lovers going as far as swapping names, careers and even countries just to get away from each other.
Landing Golden Globe wins and Oscar nominations for both Portman and Owen, Closer is far from a fell-good movie, radiating with sadness, regret and lost opportunity. All in all, it’s the perfect movie for anyone who believes that even if true love is possible, it isn’t possible for it to stick around for a lifetime.
10. Marriage Story
Marriage Story tells the heartbreaking story of a couple trying to negotiate life apart while doing what’s best for their young son. Though there are plenty of gentle and amicable moments between Charlie the successful theatre director (Adam Driver) and Nicole the former teen star (Scarlett Johansson), the two struggle to put their bitterness aside, even when they want to.
Though the end result is a couple that have just about figured out how to live separately while still allowing their son to love and appreciate both of them, we get a strong sense that they wish to go back to how things were, despite how painful things could be. The moral of Marriage Story seems to be that people will go so far as to repeat the same mistakes over and over when they are in love, even if they know it will bring them nothing but hurt and heartbreak.
9. Terms of Endearment
Terms of Endearment might be one of the lightest movies that Jack Nicholson has ever starred in, but that doesn’t mean that it’s without its share of strife. The movie follows the breakdown of numerous relationships, beginning with the growing resentment between a pushy mother Aurora (Shirley MacLaine, in an Oscar-winning performance) and her rebellious daughter Emma (Debra Winger), who feels so trapped she rushes into a marriage just to get away.
Emma soon realises that jumping into one relationship to save another is always doomed to failure, as seen when her marriage breaks down and the pressure of taking care of a family becomes too much. Meanwhile, Aurora faces struggles in her own late-life relationship with Garret (Nicholson, who also won an Oscar), reaffirming the idea that sometimes, even if you love someone, the pressures of their life make them too hard to actually be around.
8. John Tucker Must Die
There are few feelings in the world more brutal than realising you’ve been cheated on, so it’s not surprising that someone made a feel-good teen movie centred around three spurned women, who all decide to destroy their shared ex-boyfriend. Still, the fun pranks and calculated seductions of John Tucker Must Die fall flat, and the real moral of the story is the characters’ realisations that trying to destroy the man who broke their hearts doesn’t actually make them feel any better.
In fact, their numerous plans to embarrass him or trick him into dating someone new is all frustrating, since their lives still revolve around the guy they were dating, someone they’re all better off without. John Tucker Must Die is perfect for cynics because not only does it illustrate the way in which you can be totally in love while your partner is having the opposite experience, but it shows that even petty revenge won’t help you to feel any better.
7. It Follows
It’s not often that a story about the risks and fears that go along with sex and promiscuity take the form of a horror movie, but It Follows takes the anxiety that surrounds relationships and literalises it. After losing her virginity, Jay (Maika Monroe) learns she will now be relentlessly followed by a creature that no-one else can see, which will kill her if it catches her. The only way for Jay to evade the curse is to pass it on by having sex with someone else.
Throughout the movie, we watch as the idea of sleeping with someone becomes an emotionless transaction carried out for the sake of survival. It Follows has widely been read as a metaphor for adolescence, in which people start having sex for all sorts of reasons, such as insecurity, status or bragging rights, rather than f0r actual love or pleasure.
6. Kill Bill
If you’re looking for a movie that will restore your faith in love and relationships, it’s fair to say that Kill Bill isn’t it. Quentin Tarantino’s two-volume martial arts epic follows a spurned assassin known as The Bride (Uma Thurman) who is betrayed and left for dead by her former teammates while pregnant with the boss’ baby. Awakening from a coma several years later, she sets out to take revenge.
While Kill Bill Vol 1 is a story of endless struggle and fruitless revenge, Vol 2 finally gives us a happy ending – in which The Bride tracks down and kills her former lover Bill (David Carradine). Not exactly the most upbeat representation of a romantic relationship, then.
Loosely based on Fay Weldon’s 1983 novel The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, 1989’s She-Devil is another story about a woman intent on getting revenge on a man who wronged her. Ruth (Roseanne Barr) decides to destroy the home, family, business and freedom of her ex-husband Bob (Ed Begley Jr), after he leaves her for an attractive blonde romance writer named Mary (Meryl Streep).
Ruth soon begins to build a list of other qualified and smart women who feel they have become estranged from society and finds happiness in lifting them up in their careers. Though the film technically has a happy ending, every attempt at romance in She-Devil is thwarted, no matter who it is. Instead, the characters only find happiness when they abandon romance in pursuit of other goals.
4. Birds of Prey
Birds of Prey is the perfect Anti-Valentine’s Day movie, because it’s essentially a break-up film. The DC standalone shows the fallout of Harley Quinn breaking up with the infamous Mr. J, and follows her as she attempts to adjust to her new vulnerability without the protection of the Clown Prince of Crime. We see Harley drinking, crying, eating junk food and adopting a dog (kind of) – all things you would typically do in the first couple of weeks following a break-up.
However, she soon finds a new purpose in life, since circumstances force her to become the protector/kidnapper of a little girl, just to protect her own skin. Birds of Prey has a happy ending in that Harley ends up with a gang of new girlfriends, a new protegee, and a new (albeit, stolen) man. However, at no point during her journey does Harley ever commit to falling in love again.
3. Blue Velvet
Blue Velvet is a knotted up web of a movie, in which every character is drawn closer into the centre of a scandal, and becomes unable to escape. The neo-noir mystery has no shortage of sex scenes, but for every kiss that we are supposed to view as romantic, there are two more that come off violent and unhinged. Worse than that, every sex scene is more of a horrific powerplay in which characters are forced to roleplay in surreal and uncomfortable ways.
Kisses are even used to threaten the male characters, and imply that some kind of other violence, courtesy of Dennis Hopper’s criminal gang, is imminent. In short, despite it being named after a torch song, and being famed for its sultry, mysterious tone, Blue Velvet is anything but romantic.
Most people have an ex they believe was from hell, and at least one story about crazy behaviour that is difficult to believe. However, nothing compares to what the protagonist of Heathers goes through. Through the course of the film, Winona Ryder’s Veronica goes from a smart wallflower to the top of the high school food chain, being equally protected and tormented by the popular girls she calls her friends.
Things change when Veronica falls for the dark and mysterious JD (Christian Slater), but he reveals his true colours early on, graduating from faking a suicide to straight up murdering members of the student body. As much as Heathers is a satire of high school movie conventions, it’s also a cautionary tale of why dating the tall, dark and handsome stranger is rarely a good idea.
1. American Beauty
American Beauty is an intense midlife crisis packed into a multi-narrative story in which hardly anyone is happy. Almost every adult character in the film is involved in an affair or desperately attempting to be, while the younger teenage characters are struggling to expel the baggage their parents have forced on them. To complicate things further, the suspicion everyone seems to have about everyone else’s love lives soon devolves into violence.
It’s impossible to watch American Beauty and conclude that getting into any kind of relationship is a good idea, let alone settling down and having kids. This is especially true when you realise that even the characters who are getting what they want are miserable, and the happiest characters are the ones who have accepted their misery as a fact of life.