20 Of The Best Anti-Valentine’s Day Films For All The Cynics Out There
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 critera for romance or comedy by a long shot. Instead, Gone Girl teaches us that everyone has their secrets, and no matter how much you love someone, you’d be a fool to ever trust them completely. David Fincher’s thriller 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 lead couple 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 Lars and the Real Girl, 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 the family doctor diagnoses Bianca with low blood pressure, and advises that she be brought in for treatment once a week. In the end, Bianca allows Lars to get a real-girlfriend and even lead a well-adjusted life, which would be a sweet message if it wasn’t for the movie’s grotesque and surreal tone.
17. Get Out
One for all the horror fans, Get Out provides a social commentary on racial tension and power dynamics, and is easily the most terrifying film on this list, in more ways than one. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is nervous to meet his new girlfriend Rose’s family, and it turns out he has good reason. Soon, he 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.
It illustrates perfectly 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. This fast-paced thriller is the perfect anti-Valentine’s thriller, although it might just put you off meeting your partner’s parents for life.
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 exactly what happens to Rachel (Emily Blunt) in this hard-hitting thriller, which sees Blunt portray a woman on the verge of a breakdown as she desperately tries to cling on to any sense of normality. In a haze of alcohol, Rachel obsesses over the life of her former husband, his new wife and their neighbors – 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 problems – unless you want to fall into a state of oblivion in an attempt to numb your aching heart, in which case it most definitely is.
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 attempts to win over Michael Douglas’ married man Dan Gallagher to no avail. 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 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, and the themes of love and attraction that are scattered throughout the runtime, Ex Machina is actually far more preoccupied with questions of autonomy, freedom and ethics.
Not only that, but most of the scenes are in fact 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 or Alicia Vikander’s AI Ava. Director Alex Garland manages to take this rather bizarre concept and turn it into an art piece. Ex Machina is truly a romance for modern times.
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. Unfortunately, Jessie is handcuffed to their bed at the time, leaving her with no escape and forcing her to battle her inner demons.
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.
When audiences first saw a movie about love and relationships was being released with Natalie Portman and Jude Law in the leads, they assumed they were in for a fluffy romp centred on two people falling in love. The reality couldn’t have been more different, since the movie shows the descent of two couples out of love, into love with each other, and then out of love again. 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.
There are plenty of sweet and loving moments in Closer that show the heights the couples are capable of reaching when they remember to be kind to each other, but the overall tone is one of 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 is a film that does exactly what it says on the tin: tells the intimate and heartbreaking story of a couple who try 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. Each tiny step they take to attempt a healthy and non-aggressive break-up is soon thwarted, either by the divorce lawyers they have chosen to represent them, friends who have decided to try and help the situation, or just their own hurt.
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 fair share of strife. The movie follows the breakdown of all sorts of relationships, whether or not they’re romantic, beginning with the growing resentment between a pushy mother and her rebellious daughter. The daughter, Emma Greenway (Debra Winger) feels trapped by her overwhelming mother Aurora (Shirley MacLaine) and immediately marries her sweetheart just to get away from her.
However, she 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’s own late-life relationship also breaks down at a time when she needs the support most, 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, especially when there are multiple people involved in the affair. Considering how common this experience is, 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. With that said, 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 a date with a new boyfriend, protagonist Jay (Maika Monroe) wakes up strapped to a wheelchair by her beloved, only to be told that she will now be relentlessly followed by a creature that no-one else can see, and which will kill her if it ever catches up to her. The only way for Jay to put herself further down the creature’s kill list is to have sex with someone else, and hope that the next person passes on the curse before the creature catches it.
Throughout the movie, we watch as the idea of sleeping with someone else is changed from an act of love or pleasure to 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, even when it feels more like an escape from virginity than an actual fun thing to do.
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. The story of a spurned assassin who is betrayed by her former teammates while pregnant with the boss’ baby is hardly an uplifting tear-jerker, and it only gets more brutal as the plot wears on. As The Bride (Uma Thurman) goes on the rampage, we see that one of her former teammates has successfully built a life for herself, complete with a nice house and a young daughter.
However, even her happiness is not enough to protect her, and the cycle of violence is continued when The Bride tells the young daughter, who has just witnessed her mother’s death, that she may someday seek revenge of her own. 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.
She-Devil is another story about a woman intent on getting revenge on a man who wronged her, only this time there are far fewer swords involved. Instead, She-Devil’s Ruth (Roseanne Barr) decides she should 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). The movie begins with pure revenge, with Ruth burning down Bob’s house and arranging to embarrass his new girlfriend at a party.
However, she 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 famous 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 is filled with no shortage of sex scenes, but for every kiss that we are supposed to view as romantic, there are two that we are supposed to see as 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 it’s sultry, mystery 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. With that said, no amount of leaving socks laying around, acting embarrassing in front of your parents or calling you obnoxious nicknames can compare 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. In the end, Veronica is forced to kill JD, stopping him from murdering the entire school in one go. It’s essentially a cautionary tale of why dating the tall, dark and handsome stranger is always a bad 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 the violence, with characters being beaten and even killed as a result.
Meanwhile, the teenage characters pursue their own fledgling relationships with nervousness, all thanks to the hang-ups their parents have given them. It’s impossible to watch the film 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.