Unrequited love isn’t just about unreciprocated romantic feelings. Often, love is one-sided because it isn’t openly acknowledged or labeled as such. Love that is consciously rejected can result in a lot of pain and conflict, which makes for a very entertaining movie. Conflict is the very essence of drama and romance stories.
Though these kinds of stories aren’t fun for the characters, they are often some of the most touching for viewers to enjoy. Whether it’s a love triangle, a lover who can’t let go of their ex, or a star-crossed love story, tragic or rocky love stories are one of the most widely viewed sub-genres. Netflix is a one-stop-shop for many of the most popular unrequited love stories, but also some of the more artistic, lesser-known ones.
Updated on June 12th, 2021 by Svetlana Sterlin: Netflix keeps its library fresh by continually rotating the selection of movies on offer. However, the subject of unrequited love remains constant and constantly popular. Many romantic comedies and other romantic movies miss the mark, but these are some of the best of this niche according to critics on Rotten Tomatoes. While viewers’ opinions often differ from critics’, these films can still be considered objectively as some of the best of their kind.
10 About Time (2013) – 69%
Tim has inherited a genetic ability that all men in his family possess: time travel. The film doesn’t take itself too seriously and often pokes fun at the very idea of time travel, which Tim is dumbfounded by and often jokes about himself.
In any case, when he meets Mary, he’s instantly attracted to her. They form an organic connection but miss the opportunity to create a long-lasting bond. Tim decides to go back in time and revisit the moment they separate. However, he finds that Mary now has no idea who he is and isn’t romantically interested in him in this version of events.
9 Les Misérables (2012) – 70%
Based on the classic novel by Victor Hugo, the 2012 musical adaptation of Les Misérables isn’t the most critically acclaimed iteration of this story, but the most popular among moviegoers.
The main plotline follows Jean Valjean’s release from prison and quest to begin a new life. Jean Valjean’s daughter Cosette is the subject of admiration on the part of Marius, a rebel and the son of a nobleman. He, in turn, is the subject of strong affection from Eponine, a street urchin. So strong are her feelings that she sings a lamenting ballad of her unrequited love.
8 Lovesong (2016) – 83%
Separated by years of distance and important life events, two best friends reunite in their adulthood to realize they’ve both evolved significantly. Left alone with just her daughter, Sarah has been neglected by her husband and now relishes Mindy’s company.
Mindy is about to get married, which places a very subtle strain on their friendship. As they spend more time together, something about their dynamic shifts, which helps Sarah remember how things used to be between them before their separation.
7 The Breaker Upperers (2018) – 87%
Cynical after their past breakups, best friends Jen and Mel establish an agency designed to break couples up in unsuspecting ways. However, their hilariously over-the-top schemes are more of a reflection of their own personal problems and histories.
When Mel connects with one of their clients, Jen feels excluded and hurt. Jen desperately tries to reconnect with her ex, whom she still loves even after he cheated on her, while Mel moves forward with her life and her new relationship.
6 A Ghost Story (2017) – 91%
A Ghost Story is not a traditional romance. The ghost at the centre of this story haunts the home he once shared with his wife. Still young when he dies, he’s forced to remain and watch as his wife mourns his death, then moves forward with her life.
Unable to speak or do anything, the ghost simply remains wedged in the space-time continuum, only perceived by others of his kind. This carefully crafted film moves at a gentle pace, allowing viewers into the tender space of grief and one-sided love.
5 The Squid And The Whale (2005) – 92%
Named after the exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, this film paints a detailed picture of the Berkman family as Joan and Bernard decide to separate. Their two sons, Frank and Walt, must deal with the fallout of this separation while also trying to navigate the tumultuous path of adolescence.
From the outside, this family’s life seems to be perfect – the parents are reasonably successful and their children are pursuing their own ambitions. However, a closer look reveals that perhaps Joan and Bernard are more like the titular squid and whale, and their children must face the reality that their parents’ love was never meant to last.
4 Marriage Story (2019) – 94%
Another Noah Baumbach film, Marriage Story also chronicles a drawnout divorce process. The title seems incongruous, but even during the tedious and painful separation, this married couple spends a lot of time reflecting on their happier moments.
Charlie and Nicole share a young son together, who is also deeply affected by his parents’ struggles. Often, it seems that they’re going to change their mind about the divorce, or that one of them feels more strongly about their relationship than the other.
3 To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018) – 96%
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before employs many familiar coming-of-age and romantic comedy tropes, but with a refreshing twist. Lara Jean is a high school student living with her father and two sisters. Their mother recently passed away, which often weighs on Lara Jean. She has many hobbies and distractions, including writing letters to boys she’s had crushes on.
One of these boys is Peter, her classmate. He receives Lara Jean’s old letter when her younger sister mails them out in a moment of spite. Peter asks Lara Jean to pretend to be his girlfriend in the hopes of making his ex jealous. Lara Jean agrees, but she still has feelings for him. The plot itself isn’t entirely original, but the film’s tone is. The colorful cinematography and production design make this trilogy a delightful treat.
2 The Half Of It (2020) – 97%
Another Netflix original, The Half Of It explores the idea of human souls and their other halves. Ellie Chu, an intelligent high school senior, isn’t sure what she believes about love until jock Paul Munsky asks for her help in writing a love letter.
The subject of his affections is Aster Flores, one of the most popular – and thus, most desired – girls in school. What Paul doesn’t realize is that Ellie herself has feelings for Aster.
1 Lady Bird (2017) – 99%
The relationship at the centre of Lady Bird isn’t a romantic one, but a mother-daughter dynamic. Christine “Lady Bird” and her mom Marion often fail to see eye to eye. Lady Bird wants to go to college in New York, but Marion insists that they can’t afford it.
Resentful, Lady Bird doesn’t listen to her mother and does whatever she wants. Her formative experiences with romance and friendship prove to be an exploration of unrequited love, but still, these aren’t the most important relationships in the film, or in Lady Bird’s life. The biggest example of unrequited love here isn’t romantic, but familial.
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