Tired of the same old romance movies?
I know what we’re all thinking: “not another Valentine’s Day list, I’m sick of those”. Or “Valentine’s Day was created by greeting card companies and jewelers so people will buy cards and rings to excuse themselves for being terrible partners every other day of the year.” But, whether you love Valentine’s Day or hate its guts, you can always just sit around and watch movies. For a change of pace from the usual Hallmark sap, here’s a list of adventure films with romantic inclinations; featuring three different films where a woman gets attacked on a ship while wearing a silk nightgown and a man comes to save her.
In all the times I’ve seen this film it never fails to amaze that it came out in 1999. Equal parts adventurous, romantic, and academic, if I could only watch one movie for the rest of my life, it would probably be The Mummy (in all honesty, it’s a close running between this and The Lord of the Rings, which I will count as one movie thank you very much). We get a perfect “enemies to friends to lovers” trope through Rick and Evelyn, but it’s not put-upon or overworked; the inclusion of one’s exasperated brother in the courtship tends to alleviate most of the sappy mush. Without Jonathan, Evelyn and Rick’s romance would be unbearable to watch.
But Rick and Evy’s romantic dynamic is what this list is all about; adventure, danger, a slightly awkward romance that blossoms at inconvenient times, arguing with each other of whether or not to stay in Cairo and fight the mummy bringing the plagues. The two of them together is what makes for successful romantic cinema. The man stole archaeology tools for her, for goodness’ sake. It’s my favorite movie. First, for the romance. Second, because I went through an Ancient Egypt phase in elementary school and sometimes that sticks with you into adulthood.
The Mummy: 5 out of 5 books of the living for romance; 5 out of 5 books of the dead for action. Nothing will change my mind about this.
The Mummy Returns
While technically not the cinematic marvel of its predecessor—in my opinion relying a little heavily on gimmicks from the previous film—it does excel at expanding this universe we find ourselves in; all this while making us feel like we never left. We get some incredible new characters—Alex, Izzy, and the return of Ardeth Bay (whom I love and dearly cherish)—along with our old favorites. Evelyn’s introduction as the reincarnation of Nefertiti is a little heavy-handed; but we get great insight into the first film through all these new developments. Of course, I’m a sucker for predestined romances, mysterious pasts, and a good ol’ triumvirate. As Ardeth says of Rick, Evelyn, and their son Alex, “Three sides of the pyramid.”
The Mummy Returns is definitely more action/adventure than romance. It’s great for nostalgia, as most sequels are. If well-written, a sequel feels like coming home after a long time away. Like continuing on a journey with old friends. The Mummy Returns achieves this because we get to see Rick and Evelyn’s romance evolve from that first blush of love riding together on a camel into the sunset to a healthy, devoted—albiet slightly dangerous—marriage.
Bottom line, CGI Dwayne Johnson as a big weird scorpion man is Not Great. Evelyn “dying” just to further Rick’s tragic backstory is also Not Great. But who doesn’t love a good dog army?
The Mummy Returns: 4 out of 5 gross married kisses for romance; 5 out of 5 good dog armies for action.
King Kong (2005)
Jack Black makes a surprisingly convincing 1920’s man. His line “I’m someone you can trust, I’m a movie producer” is probably the best, most meta line in the entire film. But that’s beside the point; while the romance is a bit on the subtle side, the film is suitably romanticized. King Kong feels like an overzealous post-Depression/pre-war action/romance flick a la The African Queen (technically post-war) or even Gone With the Wind. It’s a sad kind of romance. Sure, you get to watch Jack Driscoll and Ann Darrow fall in love at sea, but you also witness Kong’s love. He experiences a strange, new, enduring kind of romance. He’s a 24-foot gorilla but he possesses an incredibly human capacity to love.
In all honesty, the movie is ridiculous; a whole, like, 10-minute scene of twenty brontosauri (brontosauruses?) dog-piling down a hill with no background music and managing not to crush the entire cast of characters is the most ambitious moment of cinema history, I think. If you watch this for Valentine’s Day, be prepared to make an investment. This one clocks in at—in classic Peter Jackson form—3 hours and 7 minutes.
King Kong: 3 out of 5 sacrificial bone necklaces for romance; 7 out of 5 man-eating swamp worms for action. I feel justified in this rating, as there is almost too much action.
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
Here comes Harrison Ford, fresh off his Star Wars success and lookin’ fine. If I was a spinster in the ’30s, Indiana Jones is the type of man I’d write “love you” on my eyelids for. And I feel the exact same way about Marion.
The first instalment of Indiana Jones hits close to how I feel about The Mummy in terms of romantic tropes. It’s a bit on the “enemies to friends to lovers” side of things, but tips perfectly into “scorned lovers forced to work together and fall in love again”. We know just enough of Indiana and Marion’s unfortunate history to revel every time they interact. Their “where doesn’t it hurt” scene never fails to wreck me emotionally. It starts out as an argument but halfway through Indy knows exactly what he’s doing, Marion knows exactly what’s up, and the fact that he falls asleep in the middle of a make-out in the Jonathan of this movie (breaks up the mush, gives up a boost of comic relief).
This movie excels at young, giddy romance; just two kids on an adventure, gettin’ into trouble, huntin’ for artifacts. Indy and Marion have a certain rapport; they’re two people who never really got over each other but are pretending they did because it’s been a long time. And Marion is an absolutely charming character; scoffing with her mouth full of food when Belloch shows her the fancy dress; smacking Indy in the face with a mirror and just going “what’d you say?”; out-drinking any man who dares challenge her. She’s a delight. Dare I say, she reminds me of Elaine Benes.
So sure, Indiana loves Marion, but ultimately, she falls second to archaeology. What makes this movie so sweet is that Indiana Jones is such a damn nerd for archaeology. Yeah, he looks cool and handsome in his hat and jacket, but he has dorky reading glasses, he speaks Latin but can barely spell, he wears a bowtie; he’s a nerd. He leaves Marion tied up so he can dig up the Ark of the Covenant first, but at least he kisses her goodbye.
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark: 4.5 out of 5 poisoned dates for romance; 5 out of 5 dead Nazis for action.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Do not say anything about this. Okay, so narrative-wise, this movie is pretty much the same as the others: nearly two hours of sensationalist treasure hunting layered over period-specific political upheavals. It’s also what started this strange trend of Harrison Ford reprising old roles, which I sort of don’t really get, but whatever. Crystal Skull is important because after two (interesting yet not as good) sequels, we finally realize how vital Marion is and bring her back.
We as a people love new blossoming romance. Also, we love nostalgic reunions. We love revelations; frustrating misunderstandings that work out in the end; secret children who meet their dad without knowing it until later. And I, having been an Even Stevens girl myself, love Shia LaBeouf. Crystal Skull has all of these.
What we should appreciate more as storytellers and story consumers are older characters finding love again, which is such a niche trope that I can really name only a few features that include it as a plot device (Our Souls at Night, Grace and Frankie, ???, what else?). Crystal Skull does a great job of reuniting its love interests and throwing them right back into their antics from the first film; they’re gettin’ into trouble, huntin’ for artifacts, with the added bonuses of gettin’ hitched and raisin’ a kid together.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: 2.5 out of 5 secret sons for romance; 4.5 out of 5 Cate Blanchetts for action.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
Before Disney bought Marvel and started churning out superhero movies by the truckload (I said it and I won’t take it back), they made Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. This movie is crucial if you grew up in the early 2000s. This was a turning point, a pirate movie like we’d never seen before. And even though Johnny Depp is currently kind of despised and the absolute worst casting choice for Grindelwald, he did some of his best work as Jack Sparrow. He disappears into that character so much so that it’s almost like Jack Sparrow as Himself.
What makes the love story in this movie so unique is that Will and Elizabeth’s first meeting involves accidental theft and just kind of goes from there. Will pines for her so hard he’s almost a tree. Elizabeth has more of a subtle crush, but it’s clear in the way she asks Will to call her by her first name instead of standing on the ceremony of their differing class. And the gentle, breathless way Will says Elizabeth’s name as he watches her leave her house: heart-wrenching. To Barbossa, she could’ve given her name as anything else, but she chose Turner of all things. And I get there wouldn’t be much of a story if she didn’t make that conscious choice, but it’s still a little bit romantic.
What great about those two is they both take to piracy so well. The way they evolve, together and separately as characters, is a sign of impeccable writing. Elizabeth is cunning and sneaky and knows how to get what she wants, even before she becomes a pirate (tricking Jack into passing out drunk so she can build a signal fire, convincing an entire ship to sail to Tortuga using only a dress, hiding multiple incomprehensible weapons on her person). That rebellious streak grows with her as she becomes more daring through the sequels. And Will is lovesick for Elizabeth in the first movie and continues to be lovesick in the second and third, but it’s different. We get to see them go through their hardships, carry their separate burdens, and eventually come out of things on top. They’re presented just like an ordinary couple, only in extraordinary circumstances.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl: 4 out of 5 “Miss Swann”s for romance; 5 out of 5 cursed medallions for action.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
As far as sequels go, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has always been top-notch. At least, until after At World’s End. On Stranger Tides was Not Great from what I remember, and I haven’t seen the other one, so, surprisingly, I have no opinion. At World’s End gets a lot of flack. Most notably for its bizarre electric guitar soundtrack, and Keith Richards as Pirate Dad, and Pretty Much Killing Will Turner. But despite all of that, we still get Elizabeth Swann, King of Pirates. We get Jack and Barbossa co-commanding the Pearl. And, above all else, we get a Wedding in the Middle of a Swordfight.
Dead Man’s Chest is up pretty high on my favorites list if only because dirty, drunk, unemployed James Norrington is a joy to behold. But At World’s End hold a special place in my hopeless romantic heart because of that damn wedding. At World’s End is big on comedy, probably the most out of the first three films. Elizabeth and Will’s spontaneously dangerous wedding—officiated by Barbossa—has the perfect mix of hilarity and romance. It’s the ultimate romantic gesture. It says, “if I die while fighting these horrible fish boys, I want to die being married to you”. I’m positively verklempt.
Not only do we get the evolution of Will and Elizabeth’s relationship, but we also get insight into Davy Jones and Tia Dalma that we didn’t get with their introductions in the second film. We find out why they are the way they are; a little bit of what drove Davy Jones to put his heart in a box. We also get Tia Dalma in a more prominent role, which is a treat itself. Where Will and Elizabeth represent a hopeful love, Jones and Tia Dalma represent love shadowed by regret and wistfulness. I could watch a short film about just them, to be honest.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End: 4.5 out of 5 years at sea for romance; 5 out of 5 years on land for action.
Anastasia and Tangled
Here are two mild adventures if you’re in the mood to watch something sweet. I’d like to discuss these two animated films together because they’re so similar in terms of romance. Both Anastasia and Tangled skirt the edge of the “enemies to friends to lovers” trope we’ve seen so often, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say, enemies. Not even in the case of Anastasia and Dimitri. More like “inconveniences to friends to lovers”. There’s animosity between the love interests that evolves realistically into romance, at least as realistically as the plot allows. Anastasia accidentally punches Dimitri in the nose twice and he still falls in love with her, what more could you want.
Fairy-tale princess romance has always involved love at first sight which just isn’t plausible, not really. We all know this, we’ve been grousing about it for years (even Frozen, in a surprisingly meta twist, mentions it). What makes Anastasia and Tangled different is their refusal to fall into a “love at first sight” trap. These movies feature dislike at first sight, and suspicion, at first sight, extreme annoyance and stuck together for the foreseeable future at first sight. And of course, the secret princesses still get their unconventional princes in the end. What would a fairy-tale romance be without a happy little ending to tie it all up in a bow?
Anastasia: 3.5 out of 5 music boxes from your grandmama for romance; 4 out of 5 reliquaries for action.
Tangled: 4 out of 5 of the most romantic duets in a Disney movie ever for romance; 3.5 out of 5 glowing hairs for action.
Add to the list!
I got tired of watching movies so I ended it here! There’s only so much media I can consume before my brain turns to mush! Remember, even if you believe Valentine’s Day is just a capitalist ploy and it’s more romantic to show your love every day instead of saving it all up for the fourteenth, you can always just stay home and watch movies.