Hello, I’m Leah G. Alfonso. I write so that I may speak.
It’s February. For most Americans, that means it’s the month of love. And since I already had my say on the top 12 worst love stories of all time, now it’s time for me to tackle the best. Not all of the selections below are centered on romance. Some of them don’t even involve romance at all. Most of them either teach something valuable about love, casual or romantic, while others pay homage to different kinds of love (for example, the love of family, or the love of virtue). And some of these selections are tolerable at best, like the number 12 spot here:
12: Old Norna by Louisa May Alcott
Old Norna is a play that Alcott wrote with one of her sisters. It’s your average melodrama with Louis playing the hero, his love interest Leonore, and Count Rodolpho being the devious villain who wants the girl for her money. I’d call it a “so bad it’s good” story; there’s no logic, it’s overdramatic beyond all reason, and anyone can have a ton of fun making fun of it.
Yes, I know this popped up on my Top 12 Worst Love Stories post. So why put this among the best as well as the worst? Because there’s one element of the relationship that works: the teamwork. Castle and Beckett work well individually, but when you put them together, they’re unstoppable. She saves his life just as much as he saves hers, and his bouncing-off-the-walls, childlike personality evens out when meshed with her feet-on-the-ground, realistic demeanor. Sure, their differences butt heads, but they learn how to use these differences to their advantage. And that’s what couples should do; explore each other’s differences and use them to make each other stronger.
10: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Yes, this is another sample from my Top 12 Worst Love Stories, moving on. The Katniss and Peeta romance is on this list for one reason: playing homage to the trilogy’s commentary on celebrity gossip. The first book illustrated how the Games is reality TV to the Capitol. And the key to kids leaving the arena alive is getting the audience to like them. It’s like celebrity gossip. The more drama you create, the more people talk about you. And the more people talk about you, the longer you stay in the media, and—in the case of the Games—the longer you stay alive. Yeah, the romance got worse later in the story. However, I give it credit for continuing the theme of how the love story is a survival technique even after the Games are over.
9: Fault in Our Stars by John Green
The feedback on this story is varied, to say the least. People either write it off as a pretentious Nicholas Sparks knock-off or a poignant love story involving teenagers with cancer. I think it’s a little bit of both and sum it up with the word ‘overkill’. On one hand, it does knock you on the head with the message, which readers can tell early in the book is “it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.” On the other hand, the romance is believable and memorable. It could’ve used a little more development, but as is, it’s commendable.
8: Shrek 2 from Dreamworks
The romance in the first movie isn’t a solid love story. They start hating each other, there’s conflict, they fall in love, they get married, the end. Strangely enough, their romance evolves in the sequel, which is a what-happened-after-I-do story. They come back from their honeymoon and learn that Fiona’s parents want to meet her new husband, unaware of them both being ogres. Things go wrong, and it’d be easy to see it fall apart. However, Shrek’s love for Fiona drives him into turning them into humans, not to please her parents but to make her happy. And while she’s touched by how far we went for her, she gives up her humanity to be with the ogre she fell in love with. It’s one of those few sweet endings that deserve the round of “aww.”
7: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
While her other books aren’t terrible, Austen had a habit of making none of her characters likeable aside from the leading lady, her best friend, and her love interest. Emma went in a different direction, making Emma cocky and meddling, though the romance there isn’t that great. And then we have Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Darcy is haughty, unfriendly at first, and not skilled in the art of self-perception. Lizzie Bennet is prone to judge based on first impressions, doesn’t believe in second chances, and proud of her judgment of others. A romantic connection is impossible between them until they both learn to overcome their biggest flaws, let their guards down, and—at the risk of sounding corny—seeing each other for who they truly are.
6: West Side Story
I don’t think I’m the first or will be the last person to criticize most adaptations of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. By focusing on the poetry of star-crossed lovers instead of where the tragedy really was (which I won’t discuss here, since the Nostalgia Critic does it so much better in his editorial https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngd9XVIMotE), the people behind these adaptations earn money without feeling the need to understand what they’re adapting.
With that said, West Side Story makes up for this common misunderstanding. The music is great, the setting is cool, and the characters they use to shadow those from Romeo and Juliet are interesting choices. But there’s one line that sells this as the best adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy, and it comes from Maria—the shadow for Juliet—at the end of the play:
“All of you! You all killed [Tony]! And my brother, and Riff. Not with bullets, or guns, with hate. Well now I can kill, too, because now I have hate!”
There. That’s the line. That’s the part that summarizes what Romeo and Juliet was about. Those are the words that earned this musical the #6 spot on the list.
5: Much Ado About Nothing
This story features two romances; Claudio and Hero, and Benedict and Beatrice. Claudio and Hero make the couple that fall in love at first sight and agree to marry in a week. Benedict and Beatrice make two rivals of wit who both swear they’ll never marry. In the case of Claudio and Hero, misunderstandings and deceit show how easy it is to break them up and get them back together, not just once but twice before they marry. On the other hand, Benedict and Beatrice took their time and knew each other long before they finally decided to tie the knot. They have a lot more chemistry, and they’re more complex, independent, intelligent, and realistic. Not only does Much Ado show the downsides of the impatience and drama that make Claudio and Hero, but it also shows the upsides to the time and depth that make Beatrice and Benedict.
4: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Another European classic that tells two love stories, as well as another story that portrays patience as the most crucial ingredient in a successful relationship. In this case, you have Levin and Kitty making one romance and Anna and Vronsky making another. On one hand, Levin and Kitty didn’t get involved with one another right away. In fact, she had at first rejected his marriage proposal. And when they do marry, the first few months isn’t all rainbows and daisies. Over the course of time, their relationship continues to bloom and their marriage grows stronger as a result. On the other hand, Vronsky impulsively declared undying love for Anna, and even followed her home to convince her to have an affair with him. But the more time they spend together, the more their relationship deteriorates. Eventually, he’s bored with her to the point where he spends more time out in town than alone with her, and she’s distrustful and jealous of him to the point where she commits suicide as a sad attempt to escape the tragedy.
3: Harry Potter by JK Rowling
This is one of those selections where the focus isn’t on romance, but rather on love in general. It shows the power of loving virtues and people. The Weasleys were poor, but they found joy in simply being a family, and in the end they were rewarded for it. Dumbledore expressed his views on how it’s better to do what’s right rather than what’s easy, and how important it is to have the capacity to love others. Even when others disagreed and sought to discredit him, he stuck to his guns and became one of the most beloved characters in the story.
2: Beauty and the Beast from Disney
Some people say that this is a case of Stockholm syndrome, while others say it’s a story that makes girls think that they can change the bad boy if they date him. I’d say that Beauty and the Beast isn’t either of those, instead going along the lines of Pride and Prejudice. They start the story hating each other, and any chance they have of a romantic relationship is slim to none. But through the course of time, they let down their walls and get to know one another, forming a friendship that eventually turns into a romance. And technically, Belle wasn’t in a relationship with the Beast at until the third act, well after the Beast stopped being mean and started being more of a gentleman. Heck, she doesn’t even say “I love you” until the end.
1: The Graduate
Based on the book of the same name written by Charles Webb, The Graduate focuses on a college graduate named Benjamin, played by Dustin Hoffman, who has an affair with an older woman and later seeks to marry her daughter Elaine. Again, the Nostalgia Critic dissects the story in his editorial (which you can see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSS7Wyi6gb8 ), so I won’t repeat what he said. However, I consider The Graduate one of the best due to the issue it tackles: rushing into something (like marriage) without counting the cost and making sure it’s what you want. Especially around Valentine’s Day, we receive the message that our lives will never be complete unless we’ve made a romantic connection. And it’s knocked into our head so many times that some of us choose to believe it without asking if it’s in our best interest or not. I consider it one of the main reasons for why so many people rushed into getting married and then ended up divorced later. Here, the romance(s) serve as a warning, a story of what can happen when you rush into something without realizing what you’re committed to until it’s too late. And whether Webb and director Nichols meant to or not, they taught how important it is to act with patience, not with impulsivity, when it comes to getting married. And that’s why The Graduate gets the number one spot on this countdown.
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