Sometimes, the onslaught of romance films ranging from decent to incredible from major studios distracts from the many independent romance films of the past, the present, and those yet to come. Throughout the years, indie romances have crafted scripts that have set the trend for subsequent projects within this niche audience and beyond. Other films seamlessly blend in with the mainstream, their plots either complementing the norms of contemporary romance films or expanding upon them.
Separating from the major studios allows for directors, cast, and crew to experiment within a genre, resulting in exciting and even innovative projects. While some remain overlooked, others have been lauded for their contributions to the genre’s evolution. Sprinkled with satire, drama, and fantasy, indie romances forever provide opportunities to see the romance genre in a new light from all over the globe. Certain ones like (500) Days of Summer and Before Sunrise broke out with mainstream audiences, but there are plenty that might have flown under the radar.
Update February 3, 2024: Valentine’s Day is approaching, so in honor of the holiday, this article has been updated with even more indie romances that you should check out in the spirit of the holiday.
10 Love Jones (1997)
Sitting in the romance hall of fame is Theodore Witcher’s Love Jones. In his feature film directorial debut, Love Jones finds Larenz Tate and Nia Long starring as Darius and Nina, respectively. The story of the cherished lovebirds begins in Chicago, where Darius, a poet, holds an innocent conversation with Nina, widely considered to be a talented photographer. Through their shared adoration for the arts, Darius and Nina exchange adorable messages throughout the film. An aptly titled love poem Darius dedicates to Nina and a mutual bond over music makes for some of the most romantic moments on film.
Despite the clear connection, both Darius and Nina are left confused about the state of their relationship. The remnant of Nina’s last relationship lingers throughout the film, leading to a pivotal scene that forever changes the trajectory of their romance. With a spectacular soundtrack accompanying Witcher’s exploration of Black love in the late 1990s, Love Jones is a beloved contribution to the romance genre.
9 In The Mood For Love (2000)
Wong Kar-wai has earned the reputation of being among the greatest directors in the film industry due to his fascinating love stories. His aesthetically pleasing romances exist beyond traditional interpretations of love on screen. In The Mood For Love is no different. Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung star as Su Li-Zhen and Chow Mo-wan. Two dedicated workers, both Su and Chow have spouses that have exceptionally longer shifts, thus the two begin to exchange typical conversations to quell their loneliness. Su and Chow’s relationship soon blossoms into a romance after a saddening revelation. The audience gets to witness a story with instances of pure love meticulously scattered throughout the film.
Love and Despair
In The Mood For Love, in Kar-wai fashion, encapsulates both the beauty of love and the despair that fills someone after a separation that could have very well been prevented. Metaphorically painted with strokes of suspense, sorrow, and passion, In The Mood For Love remains one of the most engaging romances in film history.
8 Paris, je t’aime (2006)
The 2006 film Paris, je t’aime was truly a collaborative effort. Contributions from directors like the Coen brothers, Gus Van Sant, Isabel Coixet, and Wes Craven result in a compelling compilation of love stories throughout every nook, cranny, and corner of Paris. The alluring cinematography and the genuine chemistry that radiates in each scene lend a lot more to the overall quality of the film, even before the great storylines are considered.
The Most Romantic City in the World
The film balances exploring the mundane yet amusing moments in segments like “Le Marais” and venturing into the supernatural in “Quartier de la Madelaine“. Naming each segment after one of Paris’ famous arrondissements truly immerses the audience into an image of Paris that accentuates its reputation as the “City of Love.” With an amazing cast filled with everyone from Hollywood icons, stars of the French film industry, and everyone in between, Paris Je T’aime is a marvel when it comes to indie romances.
7 In Search of A Midnight Kiss (2007)
After experiencing what many have deemed to be the worst year of his life, viewers meet Wilson (Scott McNairy) in Los Angeles. During a special New Year’s Eve, Wilson posts a Craigslist ad, which was suggested by his friend Jacob (Brian McGuire). Much to his surprise, he receives a response from a woman named Vivian (Sara Simmonds), who seeks company with the optimal partner once the clock strikes midnight.
Starting The New Year in the Arms of Another
From the minds of director Alex Holdridge and cinematographer Robert Murphy, In Search of A Midnight Kiss presents the pair in black-and-white, documenting Wilson and Vivian’s transactional but enjoyable exploration of the City Of Angels. The two self-proclaimed misanthropes seemingly make the first leap away from the terrors of their past and into a refreshing beginning of their next stages in life.
6 Submarine (2010)
A 15-year-old boy, Oliver Tate, becomes infatuated with his classmate, Jordana, and tries to win her affection. At the same time, Oliver struggles with his own home life and the declining relationship between his mother and father, pushing his desire to find something meaningful at a young age. The movie marked the directorial debut of British comedian Richard Ayode.
A quirky coming-of-age romantic comedy that benefits from a witty script, Submarine may be about young love. Still, its approach makes it a nostalgia trap for anyone who has experienced awkward teenage relationships. The movie also deals with family drama in a way that contrasts how relationships can develop and the disconnect kids can have from their parents when they see their shortcomings. Submarine is a well-rounded comedy/drama ideal for those looking for a romance movie that can bring out laughs and lead to deeper introspection.
5 Rust and Bone (2012)
Rust and Bone (translated from “De Rouille et D’os“) is a French romantic drama directed by Jacques Audiard. The film follows Alain “Ali” van Versch, an unemployed father who finds himself in Antibes, a town on the French Riviera. After finding work as a bouncer, he crosses paths with Stephanie, a trainer at the local marine park. After a devastating tragedy, Ali and Stephanie slowly grow closer while he evaluates his cold behavior toward his family and himself.
Love Shining Through Adversity
Rust and Bone is a film that will surely pull at audiences’ heartstrings. The realistic depiction of poverty, the struggles of parenthood, and contemporary courtship are all explored in the film. Furthermore, the realism and respect of partners with disabilities contribute to the combat against ableism in the media.
4 Her (2013)
- Release Date
- December 18, 2013
Conceived in the early 2000s, director Spike Jonze introduced another layer of dating discourse with the 2013 film Her. Joaquin Phoenix stars as the isolated Theodore Twombly, a writer and inventor living in a near future Los Angeles. Amid a tragic divorce, Theodore dedicates much of his time to developing an AI. Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, quickly evolves, learning how to theorize and offer advice to a myriad of issues, namely Theodore’s impending divorce. Despite the dates Theodore attends, he only seems impressed by Samantha. The two eventually begin a romantic relationship.
Love in the Times of AI
Theodore’s experiences in the film make for amazing commentary on contemporary dating without appearing condescending. Instead, Her offers a peculiarly sweet romance while offering profound conclusions about joy, experiencing life, and self-exploration. The film serves as an interesting companion piece to Lost in Translation, as that film was written and directed by Spike Jonez’s ex-wife Sofia Coppola, and in a way, both films explore how the couple handled their separation. Both also happen to feature Scarlett Johansson.
3 Carol (2015)
- Release Date
- November 20, 2015
Inspired mainly by Patricia Highsmith’s A Price Of Salt, the titular Carol (Cate Blanchett) finds the character entertaining a budding romance with Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara). First meeting at Therese’s retail job, Carol impresses Therese, the former, in search of a doll for her daughter. After a peculiar exchange of information, the two grow closer, eventually visiting each other’s homes. The strengthening connection coincides with both women expressing their frustrations regarding their marriages.
Challenging the Norms of the 1950s
A riveting romantic drama set in the early 1950s, prospective viewers will surely find Carol and Therese’s relationship beautiful despite the air of homophobia constantly in their periphery. The silent villain does not take up much of the film; however, the threat of being outed remains influential in the women’s romantic relationships and livelihoods. Nevertheless, the tenderness shared between the two makes for an exceptionally compelling love story.
2 Lovesong (2016)
Before she picked up a guitar and ruled the world alongside Sam Claflin in Daisy Jones & The Six, Riley Keough lent her talents to the So Yong Kim-directed film Lovesong. Sarah (Keough) is introduced as a mother and homemaker. Despite the effort she puts into maintaining the stability of her household, her efforts are never appreciated by her negligent husband. Driven to sadness by her loneliness, she makes the relatable decision to call over her college best friend Mindy (Jena Malone) in hopes of alleviating her isolation-related bouts of despair.
A Romantic Road Trip
The two, alongside Sarah’s child Jessie, leave for the spur-of-the-moment road trip. The revelations and experiences during the trip highlight both characters’ ambitions and opinions on love. Despite their bond, a shattering standoff sends off ripples that reverberate years beyond the impromptu vacation. Despite the pleasantries offered in the film, Lovesong successfully explores evocative themes of love in lives audiences may find all too familiar yet engaging in the grand scope of indie romances.
1 The Big Sick (2017)
Written by and revolving around the real-life courtship of comedian Kumail Nanjiani and writer/producer Emily V. Gordon, The Big Sick follows the challenges the international couple faces with parental expectations from Kumail’s traditional upbringing. After the pressure drives the two apart, Emily ends up falling into a potentially life-ending coma, which forces Kumail to face his fears and ensure he will be there when she recovers from a renewed man.
Love Conquers All
Implementing elements of the stand-up comedy world, directed by comedic director Michael Showalter and written by the hilarious Kumail Nanjiana, The Big Sick carries humor throughout. This ensures that when things get tragic, there is some levity to help deal with the severity of the situation while also hiding gut-wrenching realizations of potential lost love. The movie is quite an emotional trip, backed by the charismatic Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan as Emily, making it the perfect indie romance movie for sharing a Valentine’s Day with that special someone.