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Elements of an Epic Love Story in Cinema

Nalini combines her love of meaning, analysis, and critical thinking with movies, media, and discussion to bring a different perspective.

What are the elements of a good love story?

What are the elements of a good love story?

What Makes a Good Love Story?

The film industry is continuously popping out romantic movies, (some of them are of better quality than others), but despite the number of romantic movies that have come out in the past and that will come out in the future, only a few of these romantic films have made it to the level of being an "epic love story."

So what are the films that have made it and what is it about them that makes them epic?

Top 3

1. Gone With the Wind

2. Titanic

3. The Notebook

While I do not agree with all three of these films, these are the ones that are consistently named as the most epic love stories. Depending on the generation or the idealization of the viewers the ranking, enthusiasm, and partiality to these films will vary but these are the films that make it to the list.

Even those who do not appreciate romantic films and convey an open disdain for the cheesiness and fault in such films will not deny that these films are epic in their category. It is not necessary to like romantic films to recognize their influence on our culture.

It is no coincidence then that two of the three movies listed are among the highest-grossing films of all time. There are differences in the rankings when adjusting for inflation and not adjusting for inflation, however, Gone With the Wind and Titanic are among the highest-grossing films made.

An epic love story generally has all or most of the elements that I will highlight below.

This is a list that I will continue to add to as more aspects come to mind. It is difficult for a film to include all of these things without seeming contrived, insincere, or over-the-top but a film that is able to do this successfully is an epic love story. Not many films do this well which is why there are less than a handful. Most love stories build themselves upon only some of these elements.

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That is not to suggest that these movies are without faults, as they have plenty of them. This is simply to look at the characteristics of these films that make them extremely noteworthy.

  • Love at first sight
  • Being saved/rescued
    • This can be on more than one level, in more than one way, and it can happen more than once.
  • Love and obstacles, turmoil and conflict
    • Inner and outer conflict
      • Conflict inside one individual or both in the couple
      • These conflicts affect in more than one way
      • Inner conflict may be subtly conveyed; issues, doubts, insecurities, fears, etc.
      • Outer conflict is apparent; others, society, nature, disaster, fate, class, race, culture, two different worlds, rich girl poor guy, etc.
      • Feelings and mind being at odds with each other
    • Conflict on a greater level
      • Society, war, what is happening around the couple and the individual
  • Economic pressures and necessity as deciding factor for marriage versus love
  • Good/recognizable chemistry
    • Also passion and intensity
  • Significant differences between the couple that want to be together
    • Class, race, society, etc.
  • Relationship transcends life and death.
  • Some encounter with mortality and loss or potential loss
    • Often linked to longevity of love or ideas of forever, and/or the afterlife.
  • The relationship allows the partners to grow and discover aspects of themselves that they were previously unaware of or that they had previously ignored, repressed, etc.
    • Character growth: new experiences, realizations, changes/growth, etc.
  • Love triangles
    • One or both members of the couple have the option of another partner as a serious contender in either the romantic or socioeconomic area or both
    • One partner may offer “everything” but something is missing, the other offers the “something” that is missing but cannot offer everything (no way to “have it all”).
  • The relationship has to be fought for by both members in the relationship at one point or another.
  • The members in the relationship hurt each other and face separation but then come back to each other somehow.
  • The members in the relationship test each other.
  • The members in the relationship face the elements or forces of nature.
  • The members in the relationship engage in societal rituals of fun and romance and make it their own (most common: dancing).
    • This act between the lovers usually is an iconic point in the relationship that draws them closer and reinforces romance.
  • The romance has time to develop in relative isolation and in moments of isolation where the outside world cannot “touch them.”
  • The romance has aspects of the past and present in clothing, manner, interactions, and development.
  • The romance and relationship are denied before they can ever be.
    • The denial can come more than once or in more than one way. This can be from one or both members of the relationship, society, etc.
  • Both members of the relationship are healthy, attractive, and have good figures.
  • The romance and relationship experience the spectrum of human emotions and feelings
    • Emotional highs and lows, anger, jealousy, happiness, excitement, enthusiasm, uncertainty, etc.
    • These are experienced as a couple but also as individuals.
  • The romance requires sacrifice.
    • Also, something has to be at stake.
  • The romance needs to convey that the couple truly cares about each other.
  • There needs to be the recognition of and attraction to the greatness in each other.
  • The romance has to make us want to believe in it but also be believable.
Coincidence? I think not.

Coincidence? I think not.

Questions & Answers

Question: Wouldn't Doctor Zhivago be a more accurate comparison than The Notebook?

Answer: I haven't seen Doctor Zhivago but based on what I've read about it, it seems possible it that it could be used as a comparison in the "epic love story in movies" category. I'm not sure if it's a more accurate comparison but will keep in mind for future; thanks.

© 2013 Nalini Marquez


Nalini Marquez (author) on March 18, 2014:

Hi Anon, thank you for your comment and for reading my hub! I do think that the red hair is one way to distinguish the leading leadings from those around them visually as well as mentally to the moviegoers. If looking at the appearance of the leading ladies or even the leading couples, it is worth noting as well is that the leading ladies/leading couples are all white, able-bodied, and attractive. I know that noting that would lead to a different discussion/argument that I did not include in this hub but when it comes to looking at appearances that is one thing that is part of the picture too that relates to the idea of making the leading lady stand out and also to the idea of what stands out to moviegoers and consumers of media. Thank you again for your comment and I wish you a great day!

Anon on March 03, 2014:

I also think it is an interesting, if not necessarily important observation, that all three of the leading ladies in these films have some shade of red hair. I don't think this is insignificant, because it makes the women look slightly different from all of the others around them and sets them apart visually as well as mentally to the moviegoers

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