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10 Best Movies About Forbidden Love, Ranked




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According to Adam and Eve, forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest, although we all know how that worked out for them… From children, we all have to tame an inner yearning to go against the grain, to do things we are told strictly not to. Yet, as the saying goes, all’s fair in love and war, and with love having such a tumultuous set of emotions, it is simply impossible to control who one falls in love with.

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In our increasingly progressive society, the concept of “forbidden love” doesn’t mean as much as it once did. However, prior to developments in social attitudes, anything from someone’s social class to their sexual orientation to their race dictated who it was appropriate for them to fall in love with. Inevitably, stories of forbidden love have been the basis for a number of movies over the years, all of varying qualities. So, with that in mind, here’s a look at just some of the best movies about forbidden love…

Update January 1, 2024: This article has been updated with even more stories about forbidden love that are worth watching and where you can stream each title.

10 Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Wes Anderson’s underrated masterpiece, Moonrise Kingdom, tackles the subject of forbidden love in the acclaimed director’s signature style. A coming-of-age story, the film follows a 12-year-old orphan boy named Sam (Jared Gilman) who flees from a scouting summer camp in order to start a new life with his pen pal, Suzy (Kara Hayward), who is forbidden from seeing him by her parents. The pair run away together, prompting a search party to go looking for them. A hit with critics, the film was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the 85th Academy Awards ceremony in 2013.

What Makes It Great

Anderson’s distinctive filmmaking style isn’t to everyone’s tastes, but even the director’s harshest critics would find it hard not to fall for this charming tale of young love. Like other films in Anderson’s back catalog,Moonrise Kingdom is filled with examples of quirky dialogue delivered in a deadpan tone by an ensemble cast of well-known faces, as they stand symmetrically against a pastel-palleted background. However, where it differs from the director’s other works, is its amount of heart. It’s a warm hug of a film that, through its exploration of themes such as young love, innocence, and adolescence, feels relatable and familiar. Tales of forbidden love don’t always have to be tragic and depressing, which Moonrise Kingdom proves to great effect. Rent on AppleTV+

9 Romeo and Juliet (1996)

The tale of Romeo and Juliet is, arguably, the original forbidden love story and while Baz Lurhmann’s modern adaptation of the famous Shakespeare play titled Romeo + Juliet makes several notable tweaks to the original source material, it retains this key element. As with the play, the 1996 film chronicles the impermissible relationship between Romeo Montague (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Juliet Capulet (Claire Danes), who fall in love in the middle of a bloody family feud involving their warring relatives. Unlike the original, however, Lurhmann’s version is set in the modern day, as opposed to the 14th century, though it retains the original Shakespearean English dialogue. Needless to say, both end in tragedy.

What Makes It Great

In true Baz Lurhmann style, Romeo + Juliet is a maximalist, lavishly-rendered, neon-enriched, affair. Nevertheless, for all its style and bravado, the film does a decent job of retelling the central narrative. Essentially, the story of Romeo and Juliet is one about the intense yet naive feelings of desire that come with being a teenager, and the temptation to risk it all for that one person. It’s this aspect of the story that Lurhmann puts front and center, and does so to great effect. However, what marks Lurhmann’s version out over other adaptations is how he makes the point that, though the relationship between the two main characters may be impulsive, misguided, and juvenile, it is no more lacking in maturity than the gun-toting trouble-makers that make up their families. Stream on Paramount+

Related: Best Movies About Unrequited Love

8 Carol (2015)

carol

Carol

Release Date
November 20, 2015

Rating
R

Based on the novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, 2015’s Carol presents the love affair between aspiring photographer Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) and glamorous older woman Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) in 1950s New York. Taking place at a time when homosexuality was not only frowned upon, but outlawed, the film follows the pair as they find subtle and discreet ways of communicating their affection for one another while existing in a world that deems their relationship taboo. Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Todd Haynes, it received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics upon its release in theaters.

What Makes It Great

Like all great romances, Carol‘s story is a simple one. Ultimately, it’s about two people who want to be together but, for reasons, can’t be. And yet, despite its simplicity, it’s an emotionally moving and beautifully realized tale that wonderfully captures the idea of unspoken attraction. It’s a clever film, built on the foundation of a well-written script and brought to life with some stylish direction. However, it’s the performances of the two leads that make Carol the masterpiece it is. Blanchett and Mara are phenomenal in their respective roles, both expertly capable of conveying intense emotions through the smallest of looks and mannerisms, and both totally convincing as two people infatuated by one another. An emotional rollercoaster, Carol is undoubtedly one of the most heartbreaking LGBTQ+ movies of all time. Stream on Netflix

7 The Graduate (1967)

The Graduate

The Graduate

Release Date
December 21, 1967

Cast
Anne Bancroft , Dustin Hoffman , Katharine Ross , William Daniels , Murray Hamilton , Elizabeth Wilson

Rating
PG

Mike NicholsThe Graduate is the film many people will think of when they hear the term ‘forbidden love’. The 1967 comedy-drama was both a critical and commercial success when it was first released in theaters and is still looked upon favorably today. In it, Dustin Hoffman plays a recent college graduate named Benjamin Braddock, who begins an affair with Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), a much older married woman. To complicate things further, Benjamin then begins to develop feelings for Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross). Based on the novel of the same name by Charlie Webb, the film won Best Picture at the 40th Academy Awards in 1968.

What Makes It Great

The Graduate isn’t the only film to depict a forbidden romance hampered by an age difference, but it’s probably the most famous. From the iconic Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack to the term ‘Mrs. Robinson’ used to describe an older woman who dates a younger man, to the memorable (and subtly harrowing) final shot, almost everything about this film is iconic. Nevertheless, its position as one of the greatest classic American films isn’t unearned. After all, not only does it feature some outstanding performances from Hoffman and Bancroft, but it’s also a highly witty and surprisingly touching film that has managed to stand the test of time. Stream on the Roku Channel

6 Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

Forbidden love comes in many different ways, but possibly the most bizarre example ever put on screen comes in the form of 2007’s Lars and the Real Girl. Directed by Craig Gillespie of I, Tonya and Cruella fame, the film stars Ryan Gosling as a naive man who develops a romantic relationship with a sex doll named Bianca. To the bewilderment and concern of his friends and family, Lars treats the doll like she is a real human woman, introducing her to the people of the town as his girlfriend.

What Makes It Great

Lars and the Real Girl certainly isn’t your typical romance story, but it’s undeniably about a frowned-upon relationship. After all, Lars’ relationship with Bianca is certainly not one that is encouraged by the people in his life. And, while it might be a comedy with strong elements of dark humor, the film also has a lot of heart and approaches its subject matter in a sensitive and sincere, rather than mocking, manner. Fundamentally, Lars and the Real Girl is a film about loneliness and a desire for companionship, which is how most romance stories start. Throw in some clever direction, a witty script, and an excellent central performance by Gosling, and you have a delightfully charming and wholly original take on the traditional romance film. Stream on Hoopla

5 Pride & Prejudice (2005)

Adapted from Jane Austen’s 1813 literary classic, Joe Wright’s big screen adaptation of Pride & Prejudice stars Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen in the primary roles of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, respectively. The period drama, which is set in the early 19th century, concerns an eligible bachelor with class, wealth, and considerable status who reluctantly falls in love with a woman of a lower social status. Due to their disparate backgrounds, their love is put to the ultimate test. Surrounded by disapproving eyes, Mr. Darcy faces doubts about their flourishing relationship due to perceived social differences, and the societal shame brought upon him by embarking on a relationship with a woman ostensibly beneath him. The pair must vanquish the issues of pride and prejudice at hand if their romance is to last.

What Makes It Great

As with a number of entries on this list, Pride & Prejudice is a tale of forbidden love where social class is the obstacle that gets in the way of the protagonist’s desires. In fact, Austen’s original novel is often regarded as the most famous example of this and, arguably, the best. Though there have been many adaptations of the source material over the years, Wright’s version is widely considered to be the superior one, and with good reason. More than any other version before, 2005’s Pride & Prejudice captures the polarizing worlds from which the two lovers hail and aptly portrays why the two cannot be together. Moreover, with some neat direction and sterling performances by Knightley and MacFadyen, the film is a brilliant reinvention of a timeless romance story. Rent on AppleTV+

4 Titanic (1997)

Titanic

Titanic

Release Date
November 18, 1997

Rating
PG-13

Given that it broke the record for the highest-grossing movie of all time when it was released in 1997, James Cameron’s Titanic might just be the most appropriately named movie of all time. Yet, despite its big budget, impressive box office takings, and lengthy runtime, the film is a straightforward tale of forbidden love. Set on the doomed RMS Titanic, the story centers on the brief relationship between a third-class passenger and artist named Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) and the aristocratic Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winselt), who quickly fall in love before encountering disaster.

What Makes It Great

Similarly to other examples of forbidden love, the barrier that stands in Jack and Rose’s way is social class, and Cameron does a great job of demonstrating how two people from completely different worlds can be connected by an innate attraction to one another. Titanic, as a piece of cinema, succeeds on almost every level. It’s a triumph of technical achievement, while also being beautifully shot, magnificently directed, and superbly performed. However, for all the spectacle and disaster-filled drama, it’s actually a highly moving film, with the script, along with the performances of DiCaprio and Winslet, working hard to ensure audiences feel the pain and heartbreak of the characters. Stream on Paramount+

3 Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
Colombia Pictures

As well as age and social class, race is one of the other main reasons a romantic relationship may be considered forbidden. That’s certainly the case in the 1967 comedy-drama Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, Stanley Kramer’s acclaimed film revolves around a young white woman named Joey Drayton (Katharine Houghton), who brings her fiancé, John (Sidney Poitier), home to meet her parents (Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn). To their surprise and initial dismay, John is a black widower. As the film progresses, the older couple’s attitudes are challenged as they slowly come to accept their daughter’s new lover.

What Makes It Great

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is a film that made a big impression when it was released some 57 years ago, but that, somewhat rather unfortunately, still holds a lot of relevance today. More like a stage play than a film, the story all takes place in one house over the course of a single evening, which means the film is very dialogue-heavy. Fortunately, the script, which was written by William Rose, who won an Academy Award for his work here, is a magnificent one that’s filled with nuance, pathos, and more than a few memorable lines. Spencer Tracy’s monologue towards the end of the film alone is an intelligent and finely crafted piece of writing that puts most current movie dialogue to shame. However, it’s the work of the cast that makes Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner the masterpiece that it is, with Poitier, in particular, giving an assured and touching performance. Rent on AppleTV+

2 Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

Noemie Merlant and Adele Haenel in Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Lilies Films

French period piece, Portrait of a Lady on Fire (or Portrait de la jeune fille en feu), was met with acclaim when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019, where it won the award for Best Screenplay. The film, which is set on the island of Brittany in the 18th century, tells the story of aristocrat Héloïse (Adele Haenel), who commissions a painter named Marianne (Noemie Merlant) to paint her wedding portrait. The two eventually embark on an intense lesbian love affair.

What Makes It Great

Directed by Céline Sciamma, who gained further recognition for her 2021 work, Petite Maman, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is easily one of the best LGBTQ+ films of the 2010s. It’s erotic, daring, and somewhat provocative, yet also rich, thought-provoking, and emotionally engaging. Furthermore, the film itself is shot like a series of dramatic paintings, each frame telling a beautiful and complex tale which, together, form a flawlessly elegant whole. Like all romance films, a big part of why Portrait of a Lady on Fire works is down to the dynamic between the two leads. Both Haenel and Merlant fizzle whenever they share the screen, with their obvious and palpable chemistry helping to convey the film’s exploration of passion and desire. Stream on Hulu

Related: The 10 Best Romance Movies Directed by Women

1 Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Adapted from the short story of the same name by Annie Proulx, Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain was considered a groundbreaking movie when it first hit theaters in the winter of 2005. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal alongside the late Heath Ledger, the film centers on Jack and Ennis, two cowboys in Wyoming, who develop romantic feelings for one another. Taking place over twenty years, it follows the pair from young adults to fully grown men with wives and families as their feelings for one another brew beneath the surface and threatens to destroy the lives they have created for themselves. The film garnered overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics and went on to be nominated for a total of eight Academy Awards.

What Makes It Great

As is the case with every other entry on this list, what makes Brokeback Mountain great is the performances of the two leads. Gyllenhaal and Ledger give moving and committed performances that truly sell the love Jack and Ennis have for one another. Their characters are steely men who don’t say much, which means that both actors rely on looks and glances to convey the feelings Jack and Ennis have for one another, and both performers give a masterclass in this kind of performance. With themes of masculinity, sexuality, and passion, the film approaches its LGBTQ+ story in a sensitive and realistic way, that makes it all the more gut-wrenching to watch. Furthermore, with impressive cinematography, a tender heart, and a director on top form, Brokeback Mountain is certainly the best film about forbidden love to ever have been made. Stream on Starz

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