The iconic romance movies from the 1940s spanned a number of genres; like today, many were romantic comedies, but some were war dramas, some were thrillers, while some fit into other film genres. But one of the most timeless aspects of great romance films then and now is that, at their core, they’re about an unlikely pair overcoming certain obstacles to fall in love.
Here’s a look at just 10 of the most popular romance movies from the 1940s. Of course, there are plenty of quality romantic films from the decade that we omitted, but we have to draw the line somewhere. As you look over the list, see if you can spot any that feature any of our legendary actresses from the ’40s or legendary actors from the ’40s.
If you’re a fan of the romance genre, or just a fan of classic films from the Golden Age of Hollywood during the mid-century years, make sure you’ve seen all the movies in this roundup! And if it’s been many years since you’ve seen them, it’s time to re-watch!
Top ’40s Romance Films
- The Philadelphia Story – 1940; directed by George Cukor; starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and James Stewart. This star-studded romantic comedy recounts the story of a socialite who’s about to get remarried, but things get complicated when her ex-husband and a tabloid reporter show up.
- Rebecca – 1940; directed by Alfred Hitchcock; starring Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, and George Sander. This mystery from a legend in the thriller genre is also a romantic tale about a woman adapting to her new life as an aristocrat’s wife and dealing with his first wife’s ghostly presence.
- The Shop Around the Corner – 1940; directed by Ernst Lubitsch; starring Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart, and Frank Morgan. A pair of co-workers at a gift shop in Budapest can’t stand each other. Yet they’re also falling in love with each other as anonymous pen pals.
- Waterloo Bridge – 1940; directed by Mervyn LeRoy; starring Vivien Leigh, Robert Taylor, and Lucile Watson. During the first World War, a ballerina who believes her fiance to be dead loses her job and becomes a prostitute to get by.
- The Lady Eve – 1941; directed by Preston Sturges; starring Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda, and Charles Coburn. Three con artists target a wealthy heir to a brewery fortune, but one of them ends up falling in love with him, in true romantic comedy fashion.
- Casablanca – 1942; directed by Michael Curtiz; starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, and Claude Rains. One of the most famous films of all time, it tells the intriguing story of a cynical American expat who’s reunited with a former lover in Morocco.
- Now, Voyager – 1942; directed by Irving Rapper; starring Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, and Claude Rains. With the help of a therapist, a frumpy spinster transforms into an independent, elegant woman.
- To Have and Have Not – 1944; directed by Howard Hawks; starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Walter Brennan, and Dolores Moran. During WWII, an American expat helps get a French resistance leader and his wife to Martinique while romantically pursuing a lounge singer.
- Brief Encounter – 1945; directed by David Lean; starring Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard, and Stanley Holloway. A woman faces a strong temptation to cheat on her husband when she meets an enticing stranger in a train station.
- The Clock – 1945; directed by Vincente Minnelli and Fred Zinnemann; starring Judy Garland, Robert Walker, and James Gleason. During WWII, a soldier on a 2-day leave meets a girl in Penn Station in New York City and falls in love with her.