There’s no shortage of classic romantic films to last a lifetime. Nine times out of ten, they jus don’t cut it because life isn’t so… formulaic. To save you some time and energy, we’ve compiled a list of cool and unconventional cult flicks, whether that be kinky or romantic or anything in between. Rewrite the rules of courtship with one of these seven cult films that depict romance in atypical ways.
Wild at Heart (David Lynch, 1990)
Laura Dern spent this past year moderating divorces (Marriage Story) and raising four little women (umm, Little Women), but 30 years ago, she played one of her more unhinged roles, in David Lynch’s horny lovers-on-the-run flick, Wild at Heart. After playing the good girl in Blue Velvet a few years earlier, Dern does a complete 180 as the insatiable Lula (fun fact: that’s Lynch’s seven-year-old daughter’s name). She falls in love with a prison bound, snakeskin jacket wearing-man named Sailor, played by Nicolas Cage, and who’s performance includes a heart-fluttering, pelvis-thrusting rendition of Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender”. The pair of young lovers are forced to leave town when Lula’s mother (played by Dern’s real mom, Diane Ladd) hires gangster Marcello Santos to kill Sailor. Dangerous!
Laurence Anyways (Xavier Dolan, 2013)
The distressingly young Canadian director Xavier Dolan (often called an “enfant terrible”) was only 24 when he released Laurence Anyways, a 168-minute melodramatic journey about love redefined. This 2013 feature takes place in the 90s and tells the story of long-term lovers Laurence and Fred. Laurence (Melvil Poupaud), nearing 40, decides he wants to become a woman, and asks for support from his girlfriend Fred (Suzanne Clément) during the transition. Though Fred isn’t quick to accept the news, she eventually helps Laurence do her makeup and dress in feminine clothing. Less comfortable with Laurence’s transition are Fred’s mother and colleagues. Over the film’s nearly three-hour course, Laurence and Fred hit peaks and valleys, break up and get back together, and date other people. It’s heartbreaking, often exhausting, but also explosive with colorful costumes and flashy musical montages.
Love Me If You Dare (Yann Samuell, 2003)
Continuing with the trend of lovers showing affection in absolutely mad ways, this underrated French rom-com is basically one big game of truth or dare (okay, minus the truth), starring Marion Cotillard and her now real-life boo, Guillame Canet. Sophie and Julien first meet as children and bond over a game of dare, which results in classroom mayhem followed by being sent to the principal’s office. As they become teens, then adults, they continue upping the ante of the game to the point where it becomes psychotic and life-ruining, all the while masking their feelings for each other. Shot in surreally saturated colors, Love Me If You Dare is explicitly fantastical (so please don’t try these dares at home), and depicts the kind of romance that would be awful in reality, but awful…ly hot in cinema.
Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2006)
The Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul took the story of his parents’ meet-cute–they were both physicians working at the same hospital–as the basis for this film, which is split into two mirrored parts. The first takes place in a rural hospital, where doctors (including his parental stand-ins) court each other. The same actors return for part two in a city hospital, in Bangkok, and repeat their interactions to tell the same love story. Though the outcomes are different, Syndromes is an exercise in memory, and how stories are recalled, and the director says it’s also a film about transformation.
Newness is a a sweet, small movie about how dating apps changed everything and nothing. Somewhat shallow but cute nonetheless, it was directed by Drake Doremus from a screenplay by Ben York Jones. It stars Nicholas Hoult, Laia Costa, Courtney Eaton and Danny Huston. Esther Perel (yes, THE sex and relationships expert) makes a brief appearance. Newness is both very serious and very much a Tinder movie, although the dating app on-screen is a fake one called Winx. A third of the way in, Newness explicitly argues that dating apps have ruined romance, or made long-term love impossible. The central relationship, between Martin (Nicholas Hoult) and Gabi (Laia Costa), is tested because — a few months after moving in together — they find they still crave “that newness,” and decide to redownload their dating apps so they can experiment with an open relationship.
Secretary (Steven Shainberg, 2003)
Director Steven Shainberg reintroduces the intimacy and concubinage always inherent in the idea of a secretary; to have a secretary is itself to have a secret. His film – co-adapted by Shainberg and Erin Cressida Wilson from a short story by Mary Gaitskill – provides a satire, albeit of an ambiguous and frankly pornographic kind, on political correctness, on the power relations of modern work and the sexualisation of the office environment in which the prosperous western salaryman class spends more and more of its time. Those of a sensitive disposition should stop reading right now. Reclaiming kink for the United States of America, indie It-girl Maggie Gyllenhaal squared off against James Spader (Sex, Lies, and Videotape) in this brilliantly provocative, now cult romance about a strange sexual understanding. The film won a Special Jury Prize at Sundance—“for its originality”.