February always has people in the mood for love, craving feel-good romantic comedies, earnest epics, or genre-bending enchantments. Romance is the most versatile genre in cinema, yet it is also the most maligned and misunderstood. Be that as it may, we aren’t here to hash out the merits of romance. We are here to celebrate love in cinema with our top 15 films to watch for Valentine’s Day 2023, and the whole month of February for that matter. We’ve gathered a variety of films that may not be on the typical “must watch this Valentine’s Day” lists you see everywhere this time of year. Hopefully, you will discover a new favorite or remember one you’ve meant to revisit and haven’t had the time for. The best part of our list is that they are all available to stream right now.
Before we get into our 15 main film selections, we have some honorable mentions to spotlight. We’re spoiled with an abundance of options on streaming. Here are a few that didn’t make the cut due to their mass popularity but are worth watching eventually regardless. My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the little film that could, is currently available on HBO Max. Recently it was announced that My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 is in production, so it is the perfect time to revisit the classic that became a record-breaking box office juggernaut. La La Land, a staple for any romance fanatic, is now streaming on Netflix. Meanwhile, Barry Jenkins’ luminous Best Picture winner Moonlight is currently on Showtime, which can be watched through Prime Video and Paramount+.
To wrap up our honorable mentions, we have to name Weathering With You on HBO Max, Bros on Peacock, If Beale Street Could Talk on Prime Video, and The Old Guard on Netflix (this is for my boys Joe and Nicky). Since we are discussing romance, our favorite gothic couple, Morticia and Gomez, cannot be forgotten; check out The Addams Family and Addams Family Values on Paramount+. There’s more to suggest for period drama fans, The Handmaiden on Prime Video and Portrait of a Lady on Fire on Hulu being two that you need to watch sooner than later. Without further ado, let’s get to our main list of films to stream throughout February 2023 and Valentine’s Day!
February 2023 and Valentine’s Day Film Streaming Picks
1. Lovers Rock (Prime Video)
If you are looking for a film that gives off the sensation of love at first sight, then Lovers Rock is the pick for you. Steve McQueen’s second entry to his Small Axe anthology series for Prime Video is a sensual, vibrant, and energetic celebration of community. Lovers Rock chronicles two strangers who meet at a reggae house party and proceed to talk and dance the whole night away. Michael Ward and Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn are electric as the leads. Their chemistry is so immediately felt and seen you have no choice but to feel invested, determined to see the pair walk hand-in-hand out of that party and into the rest of their lives together.
Steve McQueen uses romance as an anchor, although Lovers Rock exhibits much more than just its central lovely couple. The reggae music genre that inspired the title is an essential element of the film. It is the backbone of the story and the base for the hypnotic score. The cinematography captures the awe-striking power of cultural celebration. MCQueen’s film is transportive and transfixing, grabbing the audience’s senses and leading them through a hot, steamy night as they dance all their cares away. Lovers Rock is alluring and erotic in every sense of the meaning. It must be experienced.
2. Mississippi Masala (Criterion)
No list recommending romantic films is complete without Mira Nair’s sophomore feature, Mississippi Masala. The 1991 film remains a fixture in the romance pantheon, mainly due to Nair’s vision and the incredibly sexy lead couple. Sarita Choudhury recently jumped back into the zeitgeist with her stint on the Sex and the City sequel series And Just Like That…, reminding audiences of her effervescent qualities. Then there is Denzel Washington. There isn’t a time when Washington isn’t a hot topic, but ’90s Washington redefines the meaning of hot altogether.
Mississippi Masala is a memorable and moving portrait of interracial and cross-cultural dating. Mira Nair and screenwriting partner Sooni Taraporevala imbue this story with compassion, understanding, and nuance while presenting one of the hottest coupling cinemas ever witnessed. Another reason to seek out Mississippi Masala on Criterion is to try out a streaming service dedicated to introducing audiences to an array of titles from global artists that are often highly rated and underseen. These are amongst the best of the best, so give it a try if you can. For an extra dose of love: Netflix’s Namaste Wahala is a fun double-feature option.
3. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (Tubi)
2017 was the year Warner Bros. and DC finally released Wonder Woman’s long-awaited solo debut on the big screen. Despite being one of the most recognizable and revelatory pop culture icons in fiction, the superhero was left in the dust in terms of film and TV adaptations by her male counterparts. There were undoubtedly many attempts to bring her world to life, but as we know, they didn’t quite work out. While Patty Jenkins was enjoying the excited roars for her blockbuster hit, another smaller movie that came out that same year told the character’s unique and relevant real-life origin.
Written and directed by the fabulous Angela Robinson (the mind behind the cult-classic D.E.B.S.), Professor Marston and the Wonder Women traces the history of Wonder Woman creator/American psychologist William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans) and his polyamorous relationship with his wife, Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), and research assistant Olive (Bella Heathcote). The trio’s combined interests in psychology, their fluid sexuality, and their openness to BDSM coalesced and helped Marston imagine a superhero who would symbolize a form of feminism that embraced progressive ideals, sexual liberation, and above all else, justice for all. It’s a resonating piece of art that is a rare positive exploration of polyamory and feminism. Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman portrays the unique beginnings of a hero who stands for many of the same ideals as her creator. It is an all-around wonderful film that is the true Wonder Woman origin fans need to see.
4. Set It Up (Netflix)
In the modern rom-com game, only a handful of pairings have incited a strong response. We can all think of a few smashing successes; you just know that the casting directors were in their bag. There is Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, Sanaa Lathan and Taye Diggs, Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, Antonio Banders and Salma Hayek, etc. These are just a few examples of cinematic duos with fantastic chemistry that is rarely seen nowadays. Then a movie like Set It Up comes along, introducing a fresh couple with the potential to take over today’s rom-com world.
Glen Powell and Zoey Deutch, whose respective careers have exploded since the release of this 2018 hit, are simply sublime together. Deutch has some competition because Miles Teller’s chemistry with Powell in Top Gun: Maverick is also burning hot. Who will do us the honor and have them star in a rom-com? Going back to Deutch and Powell, Set It Up sees the two as assistants who believe setting up their bosses will lighten their workload and advance their careers. The Netflix original is a fun lil romp that will have you giggling and smiling throughout. It’s only a matter of time until the potential super rom-com duo Deutch and Powell reunite to give the genre what it desperately needs right now: actors who actually have chemistry. I’m looking at you Jennifer Lopez and Josh Duhamel in Shotgun Wedding.
5. Sylvie’s Love (Prime Video)
Eugene Ashe’s Sylvie’s Love is an old-fashioned tear-jerker that evokes the romances audiences from the ’60s would have enjoyed. Ashe’s stylish period drama unabashedly favors sentimentality over all else. Sylvie and Robert’s shared attraction is as romantic as it is frustrating, however, their relationship is filled with joy and lust. Nnamdi Asomugha steps into his role with a sense of refinement and confidence as if he’s been acting all his life. His soulful and reserved portrayal of Robert contrasts superbly with Tessa Thompson’s strong-willed, passionate, and ambitious Sylvie.
Eugene Ashe focuses his camera mainly on Sylvie, a muse that carries herself with poise and elegance. Sadly, Tessa Thompson’s moving performance in Passing was ignored by the Academy last year, as was her co-star Ruth Negga. Nonetheless, Thompson’s record consistently shows excellent work, and Sylvie is amongst the highlights. Asomugha is a star in the making, with his performance beckoning a promising career for the former footballer. Thompson and Asomugha are the main events here, but Sylvie’s Love hosts a bevy of skillful Black actors who deserve your attention, from Aja Naomi King (How To Get Away With Murder) to Ryan Michelle Bathe (First Wives Club) to Regé-Jean Page (Bridgerton), who should be our next James Bond, hopefully. Sylvie’s Love is a feast for the soul, beautifully captured on film and endearing to the core.
6. Crimson Peak (Netflix)
Guillermo del Toro is barreling towards a third Oscar win for his latest film, Pinnochio. His imaginative works have been a constant source of joy for cinephiles, so it is only natural we recognize his gorgeous gothic romance, Crimson Peak. Initially, audiences misunderstood the intentions of Del Toro’s Edwardian-era ghost story starring Oscar-winning actress Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Charlie Hunnam (Pacific Rim), and leading lady Mia Wasikowska (Jane Eyre). As time has passed, Crimson Peak has become increasingly more beloved as more and more people have indulged in a ravishing gothic horror that exemplifies all the most alluring elements of the subgenre.
Inspired by 1963’s The Haunting and 1961’s The Innocents, Del Toro’s sumptuous period drama spoils us with its lavish production design, detailed costumes, and excellent ensemble cast. In true Del Toro fashion, Crimson Peak flaunts his unabashed love for imperfect monsters. The primary draw is the brilliance in the visuals and designs that work together hand in hand; it’s not a Del Toro production without his incredible attention to detail and the talented Doug Jones, of course. His love for his craft is why his adaptation of Pinnochio is revered, not Disney’s corporate-made attempt released months prior.
7. Entergalactic (Netflix)
This one is a cheat as artist Scott Mescudi (aka Kid Cudi) intended to make Entergalactic a television series. It would eventually be adapted into a feature-length Netflix special that serves as a visual companion for his album of the same name. This romantic comedy was inspired by the art of 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and 2019’s I Lost My Body. Mescudi conceived an awe-inspiring animated odyssey that is bursting with vibrant color and energy. Its vitality is merely the tip of the iceberg. Though it was not originally conceived to be a film, Entergalactic is among the best-animated films of 2022. Director Fletcher Moules captures precisely the vibe Mescudi was aiming for, displaying an endless amount of imagination within such an intimate narrative.
Furthermore, Entergalactic is a very pleasing depiction of Black love; the romance anchors a project that aims to be visually and sonically unique. Mescudi pulled out all the stops to assemble an all-star cast with Jessica Williams, Timothée Chalamet, Sundance darling Teyana Taylor, Arturo Castro, Laura Harrier, Vanessa Hudgens, Macaulay Culkin, and many more lending their vocal talents next to his. Entergalactic is also an emotional send-off to fashion designer Virgil Abloh, who served as the film’s costume designer and was a dear friend to Mescudi before his passing in 2021. His artistry and presence are felt throughout the film, which honors him in a tremendous way.
8. The Mummy (Hulu)
The love for Brendan Fraser has reached a fever pitch since his career revival with DC’s Doom Patrol and his highly alluded performance in The Whale, so it makes sense that one of his best romantic adventures is on this list. Now, wait a minute! I hear you ready to protest that The Mummy is not a romance. The primary motivation for the titular Mummy and the main theme that starts and ends this movie is love. Imhotep and Anck-su-namun’s forbidden desire dooms them in ancient Egypt, and Imhotep is further condemned when he tries to resurrect his lost lover. His revival centuries later did not snuff out his desire to be reunited with her, and his mission brings together the ultimate adventuring couple, Evelyn and Rick.
The Mummy showcases how powerful love can be in epic action adventure, one that isn’t just about finding treasures or historical artifacts. Love is the end all be all of this entire franchise. The Mummy may have received lukewarm to mixed reception upon its initial 1991 release, but its undeniable charm, humor, and genuine core romance have helped it last the test of time. The key element to the film’s success is the brilliance of Fraser and the always marvelous Rachel Weisz. The duo is remarkable together, and their chemistry is a revelation – the kind of on-screen spark that was missing from the 2017 reboot and is still absent in most modern blockbusters in general. We are patiently awaiting the reunion of these two powerhouse performers in a hopeful fourth Mummy entry.
9. The Half of It (Netflix)
Alice Wu’s 2004 debut feature Saving Face was a significant achievement. The lesbian romantic dramedy received great reviews and many accolades, with it notably being the first Hollywood production since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club to mainly center on Chinese Americans. It would be another 14 years until the release of Crazy Rich Asians, which would earn the honor of being the first Hollywood studio movie to feature a majority Chinese cast since Joy Luck Club. Saving Face was a promising start to an excellent career for Wu, but she would seemingly disappear for 16 years. Though she actually never stopped working. Wu is, unfortunately, amongst many women directors who have had great first features and could not get their second projects off the ground.
So, when it was announced that Wu’s second feature, a modern adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac, was in the works, it elicited raving screams of joy from those who have loved Saving Face and were patiently awaiting the return of a most-beloved filmmaker. Wu’s comeback to feature filmmaking is nothing short of excellent. Leah Lewis is absolutely darling as Ellie Chu, a high school girl who discovers that love and its many forms are within reach and that she deserves them. Friendship, family, and first love are beautifully intertwined in Wu’s sweet and tender adaptation of the historical text. Despite a 14-year gap between projects, Wu created two seminal works featuring lesbian love stories.
10. Enough Said (Hulu)
This year marks ten years since we lost the late great James Gandolfini. Most will recall his work as Tony Soprano as evidence of his greatness as an actor. However, the little-known yet critically acclaimed romantic comedy Enough Said is what you should be watching to get a feel for Gandolfini’s effortless charisma and range. Starring Marvel’s new leading baddie Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the film is an endearing and charming meditation on patience and acceptance. Writer-director Nicole Holofcner, whose work is consistently lauded, flaunts how to deftly compose a narrative filled with vulnerability and heartbreak without losing sight of hope and redemption.
Enough Said is a great watch because it displays how adults can and still make mistakes even after years of lived experiences and growing up. As humans, we are fallible, and our capacity to hurt someone we care for and ourselves doesn’t go away with age. Nicole Holofcener carefully constructs her script in a way that shows flaws are natural and inevitable, but we can always learn, grow, and change for the better. At the heart of this is a sweet and moving performance from Gandolfini, whose tenderness and charm will have you shed tears. Rest in peace to a legend.
11. Really Love (Netflix)
Really Love, directed by Angel Kristi Williams and co-written by Felicia Pride, follows a whirlwind romance between an ambitious lawyer and a painter trying to get started in the competitive art world. The film received rave reviews after premiering at the 2020 AFI Film Festival, with many applauding its beautiful visuals and raw leading performances. Kofi Siriboe (Queen Sugar) and Yootha Wong-Loi-Sing (Love Is) are superb in this sensual and poignant love affair. Exquisitely framed, Really Love offers a moving and authentic portrait of Black romance, free from contrivances or artifice.
The central conflict of Really Love deals with communication and time management, reiterating how most romantic endeavors live or die on how well a couple communicates. Love is complicated but not necessarily messy, which is captured wonderfully in this film. Williams and Pride craft an utterly gorgeous movie that leads with passion and pride; it is intimate yet profoundly resonating. A true gem if you’re looking to catch up on lesser-known cinematic love stories.
12. Fire Island (Hulu)
Several Jane Austen adaptations have attempted to modernize the 18th-century authors’ work for contemporary audiences. Some have failed, and others have worked. Then there is Fire Island – a damn good time. Writer and star Joel Kim Booster adopts the basic premise of Pride & Prejudice to form a new whimsical, heartwarming, and hilarious take on love and chosen family. The ensemble is top-tier, all of whom are perfectly cast to reimagine Austen’s memorable characters. We have Matt Rogers and Tomas Matos, who play the Lydia and Kitty of the project, and aside from being drop-dead gorgeous, their comedic timing and surprising emotional nuance will knock your socks off.
Conrad Ricamora gives Colin Firth a run for his money; the deep sultry voice, paired with a withering glare and nervous energy, will leave you breathless. The cast is led by the dynamic duo of Kim Booster and SNL’s Bowen Yang, the Elizabeth and Jane Bennett of the story, respectively. Their bond is the anchor and soul of Fire Island, and they could not be better cast. Kim Booster’s writing and the ensemble alone would make Fire Island a must-watch event, but in proper iconic behavior, the project has the incredible Andrew Ahn in the director’s chair. Win on top of a win on top of a win!
13. Chico & Rita (Mubi/Kanopy)
Plenty of animated films could have gotten a spot on this list; heck, animated romances could have their own list. Chico & Rita rightfully earns a place here for being an overwhelming experience that masters the art of the medium. The animated musical blends Afro-Cuban jazz and animation into a dazzling production that sweeps you off your feet. Chico & Rita follows a young piano player with big dreams and a gorgeous jazz singer with an extraordinary voice. Their love for music and instant connection pulls them closer and closer, but in the tradition of the Cuban music genre, the Bolero, their romance is filled with heartache.
Chico & Rita draws from historical context and Cuban culture to craft a socially nuanced and historically accurate narrative that is as engaging as it is informative. As we’re propelled into a vividly drawn and realized world, communal passion and culturally relevant music keep you hooked. It’s an ambitious project that forgoes the cookie-cutter cutesy path for a realistic and emotionally impactful romantic epic. This is an animated film for adults since we all know animation is not just for children. Animation is a medium, an art form that can be molded to fit any story and audience. The cherry on top for viewers who prefer dubbing to subtitles is the starstudded English cast featuring recent EGOT recipient Viola Davis, Wendell Pierce, Mary J. Blige, and the Best Chris, Chris Pine.
14. Thelma (Tubi)
Joachim Trier is a name you simply could not stop hearing during last year’s festival and awards seasons. The Norwegian filmmaker’s latest feature, The Worst Person in the World, was one of the most talked about romantic comedies of 2022. While it would make sense to include it here, there is actually another Trier romance that people must check out as well. Thelma was Norway’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2018 Academy Awards and sadly was not nominated. This twisty, genre-bending gothic romance follows Thelma (Eili Harboe), a lonely young woman who begins to develop strange supernatural powers after developing a crush on a girl who attends her university, Anja (Kaya Wilkins).
Thelma is a layered tale about a young woman coming out and attempting to overcome familial trauma. Its impeccable atmosphere will keep you utterly captivated. This is a triple threat of a film, a psychological thriller, a supernatural horror, and a gothic romance, all tied together magnificently by Eili Harboe’s sensitive performance. Joachim Trier exercises great control within this complex achievement, seeking to offer a striking portrait of a young woman coming into her own. Above all else, Thelma is truly at its best when it revels in its quiet and compassionate moments.
15. Always Be My Maybe (Netflix)
It’s been a few years since the release of Always Be My Maybe, an instant hit on Netflix upon its release, and it still lives rent-free in my mind. After years of working on excellent sitcoms and TV shows such as Don’t Trust The B—- in Apartment 23 and Fresh of the Boat, director Nahnatchka Khan leaped to feature filmmaking and nailed it. Khan was lucky enough to be directing from a script written by the film’s stars and producers, Ali Wong and Randall Park. The duo took familiar rom-com tropes and reconstructed them to tell a clever and socially aware narrative of two lifelong friends falling in love. Wong and Park’s chemistry goes beyond their on-screen presence because what they built together is genuine and feels like it was made with love and appreciation for each other’s talents.
Crazy Rich Asians shouldered the responsibility of being a big romantic comedy that was an all-caps representation of the Asian community, a challenging feat but admirable nonetheless. Always Be My Maybe scales it back and tells an intimate and personal tale that does just as much good, yet without the burden of overreaching to represent as many Asian Americans as possible. This romance is delicately told, directed, and acted. If it wasn’t enough that Ali Wong and Randall Park created something lovely, the creative team surpassed expectations by including the reigning King of Joy, Keanu Reeves. Go watch Always Be My Maybe now if you haven’t already.