Continuing our a year-long celebration of the last 25 years' cinematic highlights, we count down the top 25 acts which prove that, in cinema at least, romance will never die.
See also: Empire's Greatest Opening Scenes
25 SAY IT WITH FLOURS (STRANGER THAN FICTION, 2006)
Because the romantic gesture is a pun. More than that: a pun that works. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s financially muddled baker Ana has already been offended by Will Ferrell’s anal auditor Harold when he refused her cookies. Now he reappears with a gift for her. She’s prickly and puzzled. Then he delivers the zinger: “I brought you flours.” And in the next few seconds you can see Ana’s heart thaw.
24 "I'M A FREE MAN!" (IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, 1993)
It’s the ecstatic reaction to an injustice overturned. Conviction quashed (Daniel Day-Lewis barely keeping a lid on Conlon’s 15 years’ worth of rage), the police insist to Gerry Conlon he quietly leave by the back door. Conlon, thrusting his chin to the air, refuses. “I’m a free man and I’m going out the front door!” As his supporters send the court into uproar, he climbs up and over the benches and out. You’re with him every step.
23 ORANGE TIC-TACS (JUNO, 2007)
Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody’s whip-smart comedy may be hipper than thou, but it is hiding a huge heart beneath its indie jumper. As best revealed when, following their first fight, Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) makes amends by filling Paulie Bleeker’s (Michael Cera) mailbox with his “one and only vice” — orange Tic-Tacs.
![Dead Poets Society](/images/uploaded/empire-greatest-romantic-gestures-dead-poets-society.jpg) 22 "O CAPTAIN! MY CAPTAIN!" (DEAD POETS SOCIETY, 1989)
A room full of crushed pupils, their disgraced teacher collecting his effects, and a final defiant expression of love and devotion as one by one, led by Ethan Hawke’s introvert Todd Anderson, the inspired boys rise to stand on their desks and call out Walt Whitman’s poetic rallying call, “O Captain! My Captain!” Not a dry nose left in the house.
21 KILLING DREXL (TRUE ROMANCE, 1993)
Appropriate that the great act of devotion in this Tarantino/Tony Scott crime spree is a guy (Christian Slater’s Clarence) killing his prostitute-girlfriend’s pimp (a rasta Gary Oldman). And if you have any doubts, consider said girlfriend’s (Patricia Arquette’s Alabama) teary response: “That’s so romantic!”
20 A BEAST OF A LIBRARY (BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, 1991))
Okay, so clearly the Beast is overcompensating here for his monstrously hideous appearance and ferocious demeanor, but still, you’ve got to hand it to him. Belle’s into books so what does he give her? Not just an entire library, but an entire library which appears to have gold-trimmed shelves as high as skyscrapers. “It’s wonderful!” Nice one, my son…
19 LI MU BAI’S FAREWELL (CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON, 2000)
Ang Lee anchored all that floaty wushu with swordsman Li Mu Bai’s (Chow Yun-Fat) unrequited love for fellow warrior Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh). It’s only when he’s mortally poisoned he reveals his feelings: “I would rather be a ghost drifting by your side as a condemned soul than enter heaven without you.”
18 THE HAND OF A FRIEND (HEAT, 1995)
Because there is something indefinably moving in Al Pacino’s cop Vincent Hanna, having finally delivered the death shots to his elusive foe beneath the strafing light of a jet landing at LAX, gripping the outstretched hand of Robert De Niro’s dying crack thief Neil McCauley, to the accompaniment of the rising tide of Moby’s majestic God Moving Over The Face Of The Waters. They have the closest connection of anyone in the movie.
17 GIFT OF A THISTLE (BRAVEHEART, 1995)
On paper, it sounds none-more-mawkish: bereaved wee Scottish boy (who will grow up to be Mel Gibson’s Sassenach-bashing William Wallace) is given a thistle — a THISTLE — by a sweet wee Scottish girl (who will grow up to be Catherine McCormack’s doomed Murron) at his da’s funeral. Yet a luminous, tearful performance by young James Robinson and James Horner’s swelling score sell it perfectly.
![Edward Scissorhands](/images/uploaded/empire-greatest-romantic-gestures-edward-scissorhands%281%29.jpg) 16 DANCING IN ICE (EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, 1990)
In a career of beguiling moments, this might be Tim Burton’s most enchanting: Kim Boggs (Winona Ryder) dancing in a light flurry of snow created by master ice sculptor Edward Scissorhands (Johnny Depp). That the image is a remembrance from an older Kim about a more magical time passed on to her granddaughter makes it all the more poignant. Has influenced many a Christmas ad since.
15 GNOME AND AWAY (AMÉLIE, 2001)
In a movie chock-full of gestures, perhaps the most captivating sees Amélie Poulain (Audrey Tautou) encourage her father’s dreams of travel by sending his gnome around the world (via a flight attendant) and sending back pictures from New York, Moscow et al. As a declaration of familial love, it is winningly whimsical.
14 “WOULD I BE SHOCKED?” (THE REMAINS OF THE DAY, 1993)
It’s utterly heartrending: housekeeper Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson) so nearly breaks through butler Stevens’ (Anthony Hopkins) emotional armour, simply by enquiring what he happens to be reading. “Would I be shocked?” she teases. His face is a mix of fear and desire as he lets her take the book. She is startled to find it is only “a sentimental old love story”. Then his shutters crash down again.
![The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King](/images/uploaded/empire-greatest-romantic-gestures-return-of-the-king.jpg) 13 “I CAN CARRY YOU!” (THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING, 2003)
Ringbearer Frodo (Elijah Wood) can’t make it any further up the ashen slopes of Mount Doom. Sauron’s trinket has exhausted him. So his companion, Sam (Sean Astin), knowing he can’t take the ring itself, takes the weight of both. As an act of friendship it’s not just selfless, it’s ultimately world-saving.
12 CAREFUL WHISPER (LOST IN TRANSLATION, 2003)
It is without doubt cinema’s greatest whisper. On the morning streets of Tokyo, airport-bound, aging movie star Bob Harris (Bill Murray) whispers goodbye to his newfound passion, Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson). That we never know what he tells her detonated endless internet conjecture, but more importantly keeps their relationship as private and precious as it should be. The power of the gesture is in not knowing, only imagining a closeness that has moved beyond words.
![The Silence Of The Lambs](/images/uploaded/empire-greatest-romantic-gestures-silence-of-the-lambs.jpg) 11 "THE WORLD'S MORE INTERESTING WITH YOU IN IT…" (THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, 1991)
After all those electric tête-à-têtes, the culmination of the alien bond between FBI rookie Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) and foodie serial killer Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) ironically happens over the phone. It’s a fond farewell, in which he promises not to seek her out, bless him. Anyway, he’s far too busy, “having an old friend for dinner”. Love can come in so many flavours.
10 BOOMBOXING CLEVER (SAY ANYTHING..., 1989)
It’s one of the most iconic images of our lifetime: John Cusack’s Lloyd Dobler raising a boombox over his head, standing outside Diane Court’s (Ione Skye) house playing Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes. It’s the work of a hopeless romantic both on camera and off (Cameron Crowe). Altogether now: “In your eyes, the light, the heat/In your eyes, I am complete.”
9 “AMERICA ISN’T EASY.” (THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT, 1995)
What does Aaron Sorkin sound like writing a rom-com? Answer: this stirring, intelligent Presidential address from Michael Douglas’ Andrew Shepherd: “America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship.” It’s both an impassioned expression of the challenges of freedom by our foremost political scripter, and a get-your-girl-back speech (to Annette Bening’s Sydney Wade) with bells on.
8 JUMPING TRAINS (BEFORE SUNRISE, 1995)
It was the moment the film lived and died by: could you believe that American slacker Jesse (Ethan Hawke) could convince French student Celine (Julie Delpy) to get off the train and explore Vienna? That you swallow it is down to some great writing and Hawke’s unpretentious charm. You’d follow him anywhere.
7 TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE (10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU, 1999)
Trying to win over hard-hearted Kat (Julia Stiles) for a bet, cocksure Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) sings Frankie Valli’s Can’t Take My Eyes Off You — with full marching band accompaniment — to an entire US football team as an act of apology. It’s a big-hearted, irresistible act of romance and the moment that turned a young Heath Ledger into a star.
![As Good As It Gets](/images/uploaded/empire-greatest-romantic-gestures-as-gooda-s-it-gets.jpg) 6 "I STARTED TAKING THE PILLS." (AS GOOD AS IT GETS, 1997)
Because it makes you realise this impossible match could work. Melvin (Jack Nicholson) is an offensive, OCD writer who, frankly, hates people, and struggles to articulate his affection for Helen Hunt’s Carol. Asking for a compliment, he tells her he started taking the pills he’s refused for years. How is that a compliment? “You make me want to be a better man,” Melvin replies.
5 STIRRING THE BLOOD (THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS, 1992)
While many would opt for the “I will find you” sequence, we prefer the poetic moment Cora (Madeleine Stowe) realises she has fallen for Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis). Hiding from enemy scouts, Hawkeye whispers a native tale of the birth of the stars. Day-Lewis is effortlessly eloquent, but it is Stowe’s scene, claiming the wilderness is “more deeply stirring to my blood than any imagining could possibly have been.”
![When Harry Met Sally](/images/uploaded/empire-greatest-romantic-gestures-when-harry-met-sally.jpg) 4 BEST NEW YEAR EVER (WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, 1989)
It’s not so much a New Year’s Eve confession of love by one longtime on-off friend to another as a straight-from-the-heart clarification, proving that Harry (Billy Crystal) adores Sally (Meg Ryan) because of things rather than despite them: “I love that it takes you an hour-and-a-half to order a sandwich…” Hell, let’s leave the rest to Harry: “I came here tonight because when you realise you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
![Cyrano De Bergerac](/images/uploaded/empire-greatest-romantic-gestures-cyrano-de-bergerac.jpg) 3 POETRY IN EMOTION (CYRANO DE BERGERAC, 1990)
Standing in for the handsome but dim Christian (Vincent Perez), mega-schnozzed poet Cyrano De Bergerac (Gérard Depardieu) begins wooing his beloved Roxane (Anne Brochet) with an improvised stream of sonnet-worthy sentiments — “How shall we define a kiss? The seal set on a promise” — from below a balcony. Slowly it transforms into a full, heartbreaking expression of his love. And Depardieu nails it.
![Thelma And Louise](/images/uploaded/empire-greatest-romantic-gestures-thelma-and-louise.jpg) 2 OVER THE EDGE (THELMA & LOUISE, 1991)
“Let’s keep going,” says Geena Davis’ Thelma to Susan Sarandon’s Louise above a twanging guitar and in a beautiful half-light. They exchange nervous glances, they kiss and then… they drive. Holding hands as their ’66 Thunderbird goes over the edge, it is an indelible symbol of female solidarity and friendship-as-love, whatever the gender.
![Jerry Maguire](/images/uploaded/empire-greatest-romantic-gestures-jerry-maguire.jpg) 1 "YOU COMPLETE ME." (JERRY MAGUIRE, 1996)
The office was unanimous — the romantic gesture of our time is this, the apotheosis of Cameron Crowe’s gift for the adorable moment. Epiphany complete, Tom Cruise’s weary Jerry now understands that fulfilment lies not in showing the money but in his love for estranged wife Dorothy (Renée Zellweger). In a living room prickling with Dorothy’s sister’s support group of divorcees, he puts heart in hand and rewrites his notorious manifesto: “We live in a cynical world…” Cutting between a stunned (and stunningly beautiful) Dorothy and Jerry’s plaintive speech, Crowe works his magic: “You complete me.” But what sells it as the heartbreaker of Empire’s history is the divine Dorothy, gathering her wits and cutting off Jerry’s pleas with a simple affirmative: “Shut
up. Just shut up. You had me at hello…” An entire cinema sighs in satisfaction.