Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is frugal, too.
Sure, splurging on a diamond necklace, an exotic getaway, a cherished memento, or a fancy dinner out are lovely ways to show your partner how much you care. But sometimes the most powerful romantic gestures don’t cost a thing — just some time, thought, and effort.
Want to wow your loved one this Valentine’s Day without spending a fortune? Hollywood can offer some inspiration. We’ve gathered a dozen of the most romantic gestures in movie history that were totally free.
But, before you try to replicate these, keep in mind that you don’t have a script, a director, or 20 takes to get it right.
“Watching a romantic gesture and actually performing it in real life are two very different things,” says media critic Robert Thompson, trustee professor and founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. “You don’t have boom mics and sound people and lighting … so tread carefully. As well as it may work in that movie, it really can come off as pathetic in real life.”
That’s not to say you can’t adapt some of these famous movie moments for your own relationship. Grand romantic gestures tend to follow certain themes, Thompson says.
“There are a couple of basic themes. One gesture is all about, ‘I love you and I don’t care how many people know it.’ From boomboxes to Jumbotrons to skywriting — showing you’re totally committed and you’re willing to announce it to the world,” Thompson says.
Perhaps no gesture is as free, or more romantic, than simply telling someone how you honestly feel with a public declaration of your love. Women value emotional honesty in their relationships, according to Psychology Today, and men want to feel appreciated. So tell your partner how you feel, and how he or she makes you feel.
Another common theme? “The second [theme] is where some kind of concession is being made,” Thompson says. On a grand scale, this might mean quitting smoking or ditching your two-seat sports car for a family sedan. But little concessions add up, too.
In fact, Thompson says, letting your partner pick the next romantic movie you watch might be the perfect example of such a concession.
“Your best bet to make one of these grand romantic gestures is not to do the thing portrayed in the film, but to go to one of those movies with the person you’re trying to impress,” Thompson says. “If a husband really wants to impress his wife, he’ll throw up his arms and say, ‘OK, I’ll watch “The Notebook” with you!’ That in itself is a big gesture.”
Happy Valentine’s Day, frugal romantics. Here are 12 of the most romantic free gestures in film, categorized by theme (warning: contains spoilers):
Turn Up Outside Her Window: ‘Say Anything’
Anyone who’s ever been dumped or longed for love — and that’s most of us — can relate to the iconic boombox scene. Lovable slacker Lloyd Dobbler (John Cusack) falls for class valedictorian Diane Court. Even though she’s out of his league, Diane agrees to go out with him, and eventually falls for him.
Later in the film, Diane’s father persuades her to break up with Lloyd. Dumped and heartbroken, Lloyd shows up outside her bedroom window. He holds a boombox above his head, blasting “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel — the song that punctuated their most passionate moments — daring her not to feel something.
Runner-Up: ‘Romeo & Juliet’
There’s a reason lovelorn guys have been calling up to girls’ windows for hundreds of years, and that reason is Romeo Montague.
Selfless Acts of Devotion: ‘The Notebook’
OK, there’s plenty to choose from in this movie. But one of the most romantic things I can imagine is what Noah does for Allie in their older years.
Allie’s suffering from dementia, and no longer recognizes the love of her life. But Noah still goes to the nursing home each day, as a stranger to her, and reads her their love story.
Even when he’s finally able to break through the fog of her Alzheimer’s, it lasts just a painfully fleeting few minutes. But what wouldn’t you do for just a few more minutes with the one you love after they’ve gone?
Runner-Up: ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’
Just-friend Watts agrees to chauffeur Keith and Amanda on their extravagant date, even though she’s in love with Keith.
Don’t Be Afraid to Get Messy: ‘Ghost’
In this famous love scene, Sam (Patrick Swayze) interrupts Molly (Demi Moore) while she’s working on the pottery wheel late one night. Against the hauntingly beautiful backdrop of “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers, it gets messy, and it gets steamy.
The moral of the story? Make room for romance, even if it’s not the ideal time or place. You can clean up a mess, and you can finish working later, but you can never get back a missed opportunity to spend time with the one you love.
Runners-Up: ‘The Princess Bride’ and ‘Forrest Gump’
Robin Wright isn’t afraid of mucking up a dress. Playing Buttercup in “The Princess Bride,” she realizes she’s tossed her true love down a steep hillside — so she throws herself tumbling after him. And at the March on Washington in “Forrest Gump,” Forrest (Tom Hanks) is on stage when his childhood friend Jenny (Wright) — the girl he loves but has lost track of over the years — runs into the reflecting pool shouting his name. Forrest bolts through the crowd of thousands and jumps right in with her.
Musical Serenade: ‘The Wedding Singer’
Waitress Julia (Drew Barrymore) is engaged to a cheating business jerk. She and Robbie (Adam Sandler), a wedding singer at the function hall she works at, form a friendship — and start to fall for each other.
But, in typical romantic comedy fashion — particularly in the pre-cellphone era — miscommunication stirs trouble and hurt feelings. Though in love with Robbie, Julia decides to fly to Las Vegas with her rich fiance to get married. Robbie races to the airport to stop them, and, with the help of the flight crew and first-class passenger Billy Idol, serenades Julia with a song he wrote for her.
Beyond the epic, last-chance dash to the airport is a more genuine and realistic sentiment. Robbie’s song, called “Grow Old With You,” is sweet, silly, and sincere … the stuff that real love is all about: “I wanna make you smile whenever you’re sad / Carry you around when your arthritis is bad / All I wanna do is grow old with you / I’ll get your medicine when your tummy aches / Build you a fire if the furnace breaks / Oh it could be so nice, growing old with you.”
Runners-Up: ’10 Things I Hate About You’ and ‘Top Gun’
Maverick and Goose’s admittedly cringe-worthy barroom rendition of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” from “Top Gun” was imitated in high-school cafeterias all over America in the wake of the ’80s fighter-jet classic. But Heath Ledger showed them how it’s really done with his swaggering performance of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” over the high school stadium loudspeaker — with the marching band as his horn section.
Make a Run for It: ‘Love Actually’
Most people swoon over a different scene in this movie — the one where the guy shows up at the door and silently holds up giant cue cards to tell his best friend’s wife that he loves her and thinks she’s perfect. Sure, it’s sweet, but c’mon — it’s his best friend’s wife.
That’s why I like the little kid ducking past airport security — with a bit of encouragement from dad Liam Neeson — and running through the gate to tell his classmate how he feels about her before she flies off. He’s taking a risk, putting it all on the line, and he’s overcome with that magical adrenaline of love.
This is certainly one of those don’t-try-this-at-home scenes Thompson warns about, though. Running past security at Heathrow Airport, even if you’re a cute grade-school kid, is never going to end well. Telling a girl how you feel is romantic. Getting detained and, let’s face it, quite possibly tortured after setting off a terrorist scare at the world’s busiest airport? Not so much.
Runner-Up: ‘When Harry Met Sally’
On New Year’s Eve, Harry finally realizes he’s in love with his longtime friend, Sally. He sprints through the city to meet her at a party for midnight, tells her all the reasons he loves her, and ends with, “I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
Benevolent Manipulation: ‘Life Is Beautiful’
This movie is all about love: love for your spouse, your child, and life itself. To get there, though, Guido first has to woo Dora, and he orchestrates all kinds of “coincidences” to help his case.
With a little luck and charm, and by paying attention to the daily routines around the village — knowing exactly what certain people say in certain situations — he’s able to make it seem as if heaven has blessed their first date.
Amelie sets up an elaborate trail of clues to ask out the guy she’s fallen for, Nino. Eventually she uses a similar approach to help Nino encounter the mystery photo booth man who fascinates him.
Make a Wish Come True: ‘The Fault in Our Stars’
Hazel and Augustus are teens who meet in a cancer support club.
Hazel is obsessed with a book called “An Imperial Affliction,” whose author is a reclusive genius. The book’s puzzling ending consumes her. She’s written the author dozens of letters to ask questions about it, but she’s never received an answer.
However, Augustus is finally able to track him down by contacting his publishing house and emailing his assistant. He then gives up his one and only wish that he received from “The Genies” (a fictionalized version of the Make-a-Wish Foundation), granted to him when he was first diagnosed with cancer, so Hazel can go to Amsterdam to meet her hero.
Honestly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Augustus Waters and romance. But we had to choose something.
Runner-Up: ‘A Walk to Remember’
Though Jamie is dying of leukemia, Landon helps her cross off items on her bucket list, like being in two places at once and seeing a comet in the spring. We should add: Your partner doesn’t need to be dying of cancer or leukemia for you to make their wish come true!
Chivalry and Defense of Honor: ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’
This wickedly funny movie may seem like an unlikely winner in the chivalry category. But even after Rachel (Mila Kunis) rejects him, Peter (Jason Segel), on his way out of town, takes down the topless photo of Rachel at a local bar that has bothered her for years. He does it without her knowing, and despite enduring a savage beatdown from the bar owner. That’s love.
Runner-Up: ‘Back to the Future’
Without any help from his future son Marty (Michael J. Fox), wimpy George McFly summons the courage to knock out drunken bully Biff and protect Lorraine from his aggressive advances — saving Marty’s future and his.
Self-Improvement: ‘Groundhog Day’
Cynical TV weatherman Phil (Bill Murray) is trapped in Punxsutawney, Pa., on Feb. 2, in a 24-hour loop. Every morning, it’s Feb. 2. After realizing and accepting his situation, he first experiments with womanizing, crime, and even suicide.
But in this endless workday, he starts to realize he has feelings for his kind and sincere co-worker Rita (Andie MacDowell). His attempts to seduce her fail, until finally he uses his excess of time to become the kind of man worthy of Rita’s affection: He learns to play the piano, sculpt her face in the snow, and speak French. More importantly, he opens his heart to the people in the town and becomes the kind, humble, and generous man Rita had been looking for.
Runner up: ‘Singles’
All Janet (Bridget Fonda) wants is a guy to say “Bless you” when she sneezes. But her self-absorbed musician boyfriend Cliff (Matt Dillon) just doesn’t care — until finally, at the end of the film, he says, “Bless you,” when she sneezes in the elevator.
Be Honest, and Accept Your Partner’s Faults: ‘Moonrise Kingdom’
On a fictional, Wes Anderson-imagined island in the 1960s, lovestruck 12-year-olds Sam and Suzy run away together. They set up a tent on the beach, and before going to bed, Sam tells Suzy it’s possible he might wet the bed later. “I wish I didn’t have to mention it, but just in case,” he says. “I don’t want to make you be offended.” She’s okay with it.
And after Suzy tells Sam, an orphan, that she always wished she’d been an orphan because their lives seem more special, he tells her honestly, “I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Honesty and communication are the foundations of any healthy long-term relationship, and what’s more romantic than that?
Relentless Pursuit: ‘The Princess Bride’
In probably the most epic sequence on this list, Westley never gives up on trying to be with his one true love, even if that means defeating a swordsman, a giant, a genius, a fire swamp, death itself, and an evil prince, and maintaining a sharp wit through all of it. Don’t try this at home.
Runner-Up: ‘The Graduate’
In this famous final scene, Ben (Dustin Hoffman) speeds down the California coast to the church where Elaine (Katharine Ross) is getting married. Running out of gas, he sprints the last leg, enters the church as the bride and groom are kissing, and pounds on the glass, shouting Elaine’s name wildly. A melee ensues. (Again: Don’t try this at home.)
…But if You Really Love Someone, Let Them Go: ‘Casablanca’
American ex-pat Rick (Humphrey Bogart) runs a popular “gin joint” in early World War II-era Morocco. His one-time lover Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) arrives in town with her husband — the reason Ilsa ran out on Rick in Paris years ago, leaving him bitter and heartbroken.
As tension mounts and they rekindle memories of their affair, it starts to look like Rick and Ilsa will finally be together. But Rick ultimately cares more about Ilsa’s safety and security than his selfish desire to be with her, telling her she’ll regret it if she doesn’t escape to the United States with her husband: “If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.”
But, he says, “We’ll always have Paris.”
What are your favorite, free romantic movie moments? Tell us in the comments!