When you think of the greatest love stories of all time, a few classics will pop into your head immediately. Modern romances like “The Notebook” or “Titanic,” and classic tales like “Romeo and Juliet” or “Pride and Prejudice” are full of so much epic passion they makes us dream of being swept off our feet by our own Prince or Princess Charming.
There’s something special about curling up with a romantic book or snuggling in to watch a sweet movie to make you swoon. When we share in the couple’s totally heart-filled declarations of love, and the relief when their problems are overcome miraculously in the most romantic ways, it entangles us in the characters’ story.
We might even fall for some of the characters. But whether you are still looking for someone special, or you’re already blissfully in love, these ageless classics know how to pull on your heartstrings.
So, jump under the covers, turn down the lights, and tuck into this list of some of the greatest love stories of all time.
The 10 Greatest Love Stories of All Time
1. “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Brontë
This heart-wrenching classic written in the vein of the “lost love can turn a good man evil” trope, was Brontë’s first and only novel published in 1847 under the pseudonym “Ellis Bell.”
This timeless love story takes us back to 1802, at a remote farmhouse in the Yorkshire moorlands dubbed Wuthering Heights. Our leading man, Heathcliff, grows to become best friends with his adopted sister, Catherine, who is also his life-long crush. But an offhand comment, overheard at the Heights, changes the course of both of their lives.
Romantic quote: “My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.”
Fun fact: The 1983 power ballad “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, written by Jim Steinman and recorded by Bonnie Tyler, was inspired by “Wuthering Heights.”
2. “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy
Frequently a top author’s choice, this Leo Tolstoy novel, first published in 1878, is a literary soap opera. Set in the highest circles of Russian society, Anna Karenina visits her brother Stiva in Moscow to help him save his marriage. While there, she falls in love with Count Vronsky.
A married woman, Karenina fights off her desires until they overwhelm her and she leaves her husband, Alexei. Denied a divorce, Anna spends her life looking for acceptance in her relationship. When the strain of their love life becomes too much, Anna leaves Vronsky in a rage and, well … if you haven’t read it, do! We won’t give away a heart-wrenching ending.
Romantic quote: “I’ve always loved you, and when you love someone, you love the whole person, just as he or she is, and not as you would like them to be.”
Fun fact: “Anna Karenina” became a best-seller all over again in 2004 after Oprah put it on her “Oprah’s Book Club” list.
3. “Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare
One of William Shakespeare’s most celebrated works, this tale of “star-crossed lovers” was first written and performed as a play in 1597. It has been retold and interpreted time and time again — from Broadway and film classic “West Side Story” to 1996 teen flick “Romeo + Juliet.”
A story all lovers can relate to, Romeo and Juliet focuses on the tragedies that accompany the loss of true love. Lovers Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet come from two of the most famed feuding clans in literature and the two family’s disapproval of Romeo and Juliet’s love eventually leads to their demise.
Romantic quote: “Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.”
Fun fact: In the popular computer game The Sims 2, there is a neighborhood called Veronaville in which two characters named Romeo Monty and Juliette Capp fall in love.
4. “Casablanca” by Murray Burnett
Made famous in 1942 by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, this love story was based on a never-produced play called “Everybody Comes to Rick’s,” which was written by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. The script was reshaped into a screenplay by writers and brothers Julius and Philip Epstein and their friend Howard Koch.
In the story, American Rick Blaine is the owner of a gambling club “Rick’s Café Américain” in the Moroccan city of Casablanca. Set during World War II, Rick is a bitter man who has been scorned by ex-lover Ilsa Lund. When now married Ilsa walks back into Rick’s life with her husband in tow, Rick is forced to come face-to-face with his well-aged heartache.
Romantic quote: “Kiss me. Kiss me as if it were the last time.”
Fun fact: In a 2005 poll by the American Film Institute, the famous line, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” was ranked the fifth most memorable line in cinema history. Six other lines from the film also made their way into the top 100.
5. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare
A romantic comedy by William Shakespeare first performed in 1605, this play takes place in Athens as Duke Theseus plans a large festival to celebrate his marriage. During this time, Theseus’ daughter, Hermia, refuses to marry her fiancé due to a secret true-love-in-the-wings, named Lysander.
Against her father’s wishes, she flees the nuptials for the woods. And guess what? While there, they befriend fairies who cause a bit of mischief. Cue a new love triangle and surprise ending!
Romantic quote: “I’ll follow thee and make a heaven of hell, To die upon the hand I love so well.”
Fun fact: In the 1989 blockbuster film “Dead Poets’ Society,” the character Neil Perry (played by Robert Sean Leonard), is cast as Puck in a local production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
6. “Doctor Zhivago” by Boris Pasternak
This Russian novel by Boris Pasternak, published in 1957 and awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature the following year, tells the ageless story of a man torn between two women.
Yuri Zhivago is a medical doctor and poet during the 1917 Russian Revolution. While married to aristocratic Tonya, he falls in love with nurse Lara. Set during a war time, Zhivago’s love triangle falls prey to a twist of fate, and becomes a tale of protagonist versus an achy, breaking heart.
Romantic quote: “You and I, it’s as though we have been taught to kiss in heaven and sent down to earth together, to see if we know what we were taught.”
Fun fact: The first screen adaptation was a made-for-TV series produced in Brazil in 1959.
7. “Sense and Sensibility” by Jane Austen
Jane Austen’s classic was first published anonymously in 1811, the credit appearing only as “by a lady.”
This love story focuses around the Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne. When their father dies, they lose their family estate and are reduced to a life of poverty. The story follows the sisters as they move in with a distant relative, leading them to equal parts heartache and romance.
Romantic quote: “’I cannot, I cannot,’ cried Marianne; ‘leave me, leave me, if I distress you; leave me, hate me, forget me! But do not torture me so. Oh! how easy for those who have no sorrow of their own to talk of exertion!”
Fun fact: In Ang Lee’s 1995 remake of “Sense and Sensibility,” there are six actors who went on to play parts in the Harry Potter films: Emma Thompson (Sybil Trelawney), Alan Rickman (Severus Snape), Gemma Jones (Madam Pomfrey), Robert Hardy (Cornelius Fudge), Elizabeth Spriggs (The Fat Lady) and Imelda Staunton (Dolores Umbridge).
8. “Les Liaisons dangereuses” (“Dangerous Liaisons”) by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
The classic eighteenth-century novel (first published in 1782) by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos is the ultimate dark tale of lust, greed, deception and romance.
The captivating story features the Marquise de Merteuil, who requests her partner, the Vicomte de Valmont, seduce Cécile de Volanges, the young daughter of her cousin. Young Cecile, however, has the hots for her young music tutor, Chevalier Danceny, while the Vicomte surprises himself by falling for married and virtuous Madame de Tourvel. Love affairs, deception and lies aplenty unfold.
Romantic quote: “Now, I’m not going to deny that I was aware of your beauty. But the point is, this has nothing to do with your beauty. As I got to know you, I began to realize that beauty was the least of your qualities. I became fascinated by your goodness. I was drawn in by it.”
Fun fact: The 1999 cult movie hit “Cruel Intentions” was a modern adaptation of the novel.
9. “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen
In this 1813 romantic novel by Jane Austen, Charles Bingley is new to town and has leased an estate with his sisters and close friend Fitzwilliam Darcy. Named a “catch” by all the single ladies in town by virtue of good his looks and plentiful money, Darcy is also known as snob. Neighbor Elizabeth Bennet finds herself repulsed by Darcy’s ego. The resulting pas de deux between the feisty twosome makes for a quite a page-turner.
Romantic quote: “They walked on, without knowing in what direction. There was too much to be thought, and felt, and said, for attention to any other objects.”
Fun fact: Helen Fielding’s book “Bridget Jones’s Diary” was inspired by “Pride and Prejudice.”
10. “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” by Victor Hugo
Victor Hugo’s story, published in 1831 and set in Paris in 1482, centers around Norte Dame cathedral.
In this “true love comes from within” story, Gypsy dancer Esmeralda is longed for by Quasimodo, Notre Dame’s kind-hearted but deformed bellringer. Upon order of Archdeacon Frollo, Quasimodo attempts to kidnap Esmeralda, but is caught. Standing trial, Quasimodo is humiliated by the public and his victim Esmeralda has pity on him.
Soon after, Esmeralda is blackmailed and sentenced to death for the murder of her crush, Phoebus. On her sentencing day, Esmeralda is saved from death by her dear Quasimodo. But can true love overcome her distaste for his looks?
Romantic quote: “Love is like a tree: it grows by itself, roots itself deeply in our being and continues to flourish over a heart in ruin. The inexplicable fact is that the blinder it is, the more tenacious it is. It is never stronger than when it is completely unreasonable.”
Fun fact: “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” has been adapted to the screen numerous times and cast two famous Anthonys in the leading Quasimodo role: Anthony Quinn in 1956 and Anthony Hopkins in 1982.
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