Movie Recommendations for an Unconventional Valentine’s Day

Eliza (Sally Hawkins) and the Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) in The Shape of Water.

With Valentine’s Day comes one vital question: what’s going to be the date-night movie? Far be it from me to judge anybody’s choices, but a person can only watch When Harry Met Sally or You’ve Got Mail (the second-best film adaptation of Parfumerie) so many times before they start to blend together.

In a world with all kinds of unconventional relationships, it only seems fair that there are unconventional film choices as well. Ahead of the holiday, here are a few picks to share with anyone who may be in your life.

The Shape of Water (2017, dir. ​​Guillermo del Toro)

Sally Hawkins with Doug Jones as the amphibian man in The Shape of Water. They're both pressing their hands to the glass tank wall between them.
Eliza (Sally Hawkins) and the Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) in The Shape of Water.

In some ways the most conventional film on this list, The Shape of Water features the classic love story of a woman meeting a fish monster and falling in love. For all intents and purposes, this is a straight love story, but one that seems to bring a degree of queerness to it. With so much of the film centering around its characters being othered by a conservative society, it’s almost fitting to call the film a queer-coded straight story. 

This love is immediately misunderstood, even by people who are themselves othered, but it ultimately brings forth something beautiful between Eliza (Sally Hawkins) and the amphibian man (Doug Jones). With some classic romance tropes such as forbidden love, The Shape of Water is an easy watch for people in almost any type of relationship. 

While Del Toro’s film takes the characters on a wide emotional journey, its world feels closed off somehow, intimate in its limited sets. In many ways, it seems to be saying that there is somebody for everybody, regardless of how small the place you live in may feel. It doesn’t matter how society at large treats you, as long as there are people who care about you.

Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979, dir. Hayao Miyazaki)

Jigen fixing the little yellow Fiat he and Lupin drive around in. While Eigen's hands are buried in the engine, Lupin is lounging on top.
Jigen and Lupin in the opening of The Castle of Cagliostro.

To set one thing straight, this film is by no means about romantic love. However, it has often struck me as an almost perfect film to watch with a caregiver. Far from some of his other depictions, Lupin (Yasuo Yamada) seems to take on an almost parental role with Clarisse (Sumi Shimamoto). He spends the film trying to take care of her, even outright refusing any confession of romantic love.

While Cagliostro is not associated with Studio Ghibli, it still has much of Miyazaki’s typical charm, being a form of goodbye to the franchise after his years spent working on it, although he would later return to it. An oft-overlooked gem in Miyazaki’s body of work, it was a commercial failure that seemed to change the direction of his entire career.

While there are many films about parental love, there are none that show it quite like Cagliostro. It centers around the struggle of Lupin as both an individual and a form of caregiver, and could very easily be read as simply being entirely platonic rather than even paternal. It holds a special place on this list, as it refuses to lean toward romance at all, instead displaying a different type of love entirely.

Fire Island (2022, dir. Andrew Ahn)

The main cast of gay man in Fire Island, each one dressed for the summer weather.
The main cast of the film Fire Island.

Billing itself as a gay Pride & PrejudiceFire Island is a pick that seems conventional at first glance. There’s something so genuine and messy about the entire film, it feels more real than others that try to capture the same emotions. 

It’s a little campy, it’s fun, and it makes a point to address a lot of the less-spoken issues among gay men in particular. More than anything else, it’s a story that feels more modern than some of the others on this list, updating Austen’s work in a way that truly reinvents it. 

Fire Island doesn’t bill itself as a film for straight people. That alone would be enough to give it a place on this list, but it’s not afraid to alienate those who can’t relate. This film is part of a specific culture of gay men, and while anyone can enjoy it, Fire Island comes across as a fun date night watch for people in MLM relationships in particular.

Pacific Rim (2013, dir. Guillermo del Toro)

Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) in the opening of Pacific Rim, dressed in a white plated suit to copilot his jaeger.
Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) in the opening of Pacific Rim.

More action-oriented than the other picks on this list, Pacific Rim illustrates something beautiful in its depiction of a platonic friendship between Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) and Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam). There are no goals for a friendship quite like being drift compatible.

Unlike a lot of films that center around friendship, Pacific Rim shows what it’s like to become close enough to live in the head of someone else. While this is a literal case, the concept itself is explored in the movie as a way of being able to achieve something greater together. Every time two people are linked together, they almost immediately gain a better understanding of each other, working better as a unit than either of them are capable of doing individually. 

While this film lacks the romantic aspect of Del Toro’s other work on this list, Pacific Rim is the perfect watch for people who work better as friends. If it’s just another night in, there’s nothing better than watching jaegers fighting kaiju. A little bit of action on Valentines doesn’t hurt, and it rarely gets better than this.

Possession (1981, dir. Andrzej Żuławski)

Anna (Isabelle Adjani) in Possession, looking to the camera as she begins crying with a grin on her face.
Anna (Isabelle Adjani) in Possession.

Okay, so hear me out. This is by no means a romance, or even really an acceptable date movie for most people. What Possession does perfectly, however, is illustrate that sometimes a person needs to move on to something arguably worse. It’s difficult to lay blame on Anna (Isabelle Adjani) for making a monster to satisfy her needs. While Mark (Sam Neill) was away, she was left to handle everything alone, and it makes sense that she would find her own way to do that.

It’s no secret that plenty of people will occasionally see a monster in a film, and wish that it was the love interest instead. There’s a reason that The Shape of Water is at the top of this list. This entry is for those people, who believe that sometimes a monster may be a better option than a man. While the real Mark was away, the creature was there. While Mark may struggle to satisfy Anna, the creature clearly does not. 

It’s impossible to emphasize enough that Possession is by no means a fun date movie for most people. It’s a challenging work of art and one that touches on a dozen different incredibly heavy subjects. All of the above being said, Possession is the perfect date movie for anybody who wants to show their partner that they are easily replaceable by a monster of their own creation. We’ve all been there: it’s okay.

Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006, dir. Goran Dukić)

The core cast of the film Wristcutters: A Love Story in the beat up car they spend much of the film in. None are smiling, the car is clearly dirty, not being taken care of properly in some time.
The core trio of the film Wristcutters: A Love Story.

Maybe killing oneself to follow someone in the afterlife is a sign of codependency. I’m not here to judge anyone. Wristcutters may make light of some heavy subject matter, as evident from the title, but it also offers a touching story of finding the will to go on, even in the afterlife, after meeting the right person. While Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon) may be the fix for the car’s broken headlights, it’s not advised to try to find a partner in the afterlife. That manic pixie dream girl isn’t going to press a button and fix your issues.

For a story in an apathetic, miserable afterlife, Wristcutters is oddly compelling. There are no better friends than those made in purgatory, where people can’t just wait idly by for things to get worse. This afterlife is decidedly static, with nothing changing one way or the other. This is ideal for people who spend the day with coworkers or roommates, just trying to survive in an equally uncaring place. Dead-end jobs can inspire dark, dry humor to cope, and it’s present in spades in Wristcutters

In this world, miracles can only happen if they don’t mean a thing. As long as a person wants it to happen, it never will. That sort of attitude is perfect for a Valentine’s Day with people you’re forced to be around. Like it or not, you’re in this together, so you might as well put on a movie and make things a little less miserable.

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020, dir. Cathy Yan)

The core, predominantly female, cast of Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn is in the center, holding up a large mallet.
The core cast of Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn).

This list deserved one Galentines Day pick, and this is it. Equal parts a revenge story and one of women supporting each other, Birds of Prey is a fun little watch with a group of friends. Maybe you just got away from your own Joker-esque partner, or you just needed some time away with the girls. Either way, this one is for you.

In the larger mess of DC films, this one is often overlooked. It’s a side story, but also one of the most fun superhero films to be released. They’re not saving the world or fighting some grand, all-consuming evil, they’re fighting one man. Birds of Prey also joins the incredibly short list of films in which both Ewan McGregor and the song “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” are present. 

It’s difficult to pitch a movie that just tries to be good fun. It achieves what it sets out to do, almost feeling like a precursor to last year’s Barbie in many ways, beyond both starring Margot Robbie. Unlike BarbieBirds of Prey doesn’t want to center itself around the story of the men here. Sure, Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) is the main antagonist, but the story isn’t following his arc. The film starts by refusing Harley Quinn’s (Margot Robbie) status quo as a character, and it refuses to return to it. While not all of these changes made it into the other DC films, they’re worth watching here. The queer coding and aesthetics are seemingly overt, and it does little to elide the in the same way that many other blockbusters would.

The Doom Generation (1995, dir. Gregg Araki)

Jordan White (James Duval) and Xavier "X" Red (Jonathon Schaech) in The Doom Generation. One is lying with their head hanging off the edge of the bed. The other is seated on the floor next to him, face turned close to his.
Xavier “X” Red (Jonathon Schaech)and Jordan White (James Duval) in The Doom Generation.

Just like so many other films on this list, The Doom Generation tackles a lot of difficult subjects and isn’t for everyone. Unlike so many films on this list, Araki’s work is one of few films with any depiction of polyamory. If you’re sitting down with multiple partners, this one is for you.

The Doom Generation is almost a period piece in the way it’s filled with quintessentially 90’s aesthetics. Its depiction of polyamory may not be perfect (far from it) but it’s important to see people like you on film. While we’re still a ways out from a modern version of a tale like this, with a different interpretation of polyamory, even a film with such troubling subject matter feels like a breath of fresh air. 

The rest of this list is filled with films that focus on something that only two people can share, and that’s just not the case for so many people. Few films attempt any kind of polyamorous relationship, even ones where it appears to be an obvious solution. We may not need more films with The Doom Generation’s exact subject matter, but we need more that try to reach some form of polyamory as a conclusion. Now that the film can be watched completely intact with its 4K UHD release, it’s worth sitting down to see exactly what it’s all about.

Honorable Mentions

The Banshees of Inisherin (2022, dir. Martin McDonagh) is perfect to watch with someone you hate. Go ahead, point at the screen and say “us.” You know you want to.

Again, Again (2024, dir. Heather Ballish & Mia Moore Marchant) promises to be a lovely little trans love time loop story, something utterly one of a kind.

Love Lies Bleeding (2024, dir. Rose Glass) looks like it would fit perfectly on this list as a lesbian revenge movie. You love to see it.

High Tension (2003, dir. Alexandre Aja) is a queer-coded horror-thriller, with an ending that takes it clean off this list. I had someone put this on while on a date recently. Still processing that one.

While these are only a few selections from an ever-expanding list, it’s never too late to watch one to try to spice things up. It’s Valentine’s Day: you can always talk about trying out something new.

Written by CM McCambridge

June "CM" McCambridge is a current Goldring Arts Journalism graduate student at Syracuse University with a passion for film, music, and theatre. After spending years of her life working in each, she now shares her passions by writing about them.

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