Telling someone you love them is never an easy thing. It’s a process that requires time and finesse. Realistically, simply bombarding the object of your affection with a flurry of hyperbolic language and extreme sentiment is the quickest way to demolish the relationship forever.
And yet, the love confession has become one of pop culture’s most popular go-to tropes. And why not? It’s wish-fulfillment at its best. We let movie and TV characters do what we rarely have the courage (or stupidity) to do ourselves.
This list compiles just a few of the best declarations of love in film and TV—in all their romantic, depressing and hilarious glory.
Scene: “I’ve got a great compliment for you.”
Jack Nicholson is not exactly the first person who comes to mind when you think romantic leading man. Certainly, when we first meet Melvin Udall, the mean-tempered, OCD curmudgeon at the center of James L. Brooks’ As Good As It Gets, it’s clear he’s no Tom Hanks. That is, until he is one day forced to take care of his neighboor’s dog. This event serves as the catalyst for a Scrooge-like transformation as poignant as anything in recent memory. More in touch with his feelings, Melvin soon grows close to the single-mother/waitress (Helen Hunt) at his favorite restaurant and, in the end, overcomes his self-centeredness and lets her know how highly he thinks of her. Cheesy? Yes. But damn if it doesn’t work.
Scene: “I love you. Most ardently.”
There is a segment of people for whom Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy (from the 1995 BBC adaptation) will forever reign as the quintessential portrayal of the character. Yet, love it or hate it, one has to respect director Joe Wright for taking the classic Jane Austen novel in a different direction. Certainly, Wright’s version of Darcy’s initial proposal to Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), set during a loud rainstorm, feels much more cinematic and evocative than its BBC counterpart. Add in Matthew Macfadyen’s exceptional delivery—he looks as though each word he speaks pains him—and you have one hell of a romantic scene—even if Elizabeth does instantly shoot him down.
Scene:: Beecher and Keller’s first kiss.
When Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergesen) entered Oz in the first season, he was a normal family man whose life had been derailed by a drunk-driving incident. Seven episodes later, he was a changed man—now as hard and cynical as the murderers and rapists who surround him. With the introduction of Christopher Meloni’s foul-tempered Chris Keller in the second season, the writers took Beecher’s metamorphosis one step further. What begins as a mutual respect and trust between the two soon buds into romantic interest. During a man-to-man in the laundry room where Keller is downing alcohol after learning of his ex-wife’s remarriage, the two admit their feelings for each other. Of course, in the hard-knock hallways of Oz, relationships are never simple and intimate moments are all but non-existent.
Scene: Chandler (accidentally) says he loves Monica
Some love confessions are portrayed as grand, quasi-theatrical events. Some just come as a slip of the tongue. In the fifth season Thanksgiving episode of Friends, Chandler (Matthew Perry) discovers that, several Thanksgivings ago, Monica (Courtney Cox)—in a highly misguided attempt to seduce him as revenge for poking fun at her weight—had accidently maimed his little toe. Desperate to make things up to him, Monica enters his apartment with a turkey on her head (a reference to yet another Thanksgiving where idiot savant Joey did the same). Chandler responds well to the display and, without pause, says “I love you.” Thus began the longest continuous relationship in the show’s history.
Scene: “I meant something like that…”
Fairly recent but extremely relevant nonetheless. Certainly, the New Girl writers deserve some serious credit — going nearly a season and a half without having adorkable Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and anger-prone Nick (Jake Johnson) hook up. Any viewer with eyes could see the two had serious chemistry. Yet, rather than falling into the dreaded will-they-or-won’t-they trope, Elizabeth Meriwether and Co. focused on developing a show about a close-knit group of friends that serve as each other’s de facto, surrogate family. Yet, through it all, Jess’ and Nick’s sense of protectiveness towards each other subtly suggested something rumbling beneath the surface. Finally, in “Cooler,” Jess and Nick are locked in a room where, due to the stipulations of a party game, they are forced to remain until they kiss. Jess tries to move ahead with it, but Nick panics and blurts out “not like this!” When a confused Jess asks what he means, Nick climbs out the window in desperation. Later, when everything has quieted down, Nick makes his real move. Fox teased the encounter in all their promos. Still, nothing could have prepared viewers for the intensity of what occurred. And Nick’s capper — “I meant something like that.” Killer.
Scene: “I like you very much…just as you are.”
Even without Pride and Prejudice, Colin Firth-as-Darcy still makes the cut. In this case, he plays Mark Darcy, the brooding and mysterious gentleman who continues to cross paths with Renée Zellweger’s neurotic Bridget—and always at the worst possible times. During one such encounter at a dinner party, Bridget braces herself for his mockery. Yet, to her shock and amazement, he admits that he, in fact, likes her very much—flaws and all.
Scene: “You’re the one, Buffy.”
Buffy the Vampire Slayer was full of complex relationships and perhaps none moreso than between the titular blonde Slayer (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Big-Bad-turned-antihero-vampire Spike (James Marsters). Over the course of six seasons, Spike went from trying to kill Buffy to becoming her reluctant ally to engaging in a twisted, sexually charged affair with her to attempting to rape her to regaining his soul (and the insanity that comes with it) to prove he would do anything for her. As Buffy’s final season built towards the Scooby Gang’s final confrontation with a malevolent, non-corporal evil called The First, few foresaw a good outcome for this seemingly hopeless situation. No more so than Buffy. And while Joss Whedon took great care to mold Buffy into a butt-kicking feminist icon, he was careful not to strip away that paralyzing vulnerability and fear that made her so relatable. So when Buffy suffers a moment of extreme doubt and fear, Spike comforts her by articulating why it is he fell in love with her in the first place. It’s a beautiful and moving speech and the fact that it’s coming from a man who was once a heartless monster makes it all the more emotional.