Nothing could be worse than having to feel the pain of forbidden love. Love is boundless, and it is only human to feel emotions. We disregard situations, time, society, morality in the name of love, but it’s the sheer honesty and madness of it that makes love the most beautiful and delicate of human emotions. Empathy is the core of humanity, and we humans understand and feel each other’s pain. Films about forbidden love have always been a feast for cinephiles which makes it a very interesting topic for an article.
Needless to say, this is a highly subjective list, and the choice of movies might be controversial. But then I believe that’s the fun of it all. With all that said, here is a list of top movies about forbidden love of all time. These romance movies are based on taboo relationships. You can also watch these best taboo movies on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.
15. The Reader (2008)
Most people dismiss ‘The Reader‘ as a mediocre, Oscar-bait drama that’s nothing more than a skin show. But I, for one, love the film. It’s deeply flawed and may come off as a bit of a drag at times but just too beautiful and humane to dismiss. The film depicts the complex sexual relationship between a teenage kid and a woman in her mid-30s. Kate Winslet is stunning in her role as a woman struggling to deal with her inner demons and deeply torn by her shameful past. Watch it for its delicate rendering of humanity.
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14. La Luna (1979)
Bernardo Bertolucci’s controversial drama explores the disturbing relationship between a mother and her son. Joe, a teenager, has a troubled relationship with his parents, and after his mother’s husband commits suicide, he moves along with her to Rome. However, the boy’s emotional troubles begin to take a toll on him, and he begins to use drugs. In order to free him from the web of addiction, his mother grows increasingly closer to him, which develops into a sexual relationship. The film as a whole doesn’t hold up well, but the incestuous part is done in a very effective manner.
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13. Harold and Maude (1971)
How, in our world, could the love story of a 20-year-old man and an 80-year-old woman be not a case of forbidden love? Hal Ashby’s black comedy romantic drama centers around a young man obsessed with death who frequently attends funerals, stages fake suicides, and grows increasingly detached from his mother. While romance might not seem to be the film’s thematic focus, the complex relationship between Harold and Maude is essential to understanding the sheer profoundness of the themes it deals with. They are two different worlds whose starkly contrasting perspectives on life form the core of the film. It might seem a bit bizarre and twisted for a certain audience, but it has aged incredibly well and feels thoroughly refreshing and original.
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12. The Graduate (1967)
I haven’t been the biggest fan of ‘The Graduate’ except for its ending which, in my opinion, is one of the finest ever in cinema. It’s quite difficult to relate to a coming-of-drama that’s more than 50 years old. But there are some amazing moments in the film that still hold up well and manage to move me tremendously. ‘The Graduate’ was a trendsetting phenomenon that changed the way coming-of-dramas were made. The feeling of angst and sexual tension felt by Benjamin is palpable. He is seduced by the wife of his father’s business partner but ends up falling in love with her daughter. As I said, it might not hold up well for modern audiences, but it’s still an incredible experience and an absolute fun ride.
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11. Lolita (1962)
Arguably one of Stanley Kubrick‘s more underrated works, ‘Lolita’ tells the story of a middle-aged man deeply infatuated with a gorgeous teenage girl. Adapted from Vladimir Nokobov’s novel of the same title, ‘Lolita’ generated controversy due to its bold subject and was panned by critics. Kubrick infuses a dark, perverse sense of humor that works brilliantly with its chaotic, often flippant narrative. The Censor Board back in the day had severe limitations, and so Kubrick had to compromise on certain aspects of the film which were highly bold and provocative for its time. This kind of affects the film on a thematic level. Nevertheless, it’s still an immensely fascinating film made by a filmmaker who would change cinema in the years to come.
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10. Her (2013)
Do we love a person because of their physicality? No, not really, as Spike Jonze made us believe that you could actually fall in love with an operating system too. Set in a futuristic world, ‘Her’ tells the story of Theodore Twombly – a lonely, divorced man who purchases an artificially intelligent operating system and develops an intimate relationship with it. There’s a very profound sense of irony here as ‘Her,’ despite being set in an unknown time in the future, is very much a film about today. We are often cruel to ourselves and struggle with our own identity in an unsparing world. Love here is way too abstract for any kind of physical embodiment. It’s incredibly touching and so deeply humane.
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9. Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
‘Boys Don’t Cry’ is a harrowing look at repressed sexuality and gender identity. The film is based on the real-life story of Brandon Teena, an American trans man who was brutally raped and killed in Nebraska. Brandon, played by Hillary Swank, adopts a male identity and moves to Nebraska, where he falls in love with Lana. They remain lovers despite Lana discovering Brandon’s true identity. Their romance is painful and uncertain as violence consumes their blissful but brief and fleeting span of time. If your idea of powerful cinema happens to be one that has the power to devastate and disturb you emotionally, then this is your kind of film.
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8. The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005)
‘The Ballad of Jack and Rose’ is a beautifully flawed film about the painful delicacies of human relationships. The great Daniel Day-Lewis plays Jack, a farmer with a heart condition who lives with his daughter who is isolated from the world outside her home. When Jack brings in his girlfriend, Kathleen, and her teenage sons home, his daughter begins to develop jealousy towards his partner. When he discovers that she had sex with Kathleen’s son, he is infuriated but is deeply torn when he realizes that she is in love with him. It’s a beautifully made drama that occasionally tends to drift and meander but manages to strike a chord in you because of the sheer warmth and humanity that it brings in.
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7. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
This wouldn’t seem surprising at all. Ang Lee‘s heart-wrenching cowboy romance is quite simply one of the most astonishing tales of forbidden love. Jack and Ennis spend their time together in the Wyoming mountains during the summer and develop a very passionate sexual and emotional relationship with each other. They are portrayed as outcasts, and they live in a cruel, judgemental world where feelings and desires are repressed. The film beautifully captures the angst, the verve, the passion, and the pain of love. Undoubtedly a movie for the ages.
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6. Baran (2001)
Iranian director Majid Majidi is an extraordinary filmmaker. There’s an astonishing sense of warmth and simplicity in his cinema that makes it so endearing and charming. ‘Baran’ is one of his best works. It tells the story of a 17-year-old boy who works on a construction site where he falls in love with an Afghan refugee girl who is disguised as a boy so that she can work at the site. Only the boy knows the secret as he covertly watches her from behind her room to get a glimpse of her real beauty. They do not get to talk to each other but strongly contain their feelings for each other. Majid Majidi masterfully captures every single detail here that contributes to the beauty of the story.
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5. The Age of Innocence (1993)
This is the film I show people when they say that Martin Scorsese is a very unemotional director. Few love stories have been as emotionally devastating and brutally painful as ‘The Age of Innocence.’ It tells the story of Newland Archer – a young and ambitious lawyer engaged to a woman from a highly respected family. However, things change when Archer falls in love with his fiancee’s cousin, Ellen. Their repressed emotions intensify the passion and intimacy of their relationship, making their eventual fate a deeply tragic one. It’s brutal, inexplicably painful, and too powerful to even talk about.
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4. Ma Mere (2004)
Arguably the most controversial film on the list, ‘Ma Mere’ is easily the most disturbing and unwatchable film about incest ever made. The film features the great Isabelle Huppert playing an incestuous mother obsessed with sex who asks her son to have sex with her. They make violent love as Helene asks her son to physically hurt her by cutting her abdomen, and as his masturbation reaches its climax, she slits her own throat. The film is blatantly provocative and, for the most part, plain unwatchable, but you just fail to take your eyes off of an explosive Isabelle Huppert, who is in top form here.
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3. Delta (2008)
This Hungarian gem is a criminally underrated drama that explores a poignant incestuous relationship between an estranged brother and sister. The film possesses a dark tone that reflects the unusual relationship between its characters, but it doesn’t tend to exploit the provocative nature of the story. There’s a sense of lurking danger felt throughout the movie, but the way it portrays its characters and their relationship make us empathize with them rather than trying to put us off with blatant emotional manipulation.
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2. Carol (2015)
Todd Haynes’ ‘Carol’ is quite simply one of the most beautiful films about what it feels like to fall in love. These are two people dying to fall in each other’s arms, yearning for a sense of emotional liberation from the clutches of a cold society. Therese is a shy young girl who isn’t happy with her boyfriend. Carol is a wealthy, middle-aged mother on the verge of a divorce. These are two people in different phases of life, from different strata of society, but the world around them is cold and indifferent to their feelings and desires, and that is when they meet. With an amazing cast and a nuanced script, Haynes crafts a timeless story of love so full of warmth and humanity.
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1. A Short Film About Love (1988)
When people say European cinema, the names most often mentioned are Andrei Tarkovsky, Ingmar Bergman, Jean Luc-Godard, Luis Bunuel, Michael Haneke, and so on and so forth. But Krzysztof Kieslowski‘s name is often sadly overlooked, and in my humble opinion, he’s right up there with the aforementioned greats as one of the finest auteurs European cinema has ever produced. He had this ability to get so deeply personal and intimate that it leaves you soaked in a plethora of emotions.
‘A Short Film About Love’ was the cinematic extension of the sixth episode of his highly acclaimed Television drama ‘Dekalog’ and was one of his underappreciated works. Teenage angst and sexual infatuation have never been portrayed so beautifully in cinema as Kieslowski paints the madness, the enigma, the ecstasy, the melancholy of human emotion so delicate yet so profound and magical to be put into words. I wouldn’t give away much of the film here as it’s a film that means so much to me. It’s sad, painfully truthful, yet intoxicating.
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