‘Tis the season for love in all of its forms, and nothing embodies the reason for the season quite like the 2003 Christmas staple "Love Actually."
Whether or not you are a fan of romantic comedies (or holiday movies for that matter), it’s pretty difficult to avoid this classic — and because of its structure, equally as difficult to avoid picking your favorite storyline. Following nine unique love stories that all intertwine in some way, the Richard Curtis film starring Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman and others conveys the message that "love is everywhere," even when you don’t necessarily want it to be.
Ranging from the struggles of maintaining love in a long-term marriage, to the excitement of young love, to the importance of non-romantic love, this movie has it all. With that in mind, here is a ranking of every tale told in "Love Actually" from worst to best. Whether you’re thinking about watching this film for the first time or the 400th, read on to see where each pairing lands.
9. Juliet and Mark
To kick things off, the clear loser in this list has to be the story of Keira Knightley’s Juliet and Andrew Lincoln’s Mark. Juliet had just recently married Mark’s best friend Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and, due to his cold and icy demeanor, long believed that Mark had absolutely no interest in being her friend. Following the wedding, Juliet came knocking on Mark’s door to get a glimpse of the wedding video, which turned out to be completely focused on Juliet, with no sight of the actual wedding festivities or her groom. Upon viewing, Knightly has a moment of clarity wash across her face, as she comes to the stark realization that her husband’s best friend doesn’t hate her, but is in fact in love with her.
This story reaches its conclusion (and perhaps low-point) when Mark shows up at Juliet and Peter’s door with the infamous cue cards to confess his love for her. The scene has become a cultural touchstone, and displays a "Love Actually" take on unrequited love. Nevertheless, it seems wholly unrealistic that Juliet would keep something of this gravity as a secret from her new spouse, not to mention the general creepiness of Mark’s wedding video. Andrew Lincoln agrees, saying in a 2017 interview: "I kept saying to [director,] Richard [Curtis], ‘Are you sure I’m not going to come off as a creepy stalker?’"
8. John and Judy
This story is focused on two regular people with a not-so-regular job: they are stand-ins for sex scenes. The duo, who are just getting to know each other, are scheduled to spend weeks simulating different sex scenarios while chatting and shyly flirting about mundane things like traffic and the weather. Compared to the more prominent storylines in this movie, John and Judy’s moments together are tiny but adorable, a hilarious juxtaposition with their mundane conversations. Although their encounters are mostly naked and uncomfortable, this story somehow still beats out Juliet and Mark.
With their limited screen time, Joanna Page ("From Hell") and Martin Freeman ("The Hobbit") provide the audience with comedic relief that acts as a contrast with some of the sadder, more serious storylines. Their awkward first kiss on the doorstep and "All I Want for Christmas is You" moment is charmingly rom-com, exemplifying what has made "Love Actually" an enduring holiday classic.
7. Sarah and Karl
Sarah is a graphic designer played by Laura Linney ("Ozark") who harbors an infatuation with her longtime coworker Karl (Rodrigo Santoro, "300") and everyone, including her boss, is tired of it. It seems as if they are both too stubborn and nervous to make the first move, so their quiet attraction to one another burns slow for years, until the office Christmas party. When Sarah finally gets the opportunity she has been waiting for, she self-sabotages and shows viewers (and Karl) that she is emotionally unavailable to everyone but her mentally unstable brother. Sarah is visibly aware of her own tendency to self-sabotage, but despite Karl’s many attempts to put himself out there, this is how their story ends.
With so much anticipation and chemistry between the characters, this storyline begins with a lot potential, but ultimately leaves the viewer a bit frustrated and unsatisfied. Ultimately, the storyline comes to a tragic close with both characters deciding to coexist, silently agreeing not to pursue each other, denying their feelings. It leaves audiences with the lingering question of whether or not Sarah will ever open herself up to love.
6. Colin and the American girls
This small side plot provides a perfect example of the silly stereotypes prevalent in British film in the 2000s. Colin is an awkward, desperate Englishman with no social cues who blames his lack of female attention on British women’s perceived tendency to be stuck up. He hatches a plan to go to America and use his accent to get girls, who will presumably be beguiled by his foreign mannerisms.
Colin flies to Wisconsin and surprisingly, the plan works. Within a few hours, Colin goes home with three women played by January Jones, Elisha Cuthbert, and Ivana Milicevic. In love with his Estuary English, the girls are soon joined by their roommate (Shannon Elizabeth), and he’s living out a heightened male fantasy.
Sure, the storyline is unrealistic, but Kris Marshall’s portrayal of Colin makes for some very amusing moments. Walking into a dive bar and somehow immediately running into these gorgeous, ready-to-mingle women obsessed with British accents and possessing a proclivity towards sharing a bed and sleeping naked, the subplot is reminiscent of raunchy 2000 movies. It delivers exactly what it promises — no more, no less.
5. Harry and Karen
Every good Christmas rom-com, it seems, needs a heart-wrenching story. In a movie filled with new and optimistic love, it is also important to witness what happens when love grows stale.
Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman play Karen and Harry, a husband and wife with a seemingly loving relationship and beautiful family. We are introduced to Harry’s new secretary Mia (Heike Makatsch), who is completely enamored with him from the very beginning, openly flirting several times. Mia attends their office holiday party in a devil costume, emblematic of her role in helping to ruin the marriage.
The heartbreaking irony of it all is that, while her husband’s eye is wandering, Karen still firmly believes that true love "lasts a lifetime." A turning point in the story comes when Harry buys jewelry for Mia while his wife is on the other end of the store — and when she later discovers the gift-wrapped necklace believes it’s for her, but on Christmas morning instead receives a Joni Mitchell CD.
Emma Thompson’s work in this scene reminds you why she’s a double Oscar winner, as she fights back tears while it sinks in that the jewelry is for someone else. Managing to hold it together for the facade fall apart, the moment is punctuated by Joni Mitchell singing "Don’t let them know, don’t give yourself away," as she silently sobs in the bedroom. Despite it all, Karen stays with Harry, knowing that "life will always be a little bit worse," in the most tragically realistic and heartbreaking of this film’s rom-com endings.
4. Jamie and Aurélia
This story begins with Jamie (Colin Firth), a writer who is happily in love and living with his girlfriend … until he learns that she has been shacking up with his brother. Following this betrayal, Jamie escapes to a lake house in the country to focus on his writing and try to heal. This is where he meets Aurélia (Sienna Guillory, "Eragon"), a Portuguese housekeeper who doesn’t speak a lick of English. Colin Firth’s embarrassing attempts at trying to communicate with her are charming to both the viewer and Aurélia, it seems. Although the two do not understand each other enough to convey this, each of their favorite moments throughout their time together are when he drives her home everyday, their expressions becoming increasingly warmer to each other with each passing car ride.
They spend weeks together in the lake house, connecting over small moments together. Following their final drive together, Jamie begins taking classes to learn Portuguese in order to finally be able to communicate with her. On Christmas, Jamie comes home, takes one look around, and blows off his entire family to hunt down Aurélia, leading to the iconic "I HATE uncle Jamie" line that has been the inspiration for many memes.
Using broken Portuguese, Jamie delivers a rousing proposal speech to Aurélia (and an entire restaurant) — and we discover that she has been simultaneously learning English for his sake. The premise of two people falling in love despite not speaking the same language is made even more heartwarming with Colin Firth’s charismatic portrayal.
3. David and Natalie
Could it really be a British romantic comedy if Hugh Grant wasn’t somehow involved? His token storyline has all the earmarks of a successful rom-com: a dance montage, political drama, a damsel in distress, and grand romantic gestures, just to name a few. The storyline follows Grant as David, the new Prime Minister, who falls for Natalie (Martine McCutcheon, "Kiss Kiss (Bang Bang)"), a member of his household staff. David is overly diplomatic, respectful, and does what is expected of him in order to not make any waves in his new position, which disappoints his staffers.
However, after David witnesses the President (Billy Bob Thornton) sexually harassing Natalie, "Love Actually" gets its chance to satirize the United States, as David delivers a mic-drop speech to the President about the toxic relationship between Britain and the U.S. Despite his efforts to create distance between himself and Natalie for the sake of his job, David ultimately decides to knock on every single door on a block until he finds Natalie. Ignoring the Monica Lewinsky of it all, this is a cute, cheesy love story that delivers an unapologetically feel-good happy ending.
2. Billy Mack and Joe
This subplot is a prime example of how not all love stories are romantic, focusing on self-proclaimed washed-up rocker Billy Mack (Bill Nighy, "Shaun of the Dead") and his "fat manager" Joe (George Fisher, "Without a Clue"). Despite constant complaining and attempts to derail his own stale music career, Billy Mack somehow manages to top the music charts with his new Christmas song. This is particularly rewarding for Joe, who has stuck by him through the darkest of moments.
This heartwarming story about cherishing your loved ones reaches its conclusion once Billy Mack is given the opportunity to celebrate his new record at Elton John’s party, but instead chooses to celebrate with Joe, who he has come to realize is the love of his life. This emphasizes the message that even with all the success in the world (and the approval of no less than Elton John himself) the only ones who really matter are those you love. Though they relish in throwing insults at each other, it is only to mask their genuine love for one another. This heartwarming story about non-romantic soulmates is one of the most genuinely relatable among "Love Actually," giving audiences a bromance worth rooting for.
1. Sam and Joanna (and Daniel)
While the holidays are typically filled with family, Christmas can be a lonely time for others. Daniel (Liam Neeson) is a stepfather overcome with grief after the loss of his wife. All he wants is to connect with his stepson Sam (Thomas Brodie-Sangster, the "Maze Runner" films), and be there for him in this tough time. When he discovers that Sam has been cursed with the "total agony of being in love" at the ripe age of 11, Daniel springs into action to help him win the girl. At first, Daniel laughs off Sam’s declarations of love, but after looking back at the romance he’ll never get back, he agrees to do anything he can to help Sam get the girl.
At the heart of this story is the connection built between Sam and Daniel in the wake of such tragedy. What makes this story so great is not just the huge Christmas pageant musical number, the chase through the airport, or seeing Liam Neeson cry. Ultimately, this storyline is "Love Actually" at its best because it highlights one primary message: Tell people you love them before it’s too late.
Years later, the story of little Sam and Joanna (Olivia Olson, "Phineas and Ferb") still pulls at the heartstrings of audiences and reminds us that love knows no age.