I have a confession to make. I have just watched (and in some cases re-watched) ten Nicholas Sparks films.
Now, I am aware that, in some cinema circles, this may make me persona non grata. But do you know what? I just don’t care. I would call these films my guilty pleasure… but I just don’t feel guilty about watching them.
And I know that they are not perfect. I know that they follow a formula. I know that they can be sickly sweet and sentimental. I just don’t care - there are just times when I need that sugar.
For example, I have been watching a lot of documentaries recently. I have absolutely loved them but after watched Amy, Mea Maxima Culpa, Going Clear, Cartel Land and The Act Of Killing in one week I’d reached the limit. I just couldn’t face another traumatic movie experience.
I needed to watch something that was the equivalent of a mug of hot chocolate and a comfort blanket. And that, for me, can only mean one thing… a Nicholas Sparks marathon.
A Winning Formula
As I watched these ten movies, I started to wonder just what I enjoy about them.
And of course, it isn’t just me. These films are phenomenally successful and they just keep coming.
Nicholas Sparks has certainly hit on a winning formula and, if it 'aint broke etc. I have been thinking about this formula and I think I have narrowed it down to these ten key elements:
A gorgeous North Carolina setting - most often somewhere by the sea (or at least some body of water)
A strong cast - both leading and supporting
A beautiful, independent woman who is, for varying reasons, unfulfilled. She doesn’t need saving thank you very
A handsome man - sensitive, strong, intellectual and also practical (good with his hands - sanding or fixing boats,
A complicated, once in a lifetime romance
A death - either of a lead character or a much loved supporting character
A handy rain storm - always useful for bringing our couple together
A meal under the stars (usually fish)
- A sigh inducing ending - not always a happy ever after mind.
Top 10 Nicholas Sparks Films
So, having watched all ten Nicholas Sparks movies, I am now going to rank them in order of my preference.
So here goes:
10. A Walk To Remember
Released: 2002 - Rated PG - 101 minutes
Director: Adam Shankman
Cast: Mandy Moore, Shane West, Peter Coyote, Daryl Hannah
Plot: Two teenagers begin an unlikely romance. Landon (Shane West) is a bad boy who only notices good girl Jamie (Mandy Moore) after he is forced to do community service. Needless to say, Jamie’s father Reverend Sullivan does not approve.
Verdict: At times almost unbearably sweet, A Walk To Remember is saved by the charismatic performance of Shane West and the gravitas of Peter Coyote. Predictable and flawed, this movie still managed to win me over by the end.
9. The Best Of Me
Released: 2014 - Rated 12 - 118 minutes
Director: Adam Shankman
Cast: James Marsden, Michelle Monaghan, Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato
Plot: Two former high school sweethearts, Dawson (James Marsden) and Amanda (Michelle Monaghan) are forced to confront their past love when circumstances bring them back to their small hometown.
Verdict: The best of The Best Of Me is, for me, the performances by Michelle Monaghan and Liana Liberato. They are both sparky and engaging.
Flashbacks (a tool often favoured by Sparks) are used to tell the story of Dawson and Amanda’s young romance. Both the young and older couple are very sweet and the everything looks gorgeous. However, I can never quite move past the fact that Luke Bracey looks nothing like James Marsden.
In addition, the film then ends with a massive, eye rolling plot contrivance. I often stop watching three quarters of the way though.
8. Nights In Rodanthe
Released: 2008 - Rated 12 - 97 minutes
Director: George C. Wolfe
Cast: Diane Lane, Richard Gere, Christopher Meloni, Viola Davis, Mae Whitman and James Franco
Plot: Adrienne is unhappy and unfulfilled. She has separated from her cheating husband (Christopher Meloni) and is struggling to raise her son and resentful teenage daughter.
Desperately seeking headspace, Adrienne agrees to look after her friend’s coastal guest house. How hard could it be when there is only one guest due to stay? Well, things get a tad complicated when that guest is Richard Gere. With a storm closing in, the couple turn to each other for ‘comfort’ and realise that they can dare to dream of a better future?
Verdict: It is always great to see Diane Lane and Richard Gere on screen - they have great chemistry together. It is also nice to watch a Nicholas Sparks film that features a, shall we say, slightly older couple.
Yes, the film is a little silly and the love scenes are a little cringey but Nights In Rodanthe is sweet and watchable. I always enjoy the supporting cast - Mae Whitman, Viola Davies and James Franco particularly.
7. The Last Song
Released: 2010 - Rated PG - 107 minutes
Director: Julie Anne Robinson
Cast: Miley Cyrus, Greg Kinnear, Liam Hemsworth, Kelly Preston
Plot: Troubled teen, Ronnie (Miley Cyrus), is sent to spend the summer with her dad (Greg Kinnear). A chance meeting with local boy Will (Liam Hemsworth) leads to the start of a intense, yet complicated romance.
Verdict: Ronnie (Miley Cyrus) and Will (Liam Hemsworth) are very sweet together in this film. I also love Ronnie’s relationship with her father. Greg Kinnear brings great warmth and humour to his role and is the real reason why I would watch this film again.
6. Dear John
Released: 2010 - Rated 12 - 108 minutes
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Cast: Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried and Richard Jenkins
Plot: On leave from the military, special operations soldier John (Channing Tatum) meets idealitic student Savannah (Seyfried). She brings him out of himself and bonds with his father (Richard Jenkins) - who she believes has a mild form of autism. However, all too soon John has to return to the army. The couple are determined to stay together and write many letters to each other. However, as global and personal events threaten to keep them apart, can their love endure.
Verdict: I really like Channing Tatum’s performance in Dear John. He plays his role with a low key intensity. I quite like Seyfried’s Savannah but the film does not make that easy and the couple’s relationship is pretty unsatisfying throughout.
Meanwhile, Richard Jenkins gives a superb performance as John’s dad. He saves the film for me and gives it heart.
5. Safe Haven
Released: 2013 - Rated 12 - 115 minutes
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Cast: Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel, Cobie Smulders and David Lyons
Plot: After a violent incident, a young woman (Julianne Hough) runs away. She ends up in a small town where she decides to change her name to Katie and start a new life. She gets a job at the local restaurant and begins a friendship with shop owner, Alex (Josh Duhamel), and his two kids. However, can she ever escape her past?
Verdict: I actually don’t know why I love this film as much as I do. I can see that it has huge flaws but I enjoy it all the same. I think I like the fact that Safe Haven has a more thriller type edge. I also like the central romance between Alex and Katie. I tend to gloss over the ending, however!
4. The Longest Ride
Released: 2015 - Rated 12 - 128 minutes
Director: George Tillman Jr
Cast: Scott Eastwood, Britt Robertson, Alan Alda, Jack Huston, Oona Chaplin
Plot: Promising art student, Sophia (Britt Robertson) meets champion bull rider, Luke (Scott Eastwood) and they embark on a romance that both know will be short lived. Luke
needs to concentrate on his comeback and Sophia is soon off to New York to start an internship at an art gallery. However, an accident brings them into contact with Ira (Alan Alder) whose own
love story inspires them both.
Verdict: The Longest Ride is an enjoyable film thanks, in large part, to the performances of its impressive cast. It is fun watching this film for its slice of Hollywood history alone. First, of course, you have Scott Eastwood who gives a good performance all the while looking and sounding so much like his dad. Then you have Angelica Huston’s nephew Jack playing the young Ira and Charlie Chaplin’s granddaughter Oona as the young Ruth. The film also features the fabulous Alan Alder who raises this film to a higher level with charming ease.
3. Message In A Bottle
Released: 1999 - Rated 12 - 131 minutes
Director: Luis Mandoki
Cast: Kevin Costner, Robin Wright, Paul Newman, John Savage, Illeana Douglas, Robbie Coltrane, Jesse James
Plot: After finding a romantic message in a bottle washed up on the shore, writer Theresa decides to uncover the story behind the note for an article in her Chicago newspaper. Little did she expect to fall in love with its author, Garret (Kevin Costner).
Verdict: The film that started it all, Message In A Bottle is endearingly romantic. It also boasts an impressive cast. Costner and Wright give particularly strong performances and the supporting cast are brilliant. I just love Paul Newman in this film.
2. The Lucky One
Released: 2012 - Rated 12 - 101 minutes
Director: Scott Hicks
Cast: Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling, Blythe Danner, Riley Thomas Stewart and Jay R. Ferguson
Plot: US Marine, Logan Thibault (Zac Efron) finds a picture of a woman and believes that it has saved his life. Determined to return the photograph to its rightful owner, he tracks the woman down to a small town in North Carolina. She is called Beth (Taylor Schilling) and she runs a kennel. Beth thinks that Logan has come to apply for a job at her kennel. Logan can’t find the words to explain the real reason for his visit. And so he takes the job and the couple soon become friends. However, Beth’s ex-husband is none to keen on the marine’s arrival and will do anything to tear the couple apart.
Verdict: I love The Lucky One. It has all the elements for a classic Nicholas Sparks movie. The cast is strong and Hicks develops the central romance slowly and in a way that makes sense. Blythe Danner steals every scene that she is in - giving the movie humour and heart. Zac Efron is a charismatic lead and there is real chemistry between him and Taylor Schilling. The Lucky One looks gorgeous, is full of drama and has an extremely satisfying conclusion.
1. The Notebook
Released: 2004 - Rated 12 - 123 minutes
Director: Nick Cassavetes
Cast: Rachel McAdams, Ryan Gosling, Gena Rowlands, James Garner, Joan Allen, James Marsden, Kevin Connolly, Michael D. Fuller and Sam Shepard
Plot: Noah (Ryan Gosling) may not have much money but he loves Allie (Rachel McAdams) with a passion that will last a lifetime.
Verdict: It has probably come as no surprise to you that The Notebook is top of this list of Nicholas Sparks movies. It is a classic love story. Again, this film has a strong cast, a gorgeous setting, flashbacks, a rainstorm, and an ending that gets me every time.
What do you think?
So there we have it... my top ten Nicholas Sparks movies ranked in order of (my) preference.
This, of course, may not be your preferred order.
If not, let me know why in the comments section below!