The Love Story movie broke box-office records in 1970 & is considered one of the most romantic movies of all time

The Love Story movie broke box-office records in 1970 - Click Americana

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The Love Story movie made its debut in 1970, delivering a poignant tale of love against all odds that managed to melt the hearts of audiences worldwide. This cinematic marvel, directed by Arthur Hiller and born from Erich Segal’s novel sharing the same title, was not exactly popular with the critics. But who could deny its uncanny ability to encapsulate the spirit of its time?

This film, a tender narrative about two lovers from different worlds, unexpectedly became a box-office sensation. The movie’s impact was profound, shaping popular conceptions of love and romance for years to come.

So, let’s rewind the clock and delve into the cultural phenomenon that was — and still is — Love Story.

Love Story - Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal

When the Love Story movie debuted, the country was wrestling with monumental societal changes — from the ongoing Vietnam War to the feminist movement. Amid all this upheaval, a simple story of love, loss, and the enduring spirit of the human heart came along and gave moviegoers something to rally around.

The film introduces us to Oliver Barrett IV (Ryan O’Neal), a wealthy Harvard student, and Jenny Cavilleri (Ali MacGraw), a working-class Radcliffe student. Despite their differences, they fall deeply in love, promising to stick together “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health,” only to have that promise tested in ways they never could have imagined.

Ali McGraw and Ryan O'Neal in Mademoiselle magazine (1970)

Emotion-driven storyline

In stark contrast to many other films of the era, the Love Story movie stripped away artifice, focusing instead on the raw emotions and interpersonal dynamics of a young couple grappling with life’s most painful challenges. The storyline was unapologetically emotional, and it invited audiences to explore the depths of their own feelings about love and loss.

Despite mixed critical reception, Love Story was an overwhelming success, becoming the highest-grossing film of 1970. It not only captured the hearts of millions, but also earned seven Academy Award nominations, winning for Best Original Score. (Scroll down to hear the theme song.)

Love Story movie publicity still
Publicity still for the Love Story movie (1970)

The film’s influence seeped into other areas of popular culture as well. Its iconic line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” is still quoted today, and the theme song by Francis Lai became an instant classic. The film even sparked fashion trends, with women everywhere emulating Jenny’s classic, preppy style.

In the years following its release, Love Story has endured as a testament to the power of love and the human spirit. It remains a cultural touchstone, remembered not just for its storyline, but also for the way it touched viewers’ hearts. Despite being over half a century old, the Love Story movie continues to be a beloved film that resonates with audiences of all ages.

In the end, the Love Story movie did more than just tell a moving tale of love and loss. It captured a moment in time and tapped into the universal human experience, reminding us all of the power of love and the resilience of the human spirit. It was more than a movie; it was a cultural phenomenon that left an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of its viewers.

Vintage Love Story movie poster from 1970
Vintage poster for the Love Story movie from 1970

A film that has never gone out of style

Love Story may start swing to romanticism in movies (1970)

By Gene Handsaker in the Fort Lauderdale News (Florida) December 30, 1970

One snowflake may not a winter make, nor one film a trend… unless, perhaps, it’s “Love Story.” Its critics’ reviews and early box office returns suggest a start of the pendulum’s swing back to romanticism from blatant sex on the screen.

Or as Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, put it recently in a speech to a Sacramento, Calif., business group: 

“My judgment is the sexploitation film, mostly imported from abroad or made cheaply and quickly in this country is fading… What I think will become the majority of seriously-made films in this country is the kind of movie I would call romantic or entertaining.”

Ryan O'Neal & Ali McGraw

Success was predicted for the Love Story movie

Critic Kathleen Carroll wrote in The New York Daily News that “‘Love Story’ should bring joy to millions of moviegoers sickened by the overdose of sex and drugs in the movies.”

“Unless we are all mad,” Charles Champlin wrote in the Los Angeles Times, it “will be an enormous success, and almost certainly the most influential movie of the year, heralding more to come.”

About The Bad News Bears, the original '70s movie starring Tatum O'Neal & Walter Matthau

Thus far there is only one other romantic-tinged film in new release, the remake of Charlotte Bronte’s classic “Wuthering Heights.” Like “Love Story,” it focuses on all-starred lovers.

“Love Story” has Ryan O’Neal, for five years in TV’s “Peyton Place,” as a hockey-playing Harvard law student in rollicking love with Ali MacGraw, a poor but spirited Radcliffe music student.

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Music: “Theme from Love Story”

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The Love Story movie is the ultimate tearjerker

Their marriage survives his stern father’s disapproval and disinheritance but is doomed by her illness. Audience sniffles are like those at tearjerkers of the ’30s.

In a handsome production of Erich Segal’s script, from which he later wrote his bestselling novel, skin exposure is minimal, and lovemaking is hardly more than hinted at. The film’s rating is PG, however — parental guidance suggested — presumably for the profanity Miss MacGraw uses, some critics thought, to excess.

Some reviews were less enthusiastic. Gail Rock of Women’s Wear Daily advised: “If you dig high school plays and 1957 fiction from the Saturday Evening Post, you’ll love ‘Love Story’…Neither O’Neal nor Miss MacGraw is a very good actor.”

John Marley and Ali MacGraw in Love Story
John Marley and Ali MacGraw in the Love Story movie (1970)
Time travel & romance lit up the 1980 movie ‘Somewhere in Time,’ starring Christopher Reeve & Jane Seymour

A spokesman for the producers’ association says: “Unquestionably, there will be a lot of imitations, because it’s going to be one of the most successful pictures in many years.”

Vincent Canby of the New York Times pronounced the picture “beautiful and romantic,” and added: “The only really depressing thing about ‘Love Story’ is the thought of all the terrible imitations that will inevitably follow it.”

Vintage 1970 movie Love Story

In an era of sexual license and X-rated films, Time magazine’s review said, “the counter-revolution had to happen.” Early viewers seemed to approve. Paramount Studio says the film broke house box-office records in the first four days of its world premiere booking at two New York theaters.

It is of course too early to tell whether predictions of a trend toward romanticism will materialize. But there has been a tendency in recent years for films that enjoy great popularity to inspire a spate of imitations. Examples are “Bonnie and Clyde,” “The Graduate,” and “Easy Rider.”

With movie attendance declining, production at a trickle, and most major studies in the red, producers are quick to try to jump aboard any bandwagon.

Ali McGraw and Ryan O'Neal in 1970 -Love Story movie

Buy or rent the full-length Love Story movie on YouTube

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Ali MacGraw shines in the hit movie ‘Love Story’ (1970)

By Vernon Scott in The Morning Call (Allentown, Pennsylvania) December 27, 1970

Very probably the choicest role for an actress in many years has fallen to Ali MacGraw, who plays Jenny, the romantic-tragic girl of “Love Story.”

The part could not have befallen a more suitable performer. Ali rings true as pure crystal. Although she has appeared in only one motion picture, “Goodbye, Columbus,” she managed to captivate audiences. Due largely to her performance, the picture was an enormous hit.

That was almost two years ago. Since then, Ali has married Robert Evans, production head of Paramount Studios, and is expecting her first baby in February.

ALSO SEE: What were the top movies of 1970?

Instant oddity

She would as soon be a wife and mother as an actress, which makes her an instant oddity in Hollywood. She buys her clothes in second-hand shops, wears little or no makeup, and longs to return to New York City.

“But ‘Love Story’ is something else again,” Ali said. “I wanted to do the picture the moment I read the script.”

Scene from the Love Story movie (1970)

Erich Segal’s best-selling novel was written after his screenplay and has been read by countless millions of women with tears streaming down their faces, and by men fight- ing lumps in their throats. Because the reader, and audience, knows Jenny is dying from the outset, the character is one cherished by all actresses.

The Love Story movie is “totally uneventful”

“It’s a totally uneventful picture,” said Miss MacGraw. “It’s life. Believable. When we made the picture last winter, I reread the script and the book ever and over again.

“I felt much easier about playing the part when I read the original script. But when the book was published and took off to such tremendous heights, things changed. I was panic-stricken at the size and dimension of the extraordinary reception of the novel.”

The observation is typical of Ali, who was a model and cover girl in New York before becoming an actress.

MORE: From model to movie star, Ali MacGraw was Hollywood’s unstoppable heroine (1972)

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Ali MacGraw’s tiny ego

Her beauty is arresting, if imperfect. She appears to be unaware that men and women alike turn to stare at her on the streets and in restaurants. Her ego is tiny. She is a woman with strong ideas quietly stated.

“I’m not driven,” she said. “Perhaps I’d enjoy doing a single picture a year. But I haven’t read anything lately that flipped me… I’d love a movie to be a compilation of terrific moments in my life — that’s why I do so few. I work hard. And I cared about nearly everybody in the artificial atmosphere in ‘Love Story.’ A role is not just something to walk through and be done with.

ALSO SEE: Memories of these 70s perfumes will take you straight back in time

Actress Ali MacGraw

Actors “should be excited”

“I have no tolerance for people who are bored while they’re working in a movie. They should be excited and bring something to the scene and character.”

One day the script simply called for Ali and co-star Ryan O’Neal to stroll across the Harvard campus.

“To some performers, it might be a full or unexciting thing to do,” Ali said. “We didn’t feel that way. It was as important as any other part of the picture, even without dialogue. It wasn’t flashy or earth-shaking.” Ali MacGraw’s performance is both.

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