Nicholas Sparks has created an empire from the hopeful yet tragic loves stories you read on vacation or watch after too many bottles of wine. Like Nancy Meyers, whose films always incorporate droolworthy decor, location is key. And Sparks’ films are almost exclusively set on the coasts of North or South Carolina–a nod to his adopted home of New Bern, NC. Over the years numerous titles have been adapted from breezy beach reads into sugar-coated love stories with a male and female lead much too beautiful to be of this Earth.
Some stand out: The Notebook has become required viewing for any female and/or person with a beating heart, while Miley Cyrus‘ transformation from Disney girl to Twerk Queen included a pit stop in a role Sparks created just for her. But do all Nicholas Sparks novels-turned-blockbusters include letter-writing or a devastating illness in the final act? Pretty much. Does the male lead sensually grab his female counterpart’s face on every promotional poster? Yes! (See above.)
With Valentine’s Day approaching, it seemed as good a time as ever to explore the Sparks canon in full. How else will I know if the news that James Marsden will play the lead in The Best of Me is a career downgrade or a move deserving of a little more defending? And don’t you want to be able to explain to your basic friends that The Vow is not a Nicholas Sparks joint. Call me a masochist, but my mission was clear.
The Mission: Watch all eight films adapted from Nicholas Sparks novels in the week leading up to Valentine’s Day, without drowning in my own pile of tears and/or self-pity.
Message in a Bottle (1999)
A Walk to Remember (2002)
The Notebook (2004)
Nights in Rodanthe (2008)
Dear John (2010)
The Last Song (2010)
The Lucky One (2012)
Safe Haven (2013)
A ranking from worst to first and spoilers about films that have already been theatrically released to come, but first…