How To Know If You’re Watching a Nicholas Sparks Film

  • Message in a Bottle

    [Photo Credit: Warner Bros.]

  • A Walk to Remember

    [Photo Credit: Warner Bros.]

  • The Notebook

    [Photo Credit: New Line Cinema]

  • Nights in Rodanthe

    [Photo Credit: Warner Bros.]

  • Dear John

    [Photo Credit: Screen Gems]

  • The Last Song

    [Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios]

  • The Lucky One

    [Photo Credit: Village Roadshow]

  • Safe Haven

    [Photo Credit: Relativity Media]

Opening this weekend is yet another adaptation of one of Nicholas Sparks’ romantic novels, The Best of Me, starring James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan. This makes the ninth Sparks novel to find its way to the big screen with another one (The Longest Ride) coming in April. Since 1999, when his first adaptation appeared in theaters, there have been countless Sparks-like stories to flood theaters. Films, such as The Vow and Remember Me, play on many of the author’s most popular tropes that its hard to know whether or not you’re watching an authentic “Nicholas Sparks Film” (NSF).

Here at VH1 we broke it down question by question to help you through you’re next romantic-drama viewing experience.

The Cast

1) Does the film star James Marsden? (No pressure. There’s only a 22 percent chance here.)
2) Does the film’s leading man work with his hands? You know, like a carpenter, or boat repairman, or a fixer-upper-er? In this case, a surgeon counts — he technically works with his hands to stitch someone back together.
3) Is the leading man handsome without being overbearingly so (like Brad Pitt) or too rugged (like Mark Wahlberg)? Is he generally more likable than Ben Affleck? Is he just the right kind of masculine that’s not too hard or too soft but rather somewhere in the middle, like someone your mom would adore on the cover of People magazine?
4) Is the female lead a casual gal who is pretty without trying too hard with hair that looks good blowing in the misty wind?
5) Does she have a job — not a career?
6) Is either lead character guided by an entrusted sage who leads one of them on the path of love? This is typically a single parent or grandparent — someone older, wiser, who will probably die alone (off screen).
7) Does anyone have cancer?

The Setting

8) Does the film take place in the Carolinas?
9) Is the film’s main location set near a large body of water — say, an ocean, a large lake, or an expansive river, but really an ocean with waves crashing romantically against the beach?
10) How’s the weather? Did a romantically charged rainstorm blow through town leading to some form of a romantic encounter, namely kissing?
11) Was there any rain-soaked kissing involving Ryan Gosling or Rachel McAdams?

The Plot

12) Does class separate the main characters?
13) Is the path to love crooked and fraught with twists, turns,  and circumstances that seemingly find a way to keep the couple apart?
14) Did someone leave putting an incredible distance between that person and his/her potential lover?
15) Is there a particular focus on writing love letters?
16) Was there a night of passion — not gratuitous, orgasmic sex, but true passion — between the film’s main couple?
17) Was there an unbearable loss — in particular a father, a child, a husband, and/or but not limited to an ex-husband?
18) Did James Marsden get the shaft?
19) Seriously?!
20) Did he/she just die?
22) Did you ugly girl cry — like totally lose your shit and sob uncontrollably making the people around you uncomfortable?

If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, there’s 75 percent chance (note: this number is not based on any scientific evaluation) that you’re watching an authentic NSF. The key identifiers of NSFs are in the story itself:

Often these films take place in the South (The Lucky One), often one of the Carolinas (Dear John), and next to the ocean (Message in a Bottle) — how else are you supposed to let your hair blow in the misty wind? — with an outsider moving into the small town leaving behind a wake of uncertainty (Safe Haven) and raising the suspicions of a disapproving parent (The Last Song). But have no fear, the sage (aka lonely, single parent dining for one), is there to help one of the lovers on the right path, which typically involves writing love letters (Dear John), kissing in the rain (The Notebook), overcoming classism, experiencing a moment of passion, and a dramatic twist. A twist that wrenches the heart (A Walk to Remember), turns on the waterworks, and for some, means that love doesn’t always have a picture-perfect ending (The Best of Me).

(Click through the gallery above to appreciate all the similarities in an authentic NSF.)

If you answered “no” to any of the questions above, there’s still a 75 percent chance you’re watching an authentic NSF, or that you mistakenly thought you were watching a NSF when in actuality you are watching a NNSF (“Not Nicholas Sparks Film”). Some of these films blur the lines of NSF tropes, such as letter writing (The Lake House, P.S. I Love You) and disapproving parents (Endless Love). Films like Remember Me and The Vow inexplicably feel like NSFs, while The Spectacular Now has a tinge of A Walk to Remember sprinkled into its premise.

Watch Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley, from The Fault in Our Stars (another movie that has NSF qualities), discuss crying over The Notebook.

[Photo: Getty, New Line Cinema, Relativity Media, Warner Bros.]