This Valentine’s Day, the latest movie adaptation of a book by the melodramatic novelist Nicholas Sparks—don’t worry, he has nine left—hits the big screen. Safe Haven, starring Dancing With the Stars’ Julianne Hough and Fergie’s main squeeze, Josh Duhamel, is typical Sparks fare: an unlikely match, insurmountable odds, and eventual happily ever after. But where does the new film fit in among classics like The Notebook and less-loved adaptations like The Last Song? Here, we rank Sparks’s novels turned films, from romantic to downright cheesy.
1. ‘The Notebook’
Clearly the most watchable of the bunch, and not just because it delivered us Ryan Gosling in 1940s underwear, The Notebook is seen as the epitome of a tear-jerking rom-com by teenage girls and grandmothers alike. Not to mention Roger Ebert, who gave the film a lofty 3.5 stars in his 2004 review.
2. ‘The Lucky One’
Starring a now grown-up Zac Efron and little-known actress Taylor Schilling as the unlikely pair, 2012’s The Lucky One follows a brooding and bulky Marine traveling to rural Louisiana in search of a woman he believes was his good-luck charm during the war. (He found her picture in the dirt during an explosion that could have killed him.) It sounds a bit creepy, and really it is, but somehow both characters are still endearing. It’s also one of Sparks’s more believable titles, with the dark backdrop of the Iraq War adding a contemporary element.
3. ‘A Walk to Remember’
Before Shane West dropped off the face of the planet, and before Mandy Moore stopped starring in family-friendly rom-coms, the pair starred in 2002’s A Walk to Remember, a cheesy yet somehow still tear-inducing drama about two North Carolina teens. Shane is a bad boy who finds himself in community service. Jamie is a reverend’s daughter who is a do-gooder but hides an unfortunate secret. The two fall in love and are forced to deal with some very adult drama along the way.
4. ‘Safe Haven’
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Sparks’s latest adaptation follows a runaway woman who lands in North Carolina and finds friendship with a handsome widower. Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel take the lead roles and remind us how most of Sparks’s protagonists resemble Barbie and Ken brought to life.
5. ‘The Last Song’
Hannah Montana’s Miley Cyrus and younger Hemsworth brother Liam star in this 2010 summer-romance flick about a rebellious teen sent to live at her father’s Southern beach house for the season. The story is slightly different from others of its kind, with The Last Song focusing on the relationship between the teen and her father (played, shockingly, by Greg Kinnear) just as much as her summer fling. It seems the moral of this story is that while boys may come and go, the real leading man in any young woman’s life is her father. Ironically, this flick is what sparked the relationship and eventual engagement of costars Cyrus and Hemsworth.
6. ‘Dear John’
Hollywood heavyweights Channing Tatum (Magic Mike, Side Effects) and Amanda Seyfried (Les Misérables) star in this unexceptional 2010 drama about a college student and a soldier who fall in love during his two-week leave. When he’s called back to duty, the pair exchange letters until something surprising happens. Although the plot is less than enticing, it does deliver us an ending that is downright depressing—a refreshing departure from the usual Sparks fare.
7. ‘Message in a Bottle’
Kevin Costner and Robin Wright star in this 1999 adaptation, the first of Sparks’s novels to hit the big screen. While it’s easy to blame the nearly 15-year-old flick’s failure on dated cinematography and a subpar score, the seasoned acting abilities of both Costner and Wright should have elevated the film. Alas, this is one message in a bottle we don’t want to read.
8. ‘Nights in Rodanthe’
Another film that proves that casting quality actors like Richard Gere and Diane Lane does not guaranty a watchable flick, Nights in Rodanthe (2008) is Sparks’s sleepiest adaptation. Perhaps it’s because the characters are a bit older and the film focuses on the relationship between a doctor and his estranged son more than on a whirlwind romance between two young lovers. Regardless, we’d suggest skipping this tedious film and subbing in a second viewing of The Notebook.