A tragedy, the film is considered one of the most romantic by the American Film Institute (#9 on the list) and is #37 in the list of highest-grossing films in Canada and the United States. It was followed by a sequel, Oliver's Story (1978), starring O'Neal with Candice Bergen.
Oliver Barrett IV comes from an American upper-class East Coast family and is heir to the Barrett fortune. He attends Harvard University, where he is very active in ice hockey. At the library, Oliver meets Jennifer "Jenny" Cavalleri, a quick-witted, working-class Radcliffe College student of classical music. She mocks him, calling him "preppy" and "jock". Oliver finds charm and truth in her comments. They quickly fall in love, despite their differences.
Jenny reveals her plans for the future, which include studying in Paris. Oliver is upset that he does not figure in those plans. He wants to marry Jenny and proposes. After she accepts, she is driven to the Barrett mansion to meet the old guard parents. Oliver reassures her that their class differences won't matter. However, his parents are clearly not impressed and are judgmental. Later, at the Harvard club Oliver's father tells him that he will cut him off financially if he marries Jenny. Oliver storms out of the dining hall. Upon graduation from college, the two students decide to marry against the wishes of Oliver's father, who severs ties with his son. The wedding is modern and contains no religious denomination. Jenny's widowed father attends, although he also has concerns about their social differences.
Without his father's financial support, the couple struggle to pay Oliver's way through Harvard Law School. Jenny gets work as a private-school teacher. They rent the top floor of a triple decker near the Law School. Oliver graduates third in his class, winning $500, and takes a position at a respectable New York law firm. They eventually move into a doorman building, which contrasts greatly with their Cambridge digs. The 24-year-olds are ready to start a family, but when they fail to conceive they consult a medical specialist. After many tests, Oliver is informed that Jenny is terminally ill. Her exact condition is never stated explicitly, but she appears to have leukemia (which is confirmed by Oliver in the sequel, Oliver's Story).
As instructed by his doctor, Oliver attempts to live a "normal life" without telling Jenny of her condition, but she finds out after confronting her doctor about her recent illness. Oliver buys tickets to Paris but she declines, wanting only time with him. Soon after she begins costly cancer therapy, Oliver is desperate enough over the mounting expenses to seek financial relief from his father. The senior Barrett asks what the money request of $5,000 is for, but Oliver will only say that it's "personal". His father asks if he's "gotten a girl in trouble". Oliver, not wanting to admit the truth, says yes to this scenario. His father writes him a check.
From her hospital bed, Jenny makes funeral arrangements with her father, then asks for Oliver. She tells him to not blame himself, insisting that he never held her back from music and it was worth it for the love they shared. Jenny's last wish is made when she asks him to embrace her tightly before she dies. As grief-stricken Oliver leaves the hospital, he sees his father outside, having rushed to New York City from Massachusetts as soon as he heard the news about Jenny and wanting to offer his help. Oliver tells him, "Jenny's dead," and his father says "I'm sorry," to which Oliver responds, "Love– Love means never having to say you're sorry." Oliver walks back alone to the outdoor ice rink, where Jenny had watched him skate the day she was hospitalized.Ali MacGraw as Jennifer "Jenny" Cavalleri
Ryan O'Neal as Oliver Barrett IV
John Marley as Phil Cavalleri
Ray Milland as Oliver Barrett III
Russell Nype as Dean Thompson
Katharine Balfour as Mrs. Barrett
Sydney Walker as Dr. Shapely
Robert Modica as Dr. Addison
Walker Daniels as Ray Stratton
Tommy Lee Jones as Hank Simpson
John Merensky as Steve
Andrew Duncan as Reverend Blaufelt
Erich Segal originally wrote the screenplay and sold it to Paramount Pictures. While the film was being produced, Paramount wanted Segal to write a novel based on it, to be published on Valentine's Day to help pre-publicize the release of the film. When the novel came out, it became a bestseller on its own in advance of the film.
The original director was Larry Peerce. He backed out and was replaced by Anthony Harvey. Harvey dropped out and was replaced by Arthur Hiller. Jimmy Webb wrote a score for the film that was not used.
The lead role was turned down by Beau Bridges, Michael York and Jon Voight. Ryan O'Neal was given the lead role on the recommendation of Eric Segal, who had worked with the actor on The Games; he was paid $25,000.
The main song in the film, "(Where Do I Begin?) Love Story" was a major success, particularly the vocal rendition recorded by Andy Williams.
Filming Love Story on site caused damage to the Harvard campus; this, and a similar experience with the film A Small Circle of Friends (1980), caused the university administration to deny most subsequent requests for filming on location there.
Ryan O'Neal was not an accomplished ice hockey skater or player, so some stand-ins were required for the ice hockey scenes. Harvard hockey legend Bill Cleary, then a Harvard freshman coach, was O'Neal's replacement for most hockey action. Harvard then-varsity and freshman players comprised the rest of the hockey players, including those playing opponents in the Dartmouth and Cornell game scenes. The action was filmed at Harvard's old Watson rink before it became today's Bright Hockey Center.
Although a success at the box office and with most reviewers, such as Roger Ebert, the film was disliked by many others. Newsweek felt the film was contrived and film critic Judith Crist called Love Story "Camille with bullshit." Writer Harlan Ellison was on record in The Other Glass Teat, his book of collected criticism, as calling it "shit". President Richard Nixon however, reportedly enjoyed the film, regretting only that it contained so much cursing.
The film is scored number nine on the AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions list, which recognizes the top 100 love stories in American cinema. The film also spawned a trove of imitations, parodies, and homages in countless films, having re-energized melodrama on the silver screen as well as helping to set the template for the modern "chick flick".
The film is among the highest-grossing films in Canada and the United States, gaining $106,397,186 in rentals. It grossed an additional $30 million in international film markets. At the time of release, it was the 6th highest-grossing film of all time in U.S and Canada gross only. Adjusted for inflation, the film remains one of the top 40 domestic grosses of all time.
The Crimson Key Society, a student association, has sponsored showings of Love Story during orientation to each incoming class of Harvard College freshmen since the late 1970s. During the showings, society members and other audience members mock, boo, and jeer "maudlin, old-fashioned and just plain schlocky" moments to humorously build school spirit.
Overall, Love Story has received mixed reviews. Rotten Tomatoes retrospectively collected reviews from 23 critics and gave the film a score of 57%.
The soundtrack from the film was released separately as an album, and distributed by Quality Records.
- Theme from Love Story — by Francis Lai, performed by Francis Lai & His Orchestra
- Snow Frolic — by Francis Lai, performed by Francis Lai & His Orchestra
- Piano Sonata in F Major — by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
- I Love You, Phil — by Francis Lai
- The Christmas Trees — by Francis Lai
- Search for Jenny — by Francis Lai
- Bozo Barrett — by Francis Lai
- Skating in Central Park — by John Lewis
- The Long Walk Home — by Francis Lai
- Harpsichord Concerto No. 3 in D Major — by Johann Sebastian Bach
- Theme from Love Story (Finale) — by Francis Lai, performed by Francis Lai & His Orchestra
Love Story was nominated for seven 1971 Academy Awards, winning one:Best Music, Original Score — Francis Lai
It was nominated in the categories of:Best Picture — Howard G. Minsky
Best Director — Arthur Hiller
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Not Previously Published — Erich Segal
Best Actor in a Leading Role — Ryan O'Neal
Best Actress in a Leading Role — Ali MacGraw
Best Actor in a Supporting Role — John Marley
In addition, Love Story was nominated for seven Golden Globe Awards, winning five:Best Motion Picture - Drama
Best Director — Arthur Hiller
Best Actress in a Drama — Ali MacGraw
Best Screenplay — Erich Segal
Best Original Score — Francis Lai
It was also nominated for:Best Actor in a Drama — Ryan O'Neal
Best Supporting Actor — John Marley
American Film Institute recognitionAFI's 100 Years...100 Movies—Nominated
AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions - #9
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes #13
AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition)—Nominated
Two lines from the film have entered popular culture:What can you say about a 25-year-old girl who died? That she was beautiful and brilliant? That she loved Mozart and Bach? The Beatles? And me?
Love means never having to say you're sorry.
The latter is spoken twice in the film, once by Jennifer when Oliver is about to apologize to her for his anger. It is also spoken by Oliver to his father when his father says "I'm sorry" after hearing of Jennifer's death.
The quote made it to #13 onto the American Film Institute's AFI's 100 Years ... 100 Movie Quotes, a list of top movie quotes.
The comedy What's Up, Doc? (1972), which stars O'Neal, refers to this line at the end, when Barbra Streisand's character coos "Love means never having to say you're sorry", while batting her eyelashes. O'Neal's character responds, "That's the dumbest thing I ever heard".
O'Neal and Milland reprised their roles for a sequel, Oliver's Story, released in 1978. It was based on Segal's 1977 novel. The film begins with Jenny's funeral, then picks up 18 months later. Oliver is a successful, but unhappy, lawyer in New York. Although still mourning Jenny, he manages to find love with heiress Marcie Bonwit (Candice Bergen). Suffering from comparisons to the original, Oliver's Story did poorly with both audiences and critics.
NBC broadcast Love Story, a short-lived romantic anthology television series, in 1973-1974. Although it shared its name with the novel and movie and used the same theme song – "(Where Do I Begin) Love Story" – as the movie, it otherwise was unrelated to them, with no characters or storylines in common with either the novel or the movie. The original film was remade in Malayalam as Madanolsavam in 1978.
Another movie 'Sanam Teri Kasam' was made and released in 2016. The film is a modern rendition of the novel Love Story by Eric Segal. The film was released worldwide on 5 February 2016 under the production banner of Eros Now.
Roger Ebert defined "Ali MacGraw's Disease" as a movie illness in which "the only symptom is that the patient grows more beautiful until finally dying". Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that it was as if Jenny was suffering from some vaguely unpleasant Elizabeth Arden treatment.
In 1971, the twentieth episode of the fourth season of The Carol Burnett Show featured a take-off of the film called "Lovely Story", with Carol Burnett in the MacGraw role and Harvey Korman in the O'Neal role.