American actor and producer Mark Ruffalo has garnered legions of fans not only for his heartthrob good looks but for his nuanced portrayal of complex, sensitive characters who experience their emotions in all their entirety. Whether wresting with uncontrollable green range, the trauma inflicted by a difficult past, or joy for new beginnings, Ruffalo instills his diverse roles with a multi-layered humanity that draws viewers into his characters’ inner lives.
Beyond his work in romantic roles, Ruffalo has brought a complicated dignity to roles ranging from a conflicted investigator in Zodiac to a homeless father suffering from bipolar disorder in Infinitely Polar Bear. His renderings of activist lawyer Robert Bilott fighting chemical pollution in Dark Waters and wrestling champion and family man Dave Schultz in Foxcatcher were also critically acclaimed, with the latter earning him an Academy Award nomination. Basically, Ruffalo has a unique way of revealing something universal within individual human struggles.
But throughout his varied career, Mark Ruffalo has brought an uncanny tenderness to his portrayal of romantic leads that has truly captivated audiences. Perhaps it is Ruffalo’s own experience of profound once-in-a-lifetime love and devotion to his wife and children that infuses itself in his romantic roles. Because that bittersweet beauty and wisdom seldom come easy. One has to have a life fully lived to look back to in order to capture both the wonder and impermanence of love’s fleeting moments.
The films on this little list find Ruffalo representing the vulnerability, hope, and yes, romantic angst that connects us with our own yearnings for healthy love, the desire to belong, and feel life’s deepest joys in the company of another person. Ruffalo has played an array of romantic leads, and each reminds us that true connection requires honesty, humility, and a willingness to walk alongside another soul and accept them precisely as they are.
7 On The Second Day Of Christmas (1997)
On The Second Day Of Christmas starts off as an adorable comedy-drama about 29-year-old Trish and her 6-year-old niece Patsy, who are small-time thieves that go around pickpocketing and accomplishing little heists. However, right before Christmas, they’re caught stealing by a security guard named Bert (Mark Ruffalo). Facing the threat of being put to Social Services, Trish and Patsy are saved by Bert, who volunteers to keep an eye on them until after the holiday.
From a cute dinner at Maplewood and confessions to Santa Claus to Bert delivering a bicycle at Trish’s to fulfill her Christmas wish, everything about the movie screams feel-good. Ruffalo imbues Bert with gentle wit and warmth, which makes him only more lovable. Even though silly situational humor drives much of the plot, and the setting is very basic, the deeper themes of finding love in the most unexpected places and the atmosphere of joy and light make it all the more interesting.
6 Apartment 12 (2001)
This indie romance directed by Dan Bootzin is extremely relaxing and entertaining, but it is also criminally underappreciated. Following Mark Ruffalo’s Alex, a down-on-his-luck painter whose girlfriend Yvette dumped him right before his gallery show, the movie ascends into a humorous romance. Left jobless and abandoned, Alex decides to move to a new apartment and takes his pizza delivery job back. He stumbles upon Lori, a new resident and former soldier whose perspective is way too distinct from his own. Naturally, new love blossoms.
Mark brings relatability, charm, and a subtle vulnerability to his character of Alex as he learns what he wants from a relationship. Beth Ulrich has an incredible on-screen presence, and her dynamic with Ruffalo is quite intriguing. Alex’s romantic angst evokes heartfelt chuckles and makes Apartment 12 an intimate and poignant film that reminds us how love requires daring to open our hearts.
5 View From The Top (2003)
Starring Gwyneth Paltrow as the female lead, View From The Top follows Donna, a small-town girl with a big dream – to become a first-class international flight attendant. With absolute grit and determination, she claws her way into the job and rises through the ranks. But there are turbulences she’s not prepared for – including Ted. On their first encounter, Donna assesses Ted as a jerk with a heart of gold. After a brief stint, they meet again and begin dating.
Ted grows to admire Donna’s pluck and spirit, and their romance offers a sweet contrast to Sara’s high-flying career ambition. Even though much of the film follows a predictable romantic comedy formula and the colors and disdain for Cleveland go over the top, Mark brings an endearing, attractive vibe to Ted, which only elevates the role. His charm and chemistry with Paltrow make this lighthearted romantic fare surprisingly enjoyable.
4 Rumor Has It (2005)
Rumor Has It is deemed as a convoluted romance with one too many subplots. The movie begins with Sarah (Jennifer Aniston) suspecting her family to be the inspiration for the famous novel ‘The Graduate,’ written by Charles Webb. As she digs into her parent’s past, intriguing secrets come to light, including that of the true identity of her biological father. Mark Ruffalo plays Jeff Daly, Sarah’s supportive boyfriend and fiancé. His character serves as a grounded voice of compassion and reason amid Sarah’s family’s eccentricities and jarring confusion.
Being an outsider, he’s able to provide unbiased opinions and always looks out for Sarah. While Jeff and Sarah’s relationship takes a back seat to the over-the-top romantic entanglements of Sarah’s parents, Mark infuses even his smaller role with his signature thoughtfulness and good humor. Ultimately, the film works best as silly escapism rather than a serious fare. But Mark’s centered performances hold the romantic arc together and build a love based on trust, honesty, support, and reliability.
3 Thanks For Sharing (2012)
Pepper Potts and Hulk Smash return to share the screen once again on Thanks For Sharing. Created by co-writer of The Kids Are All Right, the film follows the disastrously funny events after the emotional lives of three people in 12-step programs intertwine. Adam, played by Mark Ruffalo, struggles with sex addiction but has been abstinent for five years. Neil tries to balance his professional life with a new romance after being court-ordered to attend the program. Phoebe is a beautiful woman Adam meets at a party. They hit it off, and she tells him that her ex was an alcoholic, and she’s vowed never to date an addict.
It’s all fun and games until Pheobe discovers a sobriety medal on Adam one day and confronts him about it. Adam’s romantic pursuit, paired with his self-absorbed workaholic, creates a clash on his journey of self-discovery. Mark brings nuance to Adam’s struggle to find fulfillment beyond obsessive, physical desires. Even though the film’s strength lies in its sincere handling of addiction and depression, it also explores what true intimacy looks like – allowing the other person’s love to reshape who we’re becoming. From casual flirting to heartbreaks and hope for transformation, Thanks for Sharing gives glimpses of love in a refreshing way.
2 Just Like Heaven (2005)
Mark Waters’ 2005 romantic comedy blends elements of fantasy and adventure into a wonderful premise. David cannot see or hear Elizabeth, but he still finds himself falling for the beautiful spirit who’s haunting his new apartment. Mark Ruffalo stars as David, an overworked but lonely landscape architect who begins to question his sanity when an unseen woman starts leaving notes and using his things. When he realizes it’s the spirit of the previous tenant and in order to free her soul from from lurking around, he needs to get her to revisit her memories – painful and poignant – he immediately gets into action.
Undeniably, the rom-com premise is far-fetched, but Mark brings disarming wit and sensitivity to the role. His chemistry with co-star Reese Witherspoon is sweet and playful, consisting of all the ingredients that make their unlikely relationship beautiful to watch. Mark’s David is goofy and charming, making his skeptical rationalism and guarded heart increasingly relatable as he comes to recognize Liz’s spirit and begins to open up to love. The plot of Just Like Heaven is light and unbelievable, but Mark’s character reminds us that openness can transform even the most tentative beginnings into something luminous and real.
1 13 Going on 30 (2004)
This delightfully sweet fantasy, directed by Gary Winick, follows Jenna, an awkward teen who makes an unusual wish on her birthday – to be “big” – and wakes up the next morning as a successful 30-year-old woman. Living in 1987 and suddenly jumping to 2004, Jenna is trying to make sense of things when she notices Matt “Matty” Flamhaff, her longtime friend turned struggling photographer, only to realize that in the future, she’s dating another man and has cut ties with Matty. Mark Ruffalo, who plays Matty, may have a peripheral role, but he still brings infectious humor and kindness to the character.
His easy chemistry with co-star Jennifer Garner and starry-eyed wonder for life anchors the film’s more fantastical elements towards something emotional and honest. 13 Going on 30 is undoubtedly an entertaining and charming chick flick, and while its charm lies largely in nostalgia for ‘80s fashion and fun, Mark’s humorous and loving performance stands the test for a deep love that only grows tenfold after sharing history and truth – stuff that can turn even the most nonsensical plots into something that endures over time.