Popular and rebellious teenager Landon Carter (Shane West) is threatened with expulsion from school after he and his friends leave evidence of underage drinking on the school grounds and seriously injure another student as the result of a prank gone wrong. The head of the school gives Landon the choice of being expelled or atoning for his actions by tutoring fellow students and participating in the school play. During these functions, Landon notices Jamie Sullivan (Mandy Moore), a girl he has known since kindergarten and who has attended many of the same classes as him, and who is also the local minister's daughter. Since he's one of the in-crowd, he has seldom paid any attention to Jamie, who wears modest dresses all the time and owns only one sweater. She makes no attempt to wear make-up or otherwise improve her looks or attract attention to herself.
Landon has trouble learning his lines for the play. Jamie, who is also in the play, agrees to help him on one condition: Jamie warns Landon not to fall in love with her. Landon and Jamie begin practicing together at her house after school. They get to know each other and a spark of affection arises between them.
On the opening night of the play, Jamie astounds Landon and the entire audience with her beauty and her voice. Onstage at the peak of the ending to the play, Jamie sings. When Jamie finishes, Landon kisses her which is not part of the play.
Jamie avoids Landon after the play, and it is not until Landon's friends play a cruel prank on Jamie and hePROTECTS her in opposition to his friends that she warms up to him again. Landon asks Jamie on a date soon after, but Jamie says her father doesn't allow her to date. Landon asks her father if he can date his daughter. Reluctant at first, he gives in.
On their first date, Landon helps Jamie to fulfill her list of things she wants to achieve in life, such as being in two places at once, and getting a tattoo. After that, they go to the docks. Jamie tells Landon about how she experiences belief and how it's like the wind. It is then that he tells her he might want to kiss her now.
On another date, where Jamie is very silent and unfocused, Landon asks Jamie what her plans for the future are. She then confesses she isn't making any because she has leukemia and hasn't been responding to treatment. A desperate Landon asks for his father's help in curing her, but is disappointed by his reply and heads on a long drive home thinking about Jamie.
One by one, his friends become aware of the tragedy looming for Jamie and Landon. They give their support to him. Jamie's condition grows worse and she gets sent to the hospital.
Still in hospital, Jamie gives Landon a book that once belonged to her mother. She states that maybe God sent Landon to her to help her through the rough times and that Landon is her angel.
Unbeknownst to Landon, Jamie is given private home care by Landon's estranged father relieving her father's financial burden. Landon visits his dad, tearfully thanking him for his help. They embrace and are reunited.
Landon is building a telescope for Jamie to be able to see a one-time comet in the springtime. Jamie's father helps him get it finished in time. The telescope is brought to her on the balcony. She gets a beautiful view of the comet through the new telescope. It is then that Landon asks her to marry him. Jamie tearfully accepts, and they get married in the church in which her deceased mother got married. Jamie and Landon spend their last summer together, filled with a deep love like no other. Jamie dies when summer ends.
Four years later, Landon has finished college and been accepted into medical school. Landon visits Reverend Sullivan to return to him Jamie’s precious book that belonged to her mother. Landon apologizes to the Reverend that Jamie did not witness a miracle (an ambition she expressed in the class yearbook). The Reverend disagrees saying that in fact she did and that her miracle was Landon.
Landon visits the docks contemplating the belief that although Jamie is dead, that she is with him. It is then that he understands love is like the wind; you can't see it, but you can feel it.
The inspiration for A Walk to Remember was Nicholas Sparks' sister, Danielle Sparks Lewis, who died of cancer in 2000. In a speech he gave after her death inBerlin, the author admits that "In many ways, Jamie Sullivan was my younger sister". The plot was inspired by her life; Danielle met a man who wanted to marry her, "even when he knew she was sick, even when he knew that she might not make it". Both the book and film are dedicated to Danielle Sparks Lewis.
It was filmed in Wilmington, North Carolina, at the same time that Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002) and the TV show Dawson's Creek were being filmed there. Many of the sets were from Dawson's Creek (1998) - particularly the school, hospital and Landon's home. The total shooting time was only 39 days, despite Mandy Moore being able to only work 10 hours a day because she was a minor. Daryl Hannah, who wore a brown wig as her character, had received a collagen injection in her lips, which went awry and caused noticeable swelling. By the end of filming, however, the symptoms were less obvious.
Director Adam Shankman wanted the lead characters to be portrayed by young actors: "I wanted young actors with whom teenagers could connect", he said. Shankman arranged a meeting with Shane West after he saw him in a magazine. He was looking for someone who could transition from being very dark to very light. He described his choice as "an instinct" he had about West, who would appear in almost every scene and had "to be either incredibly angry and self-hating or madly in love and heroic." West said: "I don't generally read love stories, but after reading the screenplay, I knew I couldn't wait to read the book so I could truly understand Nicholas Sparks' story and how he envisioned the character of Landon. It's a beautiful story and the characters are very believable, which is what attracted me to the project.
Shankman said of Mandy Moore that she "has the voice and the face of an angel" and added that she is luminous. Moore explained that she was moved by the book: "I had such a visceral reaction to it that I remember not being able to read because I was almost hyperventilating while I was crying." Commenting on the film, she said: "It was my first movie and I know people say it may be cliche and it's a tearjerker or it's cheesy, but for me, it's the thing I'm most proud of."
While there are many similarities to the novel by Nicholas Sparks, many changes were made. On his personal website, Sparks explains the decisions behind the differences. For example, he and the producer decided to update the setting from the 1950s to the 1990s, worrying that a film set in the 50s would fail to draw teens. "To interest them," he writes, "we had to make the story more contemporary." To make the update believable, Landon's pranks and behavior are worse than they are in the novel; as Sparks notes, "the things that teen boys did in the 1950s to be considered a little 'rough' are different than what teen boys in the 1990s do to be considered 'rough.'"
Sparks and the producer also changed the play in which Landon and Jamie appear. In the novel, Hegbert wrote a Christmas play that illustrated how he once struggled as a father. However, due to time constraints, the sub-plot showing how he overcame his struggles could not be included in the film. Sparks was concerned that "people who hadn't read the book would question whether Hegbert was a good father", adding that "because he is a good father and we didn't want that question to linger, we changed the play."
A significant difference is that at the end of the novel, unlike the film, it is ambiguous whether Jamie died. Sparks says that he had written the book knowing she would die, yet had "grown to love Jamie Sullivan", and so opted for "the solution that best described the exact feeling I had with regard to my sister at that point: namely, that I hoped she would live."
The film was met with generally negative reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 27% based on reviews from 102, with an average rating of 4.1 out of 10. The site's critical consensus is: "Though wholesome, the Mandy Moore vehicle A Walk to Remember is also bland and oppressively syrupy." However, it scored more favorably with audiences on the site, with a 77% score. Metacritic, another review aggregator which assigns a weighted mean rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, calculated an average score of 35, based on 26 reviews, which indicates "generally unfavorable".Entertainment Weekly retitled the film "A Walk to Forget". In 2010, Time named it one of the 10 worst chick flicks ever made.
A Walk to Remember found a warmer reception with the general public, particularly in the Christian community due to the film's moral values; as one reviewer from Christianity Today approvingly noted, "The main character is portrayed as a Christian without being psychopathic or holier-than-thou".Chicago Sun-Times'Roger Ebert praised Mandy Moore and Shane West for their "quietly convincing" acting performances. The Chicago Reader felt that the story "has a fair amount of nuance and charm". The San Francisco Chronicle reviewer Octavio Roca found the film "entertaining" and wrote: "The picture is shamelessly manipulative, but in the best melodramatic sense." S. Williams of Momzone magazine felt that the movie was "everything a chick flick should be" and praised Shankman's direction. Us Weekly deemed it one of the 30 most romantic movies of all time.
Moore's manager, Jon Leshay, the musical supervisor for A Walk to Remember, "instantly wanted" Switchfoot's music to be a vital part of the film after hearing them. He later became Switchfoot's manager. When they were approached to do the film, the band was unfamiliar with Moore or her music (despite her status as a pop star with several hits on the charts). Before their involvement with A Walk to Remember, Switchfoot was only recognized in their native San Diego and in Contemporary Christian music circles, but have since gained mainstream recognition, with a double platinum album, The Beautiful Letdown which included hits such as "Meant to Live" and "Dare You to Move".
The soundtrack was re-released on October 21, 2003 as an special expanded edition and featured three songs that were not originally included on the first release of the soundtrack but were featured in the film. The song "Only Hope" by Moore had dialogue added that featuring Shane West as his character Landon Carter taken from the scene from where the song is featured in the film, as well as West's narration at the end of the film.
In the HBO television series Entourage, the character of Vincent Chase was credited as having a small supporting role in the film. In the fictional Entourageuniverse, Chase has an on-set relationship with Mandy Moore during the filming of A Walk to Remember.