Total Recall

Total Recall: Iconic Movie Romances

Sometimes in the movies, love happens. Check out the best instances in our list!

by | September 14, 2009 | Comments

What makes a truly great movie couple? It’s nearly impossible to define, but
you know one when you see one. Great onscreen romantic pairings usually have
some elusive combination of idiosyncratic chemistry, ribald wit, and emotional
complexity. With Love Happens hitting theaters this week, RT takes a look
at some of our favorite cinematic love affairs.


Beauty and the Beast

Ladies, take note: the next time you’re propositioned by a really
weird-looking guy, don’t just blow him off — there’s a chance, albeit a
slim one, that he’s a kindly prince who’s the victim of a curse. That’s
what Belle had to deal with in Disney’s adaptation of Beauty and
the Beast
; despite his imposing looks, the Beast is an infinitely
sweeter guy than that arrogant jerk Gaston, who keeps hitting on Belle
when not recruiting his fellow villagers for a lynch mob. Plus, the
beast’s crib is full of singing and dancing household items — how cool
is that?



The point of this is to look at iconic on-screen romances, and
although the majority of the stories on this list have stood the test of
time, there’s no denying that Edward and Bella, as new as they are to
the genre, have made a very big impression. Sure, it’s the standard
girl-meets-boy, boy-turns-out-to-be-a-vampire story, but that doesn’t
mean it doesn’t work. Bella is the proxy for any girl that’s fallen for
the boy that no one else understands. Edward is a classic Romantic
figure, a guy with a real wild side that can’t quite fit in to society,
not unlike Heathcliff (the Wuthering Heights hero, not the cat). There’s
a bit of Romeo and Juliet thrown in there as well, and it makes for a
teen vampire romance that currently has girls all over the world eagerly
awaiting the next installment of the film franchise.


The Princess Bride

What makes Westley and Buttercup iconic? Let me explain… no, there is
too much. Let me sum up. Farm boy Westley loves farm girl Buttercup. He
disappears, she’s whisked away to be married to an evil prince, Westley
returns, gets her back, loses her, dies, gets better, gets her back
again, and kisses her at the end of the movie. Here’s how Grampa
describes the kissing part: “Since the invention of the kiss there have
been five kisses that were rated the most passionate, the most pure.
This one left them all behind. The End.”


An Affair to Remember

Though An Affair to Remember is actually a very close remake of
1939’s Love Affair, it was the star power of Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr
that made the 1957 version more memorable. Grant plays Nickie Ferrante,
a wealthy painter who meets and hits it off with a young woman named
Terry McKay (Kerr) aboard a cruise. The two fall in love, but both are
involved with other people, so they resolve to meet atop the Empire
State Building in six months after ending matters with their significant
others. Unfortunately, Terry is blindsided and paralyzed by a car en
route to their reunion, and fearful of Nickie’s reaction, she breaks all
contact with him. Of course, all is forgiven in the end, and this story
of a relationship that almost never happened reinforces the idea that
fate has a way of working things out, that love conquers all, and that
leaving your fiancée is okay if you’re good-looking and you happen to
meet someone better on a cruise.


Gone With the Wind

Neither Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) nor Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh)
is the embodiment of Southern charm, particularly when the two are
together, so it can be tricky to decipher exactly what about their
relationship is romantic. Scarlett is neurotic, immature, and
self-absorbed, while Rhett is gruff, cocky, and jealous. Scarlett
continually rebuffs Rhett’s advances while pining for a married man, and
Rhett eventually takes matters into his own hands, forcing a kiss upon
Scarlett at one point and dragging her to bed in a fit of drunken anger
later on. But for all of their faults, Rhett and Scarlett clash so much
precisely because they’re so similar; Rhett likes Scarlett’s feistiness,
her strength of spirit, and despite all her complaints, Scarlett knows
Rhett is loyal and reliable. When Rhett throws his iconic line at
Scarlett (“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”), we know he really
means to say, “You’ve got business to handle, but you better come find
me,” and when Scarlett resolves to get him back, we know she means it.


The Notebook

There’s nothing quite like a catastrophic, bloody war to affirm the
love between a man and a woman, is there? Not to mention class
stratification, mental disease, imminent marriage to the wrong person…
And that’s exactly why people have responded to The Notebook: it’s a
shamelessly proud tearjerker of poor woodworker Noah Calhoun (Ryan
Gosling), wealthy young lady Allie Hamilton, and the no small amount of
disaster that befell them. Who ever said making relationships work was


King Kong

While we as Americans have made plenty of progress when it comes to
the acceptance of non-traditional relationships, inter-species romance
remains taboo. So one can only imagine the stir caused by the mighty
Kong when he got the hots for Ann Darrow back in 1931. it was too much
even for the relatively tolerant environs of New York City; the military
was dispatched to fell the mighty beast, who just wanted to spend some
quality time with his lady-friend. And hadn’t he earned it? He defended
her from a Tyrannosaurus, a plesiosaur, and a pteranodon, and all he
wanted was to go sightseeing atop the Empire State Building. But Kong
and Ann’s affair was to be short-lived, and in the end, it was beauty
that killed the beast.



Plenty of dudes will tell their significant others, “I only want you
to be happy.” Usually they’re lying. But not Rick Blaine (Humphrey
Bogart), who, despite his faults, loves Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) so
much he’ll risk life and limb for her and her resistance-fighting
husband. It’s probably for the best; though Rick and Ilsa share some
idyllic moments, their love is not meant to be (heck, the two of them
can’t even agree on which song Sam should play). Still, Bogey and
Bergman are such an alluring couple you still root for them to be happy
together, until Rick — in one of the rare instances in which the “it’s
not you, it’s me” line rings true — tells her she’ll regret being with
him: “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon — and for the rest
of your life.” Oh well — they’ll always have Paris.


Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet is the sort of whirlwind romance that only could
have worked during a time when the average life expectancy hovered
somewhere around 35. Juliet (Olivia Hussey), at the tender age of 13, is
already fielding requests for her hand in marriage when she randomly
encounters Romeo (Leonard Whiting), who’s not much older, at a ball. The
two instantly fall for each other, but because their families are
essentially at war, the “star-cross’d lovers” are forced to meet and
marry in secret. Oh, and did we mention this all takes place over the
course of one day? Eventually, the family rivalry proves to be too much
for the young couple, and misunderstandings quickly spiral out of
control and lead to tragedy. The fact that Romeo & Juliet remains an
archetypal romance, despite its courtship lasting just a few days and
ending in a double teen suicide, stands as a testament to youthful
passion and the power of reckless infatuation.


Dirty Dancing

What is it, exactly, about a forbidden romance that makes it so
alluring? Is it the thrill of rebellion, of proving the naysayers wrong?
Is it the promise of danger? Or is it simply the desire to be thrown
into the air during a dance performance by a pair of strong, manly
hands? For 17-year-old Frances “Baby” Houseman (Jennifer Grey), it would
probably be all of the above. After falling for the dance instructor
(Johnny Castle, played by Patrick Swayze) at the Catskills resort where
she’s vacationing with her parents, Baby begins a clandestine
relationship with him, learning some hot dance moves in the process. Of
course, misunderstandings ensue, and Johnny is eventually fired for his
relationship with Baby, but in a final triumphant scene, he returns to
the resort, asserts that “nobody puts Baby in a corner,” and snatches
her up for one of the most recognizable shots in movie romance.



Superman and Lois Lane are probably the most famous comic book couple
in history; ask your grandmother who Superman’s girlfriend is and
chances are she won’t hesitate to tell you it’s Lois. And the romance
between the street-smart city girl and the guy from way out of town was
a big part of the Superman movies in the 70s; Superman spins the world
backwards, making for a temporal “do-over” to save the girl he loves,
then he even gives up his powers for her. What more could a girl ask


When Harry Met

Harry and Sally are a great example of a relationship based on a
long-standing friendship. OK, so they didn’t really start out as
friends; Harry’s boorish behavior on a cross-country drive really turns
Sally off. But they run into each other years later, and end up as close
friends. They help each other get over past relationships, and (as Harry’s
prediction about male/female friendships comes true) they end up in each
other’s arms. But the story doesn’t end there; they both panic,
wondering what this new wrinkle will do to the friendship that’s very
important to them. In the end, they both realize that being in love with
your best friend isn’t a bad thing at all, which makes for the
obligatory happy ending (bonus points for the “when we first met we
hated each other” story they get to tell their friends).


Brokeback Mountain

Ennis del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) weren’t
expecting to find love when they took on a summer job herding sheep
together. But let’s face it; when you have the crisp mountain air
filling your lungs, an open sky full of stars blanketing you at night,
and all the canned beans you can eat, something is bound to happen.
After bonding in more ways than one on Brokeback Mountain, Ennis and
Jack return to their “normal” lives, each of them marrying a pretty girl
and carrying on with only the memories of their time together. When they
begin meeting again for sporadic “fishing trips,” attempting to rekindle
what they had before, their personal lives are strained, and despite
being unable to “quit” each other, they find they can take their
relationship no further. It’s an unconventional romance, but one whose
power is undeniable; an attraction that’s strong enough to make you
forget you’re married to Michelle Williams or Anne Hathaway certainly
deserves a spot on this list.


Pretty Woman

In every sense of the term, the story of Edward Lewis (Richard Gere)
and Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts) is a modern fairy tale. He’s rich and
wears suits all the time, she’s beautiful and gets a major makeover.
They hang out in Beverly Hills, go to social lunches, and we think
Lewis’s limo doubles for a horse at the end. It’s no wonder that the
story of Pretty Woman is virtually every woman’s fantasy, and maybe a few
guys’ too (being a corporate raider and having a limo at your disposal
would be awesome).


Say Anything

At first blush, Diane Court (Ione Skye) and Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack)
would seem to have little in common. She’s the class brain, and he’s a
Replacements-loving kickboxing enthusiast. Will these crazy kids make
it? We don’t want to spoil Say Anything for you, so if you must
know, ask any random 30-something woman in your general vicinity how
things go down. They’ll be happy to tell you that Lloyd seems like the
nicest, most endearingly sincere movie character they’ve ever
encountered, and that if they were Diane, they would never kick him to
the curb — thus eliminating the need for him to stand outside their
homes wielding a boombox.


Adam’s Rib

A married couple, well beyond the throes of young love and passion?
Just how memorable, how iconic can that be? When you’re Spencer Tracy
and Katharine Hepburn working at the height of the screwball comedy,
pretty iconic! The enduring success of this romance is its delicious
setup: Tracy plays a prosecutor signed to a bizarre attempted murder
case while Hepburn plays the defending attorney…and Tracy’s wife.
These two acting greats never cross the line where their marriage
appears doomed, so they present a relationship that can endure heated
barbs, deeply personal insults, and physical attacks on each other. Now
that’s love.



I remember when Ted (Robert Hays) and Elaine (Julie Hagarty) first
met. Ted was in the Air Force, stationed off the Barbary Coast. They met
in a rough place — the seediest dive on the wharf, populated with every
reject and cutthroat from Bombay to Calcutta. It was worse than Detroit.
Ted didn’t go there that night to fall in love; he had just dropped in
for a couple drinks. Suddenly, there she was. He was captivated,
entranced. He had to ask the guy next to him to pinch him to make sure
he wasn’t dreaming. Ted was afraid to approach her, but that night, fate
was on his side. They laughed, they talked, they danced — he never
wanted it to end. I guess he still doesn’t. But enough about Ted — I
hope this hasn’t been boring for you.



It’s a darn good thing that (SPOILER ALERT!) Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio)
ends up drowning at the end of Titanic, thus preserving a brief
but profoundly satisfying affair with Rose (Kate Winslett). Fortunate
because, to paraphrase Celine Dion, he can stay in Rose’s heart, and her
heart will go on. Were Jack and Rose both to escape a watery grave,
they’d likely be trapped in a loveless marital hell in Connecticut, if Revolutionary
is anything to go by. Anyhow, it was good while it lasted:
Jack and Rose share a pretty wild night of Irish dancing, impromptu art
classes, and declarations of grandeur before everyone’s favorite doomed
vessel rams into an iceberg.


Star Wars

The romance between Han and Leia seems like a great example of
opposites attracting. He’s a rough and tumble small-time smuggler. She’s
a royal princess with extensive political influence. And they seem to
argue with each other all the time. But those arguments are masking a
deeper attraction — both Han and Leia fight for what they believe in
(even if Han has to be guilted into it sometimes), and there is an
undeniable chemistry that lasts for all three films in the original Star
trilogy. In fact, we’d argue that one of the problems with the
prequel trilogy is that the Anakin/Padme romance never held a candle to
the fireworks between Han and Leia.


Annie Hall

Who would’ve figured a short nebbish dude hooking up with a ditzy
girl with bizarre sartorial sensibilities would be such a game changer?
Romantic comedies would never be the same after Annie Hall, Woody
Allen’s multi-faceted take on modern romance, memorable for its lack of
closure and clarity. It’s clear from jump street that the union of Alvy
and Annie won’t survive to the closing credits, but while it lasts
they create a movie as complex as any relationship: they are funny,
dramatic, insufferable, sweet, and dark, all the way up until their
poignant fizzle of an end.