Total Recall

Total Recall: Star-Crossed Lovers

We bring you 10 movie romances that were doomed by fate and circumstances.

by | November 19, 2009 | Comments

A big part of the cinema’s appeal is its ability to take us places we’ve never been — but to really work, that escapism has to be grounded to universal themes, and like the Good Book says, the greatest of these is love. As any Twilight fan could tell you, nothing ratchets up the drama like star-crossed love, and to celebrate the imminent release of the franchise’s second installment, New Moon, we’ve put together a list of some of Hollywood’s most noteworthy — and most persistent — couples. We couldn’t cover them all, of course, but if you’ve ever shed tears for the injustice of an onscreen love unfairly denied, you’re sure to swoon over this week’s Total Recall!


Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen (Sid & Nancy)

Musically, Sid Vicious was the weakest link in the Sex Pistols, but for many, he embodied the spirit of punk rock with his charisma, fashion sense, and kamikaze behavior. Nancy Spungen was a troubled teenager who ingratiated herself with a number of punk bands. Add oodles of brown sugar to the mix, and you’ve got the template for star-crossed rock ‘n’ roll love. Alex Cox’s Sid and Nancy is an account of their sad two-year relationship, which culminated in the death of Spungen — most likely by Vicious’ hand — and stars Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb do a remarkable job of embodying these doomed souls. Though some of Vicious’ friends (most notably Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten) felt Cox failed to capture his true nature, this remains a haunting portrait of a couple on the path to mutually assured destruction.


Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker (Heavenly Creatures)

When aren’t Kate Winslet’s characters besotted by star-crossed love? She’s been undone by circumstance in suburbia (Little Children, Revolutionary Road), on the ocean (Titanic), and aboard the Long Island Rail Road (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), among many other locales. In Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures, Winslet (in her debut) plays a headstrong New Zealand teenager named Juliet who befriends the introverted Pauline (Melanie Lynskey). Together, they form an intense bond and disappear into a fantasy world of their own creation — that is, until the mean adults in their lives spoil the fun. Heavenly Creatures deftly juggles the fantastic and the ordinary, but at its center is a touching relationship between two outsiders who long to break out of their humdrum lives — and are willing to go to desperate extremes.


Landon Carter and Jamie Sullivan (A Walk to Remember)

“You have to promise you won’t fall in love with me,” good girl Jamie Sullivan (Mandy Moore) tells bad boy Landon Carter (Shane West), who turns out to be terrible at keeping promises. A bucket list transforms into a date list that will continue to set unrealistic boyfriend expectations for years to come in A Walk to Remember. It’s only after the two do fall in love that Jamie reveals she is terminally ill, leaving a love-struck Landon desperate to help her complete a list of life “to-dos.” Putting love up against the tests of high school hierarchy and time, the couple embodies the old cliché of “living every moment as if it was your last,” because in this case, it could be. And if you’re looking for love and being forced to do after-school activities for a prank gone wrong, go for drama club.


Josh Baskin and Susan Lawrence (Big)

Being a kid is hard, sure, but try being a kid in a grownup’s body. It might seem like an unbelievably awesome idea on paper, but it’s not worth losing your childhood over, as Josh Baskin (David Moscow) discovers when his wish to be “big” comes true overnight. When he’s transformed into a young Tom Hanks, Josh must embark on a very adult life, which includes not only fortuitously landing a job as a toy tester, but also inadvertently falling in love with one of his grownup colleagues, Susan (Elizabeth Perkins). As Josh grows closer to Susan, he also begins to pine for his old life, and he must reconcile his budding romance with his desire to be a just a kid again. Is this a peculiar example of star-crossed love? Maybe. Is it a little creepy that a grown woman could fall for a man with a child’s mind? Possibly. But if ever there was a relationship that was doomed from the start by fate, Big would certainly be one of them.


Tony and Maria (West Side Story)

When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way… well, unless you’ve just met a girl named Maria. Then it’s tough to keep coolly cool, boy — especially since she’s related to a member of the Sharks, whom you’ve promised to beat on this whole buggin’, ever-lovin’ street. Loosely based upon Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story explored inner city racial tensions by turning the Montagues and Capulets into a pair of warring street gangs — the white Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks — who are both displeased by the budding romance between Jet Tony (Richard Beymer) and Shark shorty Maria (Natalie Wood). The 1961 Best Picture Oscar winner is pretty dated in spots (not least because Avon Barksdale’s crew from The Wire could wipe the floor with both the Sharks and the Jets without breaking a sweat), but its eye-popping colors, great songs, and the poignant, doomed love story at the center can still exert a strong pull.


Sam Wheat and Molly Jensen (Ghost)

You never know what you’ve got ’til… you’re gone? Sam Wheat (Patrick Swayze) always had a problem expressing how he truly felt about his girlfriend, Molly (Demi Moore), which, to most outsiders, would seem ludicrous, since Molly is smoking hot. When Sam is unexpectedly shot and killed one night, he begins his (after)life as a ghost, following Molly around like a lost puppy and trying desperately to communicate the three words he had so much trouble uttering when he was alive: “I love you.” He’s unfortunate enough to witness all kinds of shenanigans on the part of his best bud Carl (Tony Goldwyn), who may or may not be linked to Sam’s death, and ultimately resorts to communicating with Molly through a neurotic psychic (Whoopi Goldberg). If you thought relationships were hard enough to begin with, try imagining that Whoopi Goldberg is actually Patrick Swayze and engaging in a session of heavy petting with her/him. Let’s just say that it’s difficult for a relationship to come up roses when your significant other is pushing up daisies.


Ben Sanderson and Sera (Leaving Las Vegas)

The next time you’re watching one of Nicolas Cage’s ill-advised big-budget action capers through splayed fingers, just remember: Once upon a time, he was one-third of one of the most heartbreaking filmic love triangles of the ’90s. As unemployed Hollywood agent Ben Sanderson, Cage spent Leaving Las Vegas caught between two relationships — his budding feelings for a hooker with a heart of gold (played by Elisabeth Shue), and his long-standing relationship with the bottle — and although the movie telegraphed its ending from the earliest moments of the final act, Cage and Shue’s tender, world-weary interplay kept audiences invested until its heartbreaking final moments. It’s undeniably one of the stranger relationships on our list, one whose love — if love can be said to be a motivator at all — is sublimated so strenuously that it manifests itself in dark, unpleasant ways. (Plus, Julian Sands is in the movie, and things are always weird when that guy’s around.) All the same, anyone who’s ever felt the pull of an unhealthy bond, or willfully turned away from the promise of salvation, can understand Leaving Las Vegas.


Noah Calhoun and Allie Hamilton (The Notebook)

While many on-screen lovers like to build to a single, passionate embrace, The Notebook‘s Allie Hamilton (Rachel McAdams) and Noah Calhoun (Ryan Gosling) could enjoy making out more than any couple on our list. Set in the 1940s, a summer of spit-swapping is the beginning of one of this decade’s most referenced movie romances, but not without its obstacles — including socioeconomic issues, judgmental families, a war, a poorly timed engagement, and a mail-screening mother. After tackling all external challenges and surviving a peaceful rowboat ride through a swan and lilypad-filled pond, the couple is left challenged by the potential loss of the memories that made them who they are. And as much as many of us hate to believe it, if anything, The Notebook‘s romance proves that good looking people don’t always have it easy. Love alone is not easy, but star-crossed, good looking love can be even harder.


Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist (Brokeback Mountain)

Chances are that at some point in your life, you’ve developed feelings for someone you didn’t think you should love. Take the anguish you felt, multiply it by a factor of several dozen, and you’ve got the thorny dilemma at the heart of Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain. We’ve got a lot of star-crossed lovers on our list, and they represent only a tiny fraction of the many circuitous love stories that have unfolded in the cinema — so you know that by 2005, just about every variation on the theme had been played out at a theater near you. Give credit to Annie Proulx, then, for writing Brokeback Mountain, a short story that followed the tortured path of the decidedly non-platonic love between two Wyoming ranch hands — and credit to Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal for stepping into the roles and giving the film the kind of box-office clout that leads to Academy Awards and almost $200 million in worldwide grosses. As Ennis and Jack, Ledger and Gyllenhaal were given a lot to deal with — not only did their characters have to bear the weight of overwhelming prejudice, but they were both married with children. It’s decidedly dramatic stuff, and their performances were compelling enough to transcend what had previously been one of Hollywood’s mainstream sexual taboos. How many film romances can be held up as not only affecting, but legitimately important?


Romeo and Juliet (Romeo & Juliet)

Though he was far from the first director to adapt Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet for the big screen, Franco Zeffirelli is one of the most successful; in fact, before Baz Luhrmann released Romeo + Juliet in 1996, Zeffirelli’s film was arguably the one most people thought of when they tried to imagine a living, breathing version of the Bard’s Verona. This is partly due to the director’s comfort with Shakespeare’s writing — he’d filmed the Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton Taming of the Shrew the year before — but any Romeo and Juliet is only as good as its leads, and Zeffirelli had a terrific pair in Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey; not only were they age-appropriate (Whiting was 18, Hussey 15), but they carried the material as deftly as seasoned pros, and their powerful chemistry helped sweep audiences into the world’s most famous tale of star-crossed love all over again. Even now, more than one critic still maintains Zeffirelli’s film is the definitive cinematic Romeo and Juliet.

Check out reviews for The Twilight Saga: New Moon as they come in, and look for it in theaters starting tomorrow. Also, be sure to check RT’s Twilight Corner for all of our latest updates on the franchise.

Finally, few people can sing a sad song quite like the illustrious Tom Waits, so here’s a melancholy ditty especially for all you star-crossed lovers out there. Take it away, Mr. Waits:

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