When you think back at the most memorable on-screen couples in movie history, it’s natural to think of romantic dramas and sugary rom-coms first—something that stars Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts, Hugh Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Richard Gere, Reese Witherspoon, Tom Hanks or Kate Hudson, for example. It turns out that sexual chemistry is not limited by genre, and sparks fly between couples in action, sci-fi, and even horror movies as well. Consider Neo and Trinity in The Matrix, Han and Leia in The Empire Strikes Back, Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese in The Terminator, and Gale and Dewey in Scream for starters. This Valentine’s Day, look back with us at some of cinema’s most iconic romantic pairs, from Old Hollywood classics to more recent movies of all genres. Which couples are your favorites?
Ellie and Peter, It Happened One Night, (1934)
The most memorable scene in the pre-Code romantic comedy It Happened One Night is when wealthy socialite Ellie (Claudette Colbert) proves to reporter Peter (Clark Cable) that she can literally stop traffic and hitchhike by flashing her gam. This racy flash of flesh makes Peter’s eyes pop and romance blossoms between these strangers that met on a bus. If the same movie were made 89 years later, it would star Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.
Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, Gone With The Wind (1939)
The tumultuous relationship between Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) and Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) comes to its inevitable end in Gone With The Wind with the famous scene above in which a desperate Scarlett asks Rhett, “Where shall I go? What shall I do?” Rhett responds with the immortal line, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Hope dies last, Scarlett.
Adam and Amanda Bonner, Adam’s Rib (1949)
Adam’s Rib is the sixth on-screen pairing of offscreen close friends Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. The classic romantic comedy has the actors playing married lawyers who must face off against each other in court.
Holly Golightly and Paul Varjak, Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961)
George Peppard plays Paul Varjak—a struggling writer supported financially by a wealthy older woman—who moves into the same building as eccentric café society girl Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) in Breakfast At Tiffany’s. Watch the clip above to see their first meeting and the beginning of their classic love affair.
Tony and Maria, West Side Story (1961)
It’s love at first sight for the Jets gang cofounder, Tony (Richard Beymer), and Maria (Natalie Wood) in the iconic scene above from 1961’s West Side Story. The movie musical was remade in 2021 by Steven Spielberg, but people are always going to associate Tony and Maria with Beymer and Wood.
Maria and Captain von Trapp, The Sound Of Music (1965)
The hills are alive with the sound of romance in The Sound Of Music after failed-nun-turned-governess Maria (Julie Andrews) finally kisses her employer, Captain von Trapp (Christopher Plummer), and the music swells. The new couple then cooks up a clever plan to dodge the Third Reich and escape to Switzerland with the seven von Trapp children and start a new life together with more singing and less Nazis. The end.
Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, Bonnie And Clyde (1967)
Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty were in their prime when they took on the roles of real-life Great Depression outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow in Arthur Penn’s Bonnie And Clyde. The chemistry between the two acting legends is almost as explosive as the notorious final shootout.
Joanna “Joey” Drayton and Dr. John Wade Prentice, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (1967)
In Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, Katharine Houghton plays Joanna “Joey” Drayton, a young woman who speaks eloquently and respectfully to her mother (Katharine Hepburn) about the man, Dr. John Wade Prentice (Sidney Poitier), whom she loves. The fact that John is Black catches Joey’s mother off guard, but Houghton and Poitier play such a convincing couple that they make us believe they can overcome racial prejudices.
Harold and Maude, Harold And Maude (1971)
Harold Chasen (Bud Cort), a 19-year-old man obsessed with death, develops a friendship and, later, romance with free-spirited 79-year-old Maude Chardin (Ruth Gordon) in the groundbreaking May-December romantic black comedy Harold And Maude. Despite their age difference, you can see why Harold is drawn to Maude and how she helps give him a new perspective on aging and death.
Rocky and Adrian, Rocky (1976)
The romance between boxer Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and shy pet store employee Adrian Pennino (Talia Shire) is the fire that keeps the Italian Stallion going in the ring (“Yo, Adrian! I did it!”). The couple’s awkward yet tender first date (video above) feels so real that it has become iconic. Rocky and Adrian get married in the franchise and their relationship is explored in the next four Rocky sequels.
Sandy and Danny, Grease (1978)
Olivia Newton-John plays Sandy, a sweet Australian transfer student who has a summer fling with bad boy Danny (John Travolta) in the musical Grease. When they are reunited at Rydell High School, Sandy gets in touch with her inner bad girl to show that she is “hopelessly devoted” to Danny. Sandy’s dramatic transformation for “You’re The One That I Want” (see clip above) helped cement her and Danny’s status as America’s favorite movie couple of 1978.
Superman and Lois Lane, Superman (1978)
There have been many actors who played the roles of Superman and Lois Lane in movies and on TV over the years, but none come close to capturing the magic between Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve in 1978’s Superman. Just watch the classic interview scene above in which Lois simultaneously flirts with and interviews the Man of Steel. Their relationship goes to the next level in Superman II before being downplayed in the last two sequels starring Kidder and Reeve. Director Richard Donner captured something in the first movie that no director has been able to replicate since with this iconic couple.
Leia Organa and Han Solo, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
There was enough tension between Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) in Star Wars: A New Hope to cut with a lightsaber, but the characters didn’t actually act on their feelings until the above moment on the Millennium Falcon in The Empire Strikes Back. Later in the movie, before Han is about to be frozen in carbonite, Leia professes her love for him, to which he flatly replies, “I know.” Leia and Han shared more iconic moments as a couple in Return Of The Jedi and The Force Awakens.
Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood, Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)
Who can forget the “It’s not the years, it’s the mileage” moment between Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) and Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in Raiders Of The Lost Ark? We learn in the story that these two had an affair in the past, and their reunion sizzles hotter than a Nazi opening the Ark of the Covenant. Marion returned in Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull and the movie ends with her and Indy’s wedding. We hope she at least has a cameo in the upcoming Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny.
Allen and Madison, Splash (1984)
Splash is a literal fish-out-of-water story about a New York businessman named Allen (Tom Hanks) who meets and falls in love with a mermaid named Madison (Daryl Hannah). After it becomes clear that Madison will never be left alone by curious researchers on dry land, Allen takes a leap of faith into the ocean and swims away with Madison in the classic video clip above.
Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese, The Terminator (1984)
There is something so powerful during the motel scene in The Terminator when Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) says to Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), “I love you. I always have,” after traveling back in time with a mission objective to protect her from a murderous cyborg. In the desolate future that Kyle is from, he knows stories about Sarah and how she gave birth to the great resistance fighter John Connor. He only ever saw her picture, but he travels back in time and opens his heart to her, and the two share a passionate night together that is about as romantic as sci-fi action movies get.
Baby and Johnny, Dirty Dancing (1987)
“Baby” (Jennifer Grey) has the time of her life while on vacation in the summer of 1963 after she falls for dance instructor Johnny (Patrick Swayze) in this classic romantic drama with an inescapable soundtrack. Dirty Dancing became the first movie in the VHS era to sell more than 1 million copies—999,000 of them to teen girls swooning for Swayze and wishing they were Baby.
Buttercup and Westley, The Princess Bride (1987)
Who doesn’t love The Princess Bride? The movie’s a classic on its own, but the romance between Buttercup (Robin Wright) and the outlaw Westley (Carey Elwes) is also an all-time great.
Harry and Sally, When Harry Met Sally... (1989)
The big question at the center of Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally... is, “Can men and women be friends?” The answer to that at first seems to be “yes” as Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) enjoy a platonic relationship. After they sleep together things get weird for a while, but they get real at a New Year’s party in the above clip at the end of the movie. Sally’s “fake orgasm” scene in a restaurant gets more attention, but it’s the scene above that makes you believe Harry and Sally can be both friends and lovers.
Vivian and Edward, Pretty Woman (1990)
As far as sex worker rescue fantasies go, Pretty Woman is at the top of the list. Julia Roberts plays a free-spirited Hollywood escort who spends a week with corporate raider Edward (Richard Gere), gets to shop on Rodeo Drive and, of course, falls in love. The chemistry between Roberts and Gere is so real that no one questioned how unbelievable Vivian’s life as a prostitute is portrayed. The public loved Gere and Roberts so much as an on-screen couple that they appeared together again in 1999’s Runaway Bride.
Molly and Sam, Ghost (1990)
Yes, it’s certified heartthrob Patrick Swayze again. In Ghost, he plays Sam, a murdered banker who communicates with his beloved widow, Molly (Demi Moore), with the help of a psychic to protect Molly from the dangerous man who killed him. The sensual pottery-wheel scene is one of the most iconic moments in 1990s cinema.
Belle and the Beast, Beauty And The Beast (1991)
This Walt Disney Pictures animated musical fantasy is based on the 18th-century fairy tale about a prince who’s transformed into a monster because of his narcissism. To break the curse, he must make a young woman, Belle, fall in love with him. Beauty And The Beast became the first animated movie to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. The beloved story got a live-action update in 2017.
Annie and Sam, Sleepless In Seattle (1993)
Sleepless In Seattle is pretty much the Citizen Kane of rom-coms. In the beloved weeper directed by Nora Ephron, Annie (Meg Ryan) is a journalist who begins to fall for a widowed architect named Sam (Tom Hanks) after his son calls into a radio program and asks the universe to send a new partner for his grief-stricken father. Watch the clip above to see the moment when Annie and Sam first meet in the flesh at the top of the Empire State Building.
Jesse and Céline, Before Sunrise (1995)
Is there a more definitive Gen X couple than Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) in the Before trilogy, which began with 1995’s Before Sunrise? The characters meet on a Eurail train and disembark in Vienna to spend the night together. Their enduring romantic journey continues in 2004’s Before Sunset and 2013’s Before Midnight.
Dewey Riley and Gale Weathers, Scream (1996)
David Arquette and Courteney Cox had such real chemistry as Deputy Dewey Riley and ruthless reporter Gale Weathers in Scream that they became a couple off set and got married. Their characters also wed in the Scream franchise (sometime between Scream 3 and 4) and appeared together as recently as 2022’s Scream, years after Arquette and Cox divorced in real life. Watch the video clip above to see some of the best moments from horror genre’s favorite couple in the five Scream films.
Jack and Rose, Titanic (1997)
The Terminator director James Cameron captured an even more iconic couple with Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet) in Titanic. Their picture-perfect first kiss in the clip above carries even more weight because audiences went into the movie knowing that it was all going to end in disaster. Cameron and others are still debating whether or not there was room for Jack on that floating door at the end after the ship sinks, but there is no question that these characters’ brief romance seemed achingly real.
Stella and Winston, How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998)
How does 40-year-old Stella (Angela Bassett) get her groove back, you ask? By taking a trip to Jamaica and starting a romance with Winston (Taye Diggs), a willing local who is 20 years her junior. The May-December romance in How Stella Got Her Groove Back isn’t as jarring as, say, Harold And Maude, and we believe that not only would Winston and Stella be into each other, but we root for them to stay together.
Chucky and Tiffany, Bride Of Chucky (1998)
Just because your soul is trapped in a murderous doll doesn’t mean that you can’t find love. Chucky (Brad Dourif) realizes that Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly) is his soulmate after she slashes a couple in a motel in Bride Of Chucky, the fourth film in the Child’s Play franchise. The protracted doll-sex scene (the age-restricted clip is above) was such a scream that their twisted romance was further explored in Seed of Chucky and the TV series Chucky.
Neo and Trinity, The Matrix (1999)
The fact that Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) even found each other in the dystopian world of The Matrix is a miracle, let alone that they fell hopelessly in love. Their relationship intensified in The Matrix Reloaded and seemed to end tragically in The Matrix Revolutions. In 2021’s underrated The Matrix Resurrections, the couple reunited, giving them another chance to change their messed-up world.
Anna and Will, Notting Hill (1999)
You knew Julia Roberts was going to show up in this list sooner or later. In Notting Hill, she plays a Hollywood actress named Anna who meets a Notting Hill bookstore owner, Will (Hugh Grant), in his shop. After Will spills his juice on Anna, he invites her into his home to help her clean off. The two share a spontaneous first kiss in the clip above that gave every rom-com fan a tingle.
Monica and Quincy, Love & Basketball (2000)
Can you think of another movie about two next-door neighbors each pursuing their own basketball careers who eventually fall for each other? That is the premise of the cult movie Love & Basketball starring Sanaa Lathan as Monica and Omar Epps as Quincy. In this moving love story, the two actors convey an emotional depth that you don’t usually find in a sports-set drama.
Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, the Harry Potter franchise (2001-2011)
The romance between Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) slowly develops over eight (!) Harry Potter movies. You can see their relationship deepen as the years pass between each movie. They don’t even share a real kiss until Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows — Part 1, so this is one movie couple given plenty of time to grow.
Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker, Spider-Man (2002)
Superhero movies are known for CGI effects and not sizzling romances, but the upside-down kiss between Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) and Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man is a notable exception that gave cosplayers a lot of kinky ideas. Maguire and Dunst appeared in two more Spider-Man movies together, but nothing compares to their characters’ first kiss in the rain.
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Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner, Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl (2003)
Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner, Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl (2003)
Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow was too wonderfully weird to be the romantic lead in the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise, which is why the romance between blacksmith Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and kidnapped governor’s daughter Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) is the heart of the story (watch their first on-screen kiss above). The couple doesn’t appear in every Pirates movie, but they do reunite at the end of 2017’s Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.
Clementine and Joel, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004)
Have you ever wanted to erase the memory of an ex from your mind so that you won’t be pained anymore? That is the premise of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, a Michel Gondry-directed drama in which Clementine (Kate Winslet) and Joel (Jim Carrey) have their memories of each other zapped yet still find a way reconnect and start fresh with a dating do-over.
Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist, Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a sheepherder who wishes he “knew how to quit” fellow sheepherder Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) after they hook up on the job in Brokeback Mountain. Ennis ends up getting married to a woman and tries to live a heteronormative life, but every time Jack shows up at his doorstep, their mutual attraction can’t be denied in this Oscar-winning tragic romantic drama.
Edward and Bella, Twilight (2008)
Sparkly vampires and YA movies in general have fallen out of fashion in recent years, but you can’t deny the Twilight phenomenon and how many young Twihards bought into the romance between high school student Bella (Kristen Stewart) and vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson). Feelings were so intense that Stewart and Pattinson became a couple in real life for a time. Bella and Edward’s relationship progressed over the five movies in The Twilight Saga, with Bella eventually becoming a vampire and giving birth to their child. Nothing beats the anticipation of their first kiss in the clip above, though.
Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, The Hunger Games (2012)
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), like many YA heroines of dystopian action films, is involved in a love triangle. The four films try to make you guess if she’s going to end up with fellow tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) or boy-from-the-block Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth). Watch the clip above to see how the chemistry intensifies between Katniss and Peeta over the course of four Hunger Games movies.
Oliver and Elio, Call Me By Your Name (2017)
This coming-of-age romantic drama set in 1983 stars Timothée Chalamet as 17-year-old Elio, who one summer in Northern Italy has a sexual awakening with his father’s 24-year-old assistant, Oliver (Armie Hammer). They may not ride off into the sunset together, but the intense romance in Call Me By Your Name clearly affected Elio for life and broke the hearts of audiences.
Rachel and Nick, Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
Constance Wu plays Rachel, a professor of economics and game theory, who travels to Singapore to meet the family of her boyfriend, Nick (Henry Golding), only to discover that his family is one of the wealthiest in the country. Crazy Rich Asians, directed by Jon M. Chu, became the highest-grossing rom-com of the 2010s.