Everything We Ever Learned From 14 Iconic Movie Relationships
We've learned a lot of love's toughest lessons from iconic on-screen duos, so we decided to research our favorite movie relationships for the lesson plan of a lifetime. We included summaries of each film to jog your memory along with the most impactful and insightful quote that gets right to the heart of what makes these relationships so special. Some of them are beacons of hope, some are passionate but brief, and others are tragic heartbreakers. But they also all share one thing in common.
They each tell love stories that connect us to each other and to parts of ourselves we didn't previously know. Plus, they're super romantic. And though you may never truly understand the impact of an experience until you live through it yourself, it's always helpful to see what we can learn from others. From 500 Days of Summer to Titanic to Brokeback Mountain, get ready to take some notes. Scroll through to explore their relationships as well as your own. Caution: Extreme weeping—both tears of joy and heartbreak—may ensue.
500 Days of Summer
The Skinny: Told in a nonlinear timeline from Tom's (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) perspective, the viewer gets little bits and pieces of Summer (Zoe Deschanel). He leads a monotonous life as a greeting card writer, but the instant he lays eyes on her his world is suddenly reinvigorated. Unfortunately for him, Tom has fallen for a girl who doesn't believe in love.
The Kicker: "Some people are meant to fall in love with each other, but they aren't meant to be together."
The Takeaway: It's easy to get your heart broken when you fall in love with the idea of a person rather than who that person actually is. And just because you're both interested in the same things doesn't mean you're a match made in heaven. That's why it's important to listen to someone when they're not interested in a relationship.
The Skinny: In a whirlwind summer romance, Noah (Ryan Gosling) and Allie (Rachel McAdams) experience an epic first love that will last them a lifetime—even when she develops Alzheimer's—luckily Noah's tender patience and care allows the couple to keep their love eternal by reading her their summer tale from a worn in notebook.
The Kicker: "Sometimes we need to be apart to truly understand how much we love each other."
The Takeaway: If anything can turn a jaded heart into a mushy one, it's Allie and Noah. And while there are many, many lessons to learn from this movie (and date ideas to steal), our biggest takeaway is that true love requires patience because it doesn't always work out right away.
Romeo and Juliet
The Skinny: This version of the Shakespeare classic is a doozy. When Romeo and Juliet meet, they instantly fall in love and will do anything to be together, even though their families are sworn enemies.
The Kicker: "O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon, who monthly changes in her circled orb, lest that thy love prove likewise variable."
The Takeaway: Destiny can be a cold-hearted piece of work, can't it? Were these two star-crossed lovers meant to be no matter how tragic? Or was it the opposite in that they fought fate and forced something that wasn't meant to be, thus dying tragically? We've been asking ourselves that one since the seventh grade, and sorry, reader, but we still aren't quite sure.
The Skinny: Spoiled teenage step-siblings Kathryn (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Sebastian (Ryan Phillippe) entertain themselves by taking advantage of vulnerable teenage girls to impress one another. That is until Sebastian meets Annette (Reese Witherspoon) and only realizes the consequences of his actions once it's too late.
The Kicker: "How can someone so charming be so manipulative?"
The Takeaway: Even if Annette can forgive Sebastian in the end, we sure don't. Spoiler alert: Not even his death exonerate Sebastian of his lifelong dedication to predatory behavior. The lesson? A creep in love is still a creep.
The Skinny: This recent film follows three black women who made history at NASA, and it's based on a true story, which it all the more inspiring. Though Katherine (Taraji P. Henson) and Colonel Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali) are the central love birds in Hidden Figures, we're a huge fan of Mary (Janelle Monáe) and Levi Jackson's (Aldis Hodge) supportive relationship.
The Kicker: "I don’t want to see you get hurt. NASA’s never given you gals your due, having another degree won’t change that. Civil rights ain’t always civil.”
The Takeaway: Mary is a hard-working and independent trailblazer with a stellar sense of humor. And the support her husband Levi shows her is seriously heart-warming. We think this is what an ideal relationship looks like: You don't always have to agree, but you should always support and respect one another's individuality and personal pursuits.
The Danish Girl
The Skinny: This brilliantly acted film follows Greta (Alicia Vikander) and Einar (Eddie Redmayne) as they navigate his gender identity, revealing the transcendent power of love.
The Kicker: "I've only liked a handful of people in my life, and you've been two of them."
The Takeaway: The only thing more inspiring than this film is the true relationship it was based on between Lili Elbe and Gerda Gottlieb. They each discover things about themselves, growing as individuals. The film completely contests the accepted notion of a "successful" marriage as they ultimately find other partners, all the while loving one another unconditionally.
The Skinny: Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a sensitive, solitary man, roams around a slightly future iteration of Los Angeles as he navigates the dissolution of his marriage with Catherine (Rooney Mara) while falling in and out of love with his personalized operating system, Samantha (Scarlet Johansen). What sounds like a creepy and far-fetched concept quickly becomes highly believable. With an inventive plot like this one, the film begs some complex questions, like the meaning of connection.
The Kicker: "I can still feel you… and the words of our story… but it's in this endless space between the words that I'm finding myself now. … I love you so much. But this is where I am now. And this is who I am now. And I need you to let me go. As much as I want to, I can't live in your book anymore."
The Takeaway: Not only does this film force us to wrestle with the ever-evolving notions of personhood and love, but it also teaches the trickiness of a partnership that's analogous to an owner/object dynamic. If we think that technology mediates the way we love in today's day in age, we wonder what it has in store for us down the road. Their relationship is great until Samantha matures past the intentions of the programmers, developing a capacity to exist outside of Theodore’s needs.
The Skinny: In an effort to get to know the suave Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze), Baby (Jennifer Grey) volunteers to be his dance partner for the summer floor show, despite her lack of experience. Her expectedly boring summer suddenly turns passionate as she tries to demonstrate to her stubborn father that her summer romance is for real.
The Kicker: "Me? I'm scared of everything."
The Takeaway: Even though Baby says she's afraid of everything, she doesn't let that fear dictate her life. She teaches us that you never know what kind of magical moments you'll experience until you get outside your comfort zone. But if we're being completely honest, our biggest lessons from this movie are that nobody puts Baby in a corner, and you shouldn't try her dance moves at home.
The Skinny: Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) meet one summer when they herd sheep together in the rural Wyoming mountains. They realize they have romantic feelings for one another and act on them, which evolves into a secret love affair. Throughout the years they meet up and go on adventures in the wilderness, which disrupts both of their marriages in different ways.
The Kicker: "I thought Brokeback Mountain might be around where he grew up. Knowing Jack, it might be some pretend place, where bluebirds sing and there's a whiskey spring."
The Takeaway: To Jack and Ennis, Brokeback Mountain may as well have been a place where bluebirds sang and whiskey came from a natural spring because it was the only place in the world they felt safe enough to actually love each other. So even though the secrecy sometimes made them feel trapped, it also provided a means for them to be true to themselves. When Jack tells Ennis, "I wish I could quit you," it's clear we cannot choose who we love.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The Skinny: If you haven't seen this (arguably) dystopian fantasy, the basic premise is that a couple Clementine (Kate Winslet) and Joel (Jim Carrey) undergo a medical procedure to erase their memories of each other post-breakup.
The Kicker: "Come back and make up a goodbye at least. Let's pretend we had one."
The Takeaway: No matter how much grief you feel in the aftermath of a breakup, you can't just will away the memory of an ex-lover. And even if you could erase the memories with a medical procedure à la Dr. Mierzwiak and Mary (Kirsten Dunst), you'd probably regret it. When Clementine and Joel try to erase theirs, they not only forget about each other, but they also lose parts of themselves that grew out of the relationship.
Plus, when Joel and Clementine meet again post-erasure procedure, they begin their relationship all over again. So despite a messy demise, the relationship is an essential experience for their individual growth. Love can be real and still burn out fast. Oh, and we also learned that Clementine is the coolest name ever.
The Skinny: Rose (Kate Winslet) and Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) cross paths while on the Titanic voyaging from Europe to New York City. She's a young socialite engaged to an awful but wealthy man of similar rank when she falls in love with the free-spirited Jack and realizes that she doesn't want to lead a vapid, elitist existence. It's another take on the classic tale of forbidden love as well as the immortal nature of love itself.
The Kicker: "I'll never let go, Jack."
The Takeaway: Talk about an iconic scene. If anything groomed us to believe in eternal love, it was Jack and Rose. Although we do think that she should have scooted over to make room for Jack on that floating object…
10 Things I Hate About You
The Skinny: Sisters Kat (Julia Stiles) and Bianca couldn't be more different. Bianca is the younger, precocious popular girl while Kat, though equally precocious, is an introverted, studious badass. When their loving but overprotective dad forbids Bianca from having a boyfriend until Kat starts dating, the real fun begins—i.e., Patrick (Heath Ledger) swoops in and steals Kat's heart (and ours).
The Kicker: "You don't always have to be who they want you to be."
The Takeaway: Parick and Kat are teen icons. Kat taught us that you should never change who you are to fulfill societal expectations. As long as you stay true to yourself, the right person will come along and accept you as you are. And then Patrick came in with an equally important lesson plan: Vulnerability and accepting someone's flattery and love is a strength, not a weakness. Challenging yourself to trust someone is so worth it.
The Skinny: Blue Valentine traces Cindy (Michelle Williams) and Dean's (Ryan Gosling) relationship as it quickly progresses from a youthful, loving adventure to a tense marriage before it ultimately unravels. The film explores how love changes over time, especially when a couple is under stress. Cindy says it best: "How do you trust your feelings when they can just disappear like that?"
The Kicker: "I'm so out of love with you. I've got nothing left for you, nothing, nothing. Nothing, there is nothing here for you."
The Takeaway: There are a lot of mixed emotions around this one, but we're die-hard fans. When so many love stories (especially Hollywood love stories) rely on happy endings, we appreciate a tragic but real goodbye for its relatability. Dean and Cindy share an undeniable connection, but as strong as their attraction is, so is their volatility. Also, one could argue that this is a film about the moments of unspoken gestures of love as well as those that chip away at love. The long brooding silences reveal the importance of communication, and how the absence of it gives gains a presence so large that there's no room for anything else in the relationship.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
The Skinny: When American friends, Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) venture to Barcelona for the summer, they both fall for a handsome local artist named Juan (Javier Bardem). The feeling is mutual, but he also still has a thing for his erratic ex, María Elena (Penelope Crúz).
The Kicker: "We are meant for each, and we are not meant for each other. It's a contradiction."
The Takeaway: You can learn from passion and experimenting, but it's probably not the most sustainable form of love if you want it to have longevity. You'll probably get swept off your feet by a romantic stranger at some point or another, and you'll learn a lot from that love, so it's totally worth it, but don't risk it all for someone who might be a player. Even the most frivolous of love affairs or out-of-character experiences can offer up lessons about who we are and what we're ultimately striving for. With that said, this movie also showed us what it looks like to manipulate someone for your own growth, and it isn't becoming nor is it respectful.
What are your favorite movie relationships, and what lessons did they teach you? Make your case in the comment section below.