Over the decades, there have only been a few characters who don’t follow the tired tropes and clichés of Hollywood romance. These characters may have had past relationships, one-night-stands, or have a partner in the background, but their primary reasons for existing supersede romance altogether.
Not every character’s arc revolves around finding or losing an epic romance. Some are motivated by revenge, greed, fame, or power, rejecting potential partners as they come. Others are simply called to action by the powers that be, whether that’s to save the world or to find themselves.
Ellen Ripley – Alien Franchise
One of the great female heroes of sci-fi, Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley of the Alien universe doesn’t let herself become another victim of thriller film clichés. The first film sees Ripley slowly becoming the last survivor of her crew evading and attempting to outsmart the titular alien.
Its sequel, the action-packed Aliens, pits Ripley and a team of Marines against an army of Xenomorphs and in the chaos of it all, Ripley tries to save Newt, the last survivor of a colony overrun. From an era of male-led action films, Ripley’s cunning and bold bravery coupled with a protective mother figure never needed a romantic subplot to become iconic.
Inigo Montoya – The Princess Bride
In a film full of potent quotables, Mandy Patinkin’s Inigo Montoya is on a single-minded quest to seek vengeance against the six-fingered man who murdered his father. The parody film brings levity to an age-old archetype for his character, letting him break early with one of the film’s villains to aid the heroes in their journey.
One of the most successful and memorable side-characters in cinema, Montoya’s motivations can be summed up in one cathartic line, “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father, prepare to die.”
The Joker – The Dark Knight
The Joker’s questionable relationship with Harley Quinn in the cartoons and other films aside, Heath Ledger’s interpretation of the character is an “agent of chaos” unbothered by such fickle things as dates and relationships. The Joker’s entire arc in The Dark Knight is to battle for the “soul of Gotham” with Christian Bale’s Batman, robbing banks and double-crossing mobsters.
Even in the comics and other cartoons, Joker’s relationships with Harley Quinn are toxic at the best of times. His goals and motivations sit between playing deadly pranks and blowing up hospitals to make a point, attempting to prove his worldview of anarchy as the only valid way to live.
Loki – Marvel Cinematic Universe
Tom Hiddleston’s Loki schemes a multitude of goals throughout his many appearances in the Marvel films, up until the character’s miniseries streaming on Disney +. Through the hands of many directors and the lenses of other heroes’ films, Loki’s motivations range from revenge to self-preservation to pure power.
His debut in Thor sees the villain in cahoots with the forces of Jotunheim to oust his brother from Asgard and claim the throne for himself. An agent of Thanos in the first Avengers, Loki schemes solely to conquer Earth. Between Thor: The Dark World and Thor: Ragnarok, Loki shifts between opposing poles of being an ally to his brother and looking out for himself, until the latter wins out in Infinity War.
Jack Sparrow – Pirates of the Caribbean Franchise
Hardly free from lust, Jonny Depp’s Jack Sparrow dabbles in dalliances and toys with various female characters like Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth and Naomie Harris’ Tia Dalma. However, Sparrow’s ever-shifting goals and allegiances never stray too far from his own selfish ends.
In Curse of the Black Pearl, Sparrow’s concerns lie primarily with getting his hands on the eponymous ship and exacting revenge on Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa. In Dead Man’s Chest, it’s avoiding Bill Nighy’s Davy Jones and a bad deal he made. And in At World’s End, Sparrow wants what any pirate wants – freedom to do as he pleases outside the restrictive law of the East India Company. Throughout his run, all other romantic exploits come in a distant second or third.
Frodo Baggins – The Lord of the Rings
An entire list could be made with the characters of the Lord of the Rings characters not motivated by romance. J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy epic often put brotherhood and friendship well before romantic pursuits and it was the bonds of fellowship that saw victory in the end.
As the hero of the story and bearer of the One Ring, Elijah Wood’s Frodo is an extremely reluctant hero tasked with destroying the One Ring because of his perceived immunity to its influence. Spending most of his journey with only Andy Serkis’ Gollum and Sean Astin’s Samwise Gamgee, Frodo endures for friendship and family, and because it is the right thing to do.
Sarah Connor – Terminator Franchise
An equally great female hero of sci-fi, Sarah Connor’s character between Terminator and Terminator 2 are night and day. Linda Hamilton transforms the character from the frightened plot device to a battle-hardened heroine. Despite the necessary one-night-stand between Connor and Michael Biehn’s Kyle Reese, Connor’s character is motivated by one thing: Survival.
A target of Skynet for being the mother of a future revolutionary, Connor spends the first film evading the ceaseless T-800, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. In its sequel, Connor and her son team up with the Terminator to defeat the T-1000 and both play parental roles for John without any hints of romance to be found.
Truman Burbank – The Truman Show
Showcasing Jim Carrey’s dramatic acting chops, The Truman Show tells the story of a man who realizes his life is a TV show. All of his choices have been carefully scripted for entertainment and the film follows his journey to escape his false reality.
Though the titular character is married, and it is alluded to post-credits that he does find a former cast member who tried to free him, Truman’s arc rests entirely on the internal struggle of whether or not to leave the safety and predictability of a life scripted by the metaphorical powers that be. Truman’s choice to brave the uncertainty and chaos of reality at the edge of his world remains one of the most poignant climaxes in film.
Moana – Moana
One of only three Disney Princesses without a romantic subplot, Moana embodies the self-actualizing, independent heroine little girls can strive to be. Tasked with saving the heart of Te Fiti, Moana (Auliʻi Cravalho) teams up with the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) on a journey that tests her strength of will and character, wholly absent of any romance.
Moana is the culmination of many years of Disney Princess films centered on the fairytale romance. She makes a long-overdue statement about independence both from the fixation on romantic relationships and as individuals and serves as a strong role model Disney fans had been waiting for.
Obi-Wan Kenobi – Star Wars
Obi-Wan Kenobi’s arc, excluding his appearances in games, books, cartoons, and other media, serves as the stalwart do-gooder that embodies the Jedi way. Juxtaposed against Hayden Christensen’s Anakin, who fell down the slippery slope to the Dark Side for love, Ewan McGregor’s Kenobi eschews romantic love entirely.
Incorruptible, Kenobi suffers much and remains true to his beliefs – losing his master, the collective Jedi Order and Republic, his Padawan, friend, and brother in Anakin. Even in the spin-off cartoon The Clone Wars, brief hints of romance are shot down. With Kenobi’s series on Disney + fast approaching, it’s up to the writers if they will keep this important aspect of his character or create a new iteration of Kenobi for fans to love.
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