In the art of storytelling, the idea of a romantic subplot is often met with more criticism than one would expect. Some fans love them, while others view them as unnecessary pieces of the plot. Every once in a while though, a great love story sneaks up on you — a story found in the depths of a narrative that unites the audience, leaving everyone longing for more.
Done well, these stories are often timeless. From meet-cutes amongst mummies to reconciliations in the rain, a ship-worthy secondary arc will capture the heart of a film and viewers alike, even in horror.
Han and Leia, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ (1980)
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the stars aligned for the star-crossed coupling of Star Wars‘ Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford). Released in 1980, The Empire Strikes Back found an alternative mission in that of its subplot – making the most notable sci-fi romance to date “official.”
In a quest to stop The Empire, begrudging acquaintances Han and Leia are forced to work side-by-side under intense circumstances. As the stakes rise, the two begin to grow closer until their disdain for one another morphs into something more — love, an admission that comes from Leia in the moments before Han is ultimately lost to the leader of the dark side.
Bill and Jo, ‘Twister’ (1996)
A relationship is about as predictable as a natural disaster, or at least that’s what 1996’s Twister would have you believe. Starring Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton as the estranged couple among a family of misfit storm chasers, the film tells a story of the search for answers within the trajectory of a tornado.
After knocking the two off course of finalizing their divorce, a series of cyclones leaves Bill (Paxton) tagging along with Jo (Hunt) and the crew one final time. But what is meant to be a last hurrah becomes a much-needed line of communication, thus allowing their marriage to weather more than just the literal storm itself.
Gale and Dewey, ‘Scream’ Franchise (1996 – 2022)
Unlike most slashers, the heart of the Scream franchise does not rest on the shoulders of its final girl, but instead, on the star-crossed story of a small-town sheriff and a ruthless reporter. Meeting amidst the chaos of the original Ghostface killings, Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) and Dewey Riley (David Arquette) quickly discover that neither is quite the person that others perceive them to be.
Fated to fall in fear but never out of love, the two spend each of the first five films navigating the differences that tear them apart despite being drawn to one another, yet it’s only in the fifth film that their stars fail to align for the first time. “It’ll never work,” Dewey says at the end of Scream 3, but perhaps Gale and Dewey’s is the story within the series that always has.
Rick and Evelyn, ‘The Mummy’ (1999)
The blueprint for so many action-adventure romances today, The Mummy‘s Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) and Evelyn “Evy” Carnahan (Rachel Weisz) set a standard that is hard to beat. From enemies to lovers to parents in the 2001 sequel, their romance begins when Evy spares Rick’s life in exchange for his knowledge of Hamunaptra, an ancient Egyptian city.
Between journeys on camelback and the accidental awakening of a deadly curse, their animosity falters and the two begin to fall in love. But it’s in the end, as Rick and Evy’s foreheads fall together against the backdrop of a fading sunset, that the audience knows the love story between the librarian and the adventurer was fated to last forever.
Ingrid and Gregorio, ‘Spy Kids’ (2001)
With a surprising twist for a rated-PG action film, Spy Kids delivers a satisfying enemies-to-lovers romance in that of the protagonists’ parents, Ingrid (Carla Gugino) and Gregorio Cortez (Antonio Banderas).
Initially rival spies sent to kill each other, Gregorio and Ingrid fall in love in a turn of events that have them swapping espionage for parenthood — or, trying to, that is. But their domestic bliss is ultimately interrupted by enemies of the past, and the couple is forced to expose their former life as secret agents to their two young children.
Mia and Brian, ‘The Fast Saga’ (2001 -)
In the fast-paced world of ten-second cars and quarter miles, one wouldn’t think there would be time for love. But if family is the soul of Fast and Furious, then the heart is the romance between Paul Walker‘s Brian and Jordana Brewster‘s Mia.
Their relationship is short-lived in the first movie — boy likes girl, girl likes boy, girl finds out boy is an undercover cop – but in the 2009 sequel, a surprising reunion leads the two to discover exactly what it takes to trust each other. By the subsequent film, 2011’s Fast Five, Brian has learned that his place is outside the law with Mia, and the two begin to build a life that will eventually lead them to retire from that of bank heists and bullet wounds.
Pepper and Tony, ‘Iron Man’ (2008)
Even before Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) was the man in a flying suit, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) was there to ground him. In a similar fashion to the trope made popular by series like The West Wing, 2008’s Iron Man delivers the beginnings of an epic romance between boss and assistant.
After a near-death experience launches the CEO of Stark Industries headfirst into an epiphany, Tony decides to change his ways. But when the ramifications of his new lease on life turn deadly, it’s up to Pepper to save her boss from his business partner, and from himself. Together, the two defeat their newfound enemy in a victory that paves the way for an even more successful future.
Ed and Lorraine, ‘The Conjuring’ Universe (2013 -)
Rare is the horror film that feels like a romance — that is the case of The Conjuring franchise. With a fictionalized depiction of Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren’s (Vera Farmiga) love story, the film saga sends its married demonologist duo around the world in hope that they can help families plagued by the paranormal.
A chance meeting at seventeen leaves Ed and Lorraine to discover that each is the first person to believe in the other’s abilities. Because of this, the two fall in love, and in seamless parallel, their ghostly journeys through all of the films mirror the impact on their relationship — from fear for each other’s lives to the belief that their love will prevail.
Ray and Emma, ‘San Andreas’ (2015)
Taking a page from Twister‘s book, 2015’s San Andreas intertwines the tale of a couple on the verge of divorce with that of a disaster movie. When a series of earthquakes rock the San Andreas Fault, fire rescue pilot Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) and his estranged wife, Emma (Gugino) set off to rescue their daughter, now trapped in the trembling state of California.
In the quiet moments that add the most depth to this action-packed story, the audience learns that the loss of a child is the cause of the couple’s separation. But Emma and Ray’s fight to save their surviving child that the avenue to fight for their marriage opens up as well.
Adam and Laura, ‘The Adam Project’ (2022)
Despite heavy themes of loss and love, The Adam Project tells a story of fate — a concept most notable in that of its romance between Laura Shane (Zoe Saldaña) and the title character, Adam Reed (Ryan Reynolds).
After a mission to save his wife from the past goes awry, Adam, the son of the father of time travel, comes face to face with his destiny: to destroy time travel during his adolescence. This, of course, means sacrificing the future that Adam knows to be true, but Laura’s belief that fate will bring them together proves right in the end.
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