There’s nothing wrong with a good love story on film. From Casablanca to Titanic, some of the very best movies ever made have focused in large part on the love between two or more individuals that must overcome a series of great odds in a (sometimes failed) effort to find peace together. Love stories are one of the cornerstones of the filmmaking industry.
That being said, not every movie needs a love story. You would think that’s obvious. Sadly, countless films over the years have tried to force a love story into a movie that just doesn’t need one. There are always going to be misguided attempts at inserting a romantic angles into as many movies as possible in order to please some unknown demographic that apparently craves such things.
Here are the 15 Most Unnecessary Romantic Subplots In Film History.
15. Thor and Jane – Thor
Ah, yes. The classic “she’s a scientist interested in research and logic and he’s a Norse thunder god with the power to destroy worlds” relationship. It’s a tale as old as time itself. After all, how couldn’t an incredibly intelligent and independent researcher like Jane Foster not develop a sickly sweet high school style relationship with a man who came from the sky and claimed to be the mythological character, Thor? Who cares that they both have much greater things to care about throughout the course of their adventures?
Well, “the audience” would be the short answer to that question. 2011’s Thor was generally agreed to be a good addition to the Marvel film universe, despite its infamously bad trailers, but the one aspect of the movie that generally did not go down well was the relationship between Thor and Jane Foster. That these two characters would develop some kind of feelings for each other is one thing, but to devote several scenes showing them building the kind of googly eye romance typically reserved for those love story novels you see in the checkout aisle felt completely out of place for both characters and contributed nothing of merit.
14. Frank Dux and Janice Kent – Bloodsport
An ‘80s action movie where the guy gets the girl in the end is one thing. That trope might usually be worth an eye-roll or two, but the one advantage that it typically has from an entertainment standpoint is that the relationship between the burly action star and the damsel in distress usually makes up a small part of the movie and does typically give the hero a reason to begin his quest for vengeance.
Bloodsport isn’t like that. Bloodsport is a movie about military man Frank Dux attending an illegal international fighting competition in order to both prove his worth as a martial artist and fulfill the wishes of his trainer. There’s absolutely no room in there for a love story as proven by the writers’ attempts to shoehorn in such a plot device by introducing a reporter by the name of Janice Kent into the mix. Not only is Janice’s role in and of itself strictly unnecessary to the overall plot (“This is my chance to get the big scoop!”), but the relationship she forms with Dux reeks of filler and suggests a misguided attempt at expanding the film’s market appeal.
13. Uhura and Scotty – Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
When you think back on the original Star Trek series, what comes to mind? Do you reminisce about the harrowing dangers that the crew of the Enterprise routinely had to find a way out of, or do you prefer to remember the chemistry between the crew which so often elevated the show over just another piece of television sci-fi? There’s certainly no shortage of elements to look back on, as the original Star Trek remains infamous for the way it created a bustling mythology via the simple medium of television episodes.
Nowhere in that mythology, however, was it ever hinted that Uhura and Scotty might have some kind of romantic relationship. While certain pieces of fan fiction desperate to stand out might have ventured into that territory, none of the original Star Trek episodes ever gave any indication that these two characters were anything more than shipmates. So why did director William Shatner decide to insert awkward scenes of Uhura and Scotty flirting in Star Trek V? Unfortunately, we’ll probably never get a reasonable answer to that question. Fortunately for this incredibly awkward relationship, it’s far from the worst thing about the infamously bad Final Frontier.
12. Lee Christmas and Lacy – The Expendables
The Expendables was billed as a glorious tribute to the golden era of testosterone-fueled ‘80s action movies. While there were some who doubted that an all-star collection of ‘80s action actors would be able to reenact their glory days on screen, many genre fans were willing to buy into the idea for a moment in the hopes that The Expendables would, at the very least, provide the kind of turn off your brain and simply enjoy form of pure action that once flowed so easily into theaters. Sadly, the movie turned out to be more of a parody of classic action movies than it was a genuine contribution to the genre.
And hey, what parody of ‘80s action movies would be complete without an unnecessary romance or two? If you subscribe to the belief that The Expendable’s flaws were intentionally implemented as a tribute, then you might be tempted to give this particular plot a pass. As for everyone else, they are forced to remember the jarring scenes involving Jason Statham and his girlfriend that were so awkwardly implemented into the final cut of the film that you’d swear they were accidentally spliced in from another movie. Unfortunately for everyone, they weren’t taken from a better movie.
11. Vincent Mancini and Mary Corleone – The Godfather Part III
Godfather III attempts to answer the age-old philosophical question: “If you insert an unnecessary romantic subplot into an unnecessary movie, is anyone even going to watch long enough to care?” It’s a valid question and, to be perfectly honest, the relationship between the illegitimate Corleone family member Vincent and Michael Corleone’s daughter Mary is somewhat plausible from a storytelling standpoint. Here are two young kids from similar upbringings who find themselves romantically involved with each other through somewhat natural interactions. On paper, it’s not that bad.
What makes this particular subplot so superfluous, however, is the execution. Sofia Coppola may be a talented director, but she turns in one of the most painfully wooden performances in film history as Michael Corleone’s daughter. Unable to express any genuine feelings of emotion, her scenes with Vincent are universally devoid of any kind of human affection and derail a film that was already having trouble staying on track. While it is something of a relief to see the writers create a plot device that forces these crazy kids to go back to being platonic, that does only seem to confirm the audience’s belief that there was no point in putting them together in the first place.
10. Ursula and Peter Parker – Spider-Man 2
Unlike certain other superheroes that would do well to stay clear of romantic subplots all together, there’s no reason that a Spider-Man film can’t contain a few relationship scenes and still maintain the integrity of the character. After all, Spider-Man has had to deal with a few troubled relationships in his lifetime, and the character does have certain storylines in his mythology that revolve around his attempts at romance. For instance, while the Mary Jane portions of the Sam Raimi Spider-Man film’s may not be classic movie moments, they do contribute something to the overall story.
The same cannot be said of the scenes in Spider-Man II involving Ursula; the landlord’s daughter. At first, Ursula appears to be a comedy relief character there just pops into a scene in order to express her cutesy romantic interests in Peter Parker. However, she actually appears a couple more times in the film to try to actively flirt with Parker despite the fact he shows no romantic interest. What’s especially tragic about these scenes is that the actress that plays Ursula (Mageina Tovah) and Toby Maguire actually have a more on-screen chemistry than he and Kirsten Dunst do. So not only is Ursula’s character ultimately meaningless but she also just accentuates how unnatural the film’s Mary Jane Watson scenes are.
9. Ron Weasley and Lavender Brown – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince may be a controversial example of an unnecessary romantic subplot as, technically speaking, the movie actually spent comparatively less time dealing with the romantic interests of its characters than the book did. The problem there is that the book was a considerably longer piece of work that could afford to spare a few extra pages to teenagers in love while the movie was trying to condense a lot of plot down into a digestible runtime. That being the case, you would think the director and writers would have recognized that many of the romantic stories were an easy cut.
Instead, the film decides to make those stories the focal point of the overall plot. The worst offenders of this approach are certainly the scenes involving Ron Weasley and Lavender Brown. This was already the most meaningless relationship in the book, and it makes absolutely no sense why the film would not only try to recreate it in full but actually attempt to add a few new scenes involving the two. It’s sad that the movie cut out so many compelling moments from the book to leave room for additional romance because the Half-Blood Prince film was primed to benefit from some intelligent story cuts.
8. John Hancock and Mary – Hancock
The common complaint you hear about Hancock is that the overall movie feels like it was assembled from the parts of two completely different interpretations of the same premise. Hancock’s first half isn’t necessarily brilliant, but its attempt to showcase what might happen if a self-destructive individual acquired the powers of a superhero is generally praised for its dark humor and fascinating ideas. Imagine if Superman was an alcoholic who routinely drew public scorn over the millions of dollars of property damage he caused, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of why this portion of the movie works.
Where things rapidly go downhill is when the romantic subplot comes into play. It’s at this point that the movie almost entirely abandons its core concept of a tragic superhero trying to make good and instead focuses on a rather mundane tale of two superheroes in love that also have slightly different ideologies. You could almost imagine this story being woven into the natural fabric of the story and perhaps being tolerable, but the fact that it so clearly dominates half of the film and comes out of nowhere makes it one of the most detrimental attempts at inserting romance in filmmaking history.
7. Bruce Banner and Black Widow – Avengers: Age of Ultron
Have you ever watched a romantic subplot unfold in a movie and became convinced that you could see a faceless studio executive trying to shove love scenes into the action from somewhere just off frame? Yes, it’s a sad fact of life that many of the most painful movie subplots result from a fundamental misunderstanding of what audiences actually want that typically results from an age-old belief that you’ll lose “the average viewer” if there are not at least two people in the movie trying to find love.
Such is how Black Widow’s romantic subplot in Avengers: Age of Ultron came about. Despite the fact that Bruce Banner and Black Widow are, arguably, the two characters in this movie least in need of romantic interests, for some reason, the film attempts to explore what a relationship between them might play out like. The damage here is threefold. Black Widow is damaged by the need to downplay her character’s best qualities in order to downplay a romance, Bruce Banner is forced to engage in uncomfortable flirting sequences, and the movie itself must now bear the weight of a hefty romantic subplot while also trying to juggle quite a few more important stories.
6. Vassili/Tania/Commissar Danilov – Enemy At The Gates
Enemy at the Gates is based on a rather thrilling book of the same name that details the heroics of a Russian sniper named Vasily Zaytsev who was believed to have killed over 200 enemy troops single-handedly, as well as some of the most dangerous enemy snipers in the war. Although the book is a rather technical retelling of Zaytsev’s accomplishments (much of it is devoted to examining his sniping strategies), it’s easy enough for most readers to see how the story could be translated into a rather thrilling war movie without making too many embellishments.
Sadly, many embellishments were made. Although a little romanticizing of Zaytsev’s achievements was to be expected, it’s safe to say that nobody familiar with the actual story would have expected a movie adaptation to devote so much time to a classic love triangle. As you might imagine, it’s incredibly awkward to try and fit in a love story centered around a military character that is, by the nature of his assignment, a lone wolf. What you could never imagine is how painfully bad nearly every romantic scene in this film is when compared to some of the most brilliant sniper scenes ever captured on film.
5. Arthur Dent and Trillian – The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
Despite the fact that The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy remains one of the most breezily enjoyable books ever written, there have always been major doubts concerning whether or not it could ever be properly adapted into a movie. Unlike some supposedly unfilmable books that earned that title thanks to spectacular sequences that many thought movie technology would never be able to replicate, the problem with adapting Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy was that the books’ trademark dry wit and sarcastic personality would be difficult to translate to a screenplay.
Author Douglas Adams apparently felt the same and, though he was interested in seeing a major film adaptation of Hitchhiker’s in his lifetime, he understood that certain concessions would need to be made in order to make the project more appealing to film studios. The biggest of these concessions was a script that played up the previously muted relationship between Arthur and Trillian by making it a central point of the plot. Trillian became more of a manic pixie dream girl and Arthur was turned into a lovesick loner unable to properly express his feelings. While the reasons for this change are understandable, this subplot does not emphasize any of the qualities that made the book so notable in the first place.
4. Amsterdam Vallon and Jenny Everdeane – Gangs of New York
In many ways, Gangs of New York is one of Martin Scorcese’s most ambitious works. While it does play off the director’s familiar territory of criminal interests, it also gives us a look at a time in American history that is rarely explored via a surprisingly complicated plot that forces the audience to juggle numerous characters and their motivations. At the center of this tale, though, is the relationship between Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) and William Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis). They have a twisted kind of father/son bond made all the more complicated by the fact that Cutting killed Valon’s actual father. It’s a dynamic that should be enough to carry the film.
Should, is the key word there, as the movie is instead bogged down by devoting too much screen time to the other relationship between Vallon and a grifter named Jenny. The fundamental issue with the character of Jenny is that she primarily used to drive a wedge between Cutting and Vallon via an interested third party that needs not exist given the natural animosity that could have easily developed between these two characters. One could argue that Jenny offers Vallon a measure of comfort that drives him, but that minor contribution does little to justify the amount of on-screen attention their relationship receives.
3. Batman and Batgirl – Batman: The Killing Joke
Author Alan Moore has long spoken out against film adaptations of his works, and it’s not hard to see why. While Moore’s stories are certainly more complex than your average piece of comic book entertainment, it sometimes feels as if the entire filmmaking community holds a particular grudge against the eccentric Moore and have decided to hold an unofficial contest to see who can make the most insulting film based on his work. It’s the only explanation as to how movies like Swamp Thing and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen possibly came to be.
The Killing Joke should have been different. The very pages of that book could easily serve as a pre-made film storyboard, leaving very little margin for adaptation errors. Yet, The Killing Joke adaptation still manages to exploit that thin margin by trying to fit a romantic subplot between Batman and Barbara Gordon into it. Even if you can suspend your disbelief long enough to accept these two characters having anything more than a father/daughter relationship, it’s impossible to accept that the story of The Killing Joke could have every possibly benefited from a romantic relationship between the two being added. While far from the film’s only problem, this insulting subplot comes across as an unnecessary attempt to politically correct a story that was not in need of the effort.
2. Capt. Rafe McCawley/Capt. Danny Walker/Nurse Lt. Evelyn Johnson – Pearl Harbor
It’s doubtful that we’ll ever get a movie intentionally devoted to paying tribute to the art of the unnecessary romantic subplot, but Pearl Harbor does come pretty close to taking on that role. Director Michael Bay, presumably on a mission to make his own Saving Private Ryan, looked at the attack on Pearl Harbor and decided that he was going to turn it into a 3-hour epic film. While the attack on Pearl Harbor is certainly one of the most important military events in American history, it’s difficult to imagine how a director could stretch the events of the attack across three hours without implementing some serious plot padding.
So, that’s exactly what Bay did. So much of Pearl Harbor is devoted to focusing on a love triangle between two captains and a nurse that it becomes difficult to even classify Pearl Harbor as a war movie at all. Well over half of the movie’s runtime is devoted to either scenes of direct romance or characters talking about their love lives. As he had a habit of doing, Roger Ebert summarized the film’s problem’s best in his review by stating “Pearl Harbor is a two-hour movie squeezed into three hours, about how on Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese staged a surprise attack on an American love triangle.”
1. Tauriel/Legolas/Kili – The Hobbit Trilogy
In a way, it’s a good thing that The Hobbit was stretched into multiple films unnecessarily as it can now be pointed to as an example of the consequences of trying to over-milk a concept for all its worth. When it was announced that The Hobbit (a 320-page book, mind you) was going to be adapted into three separate movies, fans everywhere began to worry about what was going to be added to the story in order to fill the considerable amount of spare time. Naturally, most assumed an unnecessary love story would be part of the bargain. In fact, actress Evangeline Lilly even specifically requested that no such love story be implemented if she was going to take the role.
Despite all this, we still got a love triangle plot. Not just any love triangle plot, mind you, but a love triangle plot that was two-thirds comprised of characters not even in the book. Everyone from the actors involved in these scenes to director Peter Jackson and the audience obviously could care less about the love affairs between three elves with far better things to be focusing on, yet an abhorrent chunk of each movie is nonetheless devoted to just that.