What would movies be without love stories? Even since filmmakers have put their tales on celluloid, the vast majority revolve around the love between two individuals. Or maybe three.
Which makes sense. If a movie was only about two people meeting, falling in love, marrying, and living happily ever after, the results would be kinda dull. Movies need action and conflict, and what better way to spice things up than with a good old-fashioned love triangle? (These are the greatest love stories in movie history.)
To find the most memorable love triangles in Hollywood history, 24/7 Tempo reviewed plot synopses from sources including IMDb, an online movie and TV database owned by Amazon; Entertainment Weekly; and other entertainment and general-interest media sources.
In most of the films on our list, love conquers all and the two people meant to be together end up in each other’s arms, leaving the third side of the triangle out in the cold. In some stories, one person graciously steps aside despite a broken heart. Perhaps the most famous example is Rick, who nobly gives up his love, Ilsa, at the end of the classic “Casablanca.”
Not all of these films are lighthearted romantic comedies. One participant in the love triangle in Woody Allens’s “Match Point” meets a tragic end. “The Hunger Games” deals with darker themes, yet still manages to weave in a complex love triangle. Marvel’s “X-Men” centers around a woman and the two men who love her, proving even in action films, a good love triangle can draw audiences in. (These are the best Marvel movies of all time.)
Scarlett, Rhett, and Ashley
> Movie: Gone With the Wind (1939)
Tempestuous Scarlett O’Hara pines after Ashley Wilkes even after he marries his cousin, Melanie Hamilton. During a party prior to the outbreak of the war, Scarlett meets Rhett Butler, but in a fit of jealousy goes on to wed Melanie’s brother, Charles. After Charles is killed in the Civil War, Scarlett marries a wealthy merchant in order to pay her bills, but he, too, dies. Shortly after his funeral, Rhett proposes to Scarlett and she accepts. The marriage is troubled, not the least because of Scarlett’s ongoing infatuation with Ashley. After Melanie dies, Scarlett realizes that Rhett, not Ashley, is her true love – but it’s too late as Rhett cuts off her pleas to stay with the curt classic, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
Rick Blaine, Ilsa Lund, and Victor Laszlo
> Movie: Casablanca (1942)
Set in Morocco duing World War II, “Casablanca” follows the love triangle of Ilsa Lund, Rick Blaine, and Victor Laszlo. Rick and Ilsa had an affair in Paris just prior to the start of the war. At that time, Ilsa thought her husband, Czech resistance leader Victor, had died in a concentration camp, but he later turned up alive and Ilsa broke it off with Rick. When Ilsa and Victor saunter into Rick’s bar in Casablanca, Ilsa and Rick reignite their love. But in the end, Rick gives up ilsa, telling her to go with Victor, saying “We’ll always have Paris.”
Linus, Sabrina, and David
> Movie: Sabrina (1954)
Shy, plain Sabrina secretly loves playboy David, the son of the rich family that employs her father as a chauffeur. To help her get over David, her family sends her to Paris, and she returns as a beautiful, sophisticated woman. She finally catches the eye of David, which irks his family who want him to marry another woman to seal a business deal. His older brother Linus steps in to drive a wedge between the two, but Linus and Sabrina end up falling in love – helped by David, who graciously gives up the woman he has grown to love.
Moses, Rameses, Nefretiri
> Movie: The Ten Commandments (1956)
In this epic action movie set in ancient times, Moses escapes death as an infant after the Pharaoh Rameses I of Egypt orders the killing of all newborn Hebrew males. He is later adopted and becomes a successful general in a war with Ethiopia. Although Moses falls in love with Nefretiri, she is bound to marry the next Pharaoh of Egypt.
Mrs. Robinson, Benjamin, and Elaine
> Movie: The Graduate (1967)
“Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce meâ¦aren’t you?” With that line, so begins the love triangle between Mrs. Robinson, her daughter Elaine, and disaffected recent college graduate Benjamin. After Benjamin tells Elaine about the affair with her mother, she breaks it off with him and returns to college in Berkeley. Benjamin follows (or should we say stalks) her, and crashes her wedding to another man. Elaine leaves the church with Benjamin and the two are seen riding a bus to who-knows-where in the end.
Andie, Duckie, and Blane
> Movie: Pretty in Pink (1986)
One of the great romantic films of the ’80s, high schooler Andie from a working class family is caught between her best friend, Duckie, and rich guy Blane. Blane likes Andie, but avoids her because of pressure from his snooty friends. At a prom, Blane defends Andie against the insults from another rich kid, Steff, who also likes her. In the end, Blane and Andie meet up and kiss. Interesting fact about the film: The original ending had Andie and Duckie together, but a test audience booed that idea and the conclusion was changed.
Westley, Buttercup, and Prince Humperdink
> Movie: The Princess Bride (1987)
In this classic romantic comedy, Buttercup and farmhand Westley fall in love at her family’s farm. Westley leaves to find his fortune, but is presumed dead after his ship is attacked by pirates. Buttercup is then betrothed to Prince Humperdinck, the heir to the throne of Florin. To keep Buttercup and Westley apart, Humperdinck imprisons Buttercup and tortures Westley, but after Westley and his friends storm the castle and fight off the prince, he and Buttercup reunite.
The Narrator, Marla, and Tyler
> Movie: Fight Club (1991)
Talk about an odd love story. The narrator, who is never named, is unfilled in his job and life. He meets Tyler, and they soon routinely trade blows and form Fight Club. Weaved into the story is Marla, who strikes up an affair with Tyler. At the end, it’s revealed the Narrator and Tyler are the same person. The Narrator “shoots” Tyler, killing his alter ego. He then reconnects with Marla.
Gaston, Belle, and The Beast
> Movie: Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Book-loving Belle rebuffs the egotistical Gaston in this 1991 animated film. She winds up in the Beast’s castle when she searches for her father who is imprisoned there. The Beast was once a prince who was turned into an animal by a curse because of his arrogant nature. The Beast sees his chance to break the curse if he can get Belle to fall in love with him. A group of villagers led by Gaston attacks the castle. After Gaston supposedly kills the beast, Belle professes her love for him and the spell is broken.
Troy, Lelaina, and Michael
> Movie: Reality Bites (1994)
Aspiring filmmaker Lelaina is torn between her roommate and long-time friend Troy and TV executive Michael. The relationship between Michael and Lelaina fizzles, and after Troy’s father dies, he and Lelaina profess their romantic feelings for each other. As love triangles go this isn’t much of one, since Michael is out of the picture pretty quickly and there is never a doubt Lelaina would end up with Troy.
Lucy, Peter, and Jack
> Movie: While You Were Sleeping (1995)
Romantic comedies aren’t known for their believable plots, and “While You Were Sleeping” proves it. Toll collector Lucy saves the life of rich guy Peter. While Peter is in a coma, his family becomes convinced that Lucy is his fiancée. Afraid to alienate the family she’s grown to like – especially Peter’s working class brother Jack – Lucy doesn’t tell them the truth. Eventually, Lucy and Jack come together.
Holden, Banky, and Alyssa
> Movie: Chasing Amy (1997)
A love triangle with a twist. Comic book artist Holden falls for another comic book artist Alyssa, a lesbian, who returns his feelings. This upsets Holden’s friend, fellow comic book artist Banky, who worries Alyssa will come between him and Holden. The relationships between all three eventually fray. But Alyssa and Holden later meet at a convention where it’s revealed Alyssa is with her girlfriend. But it’s clear Alyssa and Holden remember the feelings they had for each other.
Jack, Rose, and Cal
> Movie: Titanic (1997)
Surrounded by waves and sea breezes, ships are the perfect place to start a romance. But maybe not when you’re on the doomed Titanic. That’s where Jack, Rose, and Cal converge. Although Rose is promised to Cal, she falls for working class Jack. But when the ship sinks, Rose rushes away from coward Cal, as Rose and Jack escape to a floating wooden plank. Jack slips aways and dies of hypothermia while Rose is saved. Some moviegoers have questioned whether Rose could have helped Jack stay on the plank a bit longer.
Ted, Mary, and Healy
> Movie: There’s Something About Mary (1998)
In this romantic comedy, with the emphasis on comedy, Ted’s date with his high school dream girl, Mary, ends disastrously when something unfortunate happens. Later, he asks a private eye, Healy, to track Mary down. The investigator finds Mary, but falls for her himself and tries to drive Mary and Ted apart. Ted and Mary eventually pair up, but only after some shenanigans involving Brett Farve.
Robbie, Julia, and Glenn
> Movie: The Wedding Singer (1998)
Both Robbie, a wedding singer, and Julia, a waitress, are each set to marry other people. But after Robbie’s girlfriend breaks up with him and Julia falls out of love with her fiancé, Glenn, Robbie and Julia confess their feelings for each other. They marry, with the ending hinting Robbie may realize his dream of becoming a recording artist.
Scott, Jean, and Logan
> Movie: X-Men (2000)
The tortured relationship between Logan (aka Wolverine), Jean Grey, and Scott (aka Cyclops) weaves throughout the Marvel universe. Although Wolverine loves Jean, he respects her relationship with Cyclops.
Mark, Bridget, and Daniel
> Movie: Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
Like many young working women, Bridget Jones juggles a career with the search for the right guy. That leads her to having to choose between her shady but appealing boss, Daniel, and Mark, handsome but a bit stiff. Mark wins her hand in the end.
Peter, Mary Jane, and Harry
> Movie: Spider-Man (2002)
In the original “Spider Man,” Peter (Spider Man) loves Mary Jane. But he pushes her away fearing she will be harmed by his enemies. Also in the picture is Harry, his best friend and future nemesis.
Jack, Elizabeth, and Will
> Movie: Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy
Although Jack Sparrow is at the heart of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series, Elizabeth and Will join in the adventures. In fact, the series begins when Will asks Jack to help him find his true love, Elizabeth.
Juliet, Mark, and Peter
> Movie: Love Actually (2003)
Many relationships play out in the Christmas-time movie, but perhaps the most poignant is the one between Mark, Juliet, and Peter. Lovesick Mark secretly loves his friend Peter’s wife, Juliet. Too afraid to tell her, he writes down his feelings in poster cards. Juliet acknowledges his feelings, but returns to Peter.
The Phantom, Christine, and Raoul
> Movie: Phantom of the Opera (2004)
The masked Phantom stalks an opera house where Christine is a celebrated singer. Christine loves childhood friend Raoul, which stokes the Phantom’s jealousy. Yet the Phantom allows Christine and Raoul to leave when a mob chases him after he abducts Christine. At the movie’s ending, set in the future, Raoul visits Christine’s grave. But he also sees a rose placed there, implying the Phantom may be alive and still expressing his love for Christine.
Cady, Regina, and Aaron
> Movie: Mean Girls (2004)
Although the focus is on the mean girls, “Mean Girls” also features a love triangle. New girl Cady and Queen Bee Regina fight for Aaron. At one point, Cady breaks up Aaron and Regina when she tells Aaron Regina is cheating on him. But in the end, everyone makes up, including the former frenemies, and Cady and Aaron get together.
Julianne, Kimberly, and Michael
> Movie: My Best Friend’s Wedding (2005)
Lifelong friends Julianne and Michael vowed they would wed each other if each hadn’t found another spouse by age 28. But when Michael informs Julianne he’s going to marry, she realizes she loves him, and does everything in her power to stop his wedding with Kimberly. It doesn’t work, and she admits that Kimberly and Michael truly love each other on their wedding day.
Nola, Chris, and Chloe
> Movie: Match Point (2005)
In this Woody Allen thriller, tennis pro-turned instructor Chris marries his friend’s sister, Chloe. Yet he’s attracted to Nola, his friend’s girlfriend. Nola and Chris have an affair and she threatens to expose the relationship to his wife. Without giving away the plot, let’s just say one person in the triangle doesn’t have a happy ending.
Jacob, Bella, and Edward
> Movie: Twilight (2008)
How can mere mortal Bella choose between sexy vampire Edward and hunky Jacob? Bella and Edward fall in love, but he insists she cannot become a vampire. Sticking to his vow, he later saves her from a dose of vampire venom. The relationship continues in the “Twilight Saga” sequels.
Cristina, Juan Antonio, and Maria Elena
> Movie: Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
Actually, four people are involved in this love triangle. Cristina and her friend, Vicky, meet artist Juan Antonio in Spain. Both women start a relationship with Jhim, even though Vicky has a boyfriend who she later marries. The relationship between all three is complicated by the intrusion of Juan Antonio’s insane ex-wife, Maria Elena. At the close of this Woody Allen movie, Vicky returns to her husband and Cristina continues to search for love.
Rachel, Dex, and Darcy
> Movie: Something Borrowed (2011)
It’s never a good thing when you fall for your best friend’s guy, and that’s exactly what Rachel did when she falls for Dex, who happens to be engaged to her BFF Darcy. Will Rachel step aside and honor her friendship? Or try to peel Dex away from Darcy? The ending hints that everyone ends up happy.
Peeta, Katniss, and Gale
> Movie: The Hunger Games (2012)
Love grows even in an apocalyptic hellscape. While literally fighting for her life, Katniss remains torn between kind Peeta who loves her and brooding Gale. As the Hunger Games series progresses, Peeta and Katniss marry and have children, while Katniss and Gale remain on good terms.
Jay, Daisy, and Tom
> Movie: The Great Gatsby (2013)
Jay Gatsby (not his real name) is the ultimate American dreamer and his fervent dream includes marrying Daisy, the rich girl he loved and lost many years ago. There’s just one obstacle: She’s now married to the brutish Tom. Gatsby builds a fortune, buying a home across the dock from Daisy’s. Sadly, Gatsby’s dream doesn’t come true.
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