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Hollywood's Love of Complicated Relationships: 15 of the Most Memorable Movie Triangles

Updated on March 25, 2019
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Heather has a Bachelor's Degree in English from Moravian College and has been freelance writing for more than 12 years.

What is a triangle? This might be a silly question, but it's still a valid one to ask any way you slice it. There are different answers to fully define what one is. The obvious one is that it's a three sided figure that breaks the typical mold of a circle or a square. The other one is that it's a group of three people or things that simply make life complicated for everyone involved. A threesome that doesn't always involve anything sexual but it is still problematic nonetheless for everyone involved in this unique situation. Like most marriages, threesomes never seem to last very long and tend to leave most relationships more damaged than they were before.

Hollywood has depicted some of the most complex and interesting movie triangles ever depicted on the big screen. Some involved Julia Roberts (Closer and My Best Friend's Wedding) and a wide array of America's Sweethearts. Others were just out of left field and surprised audiences for the better. Here are fifteen of the most memorable that ranged from romantic, youthful and the most wicked of them all. Read on to see if you agree with the choices and understand the motives behind each one because a few of the choices are unconventional at best.

Romantic Rivalry

Jeff Bridges/Timothy Bottoms/Cybill Shepherd in The Last Picture Show (1971)- Director Peter Bogdanovich's classic which depicted a set of 1950s teenagers growing up in a slowly decaying Texas town and are searching for ways to escape it before they perish in it too. The movie's primary focus was the complicated friendship between Duane (Jeff Bridges) and Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) as they fought for the affections of local rich girl Jacy (Cybill Shepherd). Audiences were torn about who they wanted Jacy with and were saddened when the film didn't end the way they expected. A haunting triangle that started off innocent and ended with an unhappily grown-up decision that forever impacted the relationship between all of them forever and a forgettable sequel (1990's Texasville). Watch the original and forget that the sequel ever happened and remember your youth with some sentimental longing.

Mel Gibson/Kurt Russell/Michelle Pfeiffer in Tequila Sunrise (1988)- Dale "Mac" McKussic (Mel Gibson) is a drug dealer who wants to live a normal life and his best friend Det. Lt. Nick Frescia (Kurt Russell) is assigned to arresting him. If their friendship wasn't complicated enough, they were both fighting for the attention of Jo Ann (Michelle Pfeiffer). Mac is falling in love with the restaurant owner and Nick uses her to gain information on his friend. What Nick didn't expect was that he'd fall for her too. As the threat of another powerful drug dealer looms, the tension between the three of them mounts to a fever pitch. Will Jo Ann choose the bad boy versus the good guy? In the end, it didn't take a rocket scientist to see who Pfeiffer had better chemistry with. Compare her scenes with her leading men to see who she sparked with the most and see if her character made the right choice.

Steve Carrell/Dane Cook/Juliette Binoche in Dan in Real Life (2007)- Meet Dan (Steve Carrell) a widowed columnist who gave up on finding someone else to love and help raise his daughters. Much to Dan's surprise, he meets a woman (Juliette Binoche) on the way to visiting his family. What he didn't expect to learn was that the same woman was his brother's (Dane Cook) girlfriend. He fought the urge to pursue her, even though the audience knew that she meant to be with Dan from the beginning. Dan makes a series of hysterical mistakes along the way and is given a sense of genuine affection from Carrell that makes Dan likable no matter what he does. Cook was given the opportunity to be more than the goofball and Binoche had the opportunity to smile for a change. A sweet triangle that was a mixture of bittersweet and romantic.

First Love/Young Love in Trouble

Leonardo DiCaprio/Claire Danes/Everyone in William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet (1996)- A classic William Shakespeare play about first love and the overwhelming odds against it from succeeding. How is it possible for a relationship to survive when very few support it or even know about it? Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a tortured romantic who meets the angelic Juliet (Claire Danes) before they realized that their families (Montagues and Capulets) were bitter rivals. DiCaprio and Danes had a genuine chemistry that made their scenes touching and dangerous at the same time. To make some movie magic, all the film had to do was throw in some tough Shakespeare dialogue, some violent crime, and a shocking tragedy to make young girls discover William Shakespeare's most memorable play about love and death.

Mia Wasikowska/Michael Fassbender/Jamie Bell in Jane Eyre (2011)- Okay, Jane Eyre has been made and remade in multiple films that have paid homage to the classic novel, but none have ever been this intense. Mia Wasikowska brought an innocent/rebellious intensity to the orphaned Jane who never left her dark circumstances tear her down. The arrival of Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender) awakened Jane's sexuality and her emotions as she fell in love with her dark and unpredictable employer. Fassbender's brooding and dangerous demeanor made this unlikely relationship succeed on all counts. Bell's young nice guy didn't stand a chance in the end. Can you choose comfort over passion? No way. No how.

Anton Yelchin/Felicity Jones/Immigration Laws in Like Crazy (2011)- Crazy was the belle of most independent film balls because it followed a genuinely depicted relationship between teenagers Jacob and Anna (Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones) that was intense from the start. When Jacob met Anna, the pairing was electric and gave them a reason for living. Unfortunately, Anna outstayed her student visa and is deported back to England. She is banned from the United States for life and is unable to see Jacob. Can their young love survive different time zones and potential romantic spoilers? Even if they break up, the relationship was still memorable nonetheless because it was both romantic and heartbreaking at the same time. This is what young love should be like: happy and sad at the same time.

Sexual Ambiguity

Susan Sarandon/Barry Bostwick/Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)- Straight laced engaged couple Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon) are as pure as the driven snow, until the night their car breaks down. They pay a visit to Dr. Frank-N-Furter's (Tim Curry) house and their world is turned upside down. The offbeat Doctor shows them a world of sexual and scientific experimentation. Brad and Janet cheat on each other with multiple people. Sometimes there was a bit of overlap, but the real twist was when the Doctor's world fell apart when his obsession with his experiment Rocky got the better of him. The real gem of the movie was Curry's go-for-broke campy performance as a "sweet transvestite" The less than stellar sequel Shock Treatment is utterly forgettable. It's recommended to do the time warp with the original instead.

Kevin Kline/Joan Cusack/Tom Selleck in In & Out (1997)- Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline) was a teacher poised to marry his longtime girlfriend Emily (Joan Cusack), but his plans are derailed when a former student (Matt Dillon) outs him as a gay man on the Oscars. Suddenly, Howard's life is turned upside down. The press attacks his hometown to see why his student thanked him and to see if they can out him. Enter Peter Malloy (Tom Selleck) a reporter looking to do just that, except that he's also trying to help Howard become the man he was meant to be. Peter also had a revelation of his that could impact Howard's decision for years to come. The journey to Howard's discovery was a hilarious one that made Kline, Cusack and Selleck earn comedic gold with In & Out.

Julia Roberts/Dermot Mulroney/Rupert Everett in My Best Friend's Wedding (1997)- Julianne (Julia Roberts) was never one to believe in love, until she realized that her best friend Michael (Dermot Mulroney) was the love of her life. Sadly, she figured this out when he was set to marry Kimberly (Cameron Diaz). She suddenly planned a scheme to win him for herself that included her gay best friend George (Ruper Everett) pretending to be her lover. In the end, the real surprise was that Julianne didn't get the guy, but she ended up someone who would never leave her no matter what: George. The movie flirted with the boundaries of straight/gay relationships. Could Julianne be happy with someone who would never love her the way she needed to be loved? Unfortunately, the movie The Next Best Thing ruined the flirtation for good by making it a reality that was too complicated to fathom. Rent this Friend instead.

Victims of Love's Circumstances

Kevin Costner/Susan Sarandon/Tim Robbins in Bull Durham (1988)- Annie (Susan Sarandon) has a thing for Baseball players. Her latest conquest is an up and coming Minor League player named Nuke (Tim Robbins) who enjoyed being Annie's lastest lover. What Annie didn't expect was that her heart would truly belong to the one player who wasn't eager to be in her bed: Crash Davis (Kevin Costner). Their tension filled rapport underlined that they were meant to be together from the start and allowed the audience to laugh and cheer when it finally happened. Durham also launched Sarandon's cougar persona on and off screen. Hot indeed.

James Spader/Peter Gallagher/Andie MacDowell in sex, lies and videotape (1989)- Ann (Andie MacDowell) and her husband John (Peter Gallagher) seem to have the perfect marriage on the outside, but it's far from perfect behind closed doors. Ann is afraid to let herself go sexually and John is sleeping with her sister Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo). Enter John's old friend Graham (James Spader) who comes to visit them. He's a Documentary Filmmaker who likes to tape women talking about their greatest sexual encounters, but is afraid to act on his own desires until he meets Ann. She sparks something in Graham that's been buried for years. The dysfunctional relationship between John and Ann comes to a head when everything is revealed in a major scene. Ann is left with the decision to pursue her intellectual match in Graham or stick with her cheating husband. The reason that this movie worked was that it mixed sex, conversation and deception. Actions often speaking louder than the words uttered in Graham's videotapes. Breakthrough performances for Spader and MacDowell who oozed chemistry. Watch it and be amazed.

Ralph Fiennes/Kristin Scott Thomas/Colin Firth in The English Patient (1996)- Count Almasy (Ralph Fiennes) is a Hungarian mapmaker who becomes stuck in a love triangle with the married Katharine (Kristin Scott Thomas) who stuck in a complicated marriage to Geoffrey (Colin Firth). As World War II starts, Almasy has to decide whether to let Katharine go or continue to pursue no matter what the costs are. Audiences know from the start that this affair won't be a happy one and don't care anyway. It's only the story that matters, not the somber ending that almost takes the journey away.

Temptation, Deception and Murder

Paul Newman/Joanne Woodward/Melanie Griffith in The Drowning Pool (1975)- This sequel paired real life husband and wife Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward in a murder mystery that threatened to kill them both. Harper (Newman) was hired by his former flame (Woodward) to solve a mystery. What he didn't expect was that her daughter (Melanie Griffith) to make multiple passes at him and a family secret that threatened to get him killed in the process. This triangle wasn't going to end well from the start, especially when the mystery was solved. Case closed.

Glenn Close/John Malkovich/Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Liaisons (1988)- Okay, Valmont might be the prettier more youthful version of Liaisons, but Dangerous has a lot more venom than Valmont and Cruel Intentions combined. This is due in part to the deliciously wicked performances from Glenn Close and John Malkovich as a pair of society schemers who seduced and destroyed most of society. They clearly enjoyed being vicious to everyone on camera. Pfeiffer deserved the Oscar nomination for her role as the virtuous woman who thawed the heart of a playboy. Their latest scheme was for Malkovich to seduce the naïve Michelle Pfeiffer, but their plans fell apart when Malkovich's character fell in love with her. Close's character strikes back against her former partner in such a way that only one of them would survive. Dangerous indeed.

Neve Campbell/Denise Richards/Matt Dillon in Wild Things (1998)- What happens when a girl from the wrong side of the tracks (Neve Campbell) and a rich girl (Denise Richards) get together with their scheming teacher (Matt Dillon)? A memorable threesome that plotted, stole and even killed to get away with a hefty payday. It was hard to tell who would be the last one standing, but it was nice to see who it was in the end. Hollywood has attempted to make this film a franchise with some lackluster Straight-To-DVD imitations, but the original remained the most memorable.

In the end, most triangles are built more for shock value than anything else (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) and others are simply designed to shake things up and confuse the audience (The Drowning Pool). Threesomes aren't built to last and are always left with someone getting left out in the cold. It's best to make a decision and stick with it no matter what. Luckily, these Hollywood movies leave the decision making process behind until the end credits roll. Just what the movie doctor ordered.

Like Crazy Poster
Like Crazy Poster
Williams Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet Poster
Williams Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet Poster
Jane Eyre Poster
Jane Eyre Poster
The Last Picture Show Poster
The Last Picture Show Poster
Dangerous Liaisons Poster
Dangerous Liaisons Poster
Tequila Sunrise Poster
Tequila Sunrise Poster
Bull Durham Poster
Bull Durham Poster
sex, lies, and videotape Poster
sex, lies, and videotape Poster
The English Patient Poster
The English Patient Poster
In & Out Poster
In & Out Poster
Dan in Real Life Poster
Dan in Real Life Poster
The Drowning Pool Poster
The Drowning Pool Poster
Wild Things Poster
Wild Things Poster
My Best Friend's Wedding Poster
My Best Friend's Wedding Poster
The Rocky Horror Picture Show Poster
The Rocky Horror Picture Show Poster
Closer Poster
Closer Poster
Cruel Intentions Poster
Cruel Intentions Poster


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    • EZFITNESS profile image


      9 years ago from Dallas,Texas


    • Paradise7 profile image


      9 years ago from Upstate New York

      I'm gonna have to checkout "Dangerous Liasons" on Netflix. It sounds like a winner to me. Thanks!


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