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Hollywood's Tragic Romances: 10 of the Most Dysfunctional Movie Relationships Ever

Updated on December 20, 2019
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Heather has a Bachelor's Degree in English from Moravian College and has been freelance writing for more than 14 years.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Poster
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Poster
Reflections in a Golden Eye Poster
Reflections in a Golden Eye Poster
Last Tango in Paris Poster
Last Tango in Paris Poster
Rush Poster
Rush Poster
Cape Fear Poster
Cape Fear Poster
Kalifornia Poster
Kalifornia Poster
Boxing Helen Poster
Boxing Helen Poster
Natural Born Killers Poster
Natural Born Killers Poster
William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet Poster
William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet Poster

What happens when love goes the distance? Birds sings and the stars seemed to line up perfectly. Marriage appeared to always be the next logical step in the checklist. A prime example would be the April 29th wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. What often gets overlooked are the relationships (dating and family) that shouldn't work or are hazardous to others.

Here are a list of ten films that perfectly demonstrated various levels of dysfunction. Each are divided into categories about marriage, one sided love, poor timing, and violent partnerships. Of course, not every movie can easily be defined in a specific category, which is why there are two honorable mentions where dysfunction thrived in differing ways with devastating results abound. All were recipes for disaster but still fascinating to watch the mayhem unfold.

Toxic Marriages

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)- George (Richard Burton) and Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) appeared to be the perfect couple. He was a professor and she was his perfect society wife on the outside, but they were something far worse behind closed doors. Age coupled with alcohol caused their disgust towards each other to grow in unhealthy ways. In Woolf, Burton and Taylor used their real life relationship to act their way through an extended verbal fight to the death. Taylor sacrificed her usual good looks to accurately project Martha's pain and anger, while Burton did his usual flawed man perfectly. A movie to watch after a fight with your loved one.

Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967)- In terms of marriages, the one between Weldon (Marlon Brando) and his wife Leonora (Elizabeth Taylor) was only on the surface. She was merely a status piece as he rose in the ranks in the army. Truthfully, Weldon's dating preference toward men was something that the army and society looked down upon. Instead of living as a gay man, Weldon supressed his desires to be expressed in the privacy of his own room. Leonora carried on an affair with Weldon's colleague and friend. She almost flaunted the affair in his face, and he brutalized her favorite horse as revenge. Brando designed Weldon as a man composed of agression, repression and desire. When a potential crush rejected him, Brando's reaction was brutal in one shocking instant that changed his marriage forever. Reflections showcased how taboo sexuality was back in the 1960s. It was risky but impressive nonetheless.

The War of the Roses (1989)- Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner played the perfect society couple with the grand house and two kids. What they didn't have was the perfect marriage, and when it ended it was spectacular. The warring couple decided to torture each other as they fought to win their house. What they didn't expect was that their war would destroy them both instead. Hilarious and demented at the same time. The perfect yin to Woolf's dramatic yang.

Unrequited Love

Psycho (1960)- Okay, this movie didn't necessarily a romance but it involved a love gone beyond wrong in so many ways. Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) loved his mother so much that he would do anything for her, even kill perfectly innocent people who interfered with his life. The real shocking twist was that Mrs. Bates wasn't even alive. It was Norman dressed in drag doing his "mother's" dirty work. The most disturbing images the sight of Mrs. Bates' skeleton and the realization that Norman was truly too dangerous to be a part of society. Scary indeed.

Fatal Attraction (1987)- Attraction was a movie not meant to be ignored under any circumstances. Michael Douglas played a happily married man who impulsively started an affair with Glenn Close's working woman. What he didn't expect was that Close's character had mental health issues and their break-up would make everything worse. When knives and bun boiling are involved, that's a sign of scarier things to come. A disaster like this can only end in death for one of them involved.

Boxing Helena (1993)- Nick (Julian Sands) loved Helena (Sherilyn Fenn) so much that he would do anything for her. What he didn't realize was that she didn't love him at all. Nick went to great extremes to keep Helena with him, such as chopping off limbs to do so. Sadly, Helena's portrayal of obsession went too far and the twist ending went too far. If you decide to watch this flawed movie, it's best to do so with an open mind and relaxed expectations in order to properly enjoy it.

Explosive Pairings

Kalifornia (1993)- Kalifornia followed a couple (Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis) in love and leaving a trail of dead bodies in their wake. Of course, Lewis' character was completely unaware of her boyfriend's behavior. The attraction was clearly there, but it wasn't necessarily the healthiest of relationships. He was dangerous and she was a co-dependent who ignored his clear flaws. The couple's relationship was doomed from the start where one or both of them would end up dead.

Natural Born Killers (1994)- Juliette Lewis and Woody Harrelson played two damaged souls who come together and end up on a violent killing spree unlike any other. The media ate every crime up for breakfast, lunch and dinner not knowing that they were celebrating mass murderers instead of true celebrities. Director Oliver Stone made Killers more violent satire, which made everything more extreme than it really was.

Love in Uncertain Circumstances

Last Tango in Paris (1974)- Paul (Marlon Brando) and Jeanne (Maria Schneider) weren't meant to be together or even meet for that matter. Paul was an unhappy widower running a motel in Paris. He ran into Jeanne as both shopped for an apartment, which was purchased for the two of them to have regular afternoon trysts. The encounters weren't meant to mean anything due to their age difference and societal lots in life. They didn't even know their names, which didn't truly matter to either of them. Only it did when reality set in and everything was out in the open.

Rush (1991)- Partners Jim (Jason Patric) and Kristen (Jennifer Jason Leigh) were supposed to focus on their undercover assignment but end up addicted to drugs and stumbled into a relationship. Could their relationship survive once the assignment was over and their addictions worsened?

Honorable Mentions

Cape Fear (1991)- The story revolved around recently paroled convict (Robert De Niro) and his vendetta against his lawyer (Nick Nolte), but it was the convict's connection with the lawyer's daughter (Juliette Lewis) that was truly terrifying. He seeked her out for his vendetta, but her response as she innocently flirted sent chills up everyone's spine. This interaction set in a motion a chain of events that might not have happened otherwhise.

William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet (1996)- Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Juliet (Claire Danes) were young and madly in love. Too bad their families couldn't stand each other. Their love couldn't survive in life even if they tried their hardest.

In the end, not every relationship is meant to be a functional one. Let's face it life is not always like a Meg Ryan romantic comedy. The endings aren't always as resolved as a couple trailing off into the sunset with hopefuly music in the background. Hollywood doesn't usually depict tails of flawed romances or family relationships, but when they do they are always fascinating to watch nonetheless.


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