The Film Lover’s Guide to Bad Romance


Movies – for better or worse – have set up a lot of standards for what qualifies as romantic, and taught us tricks here and there on how to pull it off ourselves. As much as films have provided positive examples to help demonstrate how to be romantic, there’s also a lot to be learned from its negative examples. After all, as life is prone to mercilessly teaching us, sometimes there are more valuable lessons to be found in doing the wrong thing instead of the right thing. With that in mind, we’ve equally mercilessly gathered together a list of movies that show characters doing all the wrong things. Their helpful demonstrations of ways not to be romantic serve as a guide to what you probably shouldn’t do whilst engaging in the grand affairs of the heart.

Non-Practicing Virgin Reality Bites at

Reality Bites: Don’t Respond Badly to Compliments

We get it. Not all of us are comfortable with compliments. Being called beautiful – especially on an early date – can be a little disorienting. Still, to ensure the romantic moment isn’t entirely ruined, it’s a good idea to muster a basic, “I’m not the best with compliments, but hey, thanks” so the complimentor – who just went out on a vulnerable limb – isn’t discouraged from giving another. What you shouldn’t do is abruptly change the subject to religion and then declare yourself a devout “non-practicing virgin.” If you don’t think that’s a romantic mood killer, well, just have a look at Michael’s (Ben Stiller) face.

Ghostbusters: Don’t Nuisance Your Way Into Love

Love has to be worked on, whether it’s in its early stages or after 40 years of monogamy. There’s working on love, though, and then there’s persistently pursuing and annoying your way into it — which is pretty much what Bill Murray in Ghostbusters hilariously manages to do. Sigourney Weaver never seems to genuinely care about him so much as just relinquish and give in to his self-satisfied pursuits. The lesson here is that great love is probably not one that you have to bully into existence. Besides, you’re not likely to pull it off anyway, unless your name is Bill Murray.

Taxi Driver: Don’t Take a First Date to a Porno

A first date can go a long way to starting a romance on the right foot, and can make a good story to tell for the remainder of the relationship. A first date can also be disastrous. Enter Travis Bickle. There’s a lot of good ideas for that first outing: coffee, dinner, skating, skydiving, or bowling. Then there’s Travis Bickle, who thinks it’s a romantic idea to take Betsy to a dirty movie. Not exactly the kind of “how you met” story you’re able to recount in a wedding speech.

It’s a Wonderful Life: Don’t Make Your Partner Give Up Their Dreams

Don’t get us wrong — we adore It’s a Wonderful Life, and it has one of cinema’s greatest lunar-based romantic moments. George (James Stewart) and Mary (Donna Reed) Bailey are an adorable couple. It’s just always rubbed us the wrong way that when George passionately shares his desire to leave his hometown and see the world, Mary blatantly (and kind of selfishly) makes a window-breaking wish that he would never leave. Yes, it all obviously works out, but it’s not exactly the kind of supportive behavior you’d probably expect from an ideal relationship.

Rebecca/Jane Eyre: Don’t Avoid Talking About Your Ex

We all have some kind of baggage that we bring to every new relationship. A lot of us also have an ex who did a serious number on us – took the dog, wrote a popular break-up song about the relationship, etc. Talking about that stuff is a good way to make sure your new romance is completely honest and open. You don’t want to be like Rochester, who proposes to Jane Eyre but fails to mention minor details about his ex. Oh, like how she went insane, is hidden away in the attic, and, oh yeah, is still married to him. Then there’s Maxim de Winter, who fails to discuss his malicious, philandering ex-wife, who he wanted to kill before she died in an accident that he covered up — the result being that, for a long time, the poor new Mrs. De Winter is unknowingly trying to one-up Maxim’s previous wife and just perpetually triggering his baggage and pissing him off. Sure, this is all more ex-trauma than the average person has in his past, but it kind of underlines the importance of talking openly to your partner.

Sunrise: Don’t Attempt Murder to Rekindle Your Relationship

There’s no disputing that Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans is one of cinema’s greatest accomplishments. There’s also no disputing that you can walk away from it thinking it teaches us that nothing rekindles a relationship like trying to murder your partner. For all the delicate romance The Man’s homicide attempt yields (thanks to a shockingly understanding and forgiving wife), we think there are probably better, more romantic ways to get out of a lull in the relationship.

I Love You, Man: Don’t Wonder Why You’re Getting Married

There’s no doubt the road from engagement to marriage can be a stressful one, what with all the wedding planning. Still, it should also be a romantically exciting time, a kind of amorous countdown to one’s own personal Hollywood moment. That’s not to say people aren’t sometimes prone to minor doubts. But you still probably shouldn’t follow in Peter’s (Paul Rudd) footsteps and casually ask your fiancée, “Why do you think we’re getting married?” Nor should you mention that you found yourself haphazardly wondering why you chose her in the first place. Shockingly, asking, “Wait, why are we going to spend the rest of our lives together again?” may not be the best way to assure your partner you’re ready for that happy ending together.

Love Actually: Don’t Give Gifts That Prove You’re Cheating

Yes, husband Harry (Alan Rickman) gives his wife, Karen (Emma Thompson), a personal, thoughtful present – a CD from her favorite singer, Joni Mitchell. Very sweet and romantic. It would have probably been sweeter, though, to have given her the necklace she found in his coat pocket – which she now realizes he gave to another woman. Giving her a CD with a song on it that perfectly suits the miserable heartbreak she’s going through after that discovery is just salt in the wound. The way to keep a long-term relationship vibrant is not to make a fool of your partner or make them feel the life they lead is foolish, too.

Gigli: Don’t Seduce Badly

A big part of a good romance happens in the bedroom, which can involve a lot of creative, spontaneous, seductive ways to get participants to be all hands on deck. Everyone has their turn-ons, but we’re pretty sure nobody in the history of sex has been lured into getting it on with the promise of “turkey time” and being encouraged to “gobble gobble.” Yes, it works on Larry (Ben Affleck), but that’s because this poorly written plot mandates that it has to. There’s no way fowl-based seduction can leads to great sex, so don’t even think about trying, “It’s duck time, quack quack” or “It’s chicken time, bawk bawk” (unless maybe you have a good dance to go along with it).

Vertigo/Grease: Don’t Make Your Partner Someone She’s Not

It’s generally understood that a good relationship is one where you love the person for who they are. Of course, we all change a little in relationships, but that’s part of the normal amalgamation of two people. Ultimately, the idea should be, “I love you, don’t change.” What you probably shouldn’t do is follow Scottie’s (James Stewart) lead and ask your current flame to change her entire appearance – especially if it’s to resemble a past partner. At least Zuko (John Travolta) sort of tries to accept Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) as she is, but he eagerly ditches that cardigan sweater the moment she abandons who she is entirely, in favor of becoming his own customized fantasy. Both Vertigo and Grease should be taken as warnings that if you’ll only love your hipster partner if you can change him into a yuppie lawyer like you, your feelings probably don’t run deep enough to make it work.