Romantic tales have been splashed all over our screens since the first days of cinema, and no matter what your genre of choice or how cynical you think you are, can you really deny feeling a little thrill when your favourite heroes defy the odds and finally get together?
But that isn’t to say that all film and TV couples are heroes, or even particularly heroic. There’s a fine tradition of the mad, bad and dangerous to know finding a little bit of lovin’ on the screen – often with some high-speed chases, shootouts and petty crime thrown in for good measure. With the second series of Channel 4’s acclaimed The End Of The F***ing World on its way, we’re celebrating the couples that thoroughly smashed the mould in honour of the show’s heroes, Alyssa and James.
Bonnie and Clyde – Bonnie And Clyde (1967)
No list of outlaw couples would be complete without Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty’s legendary take on the real-life, Depression-era criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. One of the early films of the ‘American New Wave’, Dunaway and Beatty brought glamour to the bank-robbing, gun-toting counterculture lifestyle, smashing the final taboos that were a layover from Hollywood’s more conservative decades.
Bonnie and Clyde tear up the country, and look so darn beautiful and gleeful as they’re doing it, until they’re finally immortalised in that shocking, final shootout.
Mickey and Mallory – Natural Born Killers (1994)
Natural Born Killers is in many ways the natural conclusion to a cycle that began with Bonnie And Clyde. The older film was part of the real-life process of glorifying two murderers – Oliver Stones’ black comedy is a weird and wild story about the media transforming killers into entertainers, which arguably predicted the current craze for true crime.
At the heart of the movie are Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis’ unforgettably demented performances as the bizarre husband and wife Mickey and Mallory, who love publicity almost as much as they love murder.
Alyssa and James – The End Of The F***ing World (2017-)
She’s a teenage tearaway who wants to escape her unhappy home; he thinks he might be a psychopath, and isn’t sure whether he’s looking for murder or love. What could possibly go wrong?
The End Of The F***ing World is a modern update on the classic ‘couple on the run’ narrative, bringing a bit of American highway glamour to grey, small-town England with a lot of uncomfortable and shocking twists along the way.
As much as they might make you cringe and roll – or perhaps cover – your eyes, it’s impossible not to love Alyssa and James and hope that, against all the odds, things will work out for them. In a way, they’re like you – just a bit worse at making sensible life choices.
Buffy and Spike – Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)
Fans watching Buffy during its original run thought they had things straight – Angel was the vampire slayer’s one true love, and once a few narrowly averted apocalypses were out of the way, they would finally get their happily ever after.
Then Joss Whedon pulled the rug out from under us, introducing a new contender to the mix – long time, super-evil villain Spike. Unlike his romantic rival, Spike didn’t have a soul, only a chip in his brain that prevented him from harming humans. He was essentially still a cold-blooded killer, but he seemed to understand Buffy in a way no one else did, and even went looking for a soul of his own, unlike Angel’s evil counterpart, Angelus.
Spike or Angel? It’s one of those debates that everyone has a (strong) opinion on, but as far as we’re concerned the fiendish Brit is the more memorable choice.
Chucky and Tiffany – Bride of Chucky (1998)
The evil living doll Chucky has been the source of many a nightmare over the years thanks to his infamous Child’s Play series, but was the diminutive serial killer just in need of a loving partner to mend his wicked ways?
If Bride Of Chucky is anything to go by, then the answer is a resounding ‘no’.
After murdering his old girlfriend Tiffany (not a great start) and transferring her soul into another doll, the pair set out on a murderous rampage in an attempt to steal two unsuspecting saps’ bodies. She doesn’t do anything to dampen his murderous instincts, but they do end up having a monstrous doll baby, which is about as happy an ending as we could expect for a pair of bizarre killer toys.
Luther and Alice – Luther (2010-)
You don’t have to be murdered and transformed into a living doll to know you’re engaged in a seriously dysfunctional relationship. Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther and Ruth Wilson’s devious murderer Alice Morgan aren’t a couple exactly, but the show has built the sexual tension between them to fever pitch.
An intellectual pairing more than a physical one, in the vein of Hannibal Lector and Will Graham, Alice has decided that Luther is the one for her and no one else is going to have him. For his part, Luther let’s her get away with (ahem) murder. They don’t come much more twisted than this.
Kit and Holly – Badlands (1973)
In 1958, Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate tore across the heartland of America on a killing spree that took 11 lives. Terrence Malick drew inspiration from the story for his directorial debut, Badlands, which stars a young Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek as a couple on the run after Sheen’s Kit Carruthers kills the cruel father of Spacek’s Holly Sargis. The lovestruck duo flee towards the badlands of Montana, evading the police and bounty hunters in search of a happy ending.
Badlands‘ couple share more than a passing resemblance to Bonnie and Clyde, but Malick’s film is a more lyrical, poetic look at lovers on the lam. It also provided Quentin Tarantino with inspiration for one of his early classics, True Romance (more on that later).
Ed and Hi – Raising Arizona (1987)
Nicolas Cage has a line in playing young lovers on the lam (see also: David Lynch’s Wild At Heart). While ostensibly cast in the Bonnie And Clyde mould, his character Herbert I. ‘Hi’ McDunnough – along with Holly Hunter’s Ed – is essentially good natured, despite managing to get into all sorts of trouble in the Coen brothers’ comedy.
Police officer Ed falls for convenience store robber Hi after taking his mugshot. Unable to conceive and barred from adopting by Hi’s criminal record, the pair make the dubious decision of stealing one of a set of newborn quintuplets. Their intentions are fundamentally good, and if their path doesn’t exactly lead to hell, it does take in a lot of classic Coen hijinks along the way.
Sheila and Joel – Santa Clarita Diet (2017-2019)
Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant star in the Netflix series Santa Clarita Diet as Sheila and Joel, a normal suburban working couple facing everyday obstacles: nosey neighbours, misbehaving kids and the sorts of arguments that occur every now and then between any husband and wife.
Pretty average stuff really. Well, apart from the fact that Sheila recently became a zombie with minimal inhibitions and a craving for human flesh. They’re going to have to keep that under wraps if they want the household to remain in working order.
Clarence and Alabama – True Romance (1993)
They meet at a screening of a kung fu film and sparks fly. He’s an Elvis-loving comic book store worker and she’s a call girl secretly hired by Clarence’s boss as a birthday present. Throw in an angry pimp, a suitcase full of cocaine and a veritable army of cops and federal agents, and Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette’s heroes certainly have some issues to sort out before they can achieve their own happily ever after.
Written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Tony Scott, True Romance is as frenetic as you would expect, but it’s the sweetly oddball nature of its central couple that has made it a cult classic.
Karen and Jack – Out Of Sight (1998)
Jennifer Lopez is currently enjoying some unexpected awards buzz for her new film, Hustlers, but more than 20 years ago she won great acclaim for her role opposite George Clooney in Steven Soderbergh’s Out Of Sight, which was a breakout for both actors.
The film runs along the well-trodden mismatched romance lines – she’s a US marshall, he’s a bank robber – but it’s packed with so much charm, style and sensuality that you’ll never forget that night you spent trapped in a boot with J.Lo and George.
Eve and Villanelle – Killing Eve (2018-)
Ok, so they aren’t technically a couple, but we couldn’t rightly leave out the stars of Killing Eve. As their cat-and-mouse game progresses, the MI5 agent and assassin become increasingly obsessed with each other, and the results are certainly steamy.
From expensive gifts to Eve’s world-trotting pursuit of Villanelle, who can blame us for getting a bit carried away? Though we’ll skip the near-fatal violence that is also a part of their relationship, if you don’t mind.
The End Of The F***ing World series two will premiere on Channel 4 at 10pm on Monday 4 November. The entire eight-episode series will air two episodes a night over four consecutive nights.