Most romances end, but few end as spectacularly as the films below. Their protagonists aren’t weepy mortals, content to bore their friends and soak their pillows with tears — they’re Dirty Harrys of love, who write their XOXOs in .44 Magnum bullet holes. These films are like R rated snuff films, and accurately reflect the leading cause of murder, jilted love.
Only 22 percent of murders are by strangers; half of all murders among 18 to 36-year-olds come from broken hearts, forty-five percent are sex related — that’s a lot of husbands, wives, boyfriends and girlfriends killing each other. There’s even a name for it: manslaughter, legally defined as killing someone because they did something that would make a reasonable person fly into a murderous rage.
Consider the classic law school example: coming home early to surprise your spouse with a bouquet of flowers on Valentine’s Day, you find them blowing your best friend. Instead of crying, you go search for the kitchen knife. Now wouldn’t that be a lot more fun to watch than dewey sentimentality?
Basic Instinct – 1992
Sharon Stone is a murder mystery novelist. Sharon Stone is bisexual. Sharon Stone is probably also ice-picking a lot of sex-victims to death. Investigating her is cop Michael Douglas, who is drawn into her dangerous game. Then he falls in love with her. Then they wind up together at the end because she gets everything she wants. But uh-oh, he’s shitty at his job, and he forgot to check under her death-bed because that’s where the ice pick is. It’s happily ever after for Sharon Stone because she is totally going to kill him.
Belle de Jour – 1967
French housewife Catherine Deneuve will not have sex with her husband. Instead, she has fantasies about being dominated and degraded. Other people would respond to this situation by seeing a therapist, but Deneuve decides to take a part time job as a fancy, afternoon prostitute. Makes perfect sense, really. Eventually, one of her clients, who’s also an exciting gangster, decides to shoot the sexless husband, paralyzing him. This attempted murder seems to satisfy Deneuve, who is finally happy with her marriage.
Breathless (A bout de souffle) – 1960
Criminal Jean-Paul Belmondo meets deadpan American newspaper salespixie Jean Seberg. They talk. They also not-talk. They enact “love” as a performance. He kills a cop. She betrays him. He dies. She stares directly into the camera. Together they are amoral and unconcerned with consequences because that is what it means to be extremely modern. Sixteen years in the future, the Sex Pistols will record a song called “No Feelings,” but these kids were punk rock before it had a name. Thanks for all the New Wave, Jean-Luc Godard.
Eraserhead – 1977
In this grainy, nightmarish, black-and-white world of domestic anxiety and terror, Henry (Jack Nance) and Mary (Charlotte Stewart) have a baby. Oops, it’s a monster-infant that does nothing but spew weird liquid and scream all night. In other words, it’s a baby. Mary goes insane and leaves. Henry hallucinates about a lady in his radiator singing a song about heaven. He also dreams of his head being turned into pencil erasers. Then he accidentally-on-purpose kills the monster-infant. Message: DO NOT GET MARRIED OR HAVE CHILDREN EVER.
Husbands and Wives – 1992
Art. It imitates the life. Which imitates the art. Which then dumps the spouse for the spouse’s daughter. That’s what was going down behind the scenes as Woody Allen wrote and directed this one, a despairing couple of hours that stars Allen’s former partner Mia Farrow, Judy Davis, Sydney Pollack, Juliette Lewis, and Liam Neeson as they talk and talk and talk and fall in and out of sophisticated Manhattan liasons. By the end of it you’ll be wishing Eraserhead “babies” on all of them. At the very least you’ll want to slap all the faces before spending the rest of your life enjoying carefree friends-with-benefits sex and lazy, chatty brunches with people you don’t have to live with. P.S. Judy Davis is fantastic in this movie.
Living Out Loud – 1998
You think this one is going to be about revenge or hate-boning but it turns out to be kind of adorable. Obviously, that sets it apart from the others on this list, but what are we, monsters? No. Anyway, Holly Hunter’s doctor husband leaves her and sends her into a fairly decent spiral that involves a lot of crying, eventually giving way to awesome massages from Eddie Cibrian in his underpants. Other men – including Danny DeVito (who, come on, you know is probably dynamite at sex) – want her but she’s not interested. In fact, she so doesn’t gotta have it that the movie ends with her sort of just hugging herself – in a good and satisfying and not-at-all crazy way – as she glides down the street.
My Bloody Valentine – 1981
Teenagers get murdered on Valentine’s Day by a maniac coal miner with a pickaxe. Then – here’s the best part – he puts them in dryers at the local laundromat (which is decorated out the ass for Valentine’s Day, because that’s what those places all do). Even better, he sends their harvested organs around town in heart-shaped candy boxes. Style, young people, style — this is how you become a master of celebrating holidays.
Reversal of Fortune – 1990
Cold-as-ice European aristocrat Claus von Bulow (Jeremy Irons, born for it) is accused of trying to murder his wife, Sunny (Glenn Close), by overdosing her with insulin and sending her into a diabetic coma. Because he’s an asshole everyone already thinks he’s guilty, so he has to come up with a good defense. Enter law professor Alan Dershowitz (Ron Silver), who has to figure out a way to wrangle a “not guilty” from the jury. A true story, the moral of which is that if you have to marry for money or status, you should sock away some rainy day legal fee scratch. It’s not like you’re in love, so you might as well keep it all on lockdown.
Romance – 1999
In this chilly little stab in the gut from Catherine Breillat, a young woman named Marie (Caroline Ducey) has a boyfriend who refuses to do sex with her. So she steps out on him with Italian porn star Rocco Sifredi and then with an older guy who ties her up. She gets what she wants and then sets everything on fire. The boyfriend who won’t have sex dies in the fire. Take that, boyfriend who won’t have sex.
Staircase – 1969
Rex Harrison and Richard Burton play a London gay couple who despise each other. They shriek, cry, hurl insults and never once seem to have ever been in love. Meanwhile, Harrison is about to go on trial for making advances at an undercover police officer. This means there’s a possibility that they might have to separate and, ultimately, be much happier. After five minutes with this pair, murder-suicide seems like an easier way out than jail. Oh, by the way, it was directed by Stanley Donen, who gave the world Singin’ In The Rain. It’s pretty much the ugliest film in the world. You’re welcome, gays.
Valentine’s Day – 2010
Garry Marshall’s tribute to romantic stupidity stars everyone in Hollywood, all of whom seem to owe this director a favor of some sort. The plot is this: everyone in Hollywood loves Valentine’s Day and wants to be Valentines with everyone else. And then they all do that in the most boring ways imaginable, and then find tepid, badly-scripted love. It’s Crash, but with flowers and candy instead of racism, and the moral is that Valentine’s Day is the worst holiday ever invented. It makes people actively, measurably, dumber. The negative slang expression “basic” was actually invented to describe people who love this film. Are you one? Then you are.
War of The Roses – 1989
Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner are divorcing, both of them deep in that really good hate, the kind that makes ex-sex so confusing. They’re rich, so they have a lot of stuff. They fight about that stuff as the divorce drags on. Then it gets meaner and uglier and funnier and they start trashing the house and all the possessions. She makes dinner from his dog (well, she says she does). Then they fall to their deaths. THE END. Hilarious.
We Won’t Grow Old Together – 1972
In this arthouse classic of French miserablism, director Maurice Pialat tells the semi-autobiographical story of an endless breakup. Jean Yanne (who won an acting award at the Cannes Film Festival that year) and Marlene Jobert put themselves and each other through emotional, sexual, psychological and physical hell, before finally learning that they should not, under any circumstances, be a couple. It’s the romantic equivalent of being told not to pick at the scab. And then you do it anyway. And then you hate yourself and the scab and the person who gave you the good advice, too. Instructive!
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – 1966
In this brilliant and essential look into marriage’s wide-open hellmouth, George and Martha (Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor) fight. They fight loudly, wittily, shockingly and sadly. They fight from the beginning of the movie until the end of the movie with furious gusto, the sort that only people who are utterly addicted to one another have the nerve and strength to employ. This may well be the movie that started the American divorce wave of the 1970s, and if it is then we all owe it a debt of gratitude.
(This article was originally published February 14, 2015)
Dave White is the film critic for Movies.com and co-hosts the Linoleum Knife podcast. You can follow him on Twitter.