The Year I Lost Faith in Movie Romances

By  · Published on February 10th, 2016

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As a child of divorce, I looked to the movies for a model of romance. For a while, they came through. Growing up in the 1980s, I got The Princess Bride, as well as other fairy tale updates like Splash, Mannequin, Date With an Angel and maybe some that involve actual human women, too. And of course, there was Han Solo and Princess Leia. Thank goodness it wasn’t until I was happily married decades later for the reveal that they actually didn’t work out after all. Star Wars: The Force Awakens might as well have been released in 1989, since that was the year I stopped depending on the movies for evidence of everlasting love.

You’re probably thinking, “But that was the year of When Harry Met Sally, the greatest rom-com of all time.” Sure, but by the date of its release (and honestly I probably didn’t see it in the theater), I had already been crushed by the realizations of, in chronological order, Fletch Lives, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Ghostbusters II and The Karate Kid, Part III. All of these sequels contain the trope of “sudden sequel breakup syndrome,” where main characters who were romantically paired up by the end of the previous installment did not have as happily-ever-after an ending as it seemed.

First was the follow-up to Fletch, which disposed of the first movie’s love interest, Gail (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson). That’s not so surprising given that Fletch (Chevy Chase) is a character known to have multiple ex-wives. Perhaps she was just added to the bunch of women to whom he’s in constant alimony debt. Next was the third Indiana Jones movie, which retained neither Raiders of the Lost Ark’s Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) nor Temple of Doom’s Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw). Back then I didn’t think about how Temple is set first, yet it didn’t matter. Either way, the love stories of those adventures were rendered failures by the latest sequel. Of course, since then, nearly 20 years later, a fourth installment brought Indy (Harrison Ford) and Marion back together. But who knows (until Indiana Jones 5 arrives) how long that lasted?

Ghostbusters II is a bit different, as it does have the love interest of the first movie, Dana (Sigourney Weaver), but she and Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) still broke up between movies, and she even went off with someone else and had a child. That’s understandable, as they never actually had so much as a date in the first Ghostbusters and he was kind of a jerk. So what if the pair is rekindled by the end of the sequel? Even at a young age I was cynical about them staying together a second time, too. Had there eventually been a Ghostbusters III instead of the upcoming reboot, I guarantee it would have had the two splitsville once again.

Finally, The Karate Kid, Part III cinched the deal. No on-screen couplings could be trusted to stay together once the credits went up on this one. Not that this was the first time we saw Daniel (Ralph Macchio) with someone new. The Karate Kid, Part II parted with Ali (Elizabeth Shue), explaining that she was dumped after crashing Daniel’s car, and gave the hero a new love interest, Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita). By the third installment, Kumiko turned out to have just been a vacation fling and was left behind back in Okinawa. Did he settle on Part III’s Jessica (Robyn Lively)? Probably not, but hey, he also was just a kid.

At the end of 1989, my year of romantic movie disappointments was topped off with The War of the Roses. While not another sequel to Romancing the Stone, it starred the same actors, Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas (with a side of Danny DeVito), and in my young mind it at least felt unofficially tied to their 1984 adventurous love story and its sequel, The Jewel of the Nile ‐ itself seeing the couple briefly separated at its start. More than any other, even Han and Leia, Joan Wilder and Jack T. Colton had the best chemistry of any romantically paired up characters of the time. So seeing them seem to now violently clash in The War of the Roses was heartbreaking.

At least that year also gave me Batman and Vicki Vale in Batman, right? Unfortunately, they too were split by 1992’s Batman Returns. Well, what about Say Anything? No, Lloyd and Diane probably didn’t work out, either. Okay, but there’s no denying When Harry Met Sally did give us a perfect pair. At least until Sally died and Harry fell for a vampire played by Helen Mirren (is that not canon?). In a must-read piece at The Guardian this week (I swear I began this Valentine’s Day-inspired post before I was even aware of it), Nicholas Barber addresses the fact that such off-screen breakups of our favorite movie romances are sure to keep happening as Hollywood keeps resurrecting and rebooting old TV and film franchises. For me, 1989 was a sad year, but for the movies overall, it was apparently just the beginning of a new state of unromantic perpetuity, sadly ever after.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.