Every great movie includes a great romance. Sometimes, the romance is traditional, like the one in the rom-com The Big Sick, where Kumail Nanjani (who plays himself) falls in love with Emily (Zoe Kazan), loses her, then wins her back.
Sometimes, however, the romance has a twist, like the interspecies liaison in The Shape of Water, where Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute woman, falls in love with a sea creature (Doug Jones).
And sometimes, the romance isn’t exactly romantic per se. Lady Bird writer/director told us herself that the love story in her film is between mother (Laurie Metcalf) and daughter (Saoirse Ronan).
As screenwriters, we know conflict is king. That means the main romance in our movie will usually include a breakup. If it’s a rom-com, the “lovers” will get back together and most likely get married at the end of the film. If the movie is a tragedy, the two parties will be separated by war, government, technology or death. Either way, those breakup scenes are crucial. Not only must they affect the characters psychologically and emotionally, they must ring true to the audience. Not a person alive can say they haven’t had their heart broken at least once, so the devastation from the movie breakup must feel relatable and resonate within our own soul – something harder said than done.
Here are our top ten movie break-up scenes.
10. How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
Sometimes emotions build up to such intensity that a break up has to be sung. This is the case for Andie (Kate Hudson) and Ben (Matthew McConaughey) in this hilarious break up via duet.
9. Cruel Intentions
Sebastian (Ryan Phillippe) has been given orders by the jealous and manipulative Kathryn (Sarah Michelle Geller) to break up with Annette (Reese Witherspoon). What makes this scene so powerful is the subtext between Sebastian and Annette. Both know their love is real, making his excuses all the more devastating.
8. Dangerous Liaisons
We all know Cruel Intentions was inspired by Dangerous Liaisons and it’s interesting to compare the two breakup scenes. The emotional toll seems much greater in this scene most likely because of John Malkovich’s ability to tap into his cruel side. The emotion in the scene is also compounded by the fact that he and Michelle Pfeiffer were actually having an affair at the time.
7. The Social Network
Some argue that Aaron Sorkin is the most masterful writer of dialogue living today. This breakup scene between Mark Zuckerberg (Jessie Eisenberg) and Erica (Rooney Mara) sure does support that argument. It works because Erica goes from having no power at the beginning of the scene to deftly taking back her power at the end of the scene.
6. Good Will Hunting
Wealthy Skylar (Minnie Driver) asks Will (Matt Damon), who’s of a lower social class, to move to California with her. This scene is powerful because it has little to do with love and everything to do with Will’s fear of not being good enough.
5. Jerry Maguire
Jerry (Tom Cruise) marries Dorothy (Renee Zellweger) more out of fear of being alone than true love. Realizing this, Dorothy admits she may have made a mistake agreeing to be his wife. This scene works because both characters are coming from a place of truth and sacrifice.
4. Brokeback Mountain
Despite being truly in love, Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis (Heath Ledger) live in a time and culture that doesn’t accept homosexuality, making their breakup inevitable. This scene is interesting because the reason for their break up comes from external forces, not emotional ones, to which they fall victim.
3. The Notebook
There’s a fine line between love and hate. In Noah (Ryan Gosling) and Allie’s (Rachel McAdams) breakup scene, that line seems to disappear. This scene works because, at the beginning of the scene, Allie is shocked and hurt by Noah’s “we’ll see how it goes” attitude about their relationship. By the end of the scene, Allie’s feelings have turned to rage and she’s the one that effectively ends the relationship.
This break up scene is a classic because of its understated emotion. Instead of anger, apologies or a weepy goodbye, Rick (Humphrey Bogart) simply says to the love of his life, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), “Here’s lookin’ at you kid” and all is understood.
1. Gone with the Wind
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Rhett’s (Clark Gable) break up with Scarlett is our number one break up scene. The kiss-off line, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” is still touted today as one of the best lines of dialogue of all time.
From funny to heart wrenching, breakups will always be a big part of movies because they reflect the vulnerability of the human heart. As the cliché goes, love makes the world (and the box office) go round.