From Reel Love to Real Love

Updated October 26, 2021 | Alicia Potter

Movies that inspired off-screen romances

Greta Garbo and John Gilbert

Greta Garbo and John Gilbert's onscreen passion ignited a two-year offscreen romance, as well.

Valentine Links

Hollywood doesn't get any more voyeuristic—or romantic—than those movies that have aroused passionate, off-camera love affairs. As the summer movie season heats up, we've selected a bouquet of such films; some are heart-fluttering, some erotic, and a couple, well, let's just say that the sparks flew more furiously offscreen than on.

Flesh and the Devil (1927)

Greta Garbo and John Gilbert

Their reclining love scenes —a cinematic first— and open-mouth kisses seared the screen in this torrid silent love story. As director Clarence Brown noted, "It seemed like an intrusion to yell, 'Cut!'" Indeed, the offscreen passion between swarthy Gilbert, the epitome of American virility, and shimmering Garbo, the picture of European mystique, burned brightly for two years. The attraction? One day early in the affair, when asked how she liked her handsome costar, the enigmatic Swedish siren simply replied, "Ah!" No further explanation needed.

Woman of the Year (1942)

Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy

Initially, he hated her pantsuits and thought her handshake too firm. Yet the irascible Tracy and the overbearing Hepburn would melt into Hollywood's most enduring couple on the set of this George Stevens gem, the first of their eight films together. "Watching him," Kate once said, "is like being grabbed by the front of the shirt and held." Yes, the twosome embodied the male-female struggle for dominance, a palpable tension that electrified their celluloid pairings and left observers wondering why they didn't throttle each other in real life. Tracy, who never divorced his wife but remained Hepburn's lover until his death in 1967, explained it like so: "She butts in, and I don't mind, and I pick it up when she leaves off."


Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall

19-year-old Lauren Bacall's screen debut led to a long romance with her substantially older leading man, Humphrey Bogart.

To Have and Have Not (1944)

Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart

"We'll have a lot of fun together." So Humphrey Bogart told his beguiling 19-year-old costar before shooting this masterful Howard Hawks drama. Though the actor had never had a relationship with a leading lady, and the ingenue had never been in a film, what transpired was one of Hollywood's most storied affairs. Anyone who doubts their crackling chemistry need only to watch the now-legendary "whistle" scene, where Bacall's surprisingly self-possessed sexuality emerges as more than a match for Bogart's crusty cool. Despite a quarter-century age difference, the couple stayed together until the actor's death in 1957. Just as Bogey promised, they had a lot of fun together.

Stromboli (1950)

Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini

This tedious, Neo-Realist film almost ruined Ingrid Bergman when the news that she was leaving her family to carry out an affair (and shortly thereafter, have a child) with the Roman moviemaker shocked a morality-conscious America. The rambling movie, which casts Bergman as a refugee wife, was boycotted stateside, leaving the regal Swedish beauty to completely rebuild her career. As one friend observed about Stromboli, "What [Roberto] was really interested in was capturing Ingrid not so much to make a film, but for love."

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Cleopatra

Burton and Taylor's passion burned so hot that they simply had to get married . . . twice.

Cleopatra (1963)

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton

At first, she thought he talked too much; he disparagingly dubbed her "Miss Tits." But one day on the set of Joseph L. Mankiewicz's extravagant trip up the Nile, Elizabeth Taylor helped a shaking, hungover Richard Burton lift a coffee cup to his lips. And so began a love affair as big and stormy as the $40 million production they met on. "Without you, this is not a world I want to live in," her Cleopatra whispers to his Marc Antony in a love scene hotter than the Egyptian sun. Taylor and Burton paired up in several more films and married twice, but ultimately found that they could indeed live in this world without one another.

The Getaway (1972)

Ali MacGraw and Steve McQueen

Though critic Pauline Kael would scoff at this onscreen pairing — "her head is bigger than his" — most reviewers agreed it was the first time the gritty McQueen generated any sexual heat onscreen. Yes, the two were a curious couple: He was a former reform school student and an ex-Marine with a passion for mechanics; she a Wellesley graduate and former Chanel model who didn't know how to drive.

Yet The Getaway, Sam Peckinpah's visceral spray of blood-and-guts, works largely because of their obvious magnetism for each other. The two married shortly after filming, but broke up five years later when McQueen's real-life rebelliousness got out of hand.

Days of Thunder (1990)

Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise

After spying the copper-curled Nicole Kidman in Dead Calm, Tom Cruise summoned the Aussie actress to America to join him for this sputtering race-track drama. "The very first time we met, I discovered what a charming and tender man he is," sighed Kidman. "He must be every woman's dream." Lucky girl. However, whatever mutual attraction they shared in their nearly 10-year marriage was sadly extinguished onscreen; neither Days of Thunder nor a later pairing, Far and Away, raises temperatures. Mr. and Mrs. Cruise continued their on-screen romance with Stanley Kubrick's last film, Eyes Wide Shut. The famous couple filed for divorce in February 2001, citing irreconcilable differences.

Scream (1996)

Courteney Cox and David Arquette

Horror turned into love when David Arquette and Courteney Cox met on the set of Scream, with Arquette playing Sheriff Dewey, Cox's character's love interest. The pair married June 12, 1999. After 11 years, three more Screams, and a baby girl, Arquette and Cox separated.

Proof of Life (2000)

Russell Crowe and Meg Ryan

As the off-screen romance between Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe heated up, providing the insatiable tabloids with irresistible headlines, Proof of Life director Taylor Hackford cut a number of steamy love scenes between the pair, including one which appeared in the film’s trailer. His decision came after test audiences reacted unfavorably to the heavy breathing, claiming that the film blurred the line between fiction and reality. Crowe said that the relentless scrutiny by the press made him feel like a "hunted animal." In the end, however, the behind-the-scenes soap opera that unfolded during filming of this political thriller made more of a splash than the actual film. The affair fizzled, now as forgettable as a direct-to-video movie.

The Daredevil (2003)

Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner

Bennifer 2 met on the set of Pearl Harbor, but didn't start dating until 2004, after playing comic book hero and heroine Daredevil and Elektra in 2003's The Daredevil. During filming, Affleck rescued his co-star from a stunt gone wrong and Garner declared, "I've got my own superhero." They married on June 29, 2005, and have two daughters, Violet and Seraphina.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005)

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie

The stagnating marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, both secret assassins, is rekindled when they are hired to kill each other. When Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie met on set in 2005, Mr. and Mrs. Smith morphed into the ultimate real-life supercouple, Brangelina. The two stars, who boast billings on more than 70 films between them, have not committed to marriage, but are raising six children together.

Twilight (2008)

Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart

Despite her co-star's ice-cold character, Kristen Stewart 's on screen chemistry with Robert Pattinson had fans all over the globe swooning. The pair's off-screen romance is, as yet, unconfirmed, but widely understood. In an interview, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse producer Wyck Godfrey expressed his heartfelt desire that the non-couple stay together, "Because it could be awkward on set in the next movie if they have a huge falling out. It's like, wow, they have to portray this love story through two more movies. God, I hope they stay together; please stay together."

Sources +