The tangled love triangle is such a cinematic trope that we could probably put together a list for every year (or a list of Top 10 love triangles with bad ’80s haircuts… or Top 10 love triangles starring Reese Witherspoon…). We decided to limit this list to love-triangle films we actually enjoyed (and not in a guilty-pleasure kind of way) — which is why you won’t find the Bella-Edward-Jacob affair here, despite the ubiquity of “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob” merchandise. Same goes for PEARL HARBOR (2001), which attempted to make the love triangle a heroic response to war; or WILD THINGS (1995), which accessorized the love triangle with hot tubs and champagne (and was really more of a lust triangle, anyway); or INDECENT PROPOSAL (1993), which theorized the love triangle as a financial and real estate decision; or MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING (1997), which was a terrible movie despite championing off-key karaoke.
10. Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN (2001)
This is one of those rare love triangles that has something for everyone, whether you’re an indiphile, an unabashed lover of weepie romances, a subtitles-only film snob, or an avid consumer of soft-core porn. And the guy-on-guy action is a pleasant surprise for straight women (and gay men) who like to roll their eyes at the champagne-and-hot-tub, two-girls-and-a-guy love triangles that are a Hollywood favorite. It’s rare for on-screen sex to be both realistic and scorching hot, but this movie, er, nails it.
9. THE DREAMERS (2003)
Leave it to Bernardo Bertolucci to add a hint of incest to the classic love triangle. Set in Paris (of course it is), this film tells the story of an American student and film lover who befriends a French brother and sister who are equally passionate about film (of course they are) and each other. We’re pretty sure that you could put any three film students in Paris for a few weeks and some kind of tangled love triangle would ensue — especially when they’re as attractive and as fond of nudity as these three.
Artsy-European-student-triangle runner-up: In the Spanish movie 3SOME (2009) — airing on the Sundance Channel August 17 — a woman goes to art school and decides she wants to explore sex (shocking, we know). She meets a guy who has a buddy… you know where this is going, right? A threeway relationship, natch. “It’s not normal,” she says. “But we’re not normal,” the guy argues. We’re artists.” Yep.
8. HEARTBEATS (2010)
This film’s original French title is LES AMOURS IMAGINAIRES (the filmmaker is Quebecois), which is a lot more fitting — because only two out of the three people in this movie (which airs on the Sundance Channel August 18) appear to be aware of the love triangle. By the way, you’ll notice that love triangles that take place outside the U.S. are much more likely to be M-M-F (god bless ‘em) — and this uber-stylized film is no exception. Francis and Marie are best pals — he’s a gay man, she’s a straight woman — who fall for the same guy, a blithely gorgeous and androgynous traveler of undetermined sexuality named Nicolas. The three share a bed because Nicolas is broke, but the only hanky-panky that takes place is in Francis and Marie’s rich fantasy lives. Not surprisingly, their friendship doesn’t exactly weather this storm. It’s like a hipster Quebecois remake of JULES AND JIM (1962).
Runner-up imaginary love triangle: FIGHT CLUB (1999) — sure, the sex was real, but there was no steamy triangle with Brad Pitt; that part was all in Edward Norton’s head. And can you blame him, really?
7. VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA (2008)
Woody Allen may be all-American (or, at least, all-NYC), but even he chose to he set his love triangle in Spain. Scarlett Johansson plays an American student traveling in Europe who, naturally, ends up in a domestic threeway with wild artist (Javier Bardem) and his crazy-jealous ex-wife (Penelope Cruz). We could tell you about the snappy dialogue or the intricate plot twists, but do you even care at this point? You’ve got pretty much the most attractive love triangle in the entire history of human entanglement. What more do you need? For one of them to go all psycho with a knife? Done.
6. THE GRADUATE (1967)
Oh, Mrs. Robinson, you never stood a chance against your daughter. Here’s to you, anyway.
5. BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY (2001)
It’s inspired by the classic love triangle in Pride and Prejudice, but only in BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY do the two men competing for the same woman’s attention (Hugh Grant and Colin Firth) actually roll around on the street together in a full-on, glass-shattering brawl. The fighting is even funnier in the sequel, BRIDGET JONES: EDGE OF REASON (2004) — airing on the Sundance Channel August 13th and 19th — when the action is more girly cat-fight, complete with hair-pulling, ineffectual kicking, and a chase around a fountain.
4. CASABLANCA (1942)
They’ll always have Paris, and we’ll always have one of the most enduring — and heart-wrenching — love triangles of all time. Most of the time we’re incredibly grateful that this movie was made before the era when endings were “audience-tested” — but there’s a teeny-tiny part of us that wishes there were a version out there where Bogart gets the girl. Is it possible that every cinematic love triangle since CASABLANCA has been trying to make amends for Bogart’s sacrifice?
Runner-up for ne-plus-ultra love triangle: JULES AND JIM (1962). Francois Truffaut’s film has war, marriage, divorce, miscarriages, gun fighting, and suicide-by-cliff. (Oh, how French.) It’s been inspiring homages ever since — both on and off the screen.
3. DANGEROUS LIAISONS (1988)
Ain’t no love triangle like a 1760 love triangle! John Malkovich seduces married Michelle Pfeiffer on a dare from his control-freak ex Glenn Close. But when Malkovich actually falls in love, Close is royally pissed off — and thus ensues one of the most tortuous break-up scenes of all time: “It’s beyond my control,” Malkovich says again and again, in a line fed to him by Close. “Why do you suppose we only feel compelled to chase the ones who run away?” Malkovich says to Close at one point. Close replies, “Immaturity?” A pretty key element to most love triangles, we’d say.
2. GONE WITH THE WIND
Finally, an all-American love triangle! It takes place in the middle of the Civil War, ferchrissakes. It’s too bad Scarlett O’Hara never read Les Liaison dangereuses — if she had, she might have realized a lot sooner that it was only an immature desire to chase the unavailable man which made Ashley even mildly attractive (even his name is timid). For future reference, Scarlett, when choosing between two men named Ashley and Rhett, always go with the Rhett.
1. SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL (1987)
We suppose the nineties was alright for love-triangle rom-coms (there was REALITY BITES in 1994), but man, did the eighties rock it. The top spot in this list is basically a tie between SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL and PRETTY IN PINK (1986), but we ended up choosing the former because of the ending (and for how awesome tomboy Mary Stuart Masterson looked as a cross-dressing chauffeur). Did you know that in the original script for PRETTY IN PINK, Andie stays with Duckie? But test audiences booed, so in the final cut Duckie gives his blessing for her to go after “richie” Blane. In SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL, on the other hand, it’s the loyal best friend (Masterson) from the same side of the tracks who gets the guy — and the diamond earrings. Who cares about Paris — we’ll always have John Hughes.