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Christina Izzo

The best movie love triangles that bring the romantic drama

The best movie love triangles, including Vicky Cristina Barcelona, starring Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson

Movie love triangles have powered onscreen drama for decades, as much about rivalry as romance, but the scenario has seen a resurgence of late thanks to two high-profile titles.

Passages, the sexy new Ira Sachs film, stars Franz Rogowski and Ben Whishaw as a long-time couple whose relationship is shaken when one of them has an affair with a woman (Adèle Exarchopoulos), while Past Lives, Celine Song's wistful romance, centers on two childhood friends (Greta Lee and Teo Yoo) whose reunion complicates her relationship with her husband (John Magaro).

Those flicks are fresh entries to the genre, but cinema has a long history of love triangles. From sexy movies like Vicky Cristina Barcelona to classic romances like Gone with the Wind, here are 10 of the best love triangles of the big screen. 

The 10 best movie love triangles

10. My Best Friend's Wedding

Cameron Diaz, Dermot Mulroney and Julia Roberts in My Best Friend's Wedding (Image credit: IFA Film / United Archives GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo)

It's a tough task to try and out-charm 90s-era Julia Roberts, all mile-long smile and Raphaelite red curls, but Cameron Diaz is a worthy competitor in this P.J. Hogan-directed rom-com. Roberts plays Julianne "Jules" Potter, a 28-year-old singleton desperate to break up the engagement of her lifelong friend and "the one who got away," Michael O'Neal (Dermot Mulroney), and his young bride-to-be Kimmy Wallace (Diaz). Heartbroken hijinks obviously ensue — involving stolen vans, stuck rings and, oddly, lobster claws — but unlike many other movie love triangles, this one ends more sweet than sour.  

9. Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem and Scarlett Johansson in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Image credit: Collection Christophel / Alamy Stock Photo)

There are several love triangles cutting through this sensual 2008 dramedy, the first being between the two titular women — sensible Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and spontaneous Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) — and the intoxicatingly seductive Spanish artist, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), they meet in the Catalonian capital. But it's when Juan's tempestuous ex-wife Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz, in an Oscar-winning turn) gets involved with both Cristina and her former spouse that the movie turns up the heat — and the stakes. 

8. Pretty in Pink

Andrew McCarthy, Molly Ringwald and Jon Cryer in Pretty in Pink (Image credit: United Archives GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo)

The love triangle at the heart of this 1986 John Hughes-penned charmer is so infamous that the name "Duckie" has become synonymous with being the dreaded third wheel. Parked firmly in the friend zone is Duckie Dale (Jon Cryer), the lovelorn BFF of Pretty in Pink's plucky protagonist Andie Walsh (Molly Ringwald), a working-class high-school senior who finds herself falling for the rich, popular hunk Blane McDonagh (Andrew McCarthy). Duckie may have sweetly saved Andie from the embarrassment of attending prom solo, but Blane was still the one getting the kiss goodnight. 

7. The Great Gatsby

Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Joel Edgerton in The Great Gatsby (Image credit: Warner Bros / Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo)

The love triangle between mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby, beautiful socialite Daisy Buchanan and her gruff husband Tom has powered not only F. Scott Fitzgerald's original 1925 novel but also four movie adaptations of the book, most famously the 2013 Baz Luhrmann edition, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Joel Edgerton at the twisted trio. The connections between the three characters verge on obsession, a moral conflict that quickly escalates to physical danger. 

6. Bridget Jones's Diary

Colin Firth, Renée Zellweger and Hugh Grant in Bridget Jones's Diary (Image credit: Working Title / Maximum Film / Alamy Stock Photo)

Sharon Maguire's 2001 retelling of Pride and Prejudice sees our titular 30-something singleton (Renée Zellweger) stuck between two suitors: the snobbish but secretly sweet Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) and the charismatic cad, Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant). It's an emotional tug of war that stretches through the first two editions of the rom-com trilogy — though the third film, Bridget Jones's Baby, wasn't without its own messy threeway, this time welcoming Patrick Dempsey into the mix — and resulted in not one but two of cinema's silliest, most slapstick fight scenes.

5. The Graduate

Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate (Image credit: LAWRENCE TURMAN/EMBASSY/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO)

Finding oneself in the middle of a love triangle is always an awkward affair, but even more so if you're Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), a recent college grad romantically entangled with the wife of his father's business partner, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), as well as her more age-appropriate daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross). The May-December relationship between Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson was always doomed to fail, but that infamously ambiguous final shot between Ben and Elaine proves that age might not be the only complication. 

4. Gone with the Wind

Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind (Image credit: MGM / Alamy Stock Photo)

Okay, sure, it's less of a love triangle and more of a romantic rhombus: Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) is unrequitedly infatuated with antebellum aristocrat Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) — who himself is taken with another Southern belle, Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland) — that is until Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), a suave but cynical philanderer, comes steamrolling in. Many years and several husbands later, Scarlett tragically realizes much too late that Rhett has been her true love all along, prompting one of the greatest movies line of all time: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

3. The Notebook

Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams in The Notebook (Image credit: New Line Cinema / Alamy Stock Photo)

It's become a running joke in Hollywood how often James Marsden is tasked with playing "the other guy," i.e. the man getting in between two destined lovers in movies, from Enchanted to the X-Men franchise. But Marsden's most famous onscreen jilting is in this 2004 Nick Cassavetes drama, where his otherwise picture-perfect Lon Hammond Jr. — a rich young lawyer and war veteran — simply can't beat the sheer passion between his betrothed, Allie Hamilton (Rachel McAdams), and her former love, Noah Calhoun (Ryan Gosling).

2. Titanic

Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet and Billy Zane in Titanic (Image credit: PARAMOUNT / 20TH CENTURY FOX / ALAMY)

Just because it's a triangle doesn't mean all sides are equal. In James Cameron's 1997 epic romance Titanic, it's evident that the engagement between Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) and her wealthy fiancé Cal Hockley (Billy Zane) is one exclusively of mother-approved social advancement, not love. It's a discrepancy that becomes all the more clear when she falls for a charming but penniless artist, Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio), igniting a feud between the fellas that's as dramatic as, well, nearly everything else happening aboard the ship. 

1. Casablanca

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca (Image credit: ARCHIVIO GBB / Alamy Stock Photo)

Casablanca, one of cinema's most famous and enduring romances is also a love triangle for the ages: American ex-pat Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) and his existence in Vichy-controlled Morocco is shaken when his long-lost love, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), walks into his gin joint, of all the gin joints in the world. The problem? Her husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), who is strolling in beside her. "She pretended she was still in love with me, and I let her pretend," Rick tells Victor of the woman they both love, but his final act — telling Ilsa to board a plane to safety with her husband, leaving Casablanca and him forever — shows there was no pretense about his feelings. 

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