4 of the Most Toxic Romantic Couples In Movie History (And 4 of The Best)

Sometimes we can’t understand the difference between toxic love and healthy love until we see its contrast. So here I am, yet again, to ruin your favorite movies (just kidding – you can still feel free to enjoy them, so long as you keep in mind the red flags) by comparing them to movies that actually set a healthier example of true love. Keep in mind, I had to really dig to find the healthy couples, because a lot of movies do not feature such relationships – but we certainly celebrate whatever we can find!

The Worst: Nate and Andy from The Devil Wears Prada

While Nate does serve as the voice that stops Andy from betraying her true self in her career, he seems quite envious of her ambitions and often negs her and shames her when she’s working late hours at her job trying to survive in a cutthroat fashion industry, or attending a special event that is meaningful to her. While it’s true Andy was working for a narcissistic boss, Nate’s concern seems less around the fact that she’s suffering (he actually seemed to add to her problems, not provide solutions or empathy) and more centered around the fact that he’s not getting enough attention in the relationship. Fair enough, but we’d rather see a partner who comforts and validates you when you’re stressed out and cheers you on when you’re winning.

The Best: Elle Woods and Emmett Richmond in Legally Blonde

Elle Woods may have an obnoxious ex-boyfriend, but her new boyfriend is more than up to par. Emmett is the supportive, intelligent, kind, and compassionate (did we mention very tall and handsome?) new boyfriend that cheers on Elle as she taps into her true strengths and rises to the top of her Harvard class. We love a man who supports a woman’s success and celebrates her achievements!

The Worst: Vivian and Edward in Pretty Woman

Watching the film in hindsight, Edward’s cruel dig at Vivian about how he’s hardly the first to make her feel cheap when she tells him he’s made her feel that way is rather jarring. To be sure, Pretty Woman is a 90’s film, so it’s no wonder that it’s not very progressive, yet it’s understandable why this film is so beloved given the chemistry between stars Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. But looking back on it, the tropes presented in the film are a bit problematic: a much older man picking up a younger, vulnerable sex worker to be at his beck and call, catering to his every need, inevitably sets up a power imbalance and objectifies the female character (who feels a bit one-dimensional since her backstory isn’t fleshed out much) as someone who is here to serve the male protagonist, and presents the idea that a woman has to be rescued in order for it to be true love. It normalizes the idea that so long as financial needs are met, respect can be an afterthought. Plus, their arguments border on toxic and contains too many low blows directed at Vivian to be a truly mutually respectful relationship. Edward holds power in this relationship and so long as Vivian needs him to survive, this can lead to dangerous waters.

The Best: Sally and Gary in Practical Magic

Honestly, both of Sally’s love interests in Practical Magic are pretty awesome. Her first husband is her perfect match in a peaceful, loving marriage and leads to a beautiful family. Her second husband, Gary, emerges from some pretty tumultuous circumstances as he investigates the murder of her sister’s abusive boyfriend buried beneath their rose bushes (just your typical day to day life when you’re a witch). He’s brave enough to withstand the family curse placed on the Owens sisters and face love head-on, does what is needed to keep Sally safe and inspires Sally to believe in true love again. While Sally can certainly hold her own, Gary is happy to help, making it a true partnership rather than a “rescued by a white knight” scenario.

The Worst: Sandy and Danny in Grease

While viewers may be fans of the hit musical numbers, the romance in Grease has not aged very gracefully. Sandy has to change herself so that Danny won’t be embarrassed to be seen with her, and Danny tries to override her consent when he gets sexually aggressive with her in the front seat of his car. This is hardly a couple to aspire to.

The Best: Morticia and Gomez Addams from The Addams Family

This is obsession and admiration done correctly. While the movie is set against a dark ambience, Morticia and Gomez are overflowing with love and affection toward one another and Gomez practically worships the ground Morticia walks on. They are generous toward one another and love each other’s company, while still giving each other space to handle the issues in their respective lives. This mutual adoration, healthy attachment, and respect is what we should all strive for in relationships.

The Worst: Bella and Edward from Twilight

We have to admit, the first Twilight film was entertaining and that baseball scene set to Muse’s “Supermassive Black Hole” will always remain epic and close to our hearts. But the entire series definitely does an injustice to depictions of healthy love. We definitely don’t need to romanticize stalking or aggression, or toxic limerence in order to have a proper love story between a mortal and a vampire, which is what the series seems to do as Bella centers her entire life around Edward and Edward watches her sleep at night with the gusto of Joe Goldberg.

The Best: Rosemary and Dill in Easy A

Now you know there’s a shortage of healthy relationship movies when we have to resort to looking at side characters as models, but Rosemary and Dill, Olive’s parents on Easy A, are a delightful pair. Both are weird and quirky yet perfectly match one another in their eccentricities. They are also the couple that encourages their children to be whoever they want to be, and their open-mindedness and hilarious banter are inspiring. One should aspire to have such a playful, adventurous relationship.

About the author

Shahida Arabi

Shahida is a graduate of Harvard University and Columbia University. She is a published researcher and author of Power: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse and Breaking Trauma Bonds with Narcissists and Psychopaths. Her books have been translated into 16+ languages all over the world. Her work has been featured on Salon, HuffPost, Inc., Bustle, Psychology Today, Healthline, VICE, NYDaily News and more. For more inspiration and insight on manipulation and red flags, follow her on Instagram here.