There is something undeniably romantic about the notion of falling deeply in love with someone, flipping a huge middle finger to society together, and running off on a blood-splattered joyride to nowhere in particular while hoards of angry parents, policemen, or bounty hunters try to hunt you down.
Criminal couples in love only have each other to count on as they attempt to burn the world down around them, and there’s something of an adolescent beauty and innocence about it. The films on this list all have this theme in common, and come from directors as diverse as Terrence Malick, Sam Peckinpah, and David Lynch.
Some of these films celebrate and glorify this theme, others use it as a cautionary tale that ends in bloodshed, and some of them find a middle ground that manages to do both. Regardless, all the films on this list have one thing in common: two people in love, fighting against the world to stay that way.
15. Love & A .45 (1994)
While not particularly original and very much a staple Tarantino rip-off from the mid-90’s, Love & A .45 somehow works beautifully if you’re in the mood for the cinematic equivalent of a young punk band doing an energetic but sloppy cover of one of your favorite songs.
In an early performance that owes a lot to Juliette Lewis and Patricia Arquette, Renee Zellweger steals the show as the female half of a modern day white trash Bonnie and Clyde. Peter Fonda also has a hilarious cameo as Zellweger’s acid-soaked father. Drugged out, hyped up, and filled with some pretty clever “Look ma! I can write!” dialogue exchanges, Love & A .45 is really great b-picture to put on if you can’t find your copy of Natural Born Killers or True Romance.
14. The Chase (1994)
Absolutely ridiculous movie that never stops moving. Charlie Sheen takes Kristie Swanson hostage in a stolen car, and they fight and fall in love while a whole brigade of policemen, media people, and politicians proceed to chase them for the next eighty minutes. Absurd, silly, and one hundred percent a product of the 90’s,
The Chase succeeds because of its awareness of its genre. It is both a spoof and a celebration of lovers on the run… And it also features a sex scene between the two leads while he’s driving a hundred miles down the highway and being pursued by pretty much everyone on the planet. That scene pretty much sums up The Chase for everything that it is: a fireworks display of excess, stupidity, and young romantic ideals. Good times.
13. The Getaway (1972)
Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw are probably the most dispassionate couple on this list. They’re both wooden and cold, much like the style of Sam Peckinpah’s film, which is exactly why it’s essential viewing for this list. The coldness of the film and the performances within it reflects a certain reality to life on the lam that isn’t nearly as exciting or romantic as other films listed here would lead you to believe.
McQueen and McGraw aren’t particularly likable or charismatic, and they don’t even seem to trust or like one another for most the movie. That’s probably the most realistic behavior given the circumstances of them being married bank robbers who have been double crossed, and are constantly questioning if one of them is going to double cross the other.
This cold, hard reality is an almost documentarian approach to crime, and, in the end, reveals itself to be a fairly sound euphemism for marriage. By the time McQueen’s and MacGraw’s Doc and Carol McCoy ride off into the sunset while receiving martial advice from Slim Pickens, the love and affection they show towards each other in the end is all the more sweet and earned.
Also worth checking out is the 1994 Roger Donaldson-directed remake with Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. It’s a warmer, more romantic alternative to Peckinpah’s vision, but not quite as unique.
12. The 39 Steps (1935)
Early Hitchcock, with a classic Hitchcockian hero framed and thrust into an elaborate plot and circumstances beyond his control. While certainly not his best film, it is interesting to see the early seeds of Hitchcock’s style already at work back in 1935.
The movie doesn’t truly come to life until we get what pretty much makes every Alfred Hitchcock movie an Alfred Hitchcock movie: the mysterious, feisty blonde. Madeleine Carroll is literally dragged and handcuffed into Robert Donat’s drama of accidentally getting involved in a complicated espionage plot, and is subsequently forced to go on the run with him towards the film’s end.
While she resists at first, The 39 Steps’ best moments reside in seeing Carroll’s realization that she actually believes Donat’s wild side of the story… And is more than getting a kick out of being involved in it. It’s a classic “couple on the run” scenario: the innocent woman is thrust into the troubled man’s world and eventually becomes enthralled by it. Carroll plays the part beautifully and adds some necessary humor and quirk to make The 39 Steps rise above other thrillers of its time.
11. Kalifornia (1993)
Criminally underrated movie that got buried in the haze of Tarantino knock-offs that flooded theatres in the mid-90’s. Kalifornia is actually one of the more thoughtful and original movies on this list. Brad Pitt, Juliette Lewis, David Duchovny, and Michelle Forbes all shine in early performances.
Pitt is a sociopathic, serial killing redneck who cons his and his girlfriend’s (Lewis) way into hitching a ride with two well-intentioned yuppies (Duchovny and Forbes) all the way to California. Duchovny plans on visiting famous murder sites along the way for a book he is writing about serial killers. Little does he know, he’s now riding with one, and that’s where things get interesting…
Kalifornia is an intense road picture that is raw, honest, and meditative on the nature of violence itself. It is a rare, forgotten gem of a movie that hosts some terrific work from several rising talents of its time.
10. Gun Crazy (1950)
1950’s exploitation cinema at its finest. Our lovers meet each other at the fair and have a shooting contest (screenwriters, take note: there will never be a better “meet cute” scene). They both love guns, and fall in love with each other for loving guns. They then, like so many others on this list, use those guns to wreak havoc and have a grand time in doing so until someone gets hurt…
Unlike most the movies on this list, however, it’s the female protagonist who is the instigator of the events that unfold in the film. It’s usually the man who brings the woman into his world and is responsible for corrupting her. In Gun Crazy, it’s completely the opposite and that is part of what makes the movie such demented fun. Peggy Cummins’ performance is so gleefully manic and over the top (her facial expressions during an early car chase are psychotically perfect) that it raises the movie to a whole other level of emotion and style.
Made with sophistication and flair, Gun Crazy, like Cummin’s performance within it, is a brilliant exercise in style and excess.
9. Something Wild (1986)
As stated before, most of the films on this list has the bad boy pick up the good girl, and the bad boy takes the good girl on a trip to the wrong side of the tracks. Like Gun Crazy, that convention is utterly and completely obliterated in Something Wild.
Melanie Griffith’s free spirit all but kidnaps the more than willing uptight suburbanite Jeff Daniels, and they go on a fun and sex filled road trip. Griffith dominates Daniels throughout, and it’s a beautiful relationship that starts off kind of twisted but actually ends up incredibly sweet. Something Wild also hosts one of the best tonal shifts in a movie ever when Griffith’s psychotic ex (played by Ray Liotta in a way that only Ray Liotta can play) shows up in the second act.
Aptly named, Something Wild is truly one of the most unique, emotional roller coasters ever put on film. It has flair, thrills, shocks, and, above all, an enormous and sincere heart. Director Jonathan Demme’s best (and most underrated) film.