8. Raising Arizona (1987)
Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, and the Coen Brothers were all in the prime of their early careers when they made Raising Arizona, and the result is some of the best absurdist humor ever put on film.
Cage and Hunter are a married couple that can’t have a child of their own, so they decide to kidnap one of a set of recently born septuplets from a local furniture store king. To say the least, all hell breaks loose in the most insane possible way and a series of wild chases involving a demon-like bounty hunter, police officers, gun-toting gas station attendants, housewives, escaped convicts, and wild dogs ensues.
Cage and Hunter hit every layered note of the Coens’ script with perfection, and their convict couple H.I. and Edwina McDunnough are two of the most lovable and hilarious screw-ups the movies have ever seen. With a highly sophisticated combination of the silly and the saccharine, Raising Arizona is a rare movie experience that elevates wacky comedy into a piece of high art.
7. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Moonrise Kingdom has all the standard clichés of a lovers on the run movie: the troubled, orphaned boy escapes his restrictive surroundings and lures his troubled forbidden love interest away from her over protective and dysfunctional family. They run away together, only to have their love threatened by the law, the establishment, and family members.
The tiny details that make Moonrise Kingdom one of the most unique films on this list, however, begin with the fact that it’s a Wes Anderson film.
In addition, the two forbidden lovers are twelve years old, the law that pursues them is a lone and kind-hearted sheriff (played by Bruce Willis), and the “establishment” they’re running from is the Khaki Scouts, a Boy Scouts of America-like troupe headed by a very demanding Edward Norton. Sam and Suzy (wonderfully played by Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) are the children’s storybook version of every other couple on this list, and they definitely hold their own in both their charms and passions.
Seeing them clumsily and innocently fumble through their adventure and their first love is both painfully awkward and sweetly adorable. Also, Norton’s perfect portrayal of the anal Khaki Scout leader is the most amusing (and ultimately nicest) antagonist/authority figure on this list.
6. Pierrot le Fou (1965)
The seeds for all the remaining titles on this list (and most of the previous ones) can all be traced back to Jean Luc Godard’s mighty oak tree that is Pierrot le Fou (translation: Pierrot the Madman). While Godard’s Breathless could have been a welcome addition to this list, it’s truly Pierrot le Four that set the standard and raised the bar for later lovers on the lam flicks.
Godard’s most famous quote, “All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun”, is exercised to the fullest extent in this stylish, color saturated art house romp. Anna Karina’s Marianne is dangerous, beautiful, and childlike. The bored title character Pierrot (played by Jean-Paul Belmondo) can’t help but fall in love with her, leave his wife and life behind, and go on the road with her. Things are beautiful and perfect until Marianne’s past catches up with them, they get bored, and it only becomes a matter of time before one of them turns on the other.
Such is often the case in scenarios like these, but the grandiose portrayal of these doomed lovers and their whimsical wanderings is unforgettably and uniquely nutty. Really, what other movie ends with a guy killing his girlfriend, wrapping his head in dynamite, then blowing himself up over the sea?
Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, Pierrot le Four is the 60’s French New Wave equivalent to the 90’s insanity-laden Natural Born Killers, as it is a pure product of its culture and times. Silly, violent, aimless, pointless, contemplative, and astoundingly gorgeous, Pierrot le Four is a free-spirited adventure that is as entertaining as it was ground-breaking.
5. Bonnie & Clyde (1967)
How could this movie not be on this list? In both real life and in the movies, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow are hands down the most well known thrill-seeking criminal couple in all of creation. Every film of its genre made since owes its debt to the ground director Arthur Penn broke in depicting violence onscreen and in Warren Beatty’s and Faye Dunaway’s classic character depictions of the title characters.
Bonnie & Clyde gives you the full ride: It catches you up in the nihilistic and irresponsible fun of the lead characters, then drags right you down with them when their crimes catch up to them. You love these characters because they are so in love with each other, and because their actions are a result of fighting against a crushing American system that perpetuates poverty. They are the perfect anti-heroes and the perfect embodiment of the glorification of the “criminals in love” lifestyle.
Young, sexy, and taking on the establishment in the name of the little people, Bonnie and Clyde are the ultimate couple on the run team, and they’ll always be the ones who did it first.
4. Badlands (1973)
Terrence Malick’s first feature film is probably the most meditative and least sensationalized movie on this list. It’s a beautiful mixture of 1950’s exploitation drama and Malick’s lyrical poeticism he’s since become known for. Martin Sheen is the perfect alternative to James Dean in his portrayal of a real-life criminal who kills his doe-eyed, under-aged girlfriend’s father, then takes her on the run and creates their own little world in a hideout in the woods.
Things are perfect and romantic until reality sets in and consequences have to paid. Badlands is simply and passively told, and reflects the naiveté of Sissy Spacek’ s little girl lost portrayal of someone who is equally enthralled and terrified by Sheen’s sociopathic charmer and the events that unfold around them.
Badlands’ influence on future films and filmmakers is indisputable. Hans Zimmer infamously paid “homage” to Carl Orff’s opening Badlands theme with his theme for True Romance, and the result is a very pleasant reminder that Badlands’ legacy will continue to be respected and admired for years to come.
3. Natural Born Killers (1994)
Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis star as Quentin Tarnatino’s other infamous cinematic criminal couple creation, Mickey and Mallory Knox. Oliver Stone heavily rewrote Tarantino’s script (much to his public disliking) and directed one of the most controversial and sensationalistic films ever made as a result.
Is it a satire of the media? Is it an ironic meditation on violence? Or is it a completely excessive exploitation film that fetishizes exactly what it pretends to be condemning? Natural Born Killers is all of these things, but, more than anything else, it’s the cinematic equivalent of seeing Oliver Stone’s mad, beautiful brain splattered onto a movie screen by a shotgun. It’s colorful, it’s maniacal, it’s confused, and it captures the heart of its time (released in 1994) more than any other film of that period.
Lewis gives one of the best girl genius performances of her career. She owns her role and sets the standard for every abused, dangerously insane woman ever put on film. Harrelson’s charm makes him terrifying, and Robert Downey, Jr. and Tom Sizemore chew the bloody scenery in major supporting roles. Natural Born Killers, to paraphrase Mickey Knox, may not entirely a hundred percent know what it’s saying, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth listening to for what it is: A mad, contradictory joyride that simultaneously reflects on and creates insanity in equal measures.
2. Wild At Heart (1990)
Not a favorite amongst David Lynch fans, Wild at Heart was, at the time of its release in 1990, far ahead of its time. It’s 2015, now, and people still aren’t quite ready to understand just how perfect and brilliant this film truly is. It’s a comedy, it’s a thriller, it’s an action film, it’s a great romance, it’s an insightful character piece, it’s a road picture, and it’s about as gloriously perverted and violent as you can get.
It’s an insane, loosely structured journey that takes us down the back roads of David Lynch’s America. Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern literally set the screen on fire with their lovers on the run chemistry, and Lynch’s free-form direction expertly takes the audience through a series of events and emotions that rarely exist in a single movie.
Wild At Heart, with its unique mixture of pop culture references, graphic but comical violence, and a freakshow of supporting characters was right there at the beginning of a movement that Quentin Tarantino was about to tap into. Fans looking for Twin Peaks didn’t quite know what to make of Wild At Heat at the time, however, and Lynch never quite got the credit he deserved for this under appreciated masterwork.
1. True Romance (1993)
Before Quentin Tarantino became Quentin Tarantino, he wrote the script for this film and handed the directing duties over to Tony Scott. Released in 1993 between the time that Reservoir Dogs put him on the map and Pulp Fiction made him the new Jesus, True Romance is the purest, coolest, and most honest thing Tarantino has ever written, and it’s the best movie he’s ever been involved in making.
We all know he’s a genius and always will be, but he will never again be the lonely geek without a girlfriend who penned his ultimate fantasy of what it would be like to be the guy of his dreams who gets the girl of his dreams and then go on a thrilling adventure with her.
True Romance is unabashedly the ultimate adolescent male fantasy: guy meets a hooker with a heart of gold that looks like Patricia Arquette, she falls madly in love with him, he becomes a badass and kills for her, he decides to make a huge drug deal to start their lives over with, he loses an eye in a gunfight, and he then escapes with his love to Cancun where they raise a son named Elvis.
Tarantino’s teenage fantasy couldn’t have been handled better in anyone but Tony Scott’s loving and stylish hands, and it couldn’t have succeeded without Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette’s iconic portrayals of Clarence and Alabama, the coolest creations that Quentin Tarantino has ever created.
There is not another movie in this genre before and there has not been one since that surpasses the idealism and innocence of young lovers on the run that True Romance saturates you with. Quentin Tarantino may have not done it first, but he and Tony Scott certainly did it the best.
Author Bio: Matt Hendricks is an independent filmmaker with several projects currently in development.