Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn
The very best movie couples, the ones that feel most honest and real, are those that extend beyond the boundaries of the screen. Thus it was for Tracy and Hepburn, who carried on a decades-long romance while married to other people. They brought out the very best in each other. Tracy, who'd long been a movie tough-guy, got to show his wit and expert comic timing when with Hepburn. And Kate, who'd been labeled "box-office poison" in the '30s by the executives at RKO Radio Pictures, got to show her softer, less acerbic side when with Tracy. Across nine movies over 25 years, starting with 1942's 'Woman of the Year,' they'd become screwball comedy's defining couple. Key Pairing: 'Desk Set' (1957)
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton
It's hard to say what was more dramatic: Taylor and Burton's booze-fueled shouting matches onscreen in movies like 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' or their...booze-fueled shouting matches offscreen. Probably the latter. But what makes their legend endure is the way they channeled their real-life romantic angst into their cinematic alter egos and in eight movies told feverish tales of sin, redemption, disillusionment, and heartbreak whether as Antony and Cleopatra, ('Cleopatra'), a defrocked priest in love with a single mother ('The Sandpiper') or a middle-aged college professor and his wife ('Woolf'). Sex and violence? Burton and Taylor lived it. Key Pairing: 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' (1966)
Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan
The '90s answer to Tracy and Hepburn, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan only appeared in three movies together. But each one was a gem: 1990's grown-up fairy tale 'Joe Vs. the Volcano,' 1993's bicoastal love story 'Sleepless in Seattle,' and 1998's 'Shop Around the Corner' for a dial-up age, 'You've Got Mail.' We're just sad they never made another. Key Pairing: 'Sleepless in Seattle'
Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman
It's tempting to chart the evolution of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman's relationship through the three movies they made together. First, in 1990's hormone-fueled race-car movie 'Days of Thunder,' there's nothing but lust. Pure primal attraction. Then, in 1992's underrated immigrant flop 'Far and Away,' in which Cruise plays an Irish sharecropper in love with Kidman as the landlord's daughter, came romance—a love based on friendship, affection, and respect. And finally, with 1999's 'Eyes Wide Shut,' their burnt-out married couple find that their relationship, with no clear path how to proceed, has hit a dead end. 18 months after their final film's release, they split up in real life. Key Film: 'Eyes Wide Shut,' one of the best films of the '90s.
Woody Allen and Diane Keaton/Mia Farrow
You could argue that Woody's only as good as his leading lady. I mean, what are his very best movies? 'Annie Hall,' 'Manhattan,' 'Broadway Danny Rose,' 'The Purple Rose of Cairo,' 'Hannah and Her Sisters,' 'Crimes and Misdemeanors,' and, for my money, 'Manhattan Murder Mystery.' Notice something about these movies? They all star either Diane Keaton or Mia Farrow, both of whom he was romantically involved with in real life at various times. Key Pairing with Keaton: 'Annie Hall.' Key Pairing With Farrow: 'Hannah and Her Sisters'
Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon
In seven comfort-food flicks, starting with 1942's delicate, slice-of-wartime-life Best Picture winner, 'Mrs. Miniver,' Garson and Pidgeon played couples that were like Platonic ideals worth aspiring to: unflappable, caring, supportive, and egalitarian. Watch any of their movies and tell me you don't want to be a part of their onscreen family. Key Pairing: 'Mrs. Miniver'
Doris Day and Rock Hudson
In their three movies together, Doris Day and Rock Hudson gave the screwball comedy a sexually-charged makeover. Their formula of a straight-laced career gal sparring with a horndog playboy is the model of rom-com that Katherine Heigl, Kate Hudson, Matthew McConaughey, and Gerard Butler often aspire to...and always fail to match. Key Pairing: 'Pillow Talk' (1959)
Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves
Sometimes a romance can feel like a runaway bus, but it's rare for a relationship to literally start on one. That, however, is what happens in 1994's 'Speed' between public transit patron Bullock and bomb-squad officer Reeves. Their follow-up twelve years later, 'The Lake House,' replaces a speeding bus as the barrier to their romance with a time-travel twist. It's a decidedly more languid — some would say soporific — affair. Key Pairing: 'Speed'
Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore
Man-children don't often fare well as romantic leading men. But then there's Adam Sandler, who, when paired with someone as quirky as he is, like Emily Watson in 'Punch-Drunk Love' and especially Drew Barrymore in 'The Wedding Singer' and '50 First Dates,' can sometimes demonstrate that the way to a woman's heart is through her funny bone. Key Pairing: 'The Wedding Singer'
John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara
Wayne and O'Hara were big personalities. And though they were the best of friends in real life, conflict is the defining feature of their relationships in the five movies they made between 1950 and 1971. A couple of them (1952's 'The Quiet Man' and 'McLintock!') even feature extended, physically-demanding setpieces in which Wayne drags O'Hara across town as part of some kind of love/hate public-humiliation ritual. Pre-feminist creations to be sure — and admittedly hard to watch today — these movies were box office powerhouses in their day. Key Pairing: 'The Quiet Man'
Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet
They broke moviegoers' hearts as star-crossed lovers Jack and Rose in 1997's 'Titanic.' Then 11 years later they broke moviegoers' hearts in a completely different, less romantic way as depressed, married suburbanites in 'Revolutionary Road.' Key Pairing: 'Titanic'
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling
Emma Stone first made sparks with Ryan Gosling in 'Crazy, Stupid, Love' as a law-school grad swept off her feet by his smooth operator nursing a broken heart. When they finally drop all pretension and reenact Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey's final number from 'Dirty Dancing' they've become awkward lovebirds for the ages. Now they're swapping rapid-fire wordplay for actual bullets in the mob drama 'Gangster Squad.' Key Pairing: 'Crazy, Stupid, Love'