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The Romantic Trope: 10 Exquisite Uses in Film and Television

romantic trope
The “accidental hand brush” romantic trope as seen in North & South. Photo Credit: BBC

According to Merriam-Webster, a trope is “a word or expression used in a figurative sense, a figure of speech; or, a common or overused theme, a cliché.” People often refer to tropes as if they are “bad.” Tropes aren’t bad. What they are, is necessary. Tropes exist everywhere – in film and television, theater, books, and even music. As a result, when used in the same way repeatedly, tropes can make a show or book predictable, even boring. Hence, the bad reputation. This is especially true with the romantic trope. Think about it: the love triangle, second chance at love, the hand brush, the cheek smudge, faux engagement, love at first sight…..I could go on. We need the romantic trope. We love the romantic trope, especially when done right!

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Creative utilization can take a romantic trope and elevate it into something new. So, while it is familiar, innovative use can make it fresh and exciting. There are a number of factors that figure into the successful use of a romantic trope. Chemistry, connection, timing, and the right type of romantic trope are all essential to making a developing romance believable and swoon-worthy.

Whether we want to admit it or not, a perfectly executed romantic trope makes us sigh in delight. Whether love at first sight or unrequited love, the 10 scenes below revitalize the most common of romantic tropes. Many of them fall into multiple categories of romantic troops; that’s how well-done the scene was. So, prepare for your hearts to flutter as we revisit some of the most romantic uses of the romantic trope!

This list is subjective and definitely not all inclusive. It consists of films and television shows I am currently streaming or enjoyed in the past. So, if you’re ready, grab your smelling salts, and enjoy!

The Romantic Trope: 10 Exquisite Uses in Film and Television

(Listed by Romantic Trope)

#1 Love at First Sight – The Inheritance (1997)

Romantic Trope
Photo Credit: CBS

Love at first sight is a classic romantic trope. In this trope, the chemistry between the actors is incredibly important. Without it, the first time their eyes meet is nothing but two people staring at each other in uncomfortable silence. The Inheritance nails this moment between Edith Adelon (Cari Shayne) and James Percy (Thomas Gibson) perfectly. Their connection is instantaneous the moment their eyes meet. It’s lovely and sweet with just the right amount of wonderment as they gaze at each other!

Bonus: The cut on James’ cheek is also a smudge trope!

#2 The Smudge – Northanger Abbey (2007)

Romantic Trope
Photo Credit: Masterpiece Theatre

Wait, you have something……right there……and then the hand lingers as their eyes meet and hold. Don’t you just want to take a deep breath and sigh? The smudge romantic trope is just an excuse to touch someone when you really have no reason to do so. The well-timed smudge adds a glorious layer of tension as the couple hesitates, not sure whether they should lean in for a kiss or part. In the case of Northanger Abbey, Catherine (Felicity Jones) and Henry (J.J. Feild), an interruption took the choice from them. Those few precious seconds, though, were worth that well-placed streak of mud!

Related Post: 7 Almost First Kisses That Stole Our Breath

#3 The Love Letter – The Lake House (2006)

Romantic Trope
Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

“I found you, and I let myself get lost; lost in this
beautiful fantasy where time stood still.”

So many great uses of the love letter! Often, it is that singular love letter that encapsulates every emotion possible into one single defining moment. Hello, Persuasion anyone?!? However, for this romantic trope, I went with a movie centered around a series of letters, each an expression of love. Seriously underrated, The Lake House is the epitome of the love letter trope. Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock only share a handful of scenes yet their chemistry is always present. Their characters, Alex and Kate, fall in love through letters. They met, learned about each other, broke up, and reconnected all through letters. The beauty of the written word truly makes this romantic trope.

Bonus: The Lake House is also an off-shoot of the time travel romantic trope.

#4 The Grand Romantic Gesture – Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Photo Credit: Disney

Don’t let the word “grand” fool you. This particular romantic trope runs the gambit from the spectacular to the intimate. Deeply felt emotion can turn the simplest of gestures into something grand. Most point to the library gift in Beauty and the Beast as the grand romantic gesture; however, I lean towards the quieter grand romantic gestures found throughout the film.  My favorite is the romantic ball that leads to the Beast setting Belle free. It’s a truly touching moment of sacrifice; a grand romantic gesture!

#5 The Battle Couple – Nikita (2010)

Romantic Trope
Photo Credit: The CW

Oh, the battle couple! They fight together, defend each other, take a bullet for the other….and fall in love while doing it! The battle couple romantic trope is an adrenaline rush for the couple and the viewer. I find this particular romantic trope works best with an evenly matched couple. Like Michael and Nikita from The CW’s Nikita, although, the original Michael and Nikita from USA’s La Femme Nikita would work well here, too! Both are battle couples for the ages!

#6 May I Have this Dance? – Strictly Ballroom (1992) 

romantic trope
Photo Credit: Miramax

This romantic trope is hands down, my favorite. Whether it’s a dance lesson, or dancing (reluctantly or not) at a gala, this romantic trope signals the first indication of romantic feelings. The setting, the music, and the cinematography contribute to the romantic tension of the dance. These reasons are why I adore this scene from Strictly Ballroom. I may be slightly cheating here, picking a scene from a dance movie. Yet, this scene departs from the cliché of the trope and amidst a dance competition, we’re transported to an insanely private moment set to Doris Day singing “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps.” This romantic dance was brilliant!

#7 Time Travel Romance – Outlander (2014) 

Romantic Trope
Photo Credit: Starz!

Oh, the bittersweet agony of a romance developed out of time! You never know when time may yank you away and if so, when you’ll see the love of your life again. There are various successful uses of this particular romantic trope; however, none are as successful as Outlander. This is, in large part, due to Caitriona Balfe (Claire) and Sam Heughan (Jamie). Talented actors that share an insane chemistry with each other, their characters take angst to a new level!

Content Warning: Outlander is an explicit series with mature content and not considered an old-fashioned romance (though it certainly includes moments of it).

Related Post: 9 Beauty and the Beast YA Novels Destined to Enchant

#8 The Love Triangle – Grey’s Anatomy (2005)

Photo Credit: Buena Vista Television

Love triangles are cliché. There, I said it. It’s my least favorite romantic trope. However, with the right combination of chemistry, timing, and a believable plot, I admit the love triangle can be incredibly satisfying. Especially when the right choice is only this much better than the other. That was the case in Grey’s Anatomy. Not the Meredith-Derek-Addison triangle which wasn’t bad. No, I’m talking about the Derek-Meredith-Finn triangle! Sure, McDreamy had this one hands down, but whew! Did Finn ever give him a run for his money!

#9 The Love Confession – Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings (2001)

romantic trope
Photo Credit: New Line Cinema

“I would rather share one lifetime with you
than face all the ages of this world alone”

The romantic trope of all romantic tropes. What’s a romance without a confession of love? From the simple, heartfelt “I love you” to a grand proclamation with all the bells and whistles, these moments are well worth the wait. I’m definitely partial to the quietly intense declarations of love. Even those that don’t use the “L” word. Which is why Arwen’s declaration of love to Aragorn pierces my heart every single time.

#10 Unrequited Love – Les Misérables (2012)

romantic trope
Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

It’s rare to see this romantic trope.  More often, it is seen in combination with the love triangle. However, the true unrequited love stands alone. Person A falls in love with Person B. However, Person B does not share those feelings. Instead, Person B loves Person C, who reciprocates that love. Thus, Person A is in agony. My favorite unrequited love trope is in Les Misérables – whether on stage or at the movies. Samantha Bark’s Eponine (in the Universal Pictures version and the 25th Anniversary performance) breaks my heart every time. Her unrequited love for Marius is the embodiment of this romantic trope!

As you can see, romantic tropes can be exciting, swoon-worthy moments in our favorite films and shows. Clever, creative uses are important for us to buy into the story telling. These 10 romantic movies and shows are just a few that did justice to the romantic trope!

What movies and TV Shows best use your favorite romantic trope? Share them in the comments below! Want more? Check out the related posts links!

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By on July 13th, 2017

About Catherine

Catherine is an avid reader and a self-declared professional binge watcher. It's not uncommon to find her re-watching a series or movie for the umpteenth time and still be crying into a box of tissues. When she's not hiding in her closet to read or watch a show or movie, Catherine is a wife, mother, and, in her spare time, a lawyer.

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7 thoughts on “The Romantic Trope: 10 Exquisite Uses in Film and Television”

  1. I’m a big fan of the love letter trope especially as seen in You’ve Got Mail. Though technically those aren’t love letters so much, but they do get to know each other that way. I also love the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musicals precisely for the dance scenes which advance their romances. I’m also a fan of the hate – love trope where the characters begin as enemies and then fall in love. Perhaps my favorite romantic triangle is Rhett-Scarlett-Ashley in Gone with the Wind. Is there one more epic than that?

    • I love these! The hate-love trope can be so perfect when done right. You’ve Got Mail is actually a perfect example (that movies has so many tropes in it). One of my favorites is Matthew and Mary from Series 1 of Downton Abbey. Whew!!

  2. Great article! I enjoyed reading it. I just found out last night that The Lake House is streaming on Hulu. I can’t wait to watch it again!

  3. I’ve been watching the Outlander series on Netflix. Season 1 down, Season 2 about to start. And I’ve read the first 6 books (now re-reading before starting the next two). Everything about that series/show is well done, but especially the romance. And don’t forget it also qualifies as a triangle. 🙂

    • Oh, yes it does! A triangle across time! I confess, I’ve only watched half of Season 1 and while I enjoy the storyline and the connection between all the characters, I kind of puttered out towards the end. I plan to go back to it, but not right away. I did read two of the books in the series and have the rest on my to-eventually-read list! Thanks for reading and enjoy your re-read!!

  4. Can you please post your last name on this article or on the meet the authors page so I can quote you in a paper for my composition 2 class.


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