Onscreen chemistry between actors is like a flash of lightning, hard to predict, yet electric when it happens. When it does occur it is magic in a bottle.
Because it can be rare, many times Hollywood acts like a genie, recreating our wish for more, by pairing successful film couples in multiple films. Audiences are thrilled to watch their romantic favorite couples again and Hollywood is generally guaranteed a financial success.
Because of the way the studios used to be organized, seeing the same onscreen couple in multiple films was more common in classic movies than it is now. However, I have tried to include a mix of both classic and modern pairings in this list.
POPULAR ONSCREEN FILM COUPLES
(in no particular order)
1. Julia Roberts & Richard Gere
Films: Pretty Woman (1990) & Runaway Bride (1999)
Onscreen Chemistry: Even though over twenty-five years have passed since Pretty Woman premiered, Gere and Roberts still sparkle together on screen.
“There’s some kind of alchemy between me and Julia, and I don’t know why it works. Doesn’t hurt that she’s beautiful, doesn’t hurt that she’s smart, doesn’t hurt that she’s talented.” – Gere
2. Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan
Films: Joe Versus the Volcano (1990), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), You’ve Got Mail (1998) & Ithaca (2015)
RELATED POST: Ithaca Period Drama Review: Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks Reunite for her Directorial Debut
Onscreen Chemistry/Offscreen Relationship: Though a tabloid magazine falsely reported a romantic relationship between Hanks and Ryan, they have only ever been good friends. Their onscreen chemistry, however, is off the charts making for some of the best movie romances on screen.
(on Ithaca 2015) “He’s just so dear. He so did not have to do that. It took him a day to [shoot his scene.] At the end of his time, he says to the crew, “All right, gather ‘round. Listen, I know we’ve gotten to know each other very well over the last 10 hours together, but I just want to thank you for being here for my friend Meg.” It was such an act of friendship. I love him so much. “-Ryan
3. Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers
Films: Flying Down to Rio (1933), The Gay Divorcee (1934), Top Hat (1935), Roberta (1935), Follow the Fleet (1936), Swing Time (1936), Shall We Dance (1937), Carefree (1938), The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939), The Barkleys of Broadway (1949)
Onscreen Chemistry/Offscreen Relationship: Despite amazing onscreen chemistry, Rogers and Astaire were never more than co-workers.
“Ginger was brilliantly effective. She made everything work for her. Actually, she made things very fine for the both of us and she deserves most of the credit for our success.” – Astaire
“We had fun and it shows. True, we were never bosom buddies off the screen; we were different people with different interests. We were only a couple on film.” – Rogers
4. William Powell & Myrna Loy
Films: Manhattan Melodrama (1934), The Thin Man (1934), Evelyn Prentice (1934), The Great Ziegfeld (1936), Libeled Lady (1936), After the Thin Man (1936), Double Wedding (1937), Another Thin Man (1939), I Love You Again (1940), Love Crazy (1941), Shadow of the Thin Man (1941), The Thin Man Goes Home (1945), Song of the Thin Man (1947), The Senator Was Indiscreet (1947)
Onscreen Chemistry/Offscreen Relationship: Probably the most prolific onscreen couple ever, their chemistry was so strong, the public actually believed they were married. Though they were great friends, their personal relationship never became romantic.
“When we did a scene together, we forgot about technique, camera angels, and microphones. We weren’t acting. We were just two people in perfect harmony.” – Powell
“I never enjoyed my work more than when I worked with William Powell. He was a brilliant actor, a delightful companion, a great friend and, above all, a true gentleman.” – Loy
5. Clark Gable & Jean Harlow
Films: The Secret Six (1931), Red Dust (1932), Hold Your Man (1933), China Seas (1935), Wife vs. Secretary (1936), Saratoga (1937)
Onscreen Chemistry/Offscreen Relationship: Before Marilyn Monroe, Harlow was the original blonde bombshell and often starred opposite Gable. Sadly, she also died young. Though Gable was known to be a ladies man, his relationship with Harlow was likely only platonic and was more like a big brother to her. He acted as a pallbearer at her funeral.
“She didn’t want to be famous. She wanted to be happy.” – Gable
6. Doris Day & Rock Hudson
Films: Pillow Talk (1959), Lover Come Back (1961) & Send Me No Flowers (1964)
Offscreen Relationship: Day and Hudson were lifelong friends. She was there for him until his death.
“If there is a Heaven, I’m sure Rock Hudson is there because he was such a kind person.” – Day
[on Pillow Talk (1959)] Every day on the set was a picnic – sometimes too much of a picnic, in that we took turns at breaking each other up. – Hudson
7. Leonardo Dicaprio & Kate Winslet
Films: Titanic (1997), Revolutionary Road (2008)
Onscreen Chemistry/Offscreen Relationship: It’s hard not to notice the sizzling chemistry between these two onscreen. Offscreen, Dicaprio and Winslet have been good friends ever since they appeared in Titanic together. He even gave her away at one of her weddings.
“In a lot of ways, Kate and I have really grown up in this industry together; we’ve been a support mechanism for each other for such a long period of time. We’ve been there for each other and helped guide each other.” – Dicaprio
“It’s great to work with one of your best friends, it really is. I’ll always be looking to work with her again.” – Dicaprio
“Leo, I’m so happy I can stand here and tell you how much I love you and how much I’ve loved you for 13 years. I love you with all my heart, I really do.” – Winslet
8. Katharine Hepburn & Spencer Tracy
Films: Woman of the Year (1942), Keeper of the Flame (1942), Without Love (1945), The Sea of Grass (1947), State of the Union (1948), Adam’s Rib (1949), Pat and Mike (1952), Desk Set (1957), Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)
RELATED POST: Vintage Film Review: Adam’s Rib (1949) -An Entertaining Battle of the Sexes
Offscreen Relationship: Hepburn and Tracy’s romantic relationship was a well-kept secret for decades. Tracy was Catholic and refused to divorce his wife. So, even though they lived and worked together, the public was unaware of their personal relationship.
“We just loved each other. Nothing more to say.” – Hepburn
9. Bradley Cooper & Jennifer Lawrence
Films: Silver Linings Playbook (2012), American Hustle (2013), Serena (2014), Joy (2015)
Onscreen Chemistry: They have just the right amount of synergy despite the age difference.
“I wonder if these guys who do Dancing With The Stars like have a connection forever. I really do think that really provided the basis by which we can just work together. We don’t talk often, but when I showed up in Boston for Joy, then all of a sudden it was like we never stopped. We just started where we left off, and that’s rare. It’s just easy to look at her and feel like I’m telling the truth.” – Cooper
10. Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton
Films: Cleopatra (1963), The V.I.P.’s (1963), The Sandpiper (1965), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966), The Taming of the Shrew (1967), Doctor Faustus (1967), The Comedians (1967), Boom! (1968), Under Milk Wood (1972), Hammersmith is Out (1972)
Offscreen Relationship: They famously began an affair on the set of Cleopatra and eventually married twice.
“I love Richard Burton with every fiber of my soul, but we can’t be together. We’re too mutually self-destructive.” – Taylor
“I might run from her for a thousand years and she is still my baby child. Our love is so furious that we burn each other out.” –Burton
11. Adam Sandler & Drew Barrymore
Films–The Wedding Singer (1998), 50 First Dates (2004), Blended (2014)
Onscreen Chemistry: A likable, relatable chemistry onscreen.
“I respect Adam, I always have. We’ve always had this very platonic, wonderful love and appreciation for each other…and I appreciate what he does.” – Barrymore
12. Matthew McConaughey & Kate Hudson
Films-How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003), Fool’s Gold (2008)
Onscreen Chemistry: With a playful chemistry onscreen, these two just work well together.
“Our first meeting was on How to Lose a Guy. We met at Paramount and it was just easy, we talked and laughed, he was great and we had the best time, and it sort of stayed like that. We just get on. Some people you connect with, and Matthew and I have always connected.” – Hudson
13. Sandra Bullock & Keanu Reeves
Films: Speed (1994), The Lake House (2006)
Onscreen Chemistry: One need only watch the dance scene from The Lake House for evidence of their onscreen chemistry.
RELATED POST: The Lake House (2006) -Love Defies the Conventions of Time
“I don’t know what it is, but I love being around Keanu. I really do. He is such a good person.” – Bullock
“I can’t explain in words why Sandra and I have chemistry on screen or why we work well together. We just do, and I’m glad because I like her tremendously as a person.” – Reeves
14. Humphrey Bogart & Lauren Bacall
Films: To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947), Key Largo (1948)
Offscreen Relationship: Despite a twenty year age difference and the fact that Bogey was already married, he and Bacall fell in love and eventually married. They named their son Steve after a line in their first film To Have and Have Not.
“She’s a real Joe. You’ll fall in love with her like everybody else.” – Bogart
“No one has ever written a romance better than we lived it.” – Bacall
15. Paul Newman & Joanne Woodward
Films: The Long, Hot Summer (1958), Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys! (1958), From the Terrace (1960), Paris Blues (1961), A New Kind of Love (1963), Winning (1969), WUSA (1970), The Drowning Pool (1975), Harry & Son (1984), Mr. and Mrs. Bridge (1990)
Offscreen Relationship: Paul was smitten at their first meeting, but he was already married. A couple of years later they starred in their first film together. They soon married and maintained one of the longest lasting romances in Hollywood.
“We are very, very different people and yet somehow we fed off those varied differences and instead of separating us, it has made the whole bond a lot stronger.” – Newman
“Being married to Paul is being married to the most considerate, romantic man.” – Woodward
16. Chris Evans & Scarlett Johansson
Films–The Perfect Score (2004), The Nanny Diaries (2007), The Avengers (2012), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Captain America: Civil War (2016) and counting…
Onscreen Chemistry: Their most romantic chemistry can be found in The Nanny Diaries.
“She really is a beautiful lady. She really got blessed, I love that girl, man. She’s like my sister. I’ve known her for 10 years. She’s just one of the smartest people I know. It’s great when someone with a razor-sharp intellect wants to have fun.” – Evans
17. Desi Arnaz & Lucille Ball
Films: Too Many Girls (1940), The Long, Long Trailer (1953), Forever Darling (1956), I Love Lucy television series (1951-1957)
Offscreen Relationship: Desi and Lucy met on the set of their first film Too Many Girls and eventually married. The strain of their work schedules made their relationship difficult so they conceived of a new television series as a way to have more time together. Sadly, their marriage didn’t last, but they never stopped loving each other.
“Lucy, she has no idea how happy she’s made me. She’s wonderful. I adore her with all of my heart. She’s given me everything I could ask for. No pun intended, I Love Lucy.” – Arnaz
“Desi was the great love of my life. I will miss him until the day I die.” – Ball
18. Clark Gable & Joan Crawford
Films: Dance, Fools, Dance (1931), Laughing Sinners (1931), Possessed (1931), Dancing Lady (1933), Chained (1934), Forsaking All Others (1934), Love on the Run (1936), Strange Cargo (1940)
Onscreen Chemistry/Offscreen Relationship: Gable was also famously paired with Crawford. These two had intense physical chemistry both on and off screen. They managed to carry on a long-term affair through many years and several marriages.
” I adored him. Just adored him. I don’t believe any woman is telling the truth if she ever worked with Gable and did not feel twinges of a sexual urge beyond belief. I would call her a liar.” – Crawford
19. Bette Davis & George Brent
Films: So Big! (1932), The Rich Are Always With Us (1932), Housewife (1934), Front Page Woman (1935), Special Agent (1935), The Golden Arrow (1936), Jezebel (1938), Dark Victory (1939), The Old Maid (1939), The Great Lie (1941), In This Our Life (1942)
Offscreen Relationship: Though they never confirmed a relationship, Brent and Davis carried on an affair for several years.
20. Cary Grant & Katharine Hepburn
Films: Sylvia Scarlett (1936), Bringing Up Baby (1938), Holiday (1938), The Philadelphia Story (1940)
Onscreen Chemistry/Offscreen Relationship: These two had a fabulously witty and intelligent chemistry onscreen. And though they had a good working relationship and many mutual friends, they did not maintain a close relationship off screen.
“She was this slip of a woman and I never liked skinny women. But she had this thing, this air you might call it, the most totally magnetic woman I’d ever seen, and probably ever seen since. You had to look at her, you had to listen to her; there was no escaping her.” – Grant
“He is personality functioning.” – Hepburn
21. Errol Flynn & Olivia de Havilland
Films: Captain Blood (1935), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Four’s A Crowd (1938), Dodge City (1939), The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), Santa Fe Trail (1940), They Died With Their Boots On (1941)
Offscreen Relationship: Though Flynn and de Havilland were both attracted to each other during the time they worked together, neither one ever acted on it.
“I had a very big crush on Errol Flynn during Captain Blood (1935). I thought he was absolutely smashing for three solid years, but he never guessed. Then he had one on me but nothing came of it. I’m not going to regret that; it could have ruined my life.”- de Havilland
22. Mickey Rooney & Judy Garland
Films: Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry (1937), Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938), Babes In Arms (1939), Andy Hardy Meets Debutante (1940), Strike Up the Band (1940), Life Begins for Andy Hardy (1941), Babes on Broadway (1941), Thousands Cheer (1943), Girl Crazy (1943), Words and Music (1948)
Offscreen Relationship: Rooney and Garland basically grew up together on the MGM lot and always had a close and special relationship.
“Judy Garland and I were so close we could have come from the same womb. We weren’t like brothers or sisters but there was no love affair there, there was more than a love affair. It’s very, very difficult to explain the depths of our love for each other. It was so special. It was a forever love. Judy, as we speak, has not passed away. She’s always with me in every heartbeat of my body.” –Rooney
23. Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone
Films: Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011), Gangster Squad (2013), & La La Land (2016)
Onscreen Chemistry: Gosling and Stone are fantastic examples of wonderful chemistry in modern-day cinema.
“It’s impossible to describe. She’s everything, all the time. There’s nobody like her.” – Gosling
“I’ve asked him to read a couple of scripts.I just really like hearing his viewpoint because I know that it’s never going to be tainted. He’s very much his own person. It has really just been scripts so far, because I only met him two years ago when we did ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love,’ but it was like meeting a member of your team or something. I really like his brain.” – Stone
24. John Wayne & Maureen O’Hara
Films: Rio Grande (1950), The Quiet Man (1952), The Wings of Eagles (1957), McClintock! (1963), Big Jake (1971)
Onscreen Chemistry: For evidence of their onscreen chemistry, look no further than the kiss in the rain from The Quiet Man.
“Speaking as an actress, I wish all actors would be more like Duke [John Wayne]–and speaking as a person, it would be nice if all people could be honest and as genuine as he is. This is a real man.” – O’Hara
“There’s only one woman who has been my friend over the years and by that I mean a real friend, like a man would be. That woman is Maureen O’Hara. She’s big, lusty, and absolutely marvelous, definitely my kind of woman. She’s a great guy. I’ve had many friends and I prefer the company of men. Except for Maureen O’Hara.” – Wayne
25. Greta Garbo & John Gilbert
Films: Flesh and the Devil(1926), Love (1928), A Woman of Affairs (1928), Queen Christina (1933)
Offscreen Relationship: It was a case of instant attraction. Their chemistry was so strong in their first film that they kept up their love scene even after cameras stopped rolling. Eventually, they became engaged, but for some reason, Garbo balked when it came time to marry.
“One day, she’s like a child, naïve, like a ten-year-old girl. The next day, she’s a mysterious woman, 100 years old, who knows anything, tired of the entire world, profound.” – Gilbert
Content Note: Some of the more current films listed may contain objectionable material.
Who are some of your favorite film couples?
Featured Image Credit at Top: Sleepless in Seattle/Photo: Columbia Pictures
7 thoughts on “When Onscreen Chemistry Matters -Twenty Five Film Couples We Love to Love”
Great list! As for my own additions, well, maybe some are kind of cheating — since they play the same characters in multiple sequels — but I’m adding Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke from Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy; Carrie Fisher & Harrison Ford from Star Wars fame; Kathleen Turner & Michael Douglas from “Romancing the Stone” and its sequel “Jewel of the Nile”; Mulder & Scully, who are more TV, but there are a couple X-Files movies out there (-: And then Kenneth Branagh & Emma Thompson…
Oh, I totally forgot about Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson. The problem with lists is you invariable leave good options off somehow. But I like your additions.
Great list! Very interesting. I love Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, too!
I always liked John Garfield and Priscilla Lane. They played off each other well.
I totally agree. Her innocent girl next door charm balances nicely with his rough around the edges demeanor. Great suggestion.
I’m weighing in a couple years too late, but Hugh Grant and Julia Robert’s. Really, you just wanted them to work out and be happy.