Exciting and escapist, motors and romance are the most natural of bedfellows. And it’s no surprise that cinema – the medium of movement par excellence – has always celebrated the pairing. In time for Valentine’s Day, we consider the best vehicular couples across film history and geography, from Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967) to Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe in The Misfits (1961).
Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg
The world mourned Jane Birkin’s passing last year—she was a monumental art and culture icon, and remains as such even in death. Many of the thousands upon thousands of tributes pouring in referenced Birkin’s storybook romance with Serge Gainsbourg, which spanned from 1968 to 1980. Their love is maybe best marked by the studio album they released together in 1969, which includes their famous rendition of Gainsbourg’s Je t’aime…moi non plus.
Stanley Donen’s Two For The Road (1967)
The car is a vehicle for reflection in Two For The Road, which sees Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney’s couple put their 12-year marriage under the microscope during a road trip to the French Riviera. While audiences weren’t ready to see Hepburn in such a dramatic shift in character (the film made little profit), it’s often cited as the best in her career.
Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
You don’t have to have seen Bonnie and Clyde to recognise its influence. One of the first films of the New Hollywood era and hailed as a “rallying cry” for the counterculture upon release, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway are center stage as the star crossed couple who take their love on the run after committing a string of bank robberies.
Jim McBride’s Breathless (1983)
Word on the street is that McBride’s American interpretation of Breathless might just dethrone the original Godard picture as the best of the two—much in part thanks to the dynamite chemistry between Richard Gere’s Jesse and Valérie Kaprisky’s Monica. It was so steamy that Kaprisky’s then-boyfriend allegedly kicked down her hotel door demanding to throw hands with the Hollywood hunk. We know who we’re rooting for.
Benny Chan’s A Moment of Romance (1990)
It’s a shot that’s become iconic among fans of Asian cinema: a tuxed-up Andy Lau speeding down the highway, with Wu Chien Lien, clad in a wedding dress, wrapping her arms around his torso. It’s Benny Chan’s A Moment of Romance, a classic of Hong Kong cinema that makes a bad boy of Lau and a rich girl of Chien Lien. It’s a story you’ve seen before, but not quite like this.
Nobuhiko Obayashi’s His Motorbike Her Island (1986)
Japanese director Nobuhiko Obayashi’s film Housu is a cinephile favourite, but the filmmaker’s imaginarium stretched far beyond the 1977 Horror. Case in point: His Motorbike, Her Island, which sees motorbike enthusiast Ko fall for spirited island girl Miyo. When it turns out that Miyo is a natural on the road, Ko begins to fear that she’s destined to crash. Obayashi’s trademark inventiveness is all here, built into a sweet story of romance on the road.
John Huston’s The Misfits (1961)
Released in 1961, The Misfits was the last completed film for both its stars Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe, who play gruff cowboy Gaylord Langland and recent divorcee Roslyn Taylor. The final shot of the film is one of the great shots of romance in cars, as the two realise their love for each other and ride romantically into the night.
Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973)
It’s only happenstance that many of the couples on this list concern bad boys and outlaws in love, but Badlands might be the perfect version of the sub-genre that Bonnie and Clyde introduced all those years ago. Terrence Malick’s 1973 feature adapts the Starkweather-Fugate killing spree of the 50s, in which a teenage girl (played here by Sissy Spacek) and her older boyfriend (Martin Sheen) murdered her entire family and went on the run in the Dakota desert.
Featured image: Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin in The Cotswolds, 1969. By Andrew Birkin.