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A Guide To Hollywood’s History Of Love

From King Kong to 500 Days of Summer, a guide to the many eras of movie love affairs.

Romance Hollywood-style has almost always been a projection of the desires, yearnings, and aspirations of the men (and yes, they are usually men) who run the film industry.

That said, there are distinct romantic epochs in film history. Here’s a look at how love has evolved in Hollywood.

2. The Heroic-Love Era: Circa 1914

As Seen In: The Perils of Pauline

For a nation still finding its way in the world, love primarily existed to ride to the rescue, to pull its heroine from the railroad tracks, to resolutely declare, “I’ll pay the rent.” America needed a hero, and love was there.

3. The Monstrous-Love Era: Circa 1925

As Seen In: Phantom of the Opera (pictured above), King Kong, Dracula

As tastes became more jaded in the excitement of the Jazz Age, old-fashioned white-hatted heroes were no longer such compelling romance objects. Suddenly, women were falling under the spell of mummies, giant apes, vampires, and strange organ players living in theater cellars.

4. Free-Spirited Woman Teaches Uptight Man How to Live Era: Circa 1937

As Seen In: Bringing Up Baby (pictured above), The Lady Eve, Ball of Fire

Men were such old fuss-budgets. That is, until a carefree young woman came along and forced a little adventure into their lives.

5. The Prisoners of Circumstance Era: Circa 1940

As Seen In: Casablanca (pictured above), Gone with the Wind

With the winds of war sweeping the globe, even romance was called on to do its part. Until the world was at peace again, love would have to wait.

6. The Waltz Into Darkness Era: Circa 1947

As Seen In: Double Indemnity (pictured above), The Postman Always Rings Twice, Gilda, Night and the City, Out of the Past

The world was no longer fighting, but suspicion lurked behind every corner in post-war America — and romance was not immune. Love became a siren call to lure the innocent into caverns of evil and sinister doings.

7. The Love as Terrible Duty Era: Circa 1951

As Seen In: It’s a Wonderful Life (pictured above), A Place in the Sun, A Star Is Born

As America settled down and took on the burden of home and family, the burden suddenly felt a little heavier than many imagined it might. The country awoke to its war marriages and was driven to wonder if maybe they had rushed into things just a little. In It’s a Wonderful Life, poor Jimmy Stewart — who didn’t run away from Donna Reed when he had the chance — dreams about how much better the world would be without him. In A Place in the Sun, Montgomery Clift is driven to murder the woman he rashly fell in love with a few lonely scenes prior.

8. The Escape Era: Circa 1955

As Seen In: The Seven Year Itch (pictured above), Roman Holiday, An American in Paris, Tammy and The Bachelor

Love with someone much younger, freer, and preferably in an exotic setting became the escapist fantasy for the men of a housebound nation.

9. The Forbidden-Love Era: Circa 1961

As Seen In: West Side Story (pictured above), Imitation of Life, Lolita, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, The Apartment

This was the era when on-screen romance started challenging class lines, racial boundaries, age limits. Even your boss’s girlfriend was no longer off-limits.

10. The Outlaw-Love Era: Circa 1968

As Seen In: Bonnie and Clyde (pictured above), Badlands, Breathless, The Graduate, Harold and Maude

After being kept apart for so long, young lovers weren’t going to take it anymore. Romance became the ticket to busting loose and defying society. From the first kiss, it was one short step to reaching for a pistol.

11. The Doomed-Love Era: Circa 1975

As Seen In: Love Story (pictured above), The Way We Were, Annie Hall, Last Tango in Paris, Manhattan, Panic in Needle Park

The surest way to get killed in a movie in the 1970s was to fall in love. In a time that had lost its faith in everything, lovers were the saddest fools of all, as everyone was either too young, too strung out, too neurotic, or too dying to roll up their sleeves to make a relationship work.

12. The Uniformed Era: Circa 1983

As Seen In: An Officer and a Gentleman (pictured above), Top Gun, Legal Eagles, Cocktail

The nation was ready to get rolling again, but love was best left to the professionals. Working hard and loving hard was our motto — whether on an aircraft carrier, at a desk at a law firm, or reigning behind the bar, things were getting real once more, and we had the fitted shirts to prove it.

13. The Fairy-Tale Era: Circa 1990

As Seen In: Pretty Woman (pictured above), Ghost, Forever Young, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink

Love was ready to seek higher ground and recast itself in a pristine, imaginary light. Whether it was the Cinderella fantasy of Pretty Woman (which made the most insidious connection in the genre’s history — that love means getting to shop), or updated versions of iconic 1950s teenybopper tales, romance was something to ooh and ahh about again.

14. Love Amongst the Pottery Barn: Circa 1993

As Seen In: You’ve Got Mail (pictured above), Sleepless in Seattle, Love Actually

Love became the province of a slightly older, better adjusted demographic: people in their thirties or so who were well settled in life with great careers and massive apartments, and weren’t looking for something to sweep everything away. They just wanted that…little extra something in life. Romance became an aspirational exercise.

15. The Costume Era: Circa 1998

As Seen In: Shakespeare in Love (pictured above), Titanic, Sense and Sensibility

Romance lounging around the coffeemaker was, in the end, not quite as exciting as it was cracked. Love needed some fancy dress and epic history to put a spring back in its step.

16. The Uptight Woman Teaches Free-Spirited Man How to Behave Era: Circa 2007

As Seen In: Knocked Up (pictured above), I Love You Man, Role Models, Wedding Crashers

Teenagers brought light and hope back to the romantic genre when they were teenagers, but when they were pushing 40, the men children of a new generation could no longer make plausible romantic leads. Unless, that is, a few good overachieving heroines could be found to make time out of their busy schedules and take little receding mop-tops under their wings.

17. The Ineffectual Era: Present

As Seen In: 500 Days of Summer (pictured above), Twilight, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Lost in Translation, Garden State, Away We Go

With the huge burden of staying cool these days, who’s got room to get worked up over romance? Besides, whether it’s thanks to vegan diets or the draining effects of minimalist music, just making moon eyes at someone across the room is about all the energy a screen couple can muster these days.

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