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We love it when our heroes fall for the suspicious types: the wolves in sheep's clothing, the dangerous femme fatales. It happens often in film noir and a heckuva lot in comics, and provides some of the best last-act twists and turns as our hearts palpitate along with those of our protagonists... up until the bitter end. Can't that evil love interest turn out to have a heart of gold, so we can all have a happily ever after? Sometimes, yes. Most of the time, no.
What is it about these doomed romances that we love so much? Perhaps it's the futility of it all; you can't have your cake and eat it when you're a superhero or a (wo)man on a mission to right wrongs, even if you'd rather be kissing that beguiling bad guy than fighting them, arresting them, or foiling their evil plans. Turning down a chance at love is the ultimate sacrifice for a hero or heroine to make -- it proves their commitment to the side of good. Hence, loving a villain makes a hero even more heroic. How tragic!
In what will surely spur controversy, I've whittled my favorite villain-hero romances down to the seven best pairings in cinema. No, Phantom of the Opera didn't make it. That would have been too easy. Instead, find odd couples, would-be perfect pairs, star-crossed lovers, and yes, the world's most legendary bromance after the jump.
Catwoman & Batman (Batman Returns)
Though present in the Batman comics, TV show, and 1966 feature film, the doomed attraction between Selina Kyle/Catwoman and Bruce Wayne/Batman) really got going in Batman Returns. Here, Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) got an origin story, ran through at least eight of her nine lives, and played both love interest and foil to Batman (Michael Keaton) before jaunting off into the moonlight (and towards that dreadful spin-off feature film). While he wasn't able to save Catwoman from her catty need for revenge, who can blame Batman for falling for the feline femme fatale? You try getting licked by a smokin' hot lady in a tight leather cat suit and tell us she's easy to resist.
Elsa & Indy (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade)
Indiana Jones had loved a lot of ladies over the years, and it looked like he'd finally found a classy broad with whom he could share his globe-trotting adventures. Too bad she was in bed with the Nazis – and with Indy's own father, Dr. Henry Jones Sr. (Sean Connery). Ick. Austrian professor Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody) was, like all of Indy's women, a bit of a spitfire; unlike Marion Ravenwood and Willie Scott, she was a woman of uncommon elegance and liked fine things, like books and artifacts. But when it came down to choosing a life with Indy and going for the Holy Grail, Elsa chose materialism over love and fell to her death.
Brigid & Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon)
Almost every film noir has a femme fatale who tempts our hero, and in John Huston's classic The Maltese Falcon, that femme fatale is Ruth Wonderly (Mary Astor), a gorgeous client who comes to private eye Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) for help. But all is not as it seems; Ruth's real name is Brigid, and she's played Sam for a fool while falling in love with him. Despite his feelings for her, Sam chooses the code of his profession over his love for Brigid and turns her over to the police – after one last kiss good bye.
Bodhi & Johnny Utah (Point Break)
In the film that launched a thousand bromances, the real romance wasn't between Keanu Reeves and Lori Petty – it was between Reeves and Patrick Swayze. The torrid saga of a surfer bandit (Swayze) and the undercover cop who loves him (Reeves) painted a picture of brotherly love so intense that filmmaker Edgar Wright made repeated references to Point Break's central relationship in his film Hot Fuzz. In a pivotal scene, detective Johnny Utah corners Bodhi after a bank robbery but can't bring himself to shoot him, and instead shoots his gun into the sky with a cry that betrays his angst-ridden love. It's a subtle expression of that age-old saying: If you love something, let it go. (See below for video.)
Bill & The Bride (Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2)
Like most women scorned (and left for dead), The Bride (Uma Thurman) was pissed. After training with a master swordsman, she plowed her way through a long list of enemies fueled by her desire to kill one man: her former lover, Bill. (Seriously, we've all been there, right?) When she finally found him, The Bride reunited with her long-lost daughter and, for a few hours, the three of them were the picture of domestic happiness – or, at least, as happy as two assassins could be as the parents of a toddler. But codes of honor are codes of honor; one Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique and a few tender moments later, The Bride said farewell to the man she loved.
Catherine Tramell & Nick Curran (Basic Instinct)
Ok, so the "romance" in Basic Instinct may have been decidedly one-sided, as bestselling author and suspected serial killer Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone) seemed rather uninterested in having little rugrats with her latest conquest, Detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas). But Nick was so obviously taken with Catherine that he was convinced she was just an innocent, bisexual risk-taker who had nothing to do with those pesky ice pick murders that plagued the city of San Francisco. He was happy as a clam to keep up their lustful relationship, no matter what she had hiding under the bed. In the world of Basic Instinct the truth is kept deliciously ambiguous, so we'd like to think that, after tormenting David Morrissey's psychologist in London in 2006, Catherine reunited with Nick to live happily ever after.
Lucy Diamond & Amy Bradshaw (D.E.B.S.)
Oh, D.E.B.S. I loved Angela Robinson's un-self-serious caper about crime-fighting school girls, mostly because of the innocent romance that blossomed between golden girl Amy (Sara Foster) and the government's number one enemy, Lucy Diamond (Jordana Brewster). Against all odds, the D.E.B. and the supervillain met, dated, and ran away together to Barcelona so Amy could be an artist while Lucy rented sailboats to tourists.
Honorable mentions go to Double indemnity, Daredevil, and Labyrinth. What are your favorite villain-hero love stories?
Below: Johnny Utah does some free running, gets a dog thrown at him, and expresses his love for the one that got away.