As much as we may love romantic movies, many don’t model healthy behaviors. Change the soundtrack behind the famous (and infamous) lines, and some famously heartwarming scenes can resemble a scary thriller than romance. Unfortunately, one behavior that is heavily promoted is stalking, which is presented as an expression of love. It’s helpful for us to take a step back and examine these behaviors for what they really are–stalking.
It could be the normalizing of such behaviors might cloud people’s views of real stalking when it happens. Or it could be as it was said on How I Met Your Mother with the Dobler/Dahmer Theory, “Whether a gesture is charming or alarming depends on how it’s received.” Luckily, the characters in this list did see it as charming, but the stalker-behavior is still alarming, and sometimes frightening. Here are 10 “romantic” movies that are actually about stalking.
10 Say Anything
First on our list is the classic romance, Say Anything. Who could forget the iconic moment when Lloyd Dobler holds up the boombox, blasting Peter Gabriel’s song, In Your Eyes, outside of his ex’s house? The song happens to the song that they first made love to. It screams romantic because we know that the ex-girlfriend, Diane, didn’t want to break up with him and misses him.
However, Lloyd doesn’t know that. Imagine this: An ex-boyfriend shows up in the middle of the night to blast a love song after he has been rebuffed multiple times by his ex-girlfriend, both in person and through phone calls (or lack of answering the phone calls). It survives as romantic because it’s received as such but really, the behavior is pretty alarming.
9 All About Steve
In this movie, the roles are reversed. Generally, when roles like this are reversed in romantic movies, the female characters are presented as desperate and crazy rather than romantic. This is somewhat the case in this movie.
Mary falls for Steve. She loses her job due to her obsession and follows him to his next job, thinking that he wanted her to join him. On route to find Steve, a man that she barely knows, she tells a trucker who helps her that “It’s about choosing your path and just committing to it.” In this case, her path is Steve, whether he likes it or not.
In the 2016 sci-fi romance, we have Jim accidentally awakened decades early in the space ship where he and others are on their way to live in a new colony, far from earth. After a year of intense loneliness, he becomes smitten with another passenger, Aurora. He finds her video file and watches it, and then stalks her sleeping body, constantly visiting her. Later, he decides, to awaken her, essentially condemning her to die with him.
The movie was presented as a love story despite the fact that Jim exhibits stalker-like behavior and makes a life-death decision for Aurora when she has no agency. The vlogger, Nerdwriter1, presents how this film would look if it were rearranged and in Aurora’s point-of-view, and it makes Jim come across as unbelievably creepy.
7 There’s Something About Mary
Not only does Ted (Ben Stiller) resort to some stalker-like behavior, he takes it one step further. Ted hires a private detective, Pat, to stalk Mary and find out details about her.
Pat’s stalking is intense; at one point, he even drugs her dog (almost killing it). Throughout the movie, we find out that nearly every man in Mary’s life has either been deceitful or stalked her, or both. All those men were anything but romantic.
Before Bella’s first kiss with Edward, he shows up at her house and in her bedroom, uninvited. He reveals that he follows her, and not only that, but that he has been coming into her room, “Just the past couple of months. I like watching your sleep.”
Bella seems nonplussed by his statement, but we won’t be with this scary stalker behavior. It may be time to invest in some bolts on your windows, girl!
5 10 Things I Hate About You
Considering the source material for this film, we can see that stalking as romance has been a story tool for some time, as this film was actually based on Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew. In order to date Bianca, Cameron must convince Kat (the shrew) to date. Bianca and Kat’s father set this rule that Bianca can’t date until Kat does. Cameron gets another (Heath Ledger as Patrick) to work to win Kat’s heart, so that he can date her younger sister.
Since Cameron collects information on Kat, Patrick has more luck in getting her interest. While both Patrick and Cameron display stalker-like behavior reminiscent to Pat and Ted in There’s Something About Mary, Cameron comes across more of the stalker. He seeks information about both sisters, follows details, and uses it to get what he wants.
4 This Means War
Two CIA agents fall in love with the same woman, Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), and do everything they can to win her affection. However, the agents are best friends, and the ensuing “war” puts their friendship to the test.
In order to win her affections and sabotage each other, both men stalk Lauren. They listen in and watch her talk to her best friend about them on a recording device placed in her home. In addition, each agent watches the date that she has with the other. In summary, Lauren has no privacy, and she is stalked from pretty much the very first frame by a pair of literal spies.
3 American Beauty
While this is a tale of midlife crisis, redemption, family, and questionable romantic interests, we see stalker-like behavior from the next-door neighbor, Ricky. His behavior is mainly focused on Jane, Lester’s (the main character) daughter.
One night Ricky creates a fire display of Jane’s name on the ground outside her window. Constantly, he’s filming her when she’s not aware of it, and when she’s aware. This is all supposed to be a romantic gesture, like Ricky is saying, “I see you” to an insecure Jane who’s starved for true companionship. But really, it just comes across as creepy.
2 Conspiracy Theory
While not really a romantic film (it is more of an action film), there is a romance that is the center of Conspiracy Theory. The unlikely love story features Jerry (Mel Gibson) and Alice (Julia Roberts), except that Alice doesn’t know that there is a romance going on.
Jerry watches her in her apartment with binoculars. He tells others that he has loved her from the first sight, but he doesn’t really know her. It seems that he may have been watching her (and fantasizing about her) for years.
While some of the entries on the list still retain their romantic charm despite the demonstrated stalker behavior, Flashdance’s romance makes us cringe. We love Alex Owens’ (Jennifer Beals) story in this 1980s classic. To earn what she can, she works hard at a steel mill during the day and at an exotic dance hall during the night. Throughout everything, she holds on to her dream and is triumphant.
But the romance here doesn’t age well at all. Her boss at the steel mill becomes attracted to her, finds information about her, and goes to see her perform at the exotic dance hall. The rest of the romance features him following her, disrespecting boundaries, and assuming he knows her world and what’s best for her. Not incredibly romantic, if you ask us.
NEXT: 10 Romance Movie Masterpieces You’ve Probably Never Seen