As much as movie-goers love an old-fashioned romantic comedy with a happy ending, movie couples with a deteriorating relationship or unconventional means of professing love always fancy a handful of audiences. Be it exceptionally attractive romantic pairings or ignoring red flags with passionate demonstrations of love, dysfunctional movie couples highlight human beings’ innate flaws. Toxic love movies like these stand opposed to films with an optimistic outlook on the affair of love: many destructive relationships portrayed on-screen give audiences an adrenaline rush while proving love does not always win.

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Just as there are always several viewers looking for the ideal rom-com for the perfect date night, there’s likely also no shortage of audiences searching for movies about toxic relationships that highlight the very real flaws of love and romance. The best movies about dysfunctional relationships are often hard-hitting and don’t pull any punches when it comes to raw and heartbreaking depictions of messy toxic love.

15 ‘Birds Without Names’ (2017)

Director: Kazuya Shiraishi

Birds Without Names

Holding on to an idealized version of romance is not always the healthiest, as some toxic love movies show. Unable to keep herself away from her abusive ex-lover, Towako (Yu Aoi) engages in hollow flings while living idly with a man fifteen years her senior, Jinji (Sadao Abe), who idolizes her. Towako’s life takes an unexpected turn when she finds out her toxic ex-lover has gone missing five years ago, and she suspects Jinji to be the one responsible.

While keeping viewers at the edge of their seats regarding the real culprit, Birds Without Names is a cryptic gritty Japanese mystery thriller that provides an insight into victims of abusive relationships, which plays out like a self-punishment cycle. While it loses some of its steam halfway through, it still provides an insightful and worthwhile viewing experience.

Watch on Tubi

14 ‘Damage’ (1992)

Director: Louis Malle

Jeremy Irons and Juliette Binoche as Dr. Fleming and Anna in Damage

An erotic psychological thriller directed by Louis Malle, Damage oversees the moral plummet of a respected British Politician Dr. Stephen Fleming (Jeremy Irons), when he becomes romantically involved with his son’s fiancé Anna Barton (Juliette Binoche).

As evident in one of the film’s quotes: “Damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive,” the love between Fleming and Barton is societally forbidden while simultaneously interfering with the audiences’ moral compass. Damage offers guilt-ridden thrills and pulls no punches in assessing the aftermath of a toxic relationship with other loved ones. Its bigger swings often miss, but there are moments of raw emotionality that make this worth seeing.

Rent on Apple TV

13 ‘Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!’ (1989)

Director: Pedro Almodóvar

Antonio Banderas and Victoria Abril in Tie Me Up Tie Me Down
Image via Lauren Films

One look at the title reminds one of Fifty Shades of Grey, but Pedro Almodovar‘s take on the pleasures and perils of Stockholm Syndrome offers so much more than just superficial acts of sadomasochism.

Recently released from a mental health facility, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!sees an unstable but beguiling Ricky (Antonio Banderas) on a quest to kidnap Marina Osorio (Victoria Abril),a porn star-turned-actor with whom Ricky once shared intimacy. Amidst all the racy sequences and twisted love story, the 1989 dark rom-com offers a few laughs considering the outrageousness of its plot. Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! certainly hasn’t aged well, but there’s no denying it’s a clear depiction of toxic attraction.

Watch on Criterion

12 ‘Bitter Moon’ (1992)

Director: Roman Polanski

Peter Coyote and Emmanuelle Seigner in Bitter Moon

What happens when love becomes too passionate and all so consuming? It crashes and burns, viscerally exemplified in Bitter Moon. The steamy romance drama movie centers around two couples, Nigel (Hugh Grant) and Fiona (Kristin Scott Thomas), who make up an ordinary couple, yet bored by each other’s unadventurous spirits in the romance department. On the other hand, Oscar (Peter Coyote) and Mimi (Emmanuelle Seigner)’s passionate love affair over the years has survived bouts of ruinous jealousy, undaunted sexual exploration, and countless reconciliations.

Bitter Moon suffers from an oscillating tone and a questionable script, veering into so-bad-it’s-good territory (with many just finding it plainly bad). Those who see it as a darkly comedic take on toxic romance will likely embrace Polanski’s vision here, as some critics have over the years.

Rent on Apple TV

11 ‘Heathers’ (1989)

Winona Ryder and Christian Slater in Heathers
Image via Anchor Bay

Tired of John Hughes‘ oeuvre of upbeat high-school romantic comedy, Heathers is the go-to flick for some dark comedy and anti-Valentines Day vibes. After new student J.D (Christian Slater) arrives, high school student Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) strays further from her popular clique and becomes involved in a series of murders staged as teenage suicides.

Fans of Mean Girls and The Lost Boys will share a mutual admiration for the teen film due to its timeless quality and witty account of archetypal high school drama. Not to mention the unorthodox but undeniable attraction between the two lovebirds, J.D and Veronica, that redefines “toxic relationships.” Often hailed as one of the best dark comedies of all time, new viewers may not get what Heathers has to offer, but long-time fans have likely seen the classic more than once.

Heathers

Release Date
March 31, 1989

Director
Michael Lehmann

Cast
Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk, Kim Walker, Penelope Milford

Rating
R

Runtime
103

Watch on Prime Video

10 ‘Possession’ (1981)

Director: Andrzej Żuławski

Diner scene in Possession

One of the horror genre’s underrated gems, Possession sees the relationship between an international spy Mark (Sam Neill), and his wife, Anna (Isabelle Adjani), collapsing, with the latter being suspected of having an affair. The truth is not always in plain sight as she exhibits increasingly bizarre behaviors that indicate the paranormal might be at the helm of Anna.

When audiences are least expecting, Possession transforms from a typical commentary on failing marriages into a body-horror film thematically engorging on the spectacle of a relationship turned sour and separation anxiety. This melding of genres and bold direction initially caused the 1981 film to be received with mixed to negative reviews, but it has since gained a cult following from horror fans who appreciate its uncompromising strangeness.

Possession (1981)

Release Date
May 25, 1981

Director
Andrzej Zulawski

Cast
Isabelle Adjani, Sam Neill, Margit Carstensen, Heinz Bennent

Rating
R

Runtime
124 minutes

Watch on Shudder

9 ‘Natural Born Killers’ (1994)

Director: Oliver Stone

Natural Born Killers
Image via Warner Bros.

Having the same relationship goals can lead to a stronger relationship: Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory Knox (Juliette Lewis) indeed share the same goals — committing as much violence as humanly possible. No bad relationship movies list is complete without this duo.

After a meet-cute moment played out like an ’80s family sitcom, Natural Born Killers follows the Knox couple as they go on a killing spree. Their serial murders eventually catch the eye of an equally dangerous detective and the mass media, which glorifies their malignant deeds. The 1994 American crime film also garnered controversy with the media in real life for allegedly inspiring copycat crimes. It was also criticized for its ineffective satire that aimed but failed to comment on obsession with pop culture. However, Natural Born Killers‘ far-reaching influence and iconic duo have nevertheless earned it a place in the annals of film history.

Natural Born Killers

Release Date
August 26, 1994

Director
Oliver Stone

Cast
Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Tom Sizemore, Rodney Dangerfield, Everett Quinton, Jared Harris

Rating
R

Runtime
119 minutes

Rent on Apple TV

8 ‘Blue Valentine’ (2010)

Director: Derek Cianfrance

Ryan Gosling holding Michelle Williams' face in his hands in 'Blue Valentine'
Image via The Weinstein Company

A defining film from the 2010s, Blue Valentine still has one of the most powerful displays of unhealthy relationships in movies. It’s centered on the failing relationship between Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams), told from the earliest (and happiest) days of their romance to the more complicated and messier bitter end of their marriage.

The heartbreaking journey highlights the highest highs and inevitable lows that even the most picture-perfect connections can end up with. It’s a somber and honest exploration of the realistic problems that come with long-term relationships, and all the painful moments that can accompany them.

blue valentine

Release Date
December 16, 2010

Director
Derek Cianfrance

Cast
Mike Vogel, Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, Ben Shenkman, John Doman, Reila Aphrodite

Rating
R

Runtime
120

Watch on Max

7 ‘Decision to Leave’ (2022)

Director: Park Chan-wook

A man and a woman look at each other in Decision to Leave

Director Park Chan-wook‘s latest thrilling mystery movie, Decision to Leave, follows a disillusioned detective with insomnia as he investigates the bizarre death of a man in the mountains. As he unravels the web of lies around the case, he finds himself falling for the victim’s enigmatic wife (who also happens to be the prime suspect).

The atypical and toxic relationship that forms between Det. Jang Hae-jun (Park Hae-il) and Song Seo-rae (Tang Wei) plays out like a messed-up version of the will-they-won’t-they trope. Decision to Leave is a visually stunning and captivating film that explores how far the protagonists are willing to go as their twisted attraction and toxic love consume their lives and the course of the murder investigation.

Watch on Mubi

6 ‘Blue is the Warmest Color’ (2013)

Director: Abdellatif Kechiche

Adele-and-Emma-in-Blue-is-the-Warmest-Color-1
Image via Wild Bunch

Blue is the Warmest Color is a classic coming-of-age romance movie that focuses on story of Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos), a young and naive student who falls for the mature and cool Emma (Léa Seydoux). The film chronicles their relationship throughout the years, depicting the exciting period of getting to know each other, the moments of jealousy and confusion, and their bittersweet separation.

With a strong focus on sexuality and a raw depiction of the toxic dynamic that develops between the two leads, the French film was unsurprisingly controversial when it first premiered. Blue is the Warmest Color now regarded as one of the best LGBTQ+ movies ever made, and is a must-see for viewers in the mood for heartache.

Blue is the Warmest Color

Release Date
October 9, 2013

Director
Abdellatif Kechiche

Cast
Lea Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Salim Kechiouche, Aurélien Recoing, Catherine Salée, Benjamin Siksou

Rating
NC-17

Runtime
180 minutes

Watch on Tubi

5 ‘Happy Together’ (1997)

Director: Wong Kar-wai

Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung in Happy Together

“Let’s start over again,” says Ho Po-Wing (Leslie Cheung) to Lai Yiu-Fai (Tony Leung) amidst their umpteen breakups and ensuing reconciliations. Under the meticulous direction of prominent Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai, Happy Together turns a destructive same-sex relationship into a poignant tale of romantic redemption.

By residing in an alienated land and surrounded by foreign people, the longing sense for the other is fortified to the extent that all hostilities and betrayals in the past are overlooked in exchange for familiar intimacy. This 1997 classic is a must-see tear-jerking Asian LGBTQ+ masterpiece.

Watch on Max

4 ‘The Worst Person in the World’ (2021)

Director: Joachim Trier

The-Worst-Person-in-the-World
Image Via SF Studios

A brilliant contemporary dramedy by Joachim Trier, The Worst Person in the World follows the ups and downs of Julie’s (Renate Reinsve) life. She navigates unsatisfying romantic relationships and struggles with her own identity, dreams and goals throughout the film, which highlights the pressures women face and the universal frightening uncertainties people share.

More of a thought-provoking narrative about life rather than a romantic story, the movie invites audiences to confront their own insecurities and fears as Julie deals with her unhealthy relationships (with others and with herself). The Worst Person in the World is a fantastic and moving showcase of self-discovery and a philosophical approach to depicting life and love on the big screen.

The Worst Person in the World

Release Date
July 8, 2021

Director
Joachim Trier

Cast
Renate Reinsve, Anders Danielsen Lie, Herbert Nordrum

Rating
R

Runtime
128

Watch on Hulu

3 ‘Marriage Story’ (2019)

adam driver crying emotional marriage story scarlett johansson

An essential example often cited alongside other movies with toxic relationships, Marriage Story revolves around the story of Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson), who are undergoing a divorce. Once a happy couple in love, the film delves into the reasons and events that led to their separation, as well as its impact on them, their friends, and their family.

The award-winning Netflix Original movie is a heart-wrenching deep dive into real issues that married couples face. With stellar performances from Driver and Johansson, it’s impossible not to get swept up in Marriage Story‘s emotional narrative that manages to feel both unbelievably grand and profoundly intimate.

Marriage Story

Release Date
September 28, 2019

Director
Noah Baumbach

Cast
Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern, Adam Driver, Ray Liotta, Merritt Wever, Mark O’Brien

Rating
R

Runtime
136

Watch on Netflix

2 ‘Gone Girl’ (2014)

Director: David Fincher

Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck in Gone Girl

Fan-favorite “Cool Girl” Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) and her vengeance towards her cheating husband Nick (Ben Affleck) will not be sorely missed out. One of the most popular toxic romance movies, Gone Girl initially portrays Amy as a white suburban wife and perfect woman, gradually revealing her true intentions behind her alleged kidnapping while consolidating her status as one of cinema’s beloved anti-heroes.

Both Amy and Nick strive to be better versions of themselves, pretending to be people they are not. When they fail to keep up with their romanticized images, Amy and Nick seek to destroy each other in sickness and health. Gone Girl presents a delicious mix of crime and dysfunctional romance, with Amy and Nick’s twisted story being one that fans likely wish they could discover for the first time all over again.

Gone Girl

Release Date
October 1, 2014

Director
David Fincher

Cast
Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens

Rating
R

Runtime
145

Watch on Max

1 ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ (2004)

Director: Michel Gondry

Joel and Clementine in bed together in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Jim Carrey sheds his comedic skin and metamorphoses into one of his best dramatic movie roles in the beloved indie darling Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Carrey masterfully plays Joel, a man heartbroken knowing his girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet) underwent a procedure to have memories of him erased from hers. Joel decides to follow in her footsteps but soon regrets his decision when his love for Clementine remains strong.

Alongside the equally splendid and chameleon-like Winslet, the 2004 science-fiction romance drama is fueled by an unabashedly optimistic outlook on a pessimistic relationship. Among the best movies with toxic relationships, Joel and Clem are doomed to rekindle their flawed romance again and again due to being blindsided by their good memories.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Release Date
March 19, 2004

Director
Michel Gondry

Cast
Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Gerry Robert Byrne, Elijah Wood, Thomas Jay Ryan, Mark Ruffalo

Rating
R

Runtime
108

Watch on Peacock

NEXT: Great Romantic Movies Where the Lovers Don’t End Up Together

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