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Best movies about couples on the run


Warner Bros. / Seven Arts

Best movies about couples on the run

Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in “Bonnie and Clyde”

The notion of the “road movie” has been around since the early days of cinema.

Oftentimes, these films—in which characters embark upon a journey of self-discovery along the open road—intersect with broader genres, from dramas (2006’s “Little Miss Sunshine”) to comedies (1983’s “National Lampoon’s Vacation”) to horror films (1975’s “Race With the Devil”). Others are best described as a crossover between the road movie and the action genre; a handful of these represent well-known, high-intensity thrillers that play directly into the classic “couple on the run” trope.

Stacker surveyed the cinematic history of lovers on the run films and ranked the top 25 according to IMDb. To qualify for consideration, the movie had to focus on a romantic couple on the run and hold at least a 7.0 user rating on IMDb (with 5,000 votes) or a 70 Metascore (with at least seven reviews). Ties were broken by IMDb user votes.

The first instances of the trope’s appearance on the big screen go back at least to the story of Bonnie and Clyde, a young couple who escalated from small-time crime to full-on armed robbery. The pair popularized the romantic idea of the outlaw couple in the early 1930s, mere years before the earliest film on this list. Since Bonnie and Clyde first captured America’s attention, amorous criminal duos have become an idealized mainstay of pop culture.

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George Litto Productions

#25. Thieves Like Us (1974)

A screengrsab of a scene from “Thieves Like Us”

– Director: Robert Altman
– IMDb user rating: 7.0
– Metascore: 82
– Runtime: 123 minutes

“Thieves Like Us” follows convicted criminal Bowie (Keith Carradine) as he attempts to balance running from the police, robbing banks, and romancing Keechie (Shelley Duvall)—an easy task if not for his trigger-happy partner Chicamaw (John Schuck). Altman’s film is a faithful adaptation of the novel of the same name by Edward Anderson and went out of its way to film on location in Canton, Mississippi, to bring the small-town feel of the book to life.



Roxanne

#24. The Honeymoon Killers (1970)

Tony Lo Bianco and Shirley Stoler in “The Honeymoon Killers”

– Directors: Leonard Kastle, Martin Scorsese, Donald Volkman
– IMDb user rating: 7.0
– Metascore: 82
– Runtime: 107 minutes

A cult classic shot in a gritty black & white realist style, “The Honeymoon Killers” follows Martha (Shirley Stoler), a lonely nurse who falls in love with Ray Fernandez (Tony Lo Bianco), a con artist with a talent for seducing single women.

Martha discovers Ray’s criminal career and attempts to help, but her wild jealousy leads the pair into a serial killing spree of the women they target. The film takes its inspiration from the real-life “Lonely Hearts Killers” who, in the 1940s, targeted women who placed singles ads in the newspaper.



New Line Cinema

#23. My Own Private Idaho (1991)

Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix in “My Own Private Idaho”

– Director: Gus Van Sant
– IMDb user rating: 7.0
– Metascore: 77
– Runtime: 104 minutes

An anarchic road movie and a loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV,” “My Own Private Idaho” stars Keanu Reeves and the late River Phoenix, whose story takes place against the beautiful backdrop of the Pacific Northwest.

While Mike (Phoenix), a narcoleptic sex worker with a traumatic childhood, sets out to find his missing mother, he is accompanied by his close friend Scott (Reeves), a wealthy politician’s son using sex work as a way to rebel against his father. This film was added to the Criterion Collection in 2015 and has garnered a cult following largely due to Phoenix’s heartfelt performance and the queer-coded bond between the two leads.



Universal Pictures

#22. Out of Sight (1998)

Jennifer Lopez in a scene from “Out of Sight”

– Director: Steven Soderbergh
– IMDb user rating: 7.0
– Metascore: 85
– Runtime: 123 minutes

“Out of Sight” has an impressive set of names attached to it, with Stephen Soderbergh directing, Danny DeVito producing, and stars like George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Don Cheadle, and Catherine Keener gracing the screen. The plot centers around Clooney and Lopez as Jack and Karen, the former being a longtime bank robber and the latter working as a U.S. Marshal who will stop at nothing to track him down (and maybe flirt with him along the way).

The film was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film Editing at the Academy Awards in 1999, and in 2008 Entertainment Weekly voted it the “sexiest film of all time.”



Makeready

#21. Queen & Slim (2019)

Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith in “Queen & Slim”

– Director: Melina Matsoukas
– IMDb user rating: 7.1
– Metascore: 74
– Runtime: 132 minutes

“Queen & Slim” is the only film on this list to have come out in the past five years. But the romantic crime film fits in nicely amidst its older peers. Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) are forced to go on the run after an encounter with the police on their very first date. Written by Lena Waithe, who created the celebrated series “The Chi,” the film also features the talents of actress Chloë Sevigny, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, and country singer Sturgill Simpson.

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PolyGram Filmed Entertainment

#20. Wild at Heart (1990)

Nicolas Cage in “Wild at Heart”

– Director: David Lynch
– IMDb user rating: 7.2
– Metascore: 52
– Runtime: 125 minutes

In this high-stakes romantic thriller, Lula (Laura Dern) and Sailor (Nicolas Cage) run away to California to escape Sailor’s parole term and Lula’s controlling mother—who responds by hiring gangsters to hunt them down.

The film features a strikingly stacked cast, including Willem Dafoe, Diane Ladd, Isabella Rossellini, and Harry Dean Stanton. While the film received very mixed reviews upon its release (film critic Roger Ebert called it “repulsive and manipulative“), the film still managed to secure the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1990.



Warner Bros.

#19. Natural Born Killers (1994)

Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis in “Natural Born Killers”

– Director: Oliver Stone
– IMDb user rating: 7.2
– Metascore: 74
– Runtime: 119 minutes

“Natural Born Killers” stands out on this list due to its death toll of almost 100 people, the bloody handiwork of Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory (Juliette Lewis), a sadistic married couple who start and end the movie high-tailing it from the cops.

The plot follows the duo as they commit crimes all across New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada, becoming glorified figures in the media thanks to the television personality Wayne (Robert Downey Jr.). The film is still deeply controversial with the Washington Post calling it a “vulgarian sham” and Entertainment Weekly rating it eighth on its list of the “25 Most Controversial Movies Ever” for allegedly inspiring copycat killings.



Walter Wanger Productions

#18. You Only Live Once (1937)

Henry Fonda and Sylvia Sidney in “You Only Live Once”

– Director: Fritz Lang
– IMDb user rating: 7.3
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 86 minutes

Fritz Lang’s film noir crime drama tells the tragic tale of Eddie (Henry Fonda), who attempts to live a crime-free life with his wife Joan (Sylvia Sidney) upon his release from prison. This endeavor falls apart when Eddie is falsely accused of committing a bank robbery and is sentenced to death.

When our accused hero escapes at the last second, he goes on the run with Joan, who has become pregnant. Released in the early days of the Hays Code, about 15 minutes of footage determined to be too violent were cut from the film.



First Artists

#17. The Getaway (1972)

Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw in “The Getaway”

– Director: Sam Peckinpah
– IMDb user rating: 7.3
– Metascore: 55
– Runtime: 123 minutes

Based on the 1958 novel of the same name by Jim Thompson, “The Getaway” stars Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw in their primes as the criminal couple the McCoys. After being denied parole, Doc (McQueen) convinces his wife to cut a deal with a slimy but influential businessman for his freedom on the condition that he aid with a bank robbery upon his release.

However, when the robbery goes south, the couple is forced to run for the hills in the hopes of crossing the border into Mexico.



Avenue Pictures

#16. Drugstore Cowboy (1989)

Matt Dillon and Kelly Lynch in “Drugstore Cowboy”

– Director: Gus Van Sant
– IMDb user rating: 7.3
– Metascore: 82
– Runtime: 101 minutes

“Drugstore Cowboy” explores the lives of a drug-addicted gang led by Bob (Matt Dillon) and Dianne (Kelly Lynch), a married couple who are being surveilled by the police for frequently robbing local pharmacies. The film is based on an autobiography of the same name by James Fogle and received widespread acclaim upon its release, with critics specifically highlighting Gus Van Sant’s direction and Dillon’s performance.

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Circle Films

#15. Raising Arizona (1987)

Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter in “Raising Arizona”

– Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
– IMDb user rating: 7.3
– Metascore: 69
– Runtime: 94 minutes

Nicolas Cage once again headlines a film on this list, this time playing Hi, a career criminal who kidnaps one baby from a set of quintuplets with the help of his police officer wife Ed (Holly Hunter). Sure enough, the couple’s plan falls apart when Hi’s ex-partners escape from prison and crash at their trailer.

“Raising Arizona” is the Coen Brothers’ second feature film and their first foray into the comedy genre—a successful venture, it seems, given the film is ranked 31st on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Funniest American Films.



RKO Radio Pictures

#14. They Live by Night (1948)

Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell in “They Live by Night”

– Director: Nicholas Ray
– IMDb user rating: 7.4
– Metascore: 82
– Runtime: 95 minutes

Bowie (Farley Granger) and Keechie (Cathy O’Donnell) decide to go on the run after Bowie’s criminal partners botch a robbery—sound familiar? “They Live By Night” is an earlier adaptation of the novel “Thieves Like Us” by Edward Anderson, the same one that served as the basis for Robert Altman’s 1974 film of the same name, which ranked #25 on this list.

Unlike Altman’s film, however, this version tanked at the box office upon its release, likely due to it being one of the very first films to lean hard into the “couple on the run” trope, potentially shocking some viewers.



Les Films de la Pléiade

#13. Shoot the Piano Player (1960)

Charles Aznavour and Marie Dubois in “Shoot the Piano Player”

– Director: François Truffaut
– IMDb user rating: 7.4
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 92 minutes

This French crime drama follows concert pianist Édouard (Charles Aznavour) who, upon his wife’s suicide, changes his name to Charlie and gets a job playing piano at a bar. His quiet life is disrupted when his two older brothers steal from gangsters who begin to hunt Charlie to enact their revenge, forcing the pianist to go on the run with the bar’s waitress Léna (Marie Dubois).

This film noir marked a departure from François Truffaut’s first feature “The 400 Blows,” with “Shoot the Piano Player” honoring the culture and cinematic traditions of America rather than Truffault’s home nation of France.



Cinépix Film Properties (CFP)

#12. Buffalo ’66 (1998)

Christina Ricci in a scene from “Buffalo ’66”

– Director: Vincent Gallo
– IMDb user rating: 7.4
– Metascore: 68
– Runtime: 110 minutes

“Buffalo ’66” hinges upon the real-life events of the 1991 Super Bowl, where the Buffalo Bills lost the game due to one botched field goal. The film follows Billy (Vincent Gallo), who placed a steep bet favoring the Bills and, upon their loss, is forced to admit to a crime he didn’t commit as payment. After his release from prison, Billy kidnaps Layla (Christina Ricci) and passes her off as his wife to his parents before planning to kill Scott (Bob Wahl), the (fictional) Bills player who missed the deciding field goal.

Ricci, who was 17 years old during production, told HuffPost in 2015 that conditions on set for the low-budget film were challenging and described her director and co-star as a “raving lunatic.”



Prisma Film

#11. Revanche (2008)

Johannes Krisch anf Ursula Strauss in “Revanche”

– Director: Götz Spielmann
– IMDb user rating: 7.5
– Metascore: 84
– Runtime: 121 minutes

Alex (Johannes Krisch) and Tamara (Irina Potapenko) decide to rob a local bank and then go on the run. Unfortunately, they don’t account for Robert (Andreas Lust), a policeman, who shoots and accidentally kills Tamara in their escape, driving a grief-stricken Alex to hunt Robert down for revenge.

“Revanche” is an Austrian film that was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 2009 Academy Awards and received significant critical acclaim upon release, with the Los Angeles Times calling it “a darkly compelling film.”

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Films Georges de Beauregard

#10. Pierrot le Fou (1965)

Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina in “Pierrot le Fou”

– Director: Jean-Luc Godard
– IMDb user rating: 7.5
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 110 minutes

The first of two Jean-Luc Godard films on this list, “Pierrot le Fou” is a French crime drama with all of the director’s notable traits, including fourth-wall breaks, bright colors, and jarring editing. Ferdinand (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is a down-on-his-luck father who decides to run away with his ex-girlfriend Marianne (Anna Karina), a woman being hunted by a far-right military organization.

After Marianne christens Ferdinand with the nickname “Pierrot”—referencing a character in commedia dell’arte who often appears as a melancholic clown—the duo set off to the French Riviera while tensions rise between them.



Industrie Cinematografiche Italiane (ICI)

#9. Obsession (1943)

Clara Calamai and Massimo Girotti in “Obsession”

– Director: Luchino Visconti
– IMDb user rating: 7.6
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 140 minutes

Luchino Visconti’s directorial debut “Obsession” is an adaptation of James M. Cain’s novel “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and was filmed in the early 1940s while Italy was still a fascist state. This melodramatic neorealist film tells of a love affair between Giovanna (Clara Calamai), who is in a loveless marriage, and Gino (Massimo Girotti), a poor wanderer, as the pair attempt to run away together.

The film was banned and eventually destroyed by the fascist government, but Visconti secretly saved a copy.



King Brothers Productions

#8. Gun Crazy (1950)

Peggy Cummins and John Dall in “Gun Crazy”

– Director: Joseph H. Lewis
– IMDb user rating: 7.6
– Metascore: 74
– Runtime: 87 minutes

Another name for Joseph H. Lewis’ film noir “Gun Crazy” is “Deadly Is the Female,” which sets the tone for what the plot is about. Laurie (Peggy Cummins) is a carnival sharpshooter who marries Bart (John Dall), an emotionally stunted but skilled marksman. After they blow through Bart’s money on their honeymoon, Laurie forces him into a life of crime. The pair travel around robbing whatever stores they encounter but become identified by the news as Laurie’s desire for violence gets the attention of the FBI.



Double Play

#7. Running on Empty (1988)

River Phoenix in Running on “Empty”

– Director: Sidney Lumet
– IMDb user rating: 7.6
– Metascore: 67
– Runtime: 116 minutes

“My Own Private Idaho” actor River Phoenix stars as Danny Pope in this Sidney Lumet-directed drama. The couple on the run is actually Danny’s parents, Annie and Arthur, played by Christine Lahti and Judd Hirsch respectively. The couple were major figureheads in a counterculture movement responsible for a bombing years earlier and have lived their lives moving town-to-town, changing their names, and relying on financial aid from other activists much to their teenage son’s chagrin. The film was fairly well received, partly due to its inspiration from the Weather Underground, a group known for protesting the Vietnam War with bombings in the 1970s.



Warner Bros.

#6. Badlands (1973)

Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek in “Badlands”

– Director: Terrence Malick
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Metascore: 93
– Runtime: 94 minutes

Based on the actual killings perpetuated by Nebraskan teens Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate in 1958, “Badlands” sees 15-year-old Holly (Sissy Spacek) and 25-year-old Korean War veteran Kit (Martin Sheen) fake their deaths and rack up quite the kill count as they escape to Montana’s titular badlands. This film is director Terrence Malick’s feature film debut and was selected for the National Film Registry, which preserves films with a notable impact on culture or history.

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Les Productions Georges de Beauregard

#5. Breathless (1960)

Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg in “Breathless”

– Director: Jean-Luc Godard
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 90 minutes

In what critic Roger Ebert considers the first modern movie, Humphrey-Bogart-wannabe Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) shoots a policeman and attempts to evade arrest by hiding out with his American girlfriend Patricia (Jean Seberg). “Breathless” is the poster child for the French New Wave, a film movement originating in 1950s France that caught the imaginations of filmmakers and audiences alike due to its experimental and sociopolitical nature.



Warner Bros./Seven Arts

#4. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in “Bonnie and Clyde”

– Director: Arthur Penn
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Metascore: 86
– Runtime: 111 minutes

The story of “Bonnie and Clyde” is, as mentioned in the introduction, a classic that’s been reiterated in various formats over many years. But no adaptation has been as impactful or controversial as Arthur Penn’s 1967 film. Set against the backdrop of the Great Depression, Bonnie (Faye Dunaway) and Clyde (Warren Beatty) decide to take up a life of petty crime until they meet up with Moss (Michael J. Pollard), Buck (Gene Hackman), and Blanche (Estelle Parsons) and graduate to high-stakes bank robberies.

The film’s finale is brutal and has since been christened as one of the most shocking endings in Hollywood, inspiring the New Hollywood movement which brought more sex and violence into mainstream cinema.



Indian Paintbrush

#3. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Jason Schwartzman, Jared Gilman, and Kara Hayward in “Moonrise Kingdom”

– Director: Wes Anderson
– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Metascore: 84
– Runtime: 94 minutes

“Moonrise Kingdom” is a standout in Wes Anderson’s oeuvre due partly to the central romance between 12-year-olds Suzy and Sam, played by first-time film actors Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman respectively. The unlikely pair meet at a church play and become long-distance pen pals. When romance blooms they make a secret pact to run away to the woods together. Successfully capturing the exciting feeling of childhood and young love, “Moonrise Kingdom” was nominated for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar in 2013. It was included on the BBC’s list of the 100 Greatest Films of the 21st Century.



Morgan Creek Entertainment

#2. True Romance (1993)

Patricia Arquette and Christian Slater in “True Romance”

– Director: Tony Scott
– IMDb user rating: 7.9
– Metascore: 59
– Runtime: 119 minutes

“True Romance” is the brainchild of writer Quentin Tarantino and director Tony Scott, whose styles mesh to create a high-energy crime romance set in Southern California. Alabama (Patricia Arquette), a sex worker, and Clarence (Christian Slater), a massive fan of Elvis, fall in love before killing Alabama’s pimp and going on the run, unknowingly harboring a bag of cocaine.

This is another film on the list with an incredibly impressive cast, including Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman, Val Kilmer, Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken, and Samuel L. Jackson.



Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

#1. North by Northwest (1959)

Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in “North by Northwest”

– Director: Alfred Hitchcock
– IMDb user rating: 8.3
– Metascore: 98
– Runtime: 136 minutes

It should be no surprise to any cinephile that a film by Alfred Hitchcock ends up as number one on this list. And out of Hitchcock’s impressive oeuvre, “North By Northwest” is widely considered one of his very best. Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is the victim of a classic case of wrong-place-wrong-time as the innocent man is mistaken for a stranger named “Kaplan” and subsequently hunted by a group of spies. He eventually meets the real “Kaplan,” a U.S. agent named Eve (Eva Marie Saint), and the pair go on the run to bring Vandamm (James Mason), a major threat, to justice.

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