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Hot TV and Movie Couples (and Hot Messes) to Spend Valentine's Day With

Some of these pop culture pairs are great together, others not so much.

CNET staff
12 min read

Love is in the air -- and on your screens. If there's any timeless, universal theme that hooks viewers of movies and TV, it's a good love story. With Valentine's Day almost here, here are some of the romances from the big and small screen that we'll love forever.

And because we're messy viewers who live for drama, we've also rounded up some of the top toxic relationships in pop culture. They remind us that just because a romance is written in the script doesn't mean it's written in the stars. 

These couples are relationship goals

outlander-2014-1
Starz

I fell in love with Claire and Jamie when a friend suggested the Outlander book series some 15 years ago. I initially blew her off because I despise romance novels. When I finally opened the first book, though, I was swept into the historical fiction and fantasy elements. But the true anchor of the books (and the amazing television series) is the power of Jamie and Claire's love across centuries, cultures, separations, other marriages(!) and repeated traumas.

Their love is so strong, so solid, so enduring that it has basically ruined me for anything less. When I think of the perfect man, it's pretty much Jamie, who I must constantly remind myself is a fictional character written by a woman. Oh well. I have nothing but admiration for this couple. 

Bonus: The onscreen chemistry between actors Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan is bloody-hell near perfect. 

--Natalie Weinstein

spiderman
Sony Pictures

I like to think of The Amazing Spider-Man as part superhero movie and part love story, and that's because of the palpable chemistry between Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker and Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy. In all the Spider-Man films, this depiction of the leading couple is the most captivating, dazzling and heartbreaking.

--Abrar Al-Heeti

download
Marvel Comics

Peter and Mary Jane (Spider-Man comics)

Peter and Gwen's comic relationship wasn't quite so electric as that of their cinematic counterparts, since Peter's dynamic with Mary Jane Watson was always way more fun. The two got closer in the wake of Gwen's death, got married in 1987 and balanced adult responsibilities with MJ's career and Peter's superhero-ing. Marriage is stressful in the Marvel Universe, but they had a loving, supportive partnership.

Until 2007. In the infamous storyline One More Day, Peter sold his marriage to the demon Mephisto to save a mortally wounded Aunt May and regain his secret identity (No Way Home's ending riffs on this). History was rewritten so they never tied the knot and Marvel had a fancy-free single Spidey again. 

The comics have done a frustrating will-they-won't-they dance since then, teasing the possibility of the pair getting back together. Just let Peter and MJ grow up and be happy, Marvel -- you have Miles Morales as a young, hip Spidey now.

--Sean Keane

eg-hajvxgacfxpk
CBC

When David and Patrick met, neither was necessarily at his best. The Rose clan was still recovering from their financial ruin, and Patrick was on the run from his ex-fiancee. The hopeful note to their relationship on Schitt's Creek, though, was that two people could forge a healthy relationship despite past screwups. And really, what more do you need to know than Patrick's acoustic cover of Simply the Best?

--Erin Carson

image
NBC

Clear eyes, full hearts, can't ever, ever, ever get divorced. On a TV show that was, on its surface, about high school football in a small Texas town, married couple Eric Taylor and Tami Taylor were the center of the series. Played by Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, the Taylors made you want to root for them right from the start. Their deep love was always evident -- even when they're whisper-yelling at each other under a table in the middle of a jam-packed party. Theirs was a partnership that felt real, in all its highs and lows. You knew they were in it to stay, and so was the audience. 

A lot of credit goes to Britton for signing on to the TV show -- after appearing as the coach's wife in the earlier movie -- only because the series creator promised her role wouldn't be a superficial one. And she fought to keep it that way. Connie Britton forever! 

--Anne Dujmovic 

preacher-1
Skip Bolen/AMC

Comics have given us some all-time-legendary romances (Lois and Clark, anyone?). But my favorite pairing in any medium probably is the burning love between Preacher's Jesse Custer and Tulip O'Hare, which manages to be one of the most aspirationally sexy romances ever, yet at the same time one of the realest. They can't get enough of each other, like all good heroic lovers, but they also like each other. 

The TV version (played by Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga) is more complex and flawed, and I love it too, but I always come back to the comic (written by Garth Ennis, with art by Steve Dillon et al). Preacher is a deranged, delicious cocktail of batshit-crazy action and chatty indie hangout, so Jesse and Tulip get into all-guns-blazing shootouts, then have amazing sex afterward. But then after that they talk about movies and take the piss out of each other and make each other laugh. To a young comics fan, it was a revelation about what a relationship could be. 

--Richard Knightwell

leslieben
NBC

Parks and Recreation introduced us all to the holiday Galentine's Day, so the perfect pairing for Leslie Knope is her girlfriends and breakfast food. But if the Parks and Rec protagonist had to be with someone other than her gal pals, I'm glad it's Ben Wyatt. The support and respect these two share for each other is swoonworthy. They started as rivals before emerging as a match as perfect as whipped cream and waffles.

--Meara Isenberg

donnajoe
NBC

Leslie and Ben aren't the only aspirational couple on Parks and Rec. Through the bulk of the show, Donna Meagle isn't exactly a romantic. She leads a fascinating and somewhat mysterious life, mostly off-screen. Donna, of all people, doesn't need a partner. She does absolutely fine on her own, with real estate across the country. She's cousins with Ginuwine. That's why it was a funny and sweet twist that her downfall would be an overly respectful elementary school math teacher named Joe. You have to figure -- if Donna was willing to settle down for Joe, he must have been pretty great.
--Erin Carson

airbender
Netflix

The relationship between Sokka and Suki is the only thing I care about in this show. OK, fine, that's absolute hyperbole, but it's genuinely what I feel in my heart when those two are on screen. While other pairings in Avatar get more attention, the relationship between Sokka and Suki feels the most authentic in its development over the three seasons. 

Sokka is goofy and sometimes closed-minded, and Suki challenges him to adjust his perspective. She gives him a chance to grow, and Sokka, to his credit, responds really well to that opportunity. They're fun and playful with each other, even though they're both warriors at heart, and I really love that they move toward each other over time.

--Adam Benjamin 

Janet Hubert and James Avery sit on a couch holding hands as Phil and Viv
Chris Haston/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Uncle Phil and the original Aunt Viv from '90s sitcom Fresh Prince of Bel-Air were an iconic couple for the way they were powerful both individually and when they came together. Each had their own career path, interests and skills, yet they still operated as a team to raise a strong, beautiful family.

Janet Hubert's Aunt Viv was talented in the arts, laid down the law wherever she went and kept everyone in the house in check (even when it meant going to pull Will and Carlton out of trouble, or putting Uncle Phil in his place). She was also able to be tender, soft, supportive and vulnerable with her husband when needed.

James Avery's Uncle Phil knew how to support and give Hubert's Aunt Viv space to be the woman she wanted and needed to be without feeling threatened. He knew when to step in and give her a break, or back her up, and when to back off and let her shine. Uncle Phil loved Aunt Viv for who she was and never tried to change anything about her. And vice versa.

--Theodore Liggians

mummy
Universal Studios

There have been several films called The Mummy, including the 1932 horror classic starring  Boris Karloff and Tom Cruise's 2017 take. But for me, the 1999 action/adventure/romance with Brendan Fraser, as dashing treasure hunter Rick O'Connell, and Rachel Weisz as earnest librarian and wannabe Egyptologist Evelyn Carnahan is the absolutely best because it's just so much fun to watch. 

Film critic Roger Ebert called it a "preposterous adventure" and said "there is hardly a thing I can say in its favor, except that I was cheered by nearly every minute of it." I agree, and what makes this campy, silly, ridiculous but old Hollywood-style adventure so great is the chemistry and budding romance between swashbuckling Rick and lovely, charming and oh-so-clever Evie. They're the perfect couple and we get to watch them pair up to vanquish the mummy and show us the magic of finding your soulmate.  

--Connie Guglielmo

Gerri rests her head on husband Tom's shoulder in bed in Another Year
Sony Pictures

In this profoundly moving 2010 film from Mike Leigh, older English couple Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen) epitomize the potential rewards of a loving and secure long-term partnership. The happily married 60-something couple finds quiet joy in the ordinary pursuits of daily life – tending a community garden together, laughing with old friends on a sunny afternoon, cheering on their adult son as he forges a new romance of his own. "We're very lucky," Gerri says. There's clearly more than just luck at play here, though. These two never lose sight of their appreciation for each other and the shared life they've created. 

The stability of Tom and Gerri's relationship brings both of them contentment, but it ultimately provides a safe haven where their lonely, less stable friends and family members find comfort as well -- and possibly even hope.      

--Leslie Katz 

Beth and Randall embrace and stare into each other's eyes in This Is Us
Ron Batzdorff/NBC

The Pearsons' lovely union steals the show. These two show up for each other in their marriage, and though life together isn't always easy, the bond is so strong the good times always seem to outweigh the bad. The most beautiful part is how they're able to bring their whole selves to the union (the good, bad and the ugly). The love story between Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) has pieces everyone can connect with, no matter their background or how they identify. 

Authenticity makes these two my favorite couple, ever. Beth depicts what it means to be a wife, mother, sister, friend and much more while not losing herself. Randall represents a man who's so confident, he's unafraid to show emotion and be vulnerable. If you've followed the series, you know Randall is behind many moments where you get so wrapped up in the story, before you know it tears are running down your face. 

--Arielle Burton

heartstopper-social
Netflix

Charlie (Joe Locke) and Nick (Kit Connor) have an adorable story about first love that I dearly wish would've been made back when I was in high school. Theirs is a super sweet, PG-rated journey that emphasizes the nervous happiness of discovering romantic feelings for someone for the first time. The pair feels lifted off the page of a book, and in a few cases that's literally true as the show re-creates scenes from the original Heartstopper web comic by Alice Oseman. I have a particular soft spot for the scene where Nick runs to Charlie's house in the rain to have an important conversation, and after Nick leaves, Charlie runs back into the rain to see Nick once more.

The pair's relationship is supported by a great cast, and it's treated as a safe space for the two to discover at their own pace. I'm excited to see the show continue; the second season of Heartstopper is currently in production. 

--Mike Sorrentino

Nessa looks at Smithy in Gavin & Stacey, while Smithy stares into the camera
BBC

You think this British sitcom is about the love trials of the show's main characters, Gavin and Stacey. But over three charming seasons, you become way more attached to their two best friends -- Smithy (James Corden) and Nessa (Ruth Jones) -- as they try to figure out if they can bridge jealousies, cultural differences and murky histories to become a couple.  

--Clifford Colby

Pam smiles while talking to Jim at his desk on The Office
NBC Universal Media

Workplace romances can end awkwardly, even explosively, but The Office produced at least one that proved co-workers can morph into a happy, lasting long-term partnership. I'm talking, of course, about Jim and Pam, who start out as bantering best buddies and end up married with kids. Like most good sitcom couples, they have hurdles to overcome to become and remain a couple, but they always end up fighting for each other and their love. 

Hey, if these two can make it through eight-hour days filled with Michael Scott and Dwight Schrute without closing their hearts to humanity, they can make it through anything.    

--Leslie Katz

Paul and Jamie lean their heads in to one another in Mad About You
NBC

Paul and Jamie Buchman always had something to say to each other. They bantered, bickered and bemoaned everything from a slanted kitchen floor to the symbolism of buying their first couch together. In the 2019 revival of the show, Jamie quipped that their arguments are like jazz. Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt brought a chemistry to their characters' relationship that made you believe they'd stick together for the long term -- even if they couldn't decide on a couch. 

--Erin Carson

And now for the relationship red flags

succession-hbo-s3e3-matthew-macfadyen-sarah-snook-1
Macall B. Polay/HBO

Can anyone in the Roy family maintain a healthy relationship? Judging by Logan's string of separations, Connor's tense relationship with former escort Willa, Kendall's failed marriage and whatever Roman's whole deal is, all signs point to no. From the outside, Shiv and Tom look like the exception: a sharp-elbowed power couple, perfectly positioned to climb the corporate ladder together and win the coveted kiss from Daddy.

Think again. Shiv might be more polished than her brothers, but she's as desperate and vicious in love as the rest. And her unassuming midwestern husband, hopelessly outclassed in the Roys' elite circles, outsources all his relationship frustration into a troubling obsession with her cousin. Shiv and Tom operate as partners and rivals in the race for corporate supremacy, all while trying to keep their marriage intact without sliding into "the whole box set death march." 

This relationship has withstood infidelity, corporate scandal and attempted impregnation, but the third season's bruising climax saw breaches of trust that would spell the end for any ordinary marriage. What does it mean for these two weirdos? The only thing I can say for sure is that things can only get worse.

--Sarah McDermott

Yennefer and Geralt share a kiss in The Witcher.
Netflix screenshot by CNET

Yennefer and Geralt definitely aren't meant to be, no matter how much they want it -- and how much I want it. She's a sorceress and he's a monster slayer, each with a lot of power, responsibility and trauma. Their lack of trust in each other and in their love also pretty much dooms them. 

However, I swear Yennefer and Geralt share the best onscreen kiss of all time. The scene takes place in her tent during a hunt for a dragon (season 1, episode 6). It isn't their first kiss. They've already had sex earlier in the season. But the vulnerability, tenderness and longing of that kiss are palpable. I could watch that kiss a hundred times.

You could say it's just incredible actors -- Anya Chalotra and Henry Cavill -- doing their jobs. But the desperately lonely backstories of Yennefer and Geralt infuse that kiss with depth and meaning. 

Any couple who can create a kiss like that are true star-crossed lovers, the most tragic kind and our most favorite kind.

--Natalie Weinstein

Midshot of Greg and Tanya standing outside a hotel
HBO Max

Trying to single out the worst couple from two seasons of White Lotus is sweat-inducing. Between the cheating, lying and condescension, it seems any pair on the show deserves the title.

For season 2, though, I'd have to bestow the honor on Tanya and Greg, as murder plots tend to rise above other marital issues. 

For season 1, Rachel and Shane is my pick. I obsessively watched the unraveling of the newlyweds' relationship, wondering how she or anyone could deal with a guy like the entitled and obnoxious Shane. Legend says he's still hung up over the Pineapple Suite.

--Meara Isenberg

Motherland
BBC screenshot by Jennifer Bisset/CNET

This not-great relationship is just a constant punch line, which is handy given it comes from British sitcom Motherland. Eternally stressed-out mom Julia (Anna Maxwell Martin) is racing all over London to take her kids to school and make it to work on time, while her absent husband Paul (Oliver Chris) is off on a middle-aged-man's cycling trip. Or he's on a stag do. Or he's hanging up on her to decide which coffee he wants to order at a cafe. Yeah, not the greatest parenting team … to the point that when you finally see them on screen together for one rare moment, it's a shock to the system. Poor Julia.

--Jennifer Bisset

Ryan and Marissa in The OC
Fox

I say this with immense affection for The O.C.: Ryan and Marissa were terrible together. In three seasons, they barely managed more than a few episodes in a row where they weren't in the middle of some drama, or an outright split. Whether it was Ryan's bottomless desire to try and rescue Marissa, or the apparent allure of constant brooding (neither of which are healthy, by the way), the pair refused to stop circling each other until they physically couldn't anymore. Some relationships just aren't meant to be.

--Erin Carson

Ray looks at Debra in Everybody Loves Raymond
CBS

There's an argument to be made that you can't dissect a half-hour primetime comedy too closely, otherwise very little would be plausible or comical. But despite Everybody Loves Raymond's funniest moments, the basis for the show was a grown man who couldn't set boundaries with his overbearing mother, and couldn't stand up for his wife. Ray was whiny and lazy around the house, which ultimately turned Debra into a caricature of a nagging wife. 

--Erin Carson

Marshall and Lily as a newly married couple on How I Met Your Mother
CBS

ESPECIALLY Marshall and Lily. I said what I said. 

--Erin Carson