Spot the Conflict in Romance Movies

We pulled a post from our archives to review the ins and outs of internal and external conflicts, along with the top three pitfalls we see in romance submissions. If you haven’t already, we encourage you to check out this post!

But don’t stop there, why not study these concepts in action? We’ve taken a look at how conflict plays out in five romance films. Think about how these conflicts offer richness, tension and high stakes to each story.

Sleepless in Seattle (1993). This well-loved film certainly has conflict. Externally, distance and relationships with others are factors keeping Sam (Tom Hanks), who lives in Seattle, and Baltimore-based Annie (Meg Ryan) apart. Internally, Sam is still struggling with the death of his wife and doesn’t want to replace her. Meanwhile, Annie is torn about whether true love is out there, and struggles between settling for good guy Walter or taking a risk and finding “the one.”

The Philadelphia Story (1940). What makes this a great movie apart from the stellar cast and witty dialogue is the authentic emotion driving the characters’ actions. Tracy’s (Katherine Hepburn) high standards for herself and others not only broke her marriage, but continue to make it hard for her to figure out what she really wants. The arrival of Mike (Jimmy Stewart) on the scene not only provides an external conflict (misunderstandings, a potential romantic rival for George and Dexter) but is also the catalyst for Tracy’s personal growth and realization of what’s holding her back from loving Dexter. It’s a very smoothly executed blend of internal and external conflict!

Ever After (1998). Drew Barrymore is wonderful as Danielle de Barbarac, a Cinderella character living in Renaissance-era France. Wealth, class and a meddling stepmother are major external obstacles between Danielle and Prince Henry (Dougray Scott). Despite their attraction, we see each character trying to grasp the others’ perspective of the world (Danielle finds Henry out of touch, while Henry finds Danielle overly passionate). Danielle struggles with hiding her true identity (lying to royalty? The risks we take for love!), even as she helps Henry see the world for its possibilities. Henry must decide if he can forgive, and then rise to the challenge of being the king Danielle believes France deserves.

It Happened One Night (1934). This is a classic enemies-to-lovers forced proximity romance. And let’s face it, the conflict is largely external (interfering secondary characters, misunderstandings, and so on), but the whole thing is so entertaining, it hardly seems to matter. Claudette Colbert is the heiress on the lam, on her way to meet her fiancé, and Clark Gable is the reporter helping her (and covering the story for his newspaper). Their opposing goals barely conceal the fact that they’re perfect for one another, and it’s fun watching them fall in love. The movie and performances hold up well, proof that you can get away with quite a few well-worn tropes and contrivances if you’ve created likeable characters who feel genuine.

Something New (2006). In this film, a blind date sparks an unexpected romance between Kenya (Sanaa Lathan) and Brian (Simon Baker). This interracial couple struggles with outside opinions and doubts about fitting into each other’s worlds. Kenya’s Type A personality doesn’t allow her to relax into her attraction to Brian—the obsessively clean, straight-laced accountant is the total opposite of the laidback landscaper who literally likes to get his hands dirty. Kenya must learn to loosen her iron grip on control and let Brian in. While the stakes could be higher for the hero, and the internal conflict feels a bit one-sided, this movie is full of charm and sizzling chemistry to boot!

Watching romance films is a great exercise in studying conflict! And the best part is, you don’t have to feel guilty about taking a movie break—it’s work! Now it’s your turn, go watch a romance film, and spot the conflict. How does seeing the romantic conflict play out help you in your writing? As always, there’s no perfect formula, but you can always strive for that perfect balance.

Give us a romance film and your observations on the conflict presented in the comments below!

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  1. Chrissie

    The Ugly Truth. One of my fav LOL movies. The conflict is the heroine can’t stand her new male employee and hates to admit everything he says about relationships is true because she sucks at love/relationships herself. But her job is on the line. “Bring up the stats for the show or you’re out.” In walks the hero. As she listens and learns from the hero, she fights the attraction she feels toward him. He, on the other hand, lost at love and is refusing to let anyone close with his seemingly outlandish ways and brutal truth comments. I love the final scene in the hot air balloon where she goes to tell him off and they both give in to the subtle attraction they’ve felt for so long. *sigh* Funny and highly entertaining. Esp. the panties scene where he gives her a pair of vibrating panties and she wears them to dinner. Lol for sure. 🙂

  2. Jocelyn

    A few favorites –
    Roman Holiday (1953) A closely regulated traveling princess (Audrey Hepburn) accidentally spends some free time in Rome, where her identity is discovered by a jaded newspaper man (Gregory Peck) who needs a good story after being caught in a lie to his boss. Originally intent on using her, he falls in love as he explores the city with her. Torn between love and duty, she ultimately chooses the latter. Although they can’t be together, he must choose between love and the scoop of a lifetime and maybe his job. He doesn’t write the story. With this movie, I could watch a black and white film over and over again.

    While You Were Sleeping (1995) A lonely transit worker (Sandra Bullock) rescues her crush, a mugging victim from the tracks. In a mix-up, the hospital announces to his family that she is his fiancée, initiating a series of amusing events. Conflicts arise when the lonely Lucy wants to be part of the family she has fallen in love with, but her inclusion is based on a lie. Once she has gotten to know them, she’s fallen in love with the younger brother Jack (Bill Pullman) instead of her original crush – who is now awake and feels he needs to marry this unknown woman. The initially suspicious Jack falls for her, but, an innately self-sacrificing guy, he’ll give her up to his brother, if that’s who she wants. A delightful rom-com that sets the bar high for the genre.

  3. Kimber Li

    50 First Dates – A selfish man must learn selfLESSness in order to be with the girl he loves. She’s ideal for a One Night Stand because she has brain damage which prevents her from remembering what happened the day before. But, he falls in love, realizes he needs her for a lifetime, and then must work hard every single day to get her to fall in love with him again. All with the possibility that she may never be able to reciprocate. Also, this story involves Family who are also willing to do whatever it takes to care for her. This is a *believable* romance during a time when hot nookie alone is supposed to magically transform a selfish jerk into a faithful lover, something I’ve lived and been married too long to believe.

  4. Jeanna Louise Skinner

    Hitch

    Alex Fletcher is the “Date Doctor”, a self-styled romance guru who promises to get any man the woman of his dreams in just three dates. Only problem is, Alex himself doesn’t believe in what he’s selling. After being hurt when his relationship with “The One” ended, Alex might now have game, but he’s guarded and closed off to love. Cue sassy gossip journo, Sara Melas, who’s business is break ups – the messier and more public the better. As their relationship blossoms, Alex must keeps his “love Yoda” identity a secret – an ingredient that’s bound to lead to the arch enemy of HEAs – “misunderstanding”.

    When Alex’s latest client starts dating the most eligible heiress in NYC, Sara’s boss pushes her to exploit her interest in Alex in pursuit of a juicy story. Sara herself has commitment issues stemming from her younger sister’s near fatal accident when they were younger.
    Then Sara’s best friend is used by a douchebag player who claims to be one of Alex’s clients and Sara exposes Alex as a charlatan who tricks women into sleeping with skeevy guys.

    It’s only when Alex and Sara realise that love isn’t something you can plan, predict or control, do their conflicts disappear and they (and Alex’s client and the heiress) get their happy ever after.

    I love this movie for its fresh take on a romantic comedy, its interesting characters, intelligent dialogue, and clever use of external and internal conflicts.

  5. Sleepless In Seattle and Ever After are two favorites being led by Under The Tuscan Sun. Frances learns her husband is cheating on her by a writer she’d given a poor review to. Auspicious start. Her best friend encourages her to take a tour of Tuscany. Who wouldn’t hope to find a dream boat there? Well she goes through so much leading to finding her love, who doesn’t come until the very end. Such a beautiful story about a woman recovering and growing stronger while rehabbing the Villa Bramasole.
    A great film showing extreme conflict is The Lake House with two favorite characters. Both are extremely busy leading hectic lives. He is an architect and she a doctor. They begin as pen pals of a sort. They discover they are living in the same home but two years apart. There is no easy way to connect with someone from the past or the future is there? They set a date two years in the future to meet, what could go wrong? It will be next week for her and two years in the future for him. He never arrives!
    She decides to stop leaving him messages in their shared mailbox but discovers she actually witnessed his death! In an attempt to save him she leaves one more note. It does save him and they do meet. The movie ends there but the love and hope both characters must have felt throughout the film and ultimately at the end is overwhelming and I never tire of watching! As a matter of fact I know which movie I will watch tonight! Hoping my Alex Wyler will come meet me as I’m running my favorite trail.