International Kissing Day: 15 of the most memorable screen kisses in movie history

From Gone with the Wind to God's Own Country, cinematic clinches are not always simple expressions of romantic love - and often reveal a great deal about the participants

Joe Sommerlad
Friday 06 July 2018 18:42 BST
Top five movie kisses

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


International Kissing Day so what better time to examine some of the greatest romantic moments in cinema?

Hollywood almost killed off the kiss in 1934 when the Motion Picture Production Code was introduced and ruled that screen clinches could last no longer than three seconds to save the public from irreversible moral corruption.

As was so often the case, it was Alfred Hitchcock who proved the innovator, realising that a much longer kiss could be incorporated so long as the actors interrupted themselves every three seconds to speak a line of dialogue, a tactic deployed to particularly smouldering effect by Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Notorious (1946).

After 1954, the code was relaxed considerably, allowing filmmakers far greater freedom in their handling of romantic scenes.

With that in mind, here’s our selection of some of the most noteworthy kisses in film history.

Gone with the Wind (1939)

“You need kissing... badly. You should be kissed – and often. And by someone who knows how,” Rhett Butler tells Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara (Vivian Leigh) in this box office sensation from producer extraordinaire David O Selznick.

But he doesn’t. Not yet. When they finally do – in a darkened drawing room, their faces lit by sunlight passing through the shutters – it’s a passionate response to her spurning his latest advances, promising she will always love Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) and not Rhett.

Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh in Gone with the Wind
Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh in Gone with the Wind (Everett Collection)

The surprise of the gesture temporarily silences her.

To Have and Have Not (1944)

One of the most famous examples of real-life chemistry flickering on screen, ageing tough guy Humphrey Bogart really did find love with co-star Lauren Bacall, then a fashion model and former cigarette girl half his age.

The film was made as the result of a bet between director Howard Hawks and author Ernest Hemingway that the former could make a masterpiece from what he considered to be the writer’s worst book.

Other actors have started relationships after meeting on set - notably Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams after shooting The Notebook (2004), Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie starring together in Mr and Mrs Smith (2005) and Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart after Twilight (2008) – but few have revealed their feelings so clearly on screen.

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From Here to Eternity (1953)

The image of Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster embracing in the Pacific surf in Fred Zinneman’s classic Second World War drama is among the most famous in all of cinema.

Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity
Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity (Irving Lippman/Columbia/Kobal/Rex)

The pair look perfect together in matching black swimwear, his muscular swimmer’s physique juxtaposing her slight frame.

“I never knew it could be like this,” she says, as George Duning’s orchestral score swells with the waves.

“No one ever kissed me the way you do.”

But the shoot at Halona Cove in Hawaii was actually deeply uncomfortable, the actors later remembered, plagued by wind-whipped sand and cold seas.

Lady and the Tramp (1955)

Another priceless scene – almost an all-purpose cultural shorthand for romantic love – comes in Disney’s beloved animation about a stray mongrel and a cocker spaniel who fall for one another despite their obvious class differences.

Disney’s Lady and the Tramp
Disney’s Lady and the Tramp (Moviestore/Rex)

The spaghetti date needs no introduction but deserves to be appreciated for the delicacy of its gestures: the way Tramp nudges the last meatball across the plate towards Lady with his nose; the slow meeting of their eyes as they slurp up the final string of pasta and close in for the kiss; the twinkle in her eyes. The scene is pure magic.

The Quiet Man (1952)

“It’s a bold one you are! Who gave you leave to be kissing me?”

In John Ford’s masterly Technicolor romance, American boxer Sean Thornton (John Wayne) returns to Ireland to reclaim his family home in Innisfree, where he falls in love with local beauty Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara).

Alone in the cottage on a windy evening, Thornton is surprised to find her hiding in the dark, grabs her hand as she attempts to flee through the front door and reels her in for a wordless kiss. An extraordinary moment, the billowing breeze externalising the raging storm within their hearts.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

The loveliness of Audrey Hepburn was sealed in amber when she starred in Blake Edward’s adaptation of Truman Capote’s novel about eccentric escort Holly Golightly.

George Peppard and Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany’s
George Peppard and Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany’s (Paramount/Kobal/Rex)

When Holly rushes out in the rain to find her cat at the film’s close, she is watched by George Peppard’s Paul.

Their eyes meet and they embrace for the kiss, the smug feline pressed between their raincoats. The relationship is sealed and the future is here.

The ending has been much intimated since, not least by Richard Curtis and remains a classic.

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

In George Lucas’s second Star Wars outing, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) kisses a recovering Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) passionately on the mouth – ostensibly to inspire jealousy in the arrogant Han Solo (Harrison Ford). Which is fine, until it is later revealed that they are in fact brother and sister.

Back to the Future (1985) likewise flirted with with incest when Marty McFly (Michael J Fox) travels back in time to 1955 and kisses his own mother (Lea Thompson), then a teenager.

When Harry Met Sally (1989)

Like David Lean’s celebrated British weepie Brief Encounter (1946), When Harry Met Sally is so appealing because it makes us wait for its characters to accept the unstoppable force of their feelings for one another.

Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally
Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally (Snap Stills/Rex)

Taking place at a climactic New Year’s Eve party where Frank Sinatra’s “It Had to Be You” gives way to “Auld Lang Syne” on the stereo, Harry (Billy Crystal) confronts Sally (Meg Ryan) with his feelings, listing the personality quirks he loves about her, from the wrinkle of her brow to the smell of her perfume.

“You say things like that and it makes it impossible for me to hate you," she snaps, a line simultaneously charming and moving for the happiness it portends.

Candyman (1992)

The horror genre has some deeply unsettling variations on the kiss, from Jack Nicholson’s clinch with a bath tub corpse in The Shining (1982) to Freddie Kreuger’s flickering tongue.

But few are more so than that between Tony Todd’s hook-handed ghost and Virginia Madsen’s Helen Lyle, an academic researching his urban legend who finds out to her cost that it is all too true.

In life, Candyman was tied down and smeared with honey by white racists before being stung to death by bees. His kiss – sealing Helen’s fate – sees these same bees rising up out of the actor’s throat and covering her face, an extraordinary practical effect and utterly chilling.

Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)

“Is it raining? I hadn’t noticed”

Hugh Grant kisses Andie MacDowell in Four Weddings and a Funeral (Rex)
Hugh Grant kisses Andie MacDowell in Four Weddings and a Funeral (Rex) (Rex features)

Andie McDowell’s delivery of that line has been much laughed at over the years but few moments in cinema are more pleasurable, perhaps explicitly because it embraces its own schmaltz without apology.

Titanic (1997)

While mainstream romantic dramas like An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), Ghost and Pretty Woman (both 1990) have all contributed unforgettable make-out scenes worthy of inclusion, Titanic takes some beating.

Leonardo Dicaprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic
Leonardo Dicaprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic (Rex)

Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet) kissing on the bow of the mighty ocean liner as the sun sets - arms extended to feel the sensation of flight as the sea breeze billows by - is once seen, never forgotten.

Cruel Intentions (1999)

Roger Kumble’s teen retelling of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’s scandalous 18th century epistolary novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses features an extraordinary kiss during a picnic in New York’s Central Park between Kathryn Merteuil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Cecile Caldwell (Selma Blair), the former worldly and manipulative, the latter naive and trusting to a fault.

While some may find the scene set to Blur’s “Coffee and TV” exploitative in hindsight – or the string of saliva trailing from their lips a tad gross – both actresses entirely commit and the effect is pretty breathtaking.

Planet of the Apes (2001)

Cross-species kisses are something of a rarity on film – with good reason.

In Franklin J Schaffner’s 1968 original, Charlton Heston’s astronaut tells Dr Zira (Kim Hunter) he would like to kiss her goodbye: “All right, but you’re so damned ugly”, she replies.

Tim Burton’s unpopular remake went one further and gave the relationship between Mark Wahlberg’s Captain Leo Davidson and Helena Bonham Carter’s chimpanzee Ari a romantic turn.

The fact that this was the film that began Burton and Bonham Carter’s own long personal and professional association is doubly odd.

Spider-Man (2002)

Rarely has a scene become so instantly iconic as the moment in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man when Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) kisses Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) hanging upside down in the rain, she peeling his mask away to reveal his mouth.

Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst don’t notice the rain in Spider-Man
Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst don’t notice the rain in Spider-Man (Rex)

Whether she suspects his true identity at that moment is left unsaid but it is precisely that ambiguity that makes the scene so stirring.

It perhaps owes a debt to Michael Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer’s costumed snog in Batman Returns (1992): “Mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it”/“But a kiss can be even deadlier if you mean it.”

God’s Own Country (2017)

We’ve seen an array of superb LGBT+ films in recent years, with Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013), Moonlight and Call Me By Your Name (both 2017) all telling stories of young love and coming out that feel entirely fresh.

In Francis Lee’s incredibly accomplished debut – a British answer to Brokeback Mountain (2005) - tensions boil over between depressed, alcoholic farmer Johnny (Josh O’Connor) and Gheorge (Alec Secareanu), the Romanian migrant worker hired to help him run the land he is due to inherit from his dying father.

A kiss born of a lifetime of anger, frustration, loneliness and fear, rarely has a physical gesture told us so much about its participants.

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