A Wedding Day trope, focusing on the bride who abandons her groom at the altar, either to be with her new flame or to celebrate her independence. This often occurs at the climax of the movie, and is frequently treated as being a heartwarming and positive affirmation of the power of True Love/Independent Women for the would-be bride. The fact that it's also a humiliating, heartbreaking, psychologically-scarring betrayal for the would-be groom tends to be glossed over. Often occurs after the priest has said, "Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace."
Alternately, we get stories focusing on the heartbroken bride who is left at the altar, and the absolute cad who ran away and left her there.
This trope could be the result of societal expectations. Men are expected to have cold feet before a wedding, stereotypically speaking. It's supposed to be more shocking when it's the woman who backs out to be free and single, or run away with another man. Since this offers zero comfort to the poor schlub who just got dumped in front of his family and friends on his big day, writers are careful not to develop the would-be groom too much—or they flat-out make him the villain—to keep audiences from sympathizing with him and calling her out on her recklessness.
While it is more common in modern works for it to be the woman who is viewed sympathetically, whether she is the runaway partner or the jilted-at-the-altar partner, there are plenty of cases of it being played the other way. Generally, it depends on the gender of the protagonist.
If these characters think a bit more and made their escape before the ceremony, they become Runaway Fiancé(e)s instead. Less humiliating for the other parts implied, but not that much.
If you were looking for the Doctor Who episode, see Doctor Who 2006 CS "The Runaway Bride". The Julia Roberts movie can be found here.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
Full Metal Panic!'s Melissa Mao tells a story about her dealing with an unwanted Arranged Marriage by dumping the groom at the altar and joining the Marines. In her wedding dress. For added fun it's mentioned that the guys at the recruiting station were a little leery of inducting a girl in a wedding dress, until she mentioned that her father (who'd arranged the marriage) was a colonel in the Air Force. After they heard that, they signed her right up just to spite him.
Gankutsuou has Eugenie, who was being forced to marry Andrea (who was forcing the issue out of revenge, and also because he's a sick man who has a thing for incest). Luckily for her, Albert and Peppo disguise themselves as maids, and manage to stop the wedding by helping Eugenie run away from Andrea at the altar.
Empath assumes that this is what happened to Smurfette at his wedding day in the Empath: The Luckiest Smurf story "Empath's Wedding" when he enters her house and sees that his hat (which is what she's supposed to wear to signify who she's marrying) lying on the floor, until Smurfette's companion and wedding guest Blue Eyes points out that she's been magically transported by someone...and Empath correctly assumes that it's Chlorhydris, who's getting even for her ruined wedding night by ruining Empath's wedding.
The trope takes its name from Runaway Bride, a Julia Roberts movie about a woman who repeatedly does this.
Subverted by The Wedding Singer, in which the bride who does this to her groom is in no way treated sympathetically, and her motives are revealed to be both shallow and, as her husband-to-be quite reasonably points out, nothing which couldn't have been raised the day before the wedding, thus sparing him some humiliation at least.
Linda: I don't need more time, Robbie. I don't ever want to marry you. Robbie: [deep breath] Gee. You know that information...really would've been more useful to me yesterday. ... Linda: The point is, I woke up this morning and realized I'm about to get married to a wedding singer? I am never gonna leave Richfield! Robbie: Why do you need to leave Richfield? We grew up here. All our friends are here; it's the perfect place to raise a family. Linda: Oh, yeah - sure! Living in your sister's basement with five kids while you're off every weekends doing wedding gigs at a whoppin' sixty bucks a pop? Robbie: Once again; things that could've been brought to my attention YESTERDAY!
There's The Graduate, which is not ignorant of the implications of the act. Not only is the ceremony already over by the time they do it, after the thrill of the act wears off they're left sitting apart from each other on a bus, both with looks on their faces that say "Did we really just do the right thing?"
In Made Of Honor, after the would-be bride kisses the hero, the bride's mother smiles at her neighbour, overjoyed the heartwarming sight... only to have her smile falter as her neighbor, the understandably irked mother of the groom glares at her. The jilted groom, while accepting the wedding is off ends up punching the hero in the face, and is not exactly portrayed as being wrong in doing so.
Groom's Mother: "unintelligibly mangled due to accent"
Hero: "What'd she say?"
Groom: "She said I should deck you."
Groom: "She's right." PUNCH!
In Saving Face, in something of a Shout-Out to The Graduate (staged in a similar manner), the heroine gets her pregnant mother to abandon the guy her grandfather had bullied her into marrying at the altar. The mother then ends up with the guy who fathered the baby, though he was pretty passive through the entire movie.
In Spaceballs, Princess Vespa does this to the uninspiring Prince Valium twice, once at the beginning of the movie, and once at the end when her true love Lone Starr crashes the wedding ceremony. Valium doesn't really seem to mind, though. Partially because he's a narcoleptic that has no dialog anyway, and partly because the only reason the two of them were getting married at all was because Valium and Vespa were the only Princess and Prince in the universe, respectively. Until Lone Starr finds out he's a prince too, thus fixing the problem.
The Frank Capra classic 1934 Screwball ComedyIt Happened One Night: Claudette Colbert runs away from her wedding to a rich playboy in favor of Clark Gable's smart-mouthed freelance journalist—with her father's subtle encouragement (he had the getaway car ready). The movie does note that the scene is extremely embarrassing to said playboy when this is foreshadowed earlier in the film, at least acknowledging the effect on the groom (though also implying he deserved it in the same scene).
Frog, Sally Field's character in the Smokey and the Bandit trilogy, does this twice to Sheriff Justice's painfully incompetent son Junior. At the beginning of the first movie, she simply wants to get away from Junior; in the second movie, she runs away because Bandit is about to make a lucrative cargo run and Frog was offered a piece of the action by Snowman, the Bandit's partner.
Played with in the recent film The Proposal. After spending a weekend with the groom's family, the bride confessed at the altar to the whole family that she had blackmailed the man (her subordinate at the New York publishing firm where they both worked) into marrying her to avoid being deported. Of course after the tearful departure and as she was packing up her office the guy managed to catch up to her and propose for real.
Also played with in While You Were Sleeping - the bride waited until the wedding ceremony to confess that she had just pretended to be the fiancee so that she could be a creepy voyeur check in on the guy she had a crush on when a serious accident landed him in a coma. (Incidentally, Sandra Bullock played the bride in question for both this and The Proposal.) To be fair to her, this one at least tried to tell the family the real situation a few times before this but something always seemed to interrupt her.
The title character in Penelope becomes this, after a suitor proposes to her only to save his reputation, and she accepts only to break the curse. He is greatly relieved when she runs.
Tala in I Can't Think Straight is a serial Runaway Bride, having a history of dating whatever young successful man that her parents would approve of only to break it up once the wedding was up. At the start of the movie she is on fiancée nr. 4, and her relatives are placing bets whether she break it up before or after the engagement dinner. Turns out she has a really good reason for her behavior (It's all there in the title).
Tala:[On her sister needing to call her boyfriend and tell him what she is doing] That is exactly the kind of relationship I want to avoid. At all cost. Leyla: So your fiancée isn't like that? Tala: Hani? No. He is an Arab. Is born and brought up in Jordan. But he is different from the rest. Kind. Open minded. And he makes a great martini. Leyla: He sounds wonderful. Tala: Yeah. He is.... He is. At least I can't find anything wrong with him. Leyla:Why are you trying? [Pregnant pause while Tala stares into Leylas eyes, before changing the subject.)
In typical French comedic style, the film Heartbreakerhas the bride walking down to the aisle to her utter saint of a groom with her father whispering in her ear he knows he's not what will make her happy, and turning and running off just as she reaches the altar, on her way to be with the hero. A clip shown during the credits shows the groom still being an utter saint about it, even while hearing comments about how horrible a thing it was to do and how he can do better anyway from the bride's Gold Digger best friend.
In some Robin Hood stories, Robin and his Merry Men stop a young maiden marrying some rich, old Norman scoundrel so she can be with her true love (often Alan-a-Dale). Of course, this was more justifiable when the Arranged Marriage was common.
In Robin of Sherwood, the groom was the Sheriff of Nottingham. Who made it quite clear he couldn't stand the girl, and was just interested in the dowry. When the Merry Men rescue her, but fail to steal the money, he's delighted.
Jane Eyre ran away, though not without reason - technically, the wedding had already been canceled. All Rochester could offer her was the chance to be his mistress and Jane could not compromise her morals.
In Federico García Lorca's Blood Wedding, the Bride runs away with her cousin's husband, AFTER she gets married to another man.
At the very end of Emily's Quest, Ilse abandons her marriage to Teddy Kent when she hears that Perry Kent, her true love, has been killed in a car crash. Fortunately, he wasn't killed, just rather injured, so she ends up marrying him instead.
In the Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor", the bride vanishes directly after the wedding. Everyone assumes she's met with foul play, but in fact she's run off with her previous husband, whom she had believed to be dead until he tracked her down the day of the ceremony.
In the first Sweet Valley High Saga book, Alice Robertson (the future mother of the twins) runs out on her fiance Hank Patman (the future father of Bruce), partly when she realizes at the last minute that she doesn't really love him and that they're not right for each other, but mostly because of her falling in Love at First Sight with Ned Wakefield (and according to the book, their ancestors have been trying to hook up for nearly 200 years).
In the last "Sisters Grimm" Book, 'The Council of Mirrors', Sabrina's wedding is crashed by Puck. Wouldn't apply, except that the epilogue shows that she and Puck now have two kids together. Ouch for her would-be husband, Bradley, whom we never hear of again.
The Mark of the Horse Lord: The King of the Dalriadain's wedding ceremony includes a bit where the groom and his mates chase down the bride who's pretending to flee on horseback. The hero's queen-to-be Murna, who considers the whole situation an And Now You Must Marry Me, actually goes for the breakaway.
Live Action TV
This is how Happy Endings begins, with Alex running away from Dave (with a guy on rollerblades). However, since both Dave and Alex are main characters, neither are really demonized-Alex has legitimate reasons for not wanting to be with Dave, and Dave comes to forgive Alex after she apologizes, and the two eventually become friends.
Played straight at the end of the seventh series of Frasier, in which Daphne abandons her groom at the altar to be with Niles; subverted in the next season in that, rather than running away, both Niles and Daphne elect to confess to their respective partners and face the music. The show also treats the occurrence in a somewhat realistic fashion, in which both Niles and Daphne have to contend with the bitter and spiteful (if pretty justified) reactions of their partners and insecurity in their relationship in the episodes that follow, rather than it being an automatic Happily Ever After for the two.
This happened to Frasier in Cheers, as Diane left him at the altar for Sam. You'd think, then, that he might have been a bit more disapproving of the above.
In Doctor Who, Amy Pond joins the Eleventh Doctor in the TARDIS the night before her wedding. In this case, she rationalizes that she can use the time machine to come back whenever she wants and not actually miss the date - and theoretically, her groom would never know. Naturally, it's not that simple since Rory does find out due to the Doctor's meddling and he isn't happy. Then at one point Rory gets removed from time altogether. In the end, they do get married and the show moves on to depict what a married couple on the TARDIS would go experience.
Shane in The L Word. After a reunion with her estranged father, who shares her womanizing tendencies, spooked her into thinking that if she went ahead with her wedding to Carmen and started a family, she'd eventually abandon them just like her father did to her, Shane decided that leaving her bride at the altar would be the lesser evil.
Parodied in an episode of The King of Queens. Spence discovers his old girlfriend is getting married, realizes he still has feelings for her, so he and his friends have to drive over to the place the wedding is being held to tell her. After plenty of wacky events that delay them getting there, they get there just when the priest is giving the "if anyone objects to this union, let them speak now or forever hold their silence" line. Spence is about to step forward and object, when another guy in the audience stands up, declares his love for the bride, and she runs off with him instead.
Rachel ran away from her wedding in the pilot. This was the first event in the series and the cause of many problems for her, so it's basically the 'setup' for Rachel's character. It was later revealed that her groom was already cheating on her and an alternate universe episode showed that had she actually married him, the marriage would have been miserable and eventually collapsed due to his infidelity.
Double Subverted later on in the series, when Ross says the wrong name at the altar and his fiance feels like turning he back on him but finishes the ceremony before fleeing the reception. She later comes back to fly with Ross on their honeymoon, but he's with Rachel. She runs away again and mails him the divorce papers. Rachel lampshades this later on, when Emily locks herself in the bathroom: "When I was in the bathroom at my own wedding, I was trying to escape through the window."
Done twice in an episode of Monk: An man is found innocent of a murder Monk worked on, and Monk (feeling very guilty about putting an innocent man in jail) helps him get back together with his ex-girlfriend on her wedding day. It's later discovered that the man was guilty, and Monk helps the girlfriend reunite with her fiance, again at the altar.
Despite obviously still having feelings for Hank, as even Bill's daughter points out, Californication's Karen goes through with the exchange of vows, only to run away with Hank at the after-wedding party.
Stella abandons Ted at the alter for her ex. He's mad at first, but then accepts her decision shortly after. The trope may count as a Deconstruction by showing how hard it was for Ted to go through that and how he carried it around afterwards.
It was then parodied when a in-verse movie called "The Wedding Bride" was made about it that Flanderized Ted into a pantomime villain fiancée and Tony into a muscle bound Purity Sue.
The season 7 finale has Ted escorting a runaway Victoria away from her wedding because of her doubts.
Suddenly Susan starts when Susan (Brooke Shields) escapes from her wedding ceremony and even gets to rip her gown when she gets out of the church. Much like the Will and Grace example above, it's revealed the guy was a jerk who would no doubt have eventually made her miserable, but she's still blasted by pretty much everyone (who all quite reasonably ask why she waited until literally the last minute to dump him) except for his brother, who hates him and relishes the humiliation he'll suffer.
In The Drew Carey Show, Drew marries Lily Crawford, but she jumps in the limo and drives off alone, with the explanation of "I can't do this."
In A Different World, Dwayne proposes to Whitley—as she's marrying another man. He's being dragged off by security guards, but still pleading with her to accept when she yells out "I DO!", then offers a lame apology to her groom before dashing down the aisle into Dwayne's arms.
Happens in the final episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch when examines her and her fiancé's "Soulstones," which don't fit together, meaning they're not actually soul mates. She tells her would-be groom that she's unsure about the wedding and the two agree to call it off. Once outside the church, though, she happens to see her original love interest Harvey...and it turns out their soulstones fit. Not quite an altar abandonment in that both the guy and the girl mutually agree to end the ceremony, but they still gloss it over for the guy.
Carol did it to Jodie on Soap. Justified because they were only getting married because she was pregnant, and she'd been expressing reservations from the beginning.
Done on an episode of Family Matters when a friend of Steve's is getting married. As the bride walks down the aisle, she encounters an ex, who happens to be the ceremony's piano player. He invites her to grab some coffee, and she happily accepts. Despite this being a comedy, for once, it's portrayed as an incredibly cruel and selfish thing for her to do—her ditched would-be groom tries to throw himself off the roof of the church afterwards. Fortunately, the cop sent to talk him down happens to be an ex of his.
At the very beginning of the first episode of Happy Endings, Alex ditches her long-time boyfriend Dave at the altar and briefly runs off with another guy before going on their honeymoon alone. Subsequent episodes have dealt with them coming to terms with being Just Friends after having been a couple for so long.
In The Wanderer, the reincarnated Lady Claire literally leaves her present day fiancee at the altar for her similarly reincarnated Knight.
An unusual variant on McLeod's Daughters, where Jodi goes through with the ceremony but runs when it comes time to sign the marriage certificate.
In a few episodes of Kath and Kim Kel is described as having been jilted at the altar four times, always as a result of his supposed friend Sandy Freckle. Oddly, when we actually see flashbacks to his past fiances, in three cases there's little to indicate they actually got as far as the altar before Sandy moved in.
Isabelle left Karl at the altar out of guilt for lying to him about him being the father of her (since miscarried) baby.
An 1989 episode had Bronwyn call off her wedding to Henry, purely because she believed they were rushing into it. He took it well, and this caused little stress for the street as there was already a double wedding planned.
Aurora from Solamente Vos. She loves Juan, Juan loves her, but Juan has a large family, and so she refuses him. She continued her relation with Félix, who constantly lied to her and manipulated her, but at least he's single and has no sons. But, as the car was going to the chapel, she could not go on with it anymore, and run away. When the car arrived, the ceremony started. One of the front doors was opened, revealing Aurora's father... and then the other door, showing that Aurora is not there.
Bill Maher praised Jennifer Wilbanks in his show's "New Rules" segment and applauded her "rugged individualism".
Americans reacted to the so-called runaway bride by branding her as crazy for skipping town rather than marrying a Sunday school teacher in Duluth, Georgia. Ah yes, the good life - the bake sales, the prayer meetings, the abortion protests - who could just walk away from all that? How come when the girl from Titanic ditches her fiancé, it's the greatest romance of all time, but when Jennifer Wilbanks does it, she's a criminal loon with a case of temporary insanity? Temporary sanity is more like it. She was staring down the barrel of 14 bridesmaids and 600 guests in the Georgia heat watching a Baptist in a blue suit sanctify her sex life with Welch's Grape Juice and a reading from The Purpose Driven Life - suddenly Greyhound to Vegas looked pretty good.
Played with in Billy Bragg's "Mother of the Bride", in which the bride does not run away from her wedding, but the narrator of the song very much wishes she had... with him. Her mother concurs with him, for what it's worth.
Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Alone Again Naturally," the first three verses of which are an oddly-upbeat diddy about getting dumped at the altar. In spite of the fairly pleasant tone, it hardly takes a cheery approach to the trope as the singer (and would-be husband) is pretty clearly suicidal over the event.
Gram Parsons' "$1000 Wedding" is told from the POV of someone seeing the groom get the news that the bride isn't coming.
Like with the male example below, there is a legend of a bride at the altar who reveals her groom's infidelity with her maid of honor the night before. The bride version may be older
This was part of Raven Sherman's back story in Terry and the Pirates. She ran away from a society wedding; fleeing to China and setting up a medical mission.
In One Slight Hitch, Courtney cancels her marriage to Harper at the last minute, despite her ex Ryan getting out of the way, but her parents take the opportunity to renew their own vows.
In Final Fantasy X, Yuna makes a daring escape by jumping off the skyscraper where the wedding is being held and summoning a flying aeon to catch her. In this case, the wedding wasn't for love in the slightest and both bride and groom had ulterior motives to the ceremony. Said tower dive happened when Yuna's intentions were revealed and the groom announced he was going to kill her friends.
In Grandia, Feena dumps Pakon at the altar and runs off to go adventuring after Justin and Sue crash the wedding. Of course, given that 1) The engagement was only in Pakon's mind, 2) He had quite literally kidnapped her just before the wedding, and 3) She had spent the entire ceremony up to that point bound and gagged, her ditching the guy was entirely justified.
In Noob, A game-wide event is announced in the middle of Arthéon and Kary's in-game wedding. Arthéon is known to view the ceremony as the prelude to a real wedding, while Kary is little more than a Satellite Love Interest who happens to like the same stuff as him. Kary probably didn't even realise she was being this, but her last line before leaving can be summed up as "Hey, this is just a silly way to celebrate the end of that extra-difficult secret questline we spent weeks doing together. No big deal if the ceremony wasn't completed, right? Let's ditch it all a go check out that event.". This makes her come off as a mild jerk due to Arthéon geuninely loving her and her never making her actual feelings clear to him.
The Graduate was parodied to hell and back when Grandpa Simpson interrupts Grandma Bouvier's wedding to Mr. Burns in a similar way for similar reasons. Far from running off with Grandpa, Grandma takes this opportunity to say that she doesn't really want to marry either of them; Grandpa decides that this is good enough for him, grabs her and runs off with her anyway.
In "Lisa's Wedding", Lisa is told of her future relationship with Hugh Parkfield. Before the ceremony he expresses frustration with the rest of the Simpson family and slips that he really doesn't expect Lisa to ever see them after the wedding; Lisa, stunned, chooses to call everything off.
Episode "Springfield Confidential", Skinner admits he does not want to marry Edna and the Simpsons have to work to keep him from leaving her at the altar. However, Edna finds out and chooses to dump him instead.
In the same episode she leaves Comic Book Guy at the altar. This was also justified, since this was a quickie (Klingon!) wedding after a short rebound relationship and she realized it wouldn't really work out.
Jennifer Wilbanks, who had a complete nervous breakdown and ran out on her future husband before the wedding and then went missing, which caused the whole state to initiate a massive search for her that wound up costing in the tens of thousands of dollars. When she finally was found and she explained how she ran because of the pressure, people weren't too happy with her and she was forced to do many hours of community service (though this also had to do with her claiming she was kidnapped by a Hispanic man after she resurfaced).
Playboy head honcho Hugh Hefner had his third wedding fall apart less than a week before the ceremony as the bride cancelled the arrangements, saying simply that she "changed her mind".
Anime and Manga
In Hell Teacher Nube, Nube is so late to his grand, beautiful wedding with Yukime that people start wondering if this is the case. Turns out he had almost been killed by the minions of Yukime's "father," the Mountain God, but he still managed to drag his bloodied and pulped self to the church in the end.
In Pokémon, James of Team Rocket is engaged to a rich girl called Jessiebelle (who looks a lot like Jessie). She carries a whip and wants to turn James into a real gentleman by 'training' him.
In Rappi Rangai, every time Raizou has finished impressing a girl he wants to marry, he continues chickening out and running away while his bodyguards beg him to pop the question already. To be fair, the story would probably just end if he did.
In The Secret Agreement, Iori actually does get through the ceremony and is officially married, but on the same day decides to chase Yuuichi across the world, leaving his bride rather surprised and disappointed.
Subverted in General Protection Fault. Nick is abducted the night before he marries Ki by evil counterparts from the "Nega-Verse", and those responsible leave behind a "Dear John letter" for Ki (presumably written by Nick's Nega-verse counterpart). Ki refuses to believe it, however, and goes to rescue him with the rest of his friends.
In Invincible, the title hero doesn't go through with his marriage to a fish-queen-lady-thing. Instead of running, he pretends to be too scared to fight the monster to complete the ceremony.
In X-Men, Alex Summers/Havok breaks off his marriage to Lorna Dane/Polaris while she's walking down the aisle in order to be with another woman, Annie; since the writer, Chuck Austen, viewed Alex and Annie as stand-ins for himself and his wife, and had characterized Polaris as a violent psychopath, when she was in fact suffering from post-traumatic stress at the altar. He, meanwhile, ran off to visit Paris with the woman who he dated while he was in a comanote That wasn't a typo; there was telepathy involved. We were meant to root for him and not Polaris when she, naturally, went crazy and tried to kill the both of them, and yet despite this Lorna did raise the very valid point that he could have called things off before the ceremony instead of humiliating her.
Harold Fine (Peter Sellers) in 1968's I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! does this twice. The first time he's become enamored with another woman (Nancy, a hippie) during the wedding preparations. Amusingly, a minor subplot reveals the jilted bride, Joyce, basically gets over this. When Harold becomes disillusioned with Nancy and the hippie lifestyle at the end, he reconciles with Joyce and they attempt to wed again, but he gets cold feet at the altar once more (having realized he doesn't know what he really wants out of life). Joyce just says, "I knew it..."
The Mary-Kate & Ashley Olsen filmIt Takes Two: he was marrying the Rich Bitch, so it's okay! They also make her suffer through a Humiliation Conga as she leaves the chapel.
Subverted. The Rich Bitch had badgered the guy into considerably moving up the wedding because she realized she had genuine competition.
Sex and the City: Mr. Big. Fortunately, he changed his mind while she was leaving the church in tears. Unfortunately, she wasn't in the mood to forgive him. Though they did get married at the very end. It wasn't her he was running away from, but rather the large, public, publicized, display he'd never been comfortable with in the first place.
Jake Blues in The Blues Brothers, somewhat played for laughs or suspense. He leaves his bride (played by Carrie Fisher) at the altar, she chases after Jake and Elwood throughout the picture with a machine gun, and finally after trapping them in a tunnel as they plan their getaway, with the money, after their charity show, Jake pleads on one knee and gives multiple (and increasingly ridiculous) reasons and alibis for jilting her. He later takes of his sunglasses for the first and only time in the movie, gives her Puppy-Dog Eyes and kisses her unconscious. Elwood mock-apologizes and they both make a run for the Bluesmobile.
Danny in Just Go With It. The actual jilting happens off-screen, presumably because the would be bride was so likable and sweet natured Danny would come across as too much of a Jerkass to audience.
Apparently happened in the backstory between Captain Smollet and Benjamina Gunn (Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy) in Muppet Treasure Island.
The final time, they do get married... via teleconference, as he's still stuck in his basement inventing something.
The Buster Keaton film Seven Chances features what must be the ultimate runaway groom scene: rich heir Buster rushing out of the church chased by a horde of hundreds of money-crazy would-be brides (a newspaper ad got them there). The frantic chase scene across the city and countryside is a classic of silent era slapstick comedy.
Sgt. Bilko has done this so many times that his girlfriend's wedding dress is getting worn out.
It's not that he runs away, but always seems to show up late, giving lame excuses. She forgives him, but finally gives him an ultimatum that she'll only give him one more attempt. At the attempt, she's the one who shows up late with a lame excuse.
Easily the most famous case of this is Miss Havisham's runaway groom Compeyson in Great Expectations. He only got close to her to defraud her of her money and once he completed this, he sent her a letter informing her of the truth just short of the wedding and then beat town. Miss Havisham goes crazy and hates men for the rest of her life.
In Robert Asprin's fantasy novel Hit or Myth, King Roderick attempts to escape his arranged marriage to Queen Hemlock by foisting his job off on court magician Skeeve.
A Star Wars Expanded Universe novel (Jedi Search of the Jedi Academy Trilogy) has a minor plot in the form of a potential Jedi candidate investigated by Lando Calrissian, Artoo and Threepio, who turned out to be a wanted runaway from Dargul, having hacked into the palace's computer to modify his profile to be the perfect match for a particularly beautiful heiress. Unfortunately, this has led said heiress to become convinced that he is her soul mate and became so absurdly clingy he eventually fled. After being caught cheating at the blob races on Dargul's sister planet of Umgul, normally punishable by death, he VERY reluctantly agreed to be returned to her.
Live Action TV
In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xander dumps Anya at the altar, although that's just cold feet; there's no Other Woman involved.
There were exceptional circumstances, too: an old man claiming to be Xander himself from the future showed up, showing young Xander horrible visions implying he would kill Anya if the two of them got together (which merely augmented his fear from his parents' own unhappy marriage). It turns out this old man is lying; he's actually an old enemy of Anya's trying to ruin her wedding out of revenge, but by the time this comes out Xander is too freaked out to go through with it. Both Anya and Xander are depicted sympathetically.
Played a bit in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Here, Lwaxana Troi decides she doesn't want to get married to an old prude after all and to call the wedding off, she decides to attend the ceremony in the traditional Betazoid bridal costume—nothing. While the ceremony's witnesses, well aware of Troi's true intentions, watch this with amusement, the Groom is incoherently repelled and flees the ceremony.
Played with for extremely dark comedy on Peep Show; marrying someone he didn't love (but was too embarrassed to break up with), Mark ends up hiding in the vestry of the church until he's discovered, whereupon he (very very very) reluctantly goes through with the wedding (to the extent that he looks around hopefully at the Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace moment and — along with Sophie, his bride — bursts into tears when the vows are read. The wedding car doesn't even make it out of the church grounds before Sophie abandons Mark, screaming about how 'horrible' he is. The next season sees much discussion (and passionate defense on Mark's part) about whether what he did technically constitutes a 'jilting' or not, since he ended up marrying her anyway.
Dennis dumps Carol at the altar in Ed, because he knows she would rather be with Ed.
Eric in That '70s Show, realizing that he and Donna are not ready to be married. Later, Donna agrees with him.
ER: Carol's fiance dumps her on their wedding day after gently, but firmly getting her to admit she doesn't love him the way he loves her.
Played with when Chandler in Friends runs away on his wedding day, because of his commitment issues. He actually loves Monica, having been blissfully happy with her, but is terrified they'll end up like his parents who had a horrible marriage and he'll make Monica unhappy. His friends eventually persuade him to come back, before Monica notices his absence. He goes through with the wedding and their marriage is a very happy one. Monica later finds out he ran away (while they're at the altar no less) but doesn't show any anger towards him. It helps she had been well aware of his fears from day one and was prepared for him to go all 'Chandler' at some point.
A run away groom is mentioned in Midsomer Murders. DCI Barnaby managed to get through the important part of the ceremony, but ran off after saying, "I've got it!" instead of "I do" to chase a murderer. When his wife decides she wants to have a proper ceremony for their anniversary, he interrupts it by arresting the vicar.
In the Doctor Who episode "The Wedding of River Song", we finally learn exactly why Queen Elizabeth I was so pissed at the Doctor way back in "The Shakespeare Code": they were supposed to elope, but he never showed.
Neighbours did this with Toadie and Stephanie (as a result of Toadie realizing that Steph was far less enthusiastic about it than he was), Marc and Stephanie (Marc had fallen in love with Steph's sister Flick) and Mark and Annalise (Mark suddenly decided to become a priest - ironically, he had only converted to Catholicism because he was marrying Annalise).
General Hospital: Sonny leaves Brenda at the altar in order to protect her from rival mobsters looking to kill him.
Leo becomes one involuntarily in the Charmed episode "Magic Hour" when he and Piper try to get married against the Elders' will. Just as the little ceremony is about to start, the Elders abduct him. They do get married later though with permission.
Sir Anthony Strallan jilts Edith at the altar in series three of Downton Abbey.
Glee: In the episode "I Do", Emma and Will were set to be married. However, Emma leaves the church before the ceremony begins in a cab through the back door, after the stress from the big day and having been kissed by Finn a few days prior to the big day was too much for her to take.
'Someone Saved My Life Tonight' is Elton John's autobiographical song about a man calling off his wedding.
An urban legend about the groom catching the bride cheating. He goes through with the wedding, up until he distributes a special gift to the guests - an 8x10 picture showing the unfaithfulness, while leaving the expenses for the bride's family. Example: http://www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/g/groomsrevenge.htm
In The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, Kafei is supposed to marry Anju on the day of the annual festival, but has run away. Justified, in that he's under a spell that's turned him into a child, and needs Link's help (doesn't everyone?) to get his proper body back. While you never see it happen, it's assumed that he does get his body back since you see the wedding from his height and it's too tall to have been the view of a child.
In the manga based on the game, you do see him get his body back, though Kafei's adult face is never shown as part of a running gag and likely meant to mirror the game's tricky camera.
In Dungeons & Dragons, Eric agrees to be married to a Queen, but when the ceremony includes listing a series of extremely dangerous trials the groom is supposed to do, he instantly makes his escape before the official even finishes. Well, that and she turned into a troll at the altar.
In El Tigre, Puma Loco (in his younger days) ran away with a woman named Dora, leaving Lady Gobbler at the altar.
Lars does this to Leela in the Futurama movie Bender's Big Score. Although, to be fair, he only did it after he learned that all the time copies were doomed and he, himself a copy of Fry, didn't want to put her through the grief of his death.
Chlorhydris assumed that this was what happened to her fiance Manfred the Magnificent on the day of their wedding in The Smurfs episode "Chlorhydris' Lost Love", but as it turned out, her witch rival Drusilla prevented Manfred from attending the wedding by turning him into stone and kept him a prisoner for twenty years.
In 1906, an hour after their wedding, William McKeekin told his bride he was going to get a carriage. That was the last anyone heard or saw of him, and after seventeen years of searching for him his widow sought an annulment.
Anime and Manga
Game Over: Due to some rather strange circumstances, both the main characters end up bailing on their wedding on the day. However, for the bride it was about her lack of self-esteem on account of being a much older woman and the groom was trying to find her. They do end up returning to the wedding venue after talking things through.
The climax of The Guru has a wedding broken up by two people - one who professes his love to the groom and the titular character declaring his love for the bride. Both are successful.
The conclusion of Mamma Mia! has the couple decide not to get married quite yet - mainly due to the fact that the whole wedding ceremony was an excuse for the bride to meet her real father (out of three possible men.) Segues into Why Waste a Wedding? when Donna and Sam get married instead.
The conclusion of the second The Princess Diaries film, where both halves are marrying out of duty (she for her country, he for his parents). Neatly combined with No Sparks. They remain very good friends and end up dating other people at the end. Also segues into Why Waste a Wedding?, as Queen Clarisse and her Head of Security Joe get married instead after several decades of hiding their feelings.
Occurs in Ever After, with Prince Henry and the Spanish princess he was suppose to marry. Right at the altar, he realizes the reason why she was hysterically crying was because she was in love with someone else and didn't want to go through with the wedding, just like him. So he calls off the wedding and runs off to find Danielle, just as the princess runs into the arms of her beloved also.
Live Action TV
Bones: Angela and Hodgins run away from their own wedding—together—after they discover Angela's still married, as she'd mistakenly thought the wedding ceremony with her first husband (jumping through a fire) hadn't stuck. They leave behind a horrified, confused group of people, with Brennan (the maid of honor) and Booth (the best man) standing at the altar with the priest. Brennan clears her throat awkwardly and asks what they're supposed to do.
In the Reality Show, Married by America, two couples who met over the course of the show were to be married, and both ended like this. In one couple, it was the bride who backed out; in the other, the groom. It was pretty much the death-knell for wedding-themed reality shows (as opposed to just dating), since they've never ended well. Who would have thought marrying someone you've only known for three months was actually a bad idea?
On Life Goes On, eldest daughter Paige, who has been having panic attacks in the days leading up to her wedding, waits until she's at the altar before asking her fiance if he really loves her. He admits that he does but that they're not right for each other and nowhere near ready. Sure enough, she goes dashing down the aisle to reunite with her true love, with her now ex-fiance's blessing.
Engineered by Tom in Waiting for God - Diana has been single for over 60 years and wants to remain that way, but her latter-years lover Tom is unsatisfied with his role as the last of a long line of equally significant lovers. After many hijinks as Diana tries to avoid having to marry Tom, Tom ultimately refuses to marry her instead. They then carry on their affair as normal, Tom accepting that Diana having been willing to marry him at all is good enough and he doesn't need to actually force the issue.
Geoffrey: Dad! You're supposed to say "I do"
Tom: But I don't.
An episode of The A-Team takes this a step farther by having the eponymous team show up to rescue a bride from being coerced into marrying the Villain of the Week. Their escape plan involves having Murdock walk down the aisle disguised as the bride; thus resulting in MURDOCK becoming a runaway bride himself. Murdock later writes the villain a letter of apology for leaving him at the altar.
In season 2, Charlie gets cold feet and freaks out about his wedding to Kirsten. After some convincing from everyone he opts to go through with it. Then comes the reveal that Kirsten is calling the wedding off. She says if Charlie got cold feet then she couldn't marry him because he wasn't sure about the relationship. They eventually get married four years later with no cold feet.
A few episodes earlier, Kirsten and Charlie get fed up with the pressure of trying to plan their wedding and leave a note saying they've run off to Reno to get married right away. At the end of the episode they show up at the house saying they couldn't go through with it.
These two really seem to love this trope. The season 2 finale has Charlie convincing Kirsten to leave her fiancée at the altar and get back together with him. Considering she was marrying the man only a couple of months after leaving Charlie, this was probably for the best.
In How I Met Your Mother, Ted initially has some doubts about running away with his ex-girlfriend Victoria, but eventually agrees, on the condition that she leaves a note. During the ensuing hijinks, Ted discovers that Klaus, the groom, is also running away, and Ted uses this inside knowledge to clear Victoria of any blame. Awkwardly, the three of them somehow end up rooming together.
An episode of the reality series What Would You Do? used this scenario for inspiration in which they staged both a runaway bride and later a runaway groom getting cold feet and escaping to a bar. The scenario was intended to see how bystanders would react to the situation. In all scenarios, be it bride or groom, the bystanders all convinced the cold-footed spouse-to-be to get to their wedding and supported them.