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Token Romance
"Hey, the movie's called Back in Action, not Back in Love!"
Daffy Duck commenting on some deleted scenes from Looney Tunes: Back in Action

When a romantic subplot is tacked onto a work with little relation to the overall story. Especially blatant when the setting or premise of the plot leaves little room for romance, such as after the Apocalypse or in the land of racing cars and guns.

The reasons behind this are understandable: love is often quoted to be universal, and directors and producers want to cater to the largest demographic possible. What better to draw females to theaters than with a few tender scenes inserted here and there in an action or disaster movie? Or to titillate the males in the audience with a Green-Skinned Space Babe hanging around the hero? Or vice versa?

Unfortunately, the romance subplot itself tends to be shallow and underdeveloped, existing only because the audience expects the hero to have a healthy love life. In fact, if the Token Romance was removed entirely, it would barely leave a ripple in the overall plot quality. The love interest is nothing more than a bland, forgettable Satellite Character, and may even be ignored or replaced by another love interest in a sequel.

Sometimes a Token Romance works, but even then, it'll still have "obligatory romance" stamped on it because the mere presence of a lone hero with the token female is enough for the audience to anticipate sexual tension.

Not to be confused with Token Minority Couple. Can become a Romantic Plot Tumor if it threatens to overwhelm the main plot. Often added in an adaptation by making a minor character Promoted to Love Interest. Contrast Hooked Up Afterwards.

This page is not "Complaining about love subplots that you don't like". Please do not treat that way.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • There is some of this in Windy Tales with the relationship between Miki and Jun. They are declared a couple out of the blue, even though they don't do anything which indicates that they are (Miki sure isn't always that nice toward Jun, for instance). Sure, there is Miki's contrived fit of jealousy in one episode which is solved by one make-up kiss, but that's about it.
  • The Enigma of Amigara Fault has a tacked-on romance between Owaki and Yoshida, seemingly just to offer a Hope Spot before things gets worse.
  • Cyber Weapon Z feature a quite blatant example between Park Iro and Anling, since their rather contrived feelings and budding relationship don't really have any use for the plot other than demonstrating Iro's attractiveness or just to...er... give Anling more bearing to the story??

    Comic Books 
  • The most contrived Back Story in X-Men historynote  was created so that Storm could leave the X-Men, go to Wakanda, and marry the Black Panther. This was a case of Executive Meddling, as the Black Panther title was written by the owner of BET, and it was his opinion that the two most powerful and high profile black characters in Marvel Comics should become the Flagship Pairing for black characters. The fans did not receive it terribly well, so Marvel had their marriage annulled during Avengers vs. X-Men.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Pearl Harbor. Most of the reviews said the action sequences were well made, but the romance didn't seem to have any bearing on the story at all. Even with it being copied from Titanic, at least that film made the tragedy influence the romance. Here the actual Pearl Harbor story is just a backdrop to give it some flavor.
  • The Matrix: Neo and Trinity is a plot point. The Oracle said that Trinity's true love would be The One. However, their relationship is never really explored or given time to develop; it's simply stated in a short scene near the end that they love each other. The sequels give their romance more screen time, which isn't necessarily an improvement.
  • The Lord of the Rings:
    • While Arwen and Aragorn are originally in the book, the spotlight was highly tweaked to feature more Arwen than the narrative could support just because she was one of the only significant female in the book.
    • The films don't lay the foundation for Éowyn/Faramir.
  • In the rebooted Star Trek film, Spock and Uhura's romance could be removed and its loss wouldn't affect the plot at all.
  • Averted in Titanic: The love story is the core of the film and the disaster frames and completes it instead of distracting from it. One could state that Titanic is a inversion of the trope: a Romance Movie with a Token Disaster.
  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Not only do Willie Scott and Indy (along with the audience) seem to actively loathe each other, there is absolutely no plot reason for her to even exist in the movie.
  • Most James Bond films. There's a reason the term "Bond Girl" was termed. In every movie there's a new woman that Bond falls in love with but has little bearing on the plot and won't be seen again.
  • Likewise, Bond's parody in the Austin Powers. For instance, Foxxy Cleopatra drops into the main plot about Austin and his father Nigel.
  • The Movie of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian throws in a love subplot between Susan Pevensie and the title character, giving Susan more to do than she had in the book. Audience reactions were mixed.
  • The Movie of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. We do not see much of Arthur and Trillian together; we do not see much chemistry between them. She wasn't even supposed to be his love interest anyway, but in the end, he is supposed to love her enough that he would give up his place on Earth for her. Despite the negative reaction a lot of fans had, it's worth noting that Douglas Adams penned their romance himself before he died; he was one of the writers for the script and it was his idea to include it. Adams was also fond of changing the details of the story for each adaptation, so it was only a matter of time before he decided to make them love interests.
  • Parodied in Wayne's World. At the end of the first movie, as the whole cast gets their happy ending in Hollywood fashion, Garth wins the love of his dream girl. She was an earlier throw-away joke... in fact, the audience was not sure whether she really existed or was just a dream.
  • In Tombstone, Wyatt's thing with the actress serves little more than to illustrate his inner conflict and to provide a happy ending. In this case it actually happened.
  • Romeo Must Die with Jet Li and Aaliyah felt more like a generic kung fu flick than an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. The two leads had no intimate scenes (not even kissing), and felt more like Platonic Life Partners. In fact, Aaliyah herself added nothing to the story besides being sassy and helping Jet Li take out a female goon in an admittedly-cool fight scene. However, Jet Li's films generally lack romance, which he says is because of his marriage. It's a strange excuse for an actor.
  • Puma Man has the romance between Tony the Puma Man and Jane Dobson. Its bearing on the plot was minimal at best.
  • Vertical Limit is about an expedition to rescue stranded climbers on K2, the second highest mountain in the world. It ends with a kiss between the male lead and a female nurse after a movie whose only hints of sexual or romantic tension were between the lead and his sister and a pair of brothers.
  • The Brian De Palma adaptation of Carrie. It creates a scene where Tommy dances with Carrie at the prom and kisses her, implying he has fallen for her, despite this being a pity date. The remake averts this by having the same scene but then revealing Carrie had just gone into an elaborate day dream. In a bit of irony, the remake shows that Carrie does have a crush on Tommy while the original just had the kiss come out of the blue.
  • Dragonheart has this between Bowen and Kara who Hooked Up Afterwards. It's biggest contribution to the plot is to make Einon creepier.
  • Kelly and Jason in Mystery Team. Granted, Kelly was essential to Jason's character development, but it's still a fine line.
  • Oldboy: Dae-su's relationship with Mi-do initially appears to be an essentially irrelevant sub-plot, but instead turns out to be the whole point of the villain's revenge scheme.
  • The romantic subplot of The Sorcerer's Apprentice would, on its own, have made a decent Romantic Comedy about a music buff falling for a physics nerd. As a subplot to a modern fantasy film, it felt like it was duct-taped on.
  • The romance between Sam and Mikaela/Carly in the Transformers movies is one of the main attractions of the movies that doesn't involve Giant Robots and Explosions. When Mikaela is Put on a Bus in the third movie it has little impact on Sam as a character or the plot.
  • During the early stages of the Watchmen adaptation, one exec purportedly tried to crowbar in a love interest for Rorschach. It didn't take long for that to be shot down. Rorschach is enough of a mess that he can barely accept having friends, much less anyone more intimate - and he's disgusted by sex.
  • In Scooby-Doo, every human gets a Love Interest. Fred and Daphne hook up at the end, and while fans sort of expect them to, it's not hinted beforehand. Shaggy gets a Love Interest named Mary Jane and their romance is unnecessary, but she at least takes some part of the plot. Velma is the strangest: she has a short conversation with a random guy halfway through the movie, mostly for exposition, and winds up with him at the end.
  • King Kong has an in-universe example of this as Denham's justification for hiring Anne for his movie:
    I go out there and I sweat blood to make an ideal picture, and then the critics say "If this picture had a love interest, it would gross twice as much."
  • The Raid proves that Tropes Are Tools. The heroic Officer Rama has a pregnant wife who appears briefly at the beginning and then is gone from the rest of the movie. Knowing this makes us care more about what happens to him and a later scene has him drawing the strength he needs to keep fighting from his love for her.
  • Ripley and Hicks in Aliens do have their moments, but the romantic angle is overshadowed by the action.

    Literature 
  • Parodied in the Ciaphas Cain novel Death or Glory,. A footnote describes a popular holodrama called 'Cain's Heroes' that was made out of Cain's adventures and explains that Cain himself note  loathed the production largely because of a "wholly invented subplot in which one of the militia recruits has a clandestine love affair with him".
  • Doctor Who New Adventures novel Lucifer Rising describes a holodrama based on the events of the TV story "The Seeds of Death". This has grafted on a romance between Professor Eldred (who has become thirty years younger) and Gia (The Spock).

    Live Action TV 

    Video Games 
  • Due to the unfinished nature of Knights of the Old Republic II, none of the four romances are at all developed or given any conclusion. Atton's consists of one conversation that is worded the exact same way for male and female characters, the Disciple's barely exists, the Handmaiden's barely mentions romance at all, and Visas' is barely different with male and female characters. They mostly consist of a few hints that Mira drops, and some cutscenes of one being jealous of the attention the other is given by the Exile.
  • Neverwinter Nights
    • Al of the romances in could have been developed much further than they were, but Aribeth/player in the main campaign does not count as a Token Romance because it is extremely plot-relevant. Aarin/player and the three possible pairings in Hordes of the Underdark qualify.
    • There's the option of hitting on some of your teammates after you complete their third "find [item]" quest, which have no significance at all beyond one pickup line and are never brought up again.
    • The Bastard Of Kosigan has an extremely large number of possibilities. However, all of the NPCs involved will either die a senseless death, disappear and never be encountered again, or never mention your encounter after they join up with you.
    • A Dance with Rogues mostly averts this, though it has five romances, because the player's quest to find somewhere she belongs is a major part of the story and the romance partners help out.
  • Neverwinter Nights 2 has two of the original four, due to cut content.
  • Dragon Age: Origins plays with this trope. The romances with Leliana and Zevran have no impact on the plot. However, Alistair's romance becomes extremely relevant when it becomes apparent that one of you has to die to end the Blight, not to mention that with the right Origin you can become queen. Equally, Morrigan's romance ends with her desperately trying to deny her feelings for you because she has to get you to impregnate her with baby-Cthulhu and then run away through the Eluvian to an entirely different plane of existence. Yeah, it doesn't end well.
  • In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, you can choose a spouse from a wide range of people (race and gender are irrelevant), and all it amounts to is them moving into your house and providing a few services. None are relevant to the main plot, and none come across as particularly romantic - it's just another feature for your home. Lampshaded and (maybe) justified in-story: it's stated that because Skyrim is a violent place where lifespans tend to be short, most people don't bother with lengthy courtships or a lot of romance.
  • George and Nico get this by the back end of the first Broken Sword. Up until the train to Scotland, the two spend their sparse moments of time together sniping at each other and Nico even shoots down George's attempts to probe into her relationship status by reminding him they were working together in a strictly business capacity. It's a little jarring to have George suddenly refer to Nico as "the woman I love" and even go so far as to kiss her while she's tied up (she's offended, but not by much). Roughly a day later, they're embracing and otherwise acting like a couple.
    • The Director's Cut edition attempts to pad this out a little by having Nico's inner monologues during her segments say she's comforted by having George working with her, but since these segments are bolted on to the existing plot she still doesn't act any nicer to George during the bulk of the game.
  • In Shining Force 2 the main character receives the Standard Hero Reward, while Sarah gets paired with Kazin.
  • Dragon's Dogma features an Affinity system for almost every NPC in the game that rises when you either give them a gift or do sidequests for them. Unless you deliberately game the system, your character may end up with someone completely unintended such as shopkeepers or even child characters as their Beloved in the final quest.

    Western Animation 
  • Tony and Bridget's romance in An American Tail was a Love at First Sight one, not that it distracted from the overall plot. They do make a cute couple and most fans aren't annoyed by the token romance; many are however, annoyed by Bridget's sudden disappearance in the later sequels.
  • Colin and Lisa from The Simpsons Movie. Many fans liked it, admittedly, but Colin exists only for the movie, and he doesn't have any major influence on the plot; it seems that the writers just decided for some reason that Lisa should have a Love Interest (perhaps just so she had some sort of subplot at all), and they scrapped the idea of using Milhouse because they felt it would interfere with the main show. Colin also disappears for much of the second half.
  • My Little Pony Equestria Girls: Flash Sentry is extremely tangential to the plot and has only a few interactions with Twilight, at most building a tentative friendship. She leaves him behind in the end, and although there's a pony counterpart of him in Equestria, they have even less of a connection. Also, he does not appear in season 4 of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic outside of a few minor cameos. This has not stopped fans from vilifying him even before seeing the movie.


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