The Mail-Order Bride plot line is where a man marries a woman from a poor country sight unseen, or seen once. Usually played for laughs or for very dark drama, but can also lead to Marriage Before Romance.
A common setting for this is in The Western, but can easily evolve in any situation where there is a surplus of men at one place and a surplus of poor women at another place. The World War II version of this trope would be the "Army War Brides" movie/movies. In that time period, many soldiers returned to their home country with a foreign bride.
If the trope is dealt with in a drama, it will be in a series like Law & Order. The mail order bride plot causes a crime or scam that results in either an elaborate Gold Digger or Con Artist scheme if she's the perp (though usually a side of Sympathetic Criminal may be at play as she's escaping her home country's poverty). If he's the perp (or if it's SVU), it's a combo plate of forced prostitution, Domestic Abuse, Marital Rape License, forced labor, and/or murder. The man played as a loser, misogynist, and creep who resorted to exploiting the desperation of women in third-world poverty, and treating her as a combination of domestic labor and Sex Slave. Add plot complications caused by the bride's uncertain legal status. note
It's also the fodder for an entire genre of romance novels, in which a young woman from east of the Mississippi becomes a mail-order bride for a man who has gone out West to seek his fortune. Naturally given the genre, after the usual round of drama they genuinely fall in love.*
See also the Spanish Prisoner variant Russian Bride for the scam version of this trope.
- Lucky Luke's Wife had the titular cowboy escort a large number of women across the land to their potential husbands, due to a serious gender imbalance in their respective communities. (Curiously, it was the women who got to pick from pictures of the men, while the men had no say.) The problem arises when one girl's betrothed is temporarily unavailable and Lucky Luke has to fill the husband role. It turns out to be an attempt to ensnare Luke so he can become their sheriff permanently.
- The infamous 'Russian gamer brides' fake ads from Knights of the Dinner Table.
- In a graphic novel entitled Mail Order Bride, a young Korean woman battles with her husband's fetishization of Asian women, and his expectations of a 'mail order bride'.
- During one of his adventures, Tex Willer had to escort a number of women across the country while they went to their potential husbands. Horribly Subverted at the end when it's revealed it was a scam to lure young women and force them into prostitution, and while this group escapes their fate due Tex gunning down the bandits the scam had been going on for quite some time.
- Played to heartwarming effect in Sweetland, where a young Minnesota farmer gets a German mail-order bride around WWI. Needless to say, Germans were not exactly popular at the time, but the farmer and his wife fall in love, and he defends her against the angry townspeople.
- Played very seriously in Birthday Girl, where an Englishman hires a mail-order Russian Bride. Then she and some accomplices extort him into robbing the bank that he works for using a variant on the Spanish Prisoner act.
- Mail Order Bride (2003), comedy.
- Older Than Television: Mail Order Wife (1912)
- Mail Order Wife (2004), comedy.
- The plot of Once Upon a Time in the West is kicked off when a mail-order bride (played by the incomparable Claudia Cardinale) arrives at her new home just hours after everyone there was slaughtered as part of a land grab. Definitely not played for yuks, since he wanted a mother for his children and she wanted a new life.
- The Picture Bride (1994), not a comedy.
- A mail-order bride is also in Wagons East. Very refined lady, horrified to discover that she's stuck with seven guys who make Neanderthals look civilized.
- In the 1932 drama, Joan (played by Barbara Stanwyk) decides to be a mail-order bride to escape her gangster ex-boyfriend and begin a new life.
- In the 1954 movie, The Naked Jungle, Charleton Heston plays a wealthy cocoa plantation owner in Venezuela who sends for a mail-order bride, who is a widow from New Orleans. It is actually a marriage-by-proxy with his brother standing in for him during the legal ceremony. After she arrives and they meet, the two strong-willed individuals both at first regret the arrangement. However, a plague of army ants allows true love to triumph.
- The astonishingly bad 1971 movie Blindman. A blind, but deadly, gunman, is hired to escort fifty mail order brides to their miner husbands. His business partners double cross him, selling the women to bandit Domingo. Blindman heads into Mexico in pursuit.
- The Harvey Girls stars Judy Garland as one of these, but when she arrives, she takes one look at the prospective groom and gets a job as a Harvey Girl instead. (The Harvey Girls, who actually existed, were waitresses at Harvey House restaurants.)
- Flower Drum Song revolves around this trope.
- In DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story, one character is shown to have an Asian mail order bride that hates him. Hubby is completely oblivious.
Gordon's Wife: *makes L sign on forehead with horrific scowl*Gordon: L for Love!
- The Australian film Russian Doll features a Russian mail-order bride arriving in Australia only to find her groom has passed away. A Citizenship Marriage is still arranged however, when the married man she subsequently has an affair with 'engages' her to his best friend so she can stay in the country and they can continue the affair.
- In the animated film Gay Purr-ee, Mewsette, a naive cat from the country, is tricked into being a mail-order bride to a rich American cat.
- In Lars and the Real Girl, Lars claims to be dating a girl who came from a horribly abusive life in a foreign country... but it turns out she's a sex doll.
- Screwed In Tallinn is a 1999 Swedish Mockumentary which indulges in the awkwardness of bride import, however before it became a common phenomenon in Sweden.
- In the 1951 movie "Westward the Women", an entire wagon train made up of over a hundred women looking for a second chance is led to a male-only settlement in California. Due to a loss of male workers on the wagon train, the leader has to train the entire group of women into tough, capable Homesteader Wives, much to the delight of the men when they arrive. Lots of implied happy pairings ensue.
- Sarah Plain and Tall, a children's book published in 1985, later made into a movie and stage play, is about a mail-order bride in the late 19th century.
- A Reliable Wife involves a rich, lonely man in rural early 20th century Wisconsin and his mail-order bride, who has...an agenda unrelated to being a good wife.
- Honolulu follows the saga of Regret, a Korean girl who travels to Hawaii as a mail-order bride in order to escape life in restrictive, Japanese-occupied Korea in the early 20th century.
- Achimas Welde from The Death of Achilles orders brides every half a year or so (with time-limited "service contracts"). He never marries them, of course, given his job, but treats them as legitimate wives for as long as they stay with him.
- Picture Bride A novel by Yoshiko Uchida about a Japanese woman who comes over to America and is later imprisoned in internment camps
- A Short History of Tractors in the Ukraine has very little to do with tractors, but is actually about an older gentleman marrying a woman who is just using him to get a visa.
- Briefly referenced in The Shepherd's Crown as available for the lumberjacks in the remote forest areas of the Ramtops. This being the Discworld, the "mail-order" bit is taken entirely literally, with the brides ordered from the same catalogue the lumberjacks use to buy everything else.
- John Mc Phee's "Rising From the Plains" (part of his US geology series) opens with a young woman from a posh eastern finishing school getting off a stagecoach in the center of Wyoming in a blizzard. She was on her way to marry the protagonist's rancher father (who happened to be the nephew of John Muir, not that that has anything to do with the bride.)
- Played with on CSI. One man ordered a Russian mail-order bride and then killed her when she wasn't really in love with him and was planning to leave him for a less-controlling man. By the time the CSIs find her body years later he's already remarried to another mail-order bride from China.
- Jasper from My Name Is Earl has a Mail Order Bride from Russia. He lives in a storage container and tends to peddle *cough* suspect wares, though he told her he lived in a fancy gated community.
- Aussie soap opera Neighbours featured one character ordering a Russian mail order bride. She was deported when she tried to bribe the Immigration people.
- Played in the short-lived sitcom Thanks. Differing from the usual, she was an English woman being sent to Puritan-era America. When she arrives looking like a modern-day supermodel, her husband-to-be is horrified. (People of that era having a much more healthy ideal of beauty.) She ends up with the town's mayor instead.
- Wonderfalls: A boy orders up a Russian bride for his widower dad. Although, at first, the boy seemed intent on marrying her himself!
- Subverted on Malcolm in the Middle. Francis' elderly roommate in Alaska announces he is getting a mail order bride. Francis tries to convince him not to, and on the day she is supposed to arrive, they find out it was a blow-up sex doll. It is actually quite a Tear Jerker when this is revealed.
- Quantum Leap once had Sam leap into a man that just got back from WWII in time for his new Japanese war bride wife to introduce herself to his family.
- It is implied that Alan Partridge's girlfriend Sonja in the second series of I'm Alan Partridge came to England on such an arrangement. She's a gregarious woman who clearly cares for Alan, which is a bit unfortunate for her since he views her with little more than contempt and is clearly only in it for the ego-boost of getting to sleep with someone 17 years younger than him.
- An episode of Have Gun – Will Travel has Paladin escorting a mail order bride to her new husband out west.
- A friend of the Cartwrights ordered one in Bonanza. He broke his leg, so he asked Hoss to pick her up for him. Unfortunately, the woman becomes attracted to Hoss, much to his horror and to the friend's anger.
- Series three of Little Britain had Dudley and Ting Tong, the characters of a repulsive middle-aged man and his Thai mail-order wife. Each episode would reveal something untoward about Ting Tong (such as that she was actually a "ladyboy" and born in London) until she eventually invites her whole family to Britain, kicks Dudley out of his house and turns it into a Thai restaurant. Little Britain Abroad shows that Dudley's brother has a Russian mail order bride as well.
- Wings had Roy order a Russian mail order bride. The bride showed up and it was clear that she really didn't like him. But, she had no choice but to marry him. At the last minute, Roy had a change of heart and let her go to marry a man she fell for.
- Barney Miller: Inspector Luger has a Filipina mail-order bride. He coerced Barney into writing his letters for him. They remain (more-or-less happily) married through the end of the series.
- In The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. Brisco & Bowler help a trio of women who had set themselves up as brides to some western characters sight-unseen. Brisco talks to them about how awful this idea is and they agree - although apparently it's better than the alternative.
- Subverted in an episode of Veronica Mars. A woman claiming to be a Russian emigrant looking for an ex-boyfriend she met through the Internet turns out to be a member of Russian mafia searching for a witness.
- One episode of Law & Order had a mail order bride desperate for a real life, whereas her husband just wanted a maid he could fuck. The bride and her lover were two of the more sympathetic murderers in the franchise history.
- A similar episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit had the detectives learning that their Victim of the Week was one of these and that her husband had been abusive as well as being like the husband described above (he wasn't her killer, however).
- "Mudd's Women" in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode of the same name. Harry Mudd is taking them to be the brides of a mining colony.
- In the German improvisational comedy show Schillerstrasse Cordula get's the direction to believe Maddin's new girlfriend is a mail order bride from Russia.
- An episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch had Salem suddenly gain enough money to buy whatever he wants, a Japanese mail order bride being one of them. At the end of the episode, the bride shows up, and merely shrugs when she learns her new husband is a talking cat.
- Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman: Loren seeks out one of these, realizing that he's getting on in his age and not wanting to be alone for the rest of his life, but ultimately decides against it.
- Louis Theroux examined the phenomenon in the Weird Weekends episode "Thai Brides", even going through part of the process himself (though stopping before actually going on a date, since he already had a girlfriend). Surprisingly, not all of them were of the Ugly Guy, Hot Wife variety.
- The Reality Show 90 Day Fiance deals with couples proving that they're not this. Several of the couples are average-looking Americans with attractive foreign wives (who they often barely knew before getting married) and a lot of the plot is them getting over cultural differences, as well as proving it's not just a Citizenship Marriage.
- Blues Legend Champion Jack DuPree's Blues For Everybody features a song called "Mail Order Woman" that extolls the perceived virtues of this trope in his comedic "harelip" voice.
- Parodied in Dilbert, when Wally mail-orders a bride from Elbonia. She turns out to be a pig (literally).
- This apparently caused protests from some men with mail-order brides, as well as some groups who accused the creator of racism. Reportedly he was surprised, as he merely meant to imply the company was faulty. Elbonia is generally portrayed as Cloudcuckooland in any case.
- In They Knew What They Wanted, Tony never even spoke to Amy, he just saw her once at an Italian restaurant in San Francisco. He then contacted her boss, and wrote her a letter proposing marriage, which she accepted.
- One of the main characters from Krakow accidentally orders one from Russia. It turns out to be his Russian professor's sister. Then he orders another one and it's the professor's mother.
- In the Western arc of Arthur, King of Time and Space, Isolde is a mail-order bride to Mark, as the closest Western equivalent of marrying a princess you've never met for political reasons.
- Steve and his friends order a Russian mail order bride in American Dad!. She disappears at the end of the episode, of course. Lampshaded in "Escape From Pearl Baily" when Toshi says "Didn't I have a wife once?"
- Aqua Teen Hunger Force features Carl and Shake going halfsies on a mail order bride...only to have her barricade herself in Carl's house when she first sees the two of them.
- Johnny Bravo had a second season episode about this, "To Helga and Back". Johnny ordered a girl from a dating service who turned out to be a very large German tomboy. He did eventually fall for her after many Zany Schemes to repulse her, but lost her when he started acting like his usual, narcissistic self.
- On The Oblongs, one of the main characters' co-workers buys a mail-order bride. By the time she got to The Valley, she was dead. No one had drilled holes in the box.
- A throwaway gag on The Simpsons referred to Groundskeeper Willie ordering a mail order bride but being too cheap to pay the postage and her being held at the post office.
- In another episode, Marge is kidnapped by a biker gang, and Homer asks Bart to call a "Korean Love Brides" number if he fails to save her.
- At one point, Moe did have a mail-order bride, who left Moe because she was homesick for her previous life: diving for tourist pennies in a swamp in Micronesia.
- Monkey Dust had a recurring sketch much like the Little Britain example above, where a truly disgusting middle-aged man has a mail order bride who remains permanently adoring of him no matter what repulsive thing he says or does.
- Beavis and Butt-Head - an agency dumps a Russian woman on a looking-to-score Butt-Head...she's repulsed by him and smacks him if he gets near her. She then hooks up with thug Todd, and Butt-Head sees the bright side of it, where if Todd is doing it with his "wife", that somehow makes them related. Butt-Head loves Todd...
- At one point in The Venture Bros., Rusty asks Russian assassin Molotov Cocktease if Russian mail-order brides are any good, because the Chinese one was already dead when he opened the box.
- The Duckman episode "My Feral Lady" has Duckman ordering a bride who turns out to be a jungle savage.
- Clerks: The Animated Series: Parodied when Randall orders a Japanese mail-order groom by mistake, who forces Randall to walk three steps behind, not talk, and have dinner on the table 5 minutes before the husband gets home. He also has Randall dress and act like the Yamato Nadeshiko type and eat sushi off of his bare body:
Randall: It wasn't all bad.