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?
Meanwhile, more cynical voices will claim that the romance is merely there to make absolutely sure that audience knows what canon sexuality the given character has. Homo-, bi-, and asexuality still remain somewhat controversial subjects in this day and age, so establishing that a character is in a relationship with the opposite or same sex is sometimes used as a more roundabout way of enforcing Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today? (or more rarely Have I Mentioned I Am Gay?) and thereby avoid alienating (or in some cases directly appeal to) certain demographics.
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 romance was removed entirely, it would barely leave a ripple in the overall plot quality, or even improve it if the romance was particularly ham-fisted. 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 it 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. See also Strangled by the Red String.
This page is not "Complaining about love subplots that you don't like." Please do not treat that way.
- Cryptoland: The romance subplot with Chris and Bianca is only tangibly related to cryptocurrency. Bianca herself only exists to be Chris' "plus-one", appearing only to interact with him.
- 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??
- In a one-sided case between major characters, the anime adaptation of YuYu Hakusho has Kuwabara constantly hitting on Botan throughout the Genkai and Spirit Beast arcs. Then Kuwabara learns about Yukina, falls madly in Love at First Sight from looking at her picture on a briefing tape, and drops his attraction to Botan like a hot rock. Botan's reaction to this is a highly sarcastic "Oh, darn," and then they go on through the rest of the series without Kuwabara's failed courtship of Botan ever being mentioned again.
- The most contrived Backstory 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 the Marvel Universe 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.
- An American Tail: Tony and Bridget's romance was a Love at First Sight one and tangential to the main plot of Fivel reuniting with his family and then kicking out the cats.
- 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.
- In Jetsons: The Movie, Judy's subplot consists of getting a date with a teen heartthrob, having to cancel said date because of the family's move, angsting for a bit, and then meeting some new alien guy named Apollo Blue. This has little to nothing to do with the main plot, and includes multiple love songs that just serve to pad the run-time.
- Wreck-It Ralph: The relationship between Felix and Calhoun could have been removed without impacting the movie's main plot at all. The creators said they were paired up mostly because the crew thought they were a funny/cute couple, and because something about Felix's 3-D model didn't work right at first, but putting him alongside Calhoun gave the animators a better sense of proportion.
- The main plot of Ivan's Childhood is a rather grim story of a teenaged boy, orphaned by World War II, who thirsts for revenge and now works as a spy behind German lines. But there's also a subplot of a romance between his spymaster, Capt. Kholin, and Masha, a lovely officer from the medical corps. It doesn't relate to Ivan's plot and it goes nowhere, with Masha eventually reassigned.
- 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 (1997), 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.
- King Solomon's Mines (all movie versions). The book was about a British lord who hires the heroic explorer hero to find the lord's brother, who disappeared somewhere in Darkest Africa. Various films have adapted this plot, and all of them wedge in a female character who serves as a love interest for either the lord or the heroic explorer. Which is ironic, since the original book has a romantic subplot between a member of the party and a beautiful native girl, but it (sadly understandably) doesn't work out because it's a 19th century interracial romance. No doubt, even a story about a failed interracial romance was considered too risky in old-time Hollywood, so other more conventional romances got stuck in instead.
- 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. Perhaps justified, in that Tolkien himself supposedly expressed regret for not giving Arwen more to do in the books.
- The films don't lay the foundation for Éowyn/Faramir.
- Likewise in The Hobbit a spurious sexual tension is introduced into the narrative between the character Kili (who is conspicuously hotter than any other dwarf in the movie), and Tauriel, who is a non-canonical character.
- In the rebooted Star Trek (2009) film, some fans thought the Spock and Uhura's romance could be removed and its loss wouldn't affect the plot at all. However, while subtle, their relationship served the purpose of further emphasizing the differences between the two realities, particularly Spock, whose character's arc ties in the fact he finds himself falling in love with a human like his father did. The relationship also elevated Uhura to the original trinity level (making her the superego) and emphasizes the fact Spock isn't just Kirk's sidekick. In Star Trek Into Darkness, Uhura is the only one who can stop Spock in the end and thus save both him and Kirk. In Star Trek Beyond, Kirk and the others are able to find the rest of the crew held captive by the main villain thanks to a Vulcan amulet that Spock had given to Uhura as a token of love.
- Star Wars:
- The Original Trilogy (IV - VI) plays it straight with Han and Leia's relationship (although it's generally considered an uncommon example of this done well). They're both main characters, but their romance never has much effect on the main plot about fighting against the empire. When Leia helps save Han from Jabba in Return of the Jedi there is a "saving your love interest" background, but if they had just been friends or at least allies this wouldn't have changed anything. Even later when there is implied that Han is jealous of Luke because of his bond with Leia, this doesn't cause any real conflict between the three and the love triangle is easily resolved later on anyway. The classic Expanded Universe went on to devote a lot more screentime to their relationship and its ups and downs, including having it very nearly fall apart a couple of times. The Force Awakens avoids the question completely, although at the same time it makes their romance important to the plot, as their son is revealed to be Kylo Ren, one of the main villains.
- The romance between Finn and Rose in The Last Jedi is superfluous to the overall plot; they could easily have kept the bond between them platonic without changing anything about their quest to find a codebreaker, nor is there much build-up to it (they only know each other a few days and Finn is more fixated on reuniting with Rey). The Rise of Skywalker makes it feel even more pointless given the subplot is dropped between movies and Rose is Demoted to Extra, with Finn instead being paired with Jannah.
- 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.
- Subverted by most James Bond movies. At first glance, it seems that the Bond Girl has no real bearing on the plot, but the female lead plays a significant role in all but six movies: Dr. No, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever, The Man with the Golden Gun, Licence to Kill, and Tomorrow Never Dies. In those cases, the girl pretty much provides nothing beyond fanservice and/or cool fight scenes.
- Bond's parody in the Austin Powers uses this trope in all its movies. 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 romantic subplot between Susan and the title character. Audience reactions were mixed. Apparently the original script had more of it, but they toned it down in fear of it becoming a Romantic Plot Tumor; the problem is, now it's so underdone that it feels pointless. It doesn't help that an actual relationship is Doomed by Canon, since she goes back to our world and he meets his canonical wife in the next movie.
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005). 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. (His Dear Negative Reader rant in So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish suggests that fans kept asking him whether they got together or not.)
- 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.
- The Pumaman 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.
- The very last line of Dragonheart implies that Bowen and Kara Hooked Up Afterwards, a fact which really wasn't set up and adds little to the story.
- The fifth film is particularly bad at this. Protagonist Lukas sees a girl named Oana early on but doesn't actually speak to her until one hour into the ninety-minute runtime. They have one conversation, she helps some monks heal him post-battle, and then they’re apparently an item.
- Kelly and Jason in Mystery Team. Granted, Kelly was essential to Jason's character development, but it's still a fine line.
- Oldboy (2003): Subverted. Dae-su's relationship with Mi-do initially appears to be an essentially irrelevant sub-plot to his quest to find the person responsible for locking him up all those years, 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 (1933) 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."
- Which, incidentally, is based on Real Life: Kong's creators had two successful adventure-style documentaries under their belts, but got flak for not including a love story in them.
- 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.
- The Iron Horse is a drama about the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. The hero is an idealistic Pony Express rider and son of a railroad surveyor, who does battle against an evil land speculator and his corrupt engineer sidekick. Eventually the hero defeats the bad guys and the railroad is built. He also has a girlfriend. They have a romance. If every bit of footage with the romance had been eaten by termites, the flow of the story would not be any different.
- In Jurassic World the romance between Claire and Owen could not only be easily excised without changing anything, but there's barely any time for it to even happen. It's established that they had gone on one terrible date some time prior to the movie, then everything else they say and do is about dealing with dinosaurs except for one wordless kiss halfway through, then they get together at the end.
- One of the criticisms of Ant-Man is that the ending kiss between Scott and Hope comes completely out of nowhere, and that there was little buildup for it in the actual film. Especially since Hope actively resents Scott for most of the movie because her father chose this random dude to be his successor and not his own daughter.
- Captain America: Civil War has a kiss between Cap and Agent 13/Sharon Carter. This seems to be there because they've been an on and off couple in the comics and she was introduced in Captain America: The Winter Soldier as a potential love interest. However, there's no indication they've even seen each other in the two years that passed in-universe. Also, he has just learned she's the niece of his World War II love interest who just died.
- Pitch Perfect: Becca and Jesse's relationship adds little to the plot and nothing to her character. All of her growth comes about due to her interaction with The Bellas. We get no indication that he has any impact on her whatsoever. The filmmakers seem wise to this since by the time of the sequel, Jesse is essentially Demoted to Extra; he doesn't even show up in the third film, as they've apparently broken up offscreen.
- Black Panther: It's easy to forget that Nakia is technically T'Challa's ex-girlfriend for most of the movie. The Temporary Divorce subplot feels so tacked-on, you need only change a few lines of dialogue to think they were a current couple dealing with the stress of a long-distance relationship.
- Aurelius and Mira in The Last Legion. While both are important as individual characters, their romance adds nothing to the plot whatsoever. It's still adorable, though — largely thanks to the pair being played by Colin Firth and Aishwarya Rai, who have lovely onscreen chemistry.
- My Days of Mercy: The romance between Lucy and Mercy is sweet, but is otherwise irrelevant to the main plot of Simon Moro's pending execution date.
- In The Fly II, the romance between Martin Brundle and Beth is clearly there because 1) there was a romance in the first movie — Martin is the Spin-Offspring of it, and his romance is a clear Generation Xerox — and 2) Act Two would be a lot shorter without something for Martin to do beyond figuring out how to reprogram the telepods, learning what really happened to the mutant dog, beginning to mutate, and finding out Anton Bartok's been lying to him all his life about his condition. Unfortunately, because the first movie's romance was absolutely not this trope, the superfluousness of this one is all the more obvious.
- Hot Pursuit features the cop main character becoming fond of a guy who comes out of nowhere who then runs off, only appearing again at the very end to drive away with her at the end.
- The romance between Maverick and Charlie in Top Gun could have been completely removed from the film without affecting the plot one whit, and in fact was only added so audiences wouldn't think he was gay. Notably, in the sequel Top Gun: Maverick, while Maverick and Penny's rekindled romance still has little effect on the main action plot, it is crucial to Maverick's character development, and one notable Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene in which Penny gives him the will to "get back in the saddle" does ultimately prove crucial to the final mission.
- 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". Though there's just a hint that Cain slept with one of the refugees, a female techpriest.
- 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).
- Beck and Johannssen's relationship in The Martian; not only does it have little to no impact on the plot, it happens almost entirely off the page. The movie cut it down even further to Johannssen giving Beck a quick good-luck kiss at the climax and showing them having Hooked Up Afterwards and started a family in the last couple of scenes.
- Looking Backward: Julian has one with Edith which adds very little to the plot. She not only has the name of the fiancee he left behind, it transpires she's descended from the original Edith.
- Discussed and ultimately defied in the Lord Peter Wimsey novel Have His Carcase, in which detective novelist Author Avatar Harriet Vane bridles at the pressure from her editor to shoehorn an unlikely romance into her latest work. There's also some ironic subtext at work as Harriet spends the whole story in denial of her own budding romance with Wimsey.
- Charmed: Starting in season 7 Phoebe would have three different boyfriends, each lasting five or six episodes, just to give her character something to do. An episode of season 8 rectified this.
- The romance between Jonathan Archer and Erika Hernandez on Star Trek: Enterprise was almost entirely unnecessary to the plot — while Erika herself was critical in helping Archer deal with the emotional hell that was season 3, that story arc would have worked just as well if they were merely old war buddies, and in any case her main purpose to the plot was to be the Hero of Another Story. Tropes Are Not Bad, however; the actors have lovely chemistry, their relationship does make sense, and it never becomes a Romantic Plot Tumor.
- Babylon 5 has Carolyn Sykes in the pilot and her Suspiciously Similar Substitute Catherine Sakai as a recurring character in season one as love interests for Commander Sinclair. Carolyn merely acted as the exposition recipient regarding Sinclair's experience during the Minbari War. Catherine did receive a subplot relevant to the overall arc, but once Sinclair was Put on a Bus in season 2, she was never seen again. Even when The Bus Came Back for Sinclair, she wasn't referenced. It was eventually mentioned she'd disappeared. In any case, neither romance was really tied to Sinclair's story arc and they could easily have just been old friends or relatives. This is all quite thoroughly rectified in To Dream in the City of Sorrows, the only fully canon novel of the B5 universe and considered by JMS an essential part of the storyline.
- Neverwinter Nights
- All of the romances in the game 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 however...
- 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:
- 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.
- Dragon Age II:
- Played straight with Sebastian, probably because he's DLC only. His existence has no real impact on the plot, let alone his romance, and his character arc doesn't change very much whether he's romanced or not. The only major difference is that if Hawke "friendmances" him, they can get married before the end of the game, which was not possible with any of the other romances in the series up to that point.
- Also played straight with Tallis, in the Mark of the Assassin DLC. It's not a full romance, but Hawke can flirt with her during the campaign; if they do, at the end there's an opportunity to share a kiss. This has absolutely no impact on the game whatsoever, especially since Hawke never sees Tallis again afterward, which leads one to wonder why it was included at all.
- 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.
- Broken Sword:
- George and Nico get this by the back end of the first game, Shadow of the Templars. 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.
- Parodied and lampshaded by Director Hawks in The Smoking Mirror:
Hawks: "Gotta think box office! People like that kind of thing."
- 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.
- The second game of the Hero of the Kingdom series has this between the eponymous hero and the princess he rescues. There is a small indication of Love at First Sight when he sees her, but she doesn't seem like she even particularly likes him until he confesses his feelings (which the player didn't know he had) and they kiss. By the end of the game they're engaged, somewhat randomly.
- Discussed and mocked in Zero Punctuation, in regards to forcing Token Romances into games where it feels particularly jarring, such as Survival Horror.
"The trademark sense of isolation is another point the game misses like a champ when you're given a spunky female sidekick. This is another peculiarly American habit that seems to always go unchallenged: why does a love interest subplot have to be shoehorned into everything? Imagine if there was some kind of parallel universe where every game and movie, regardless of genre, was required to incorporate at least one line dancing competition. We'd think they were all raving lunatics!"
- The Legend of Korra appears to play this straight in Book 1. A Love Triangle subplot ends with Korra and Mako getting together, but not only does it contribute little to the main plot, it comes across as shallow, with the characters involved not getting a whole lot of friendly interactions together and only seeming interested in one another due to their looks. Book 2, however, deconstructs it. It turns out that Korra and Mako don't have any real chemistry together, they frequently break into arguments over the smallest of disagreements, and can never reconcile their differences. It culminates in them eventually breaking up. They do not get back together.