Despite being a popular subgenre of books, very few movies are made that would classify as Romantic Suspense. Obviously, this is a genre I love since I write in it, and I’m constantly hunting for new films that will satisfy the requirements, but there are so few.
To qualify, under my definition of the genre, you need a few things.
- Equal time devoted to building the romance as the action/thriller elements
- Not have characters already in a happy marriage when the story starts
- A happy ending (the couple together and the bad guys defeated)
Now there are quite a few action films that have love interests in them, but very few of them take the proper time to build the relationship. Usually, they’ll meet, and then right at the end they’ll get together, because the hero always gets the girl. That’s not the kind of movie I’m talking about.
Also, in action movies in particular, often the hero will have a wife, who dies or is kidnapped so he can rescue her. This also doesn’t count for obvious reasons.
And then there are those that don’t have a happy ending. Movies like The Terminator (which I love) which does take the time to build the romance along with the action plot, but for whatever reason it doesn’t work out. I’d also classify The Bodyguard along with this (though I often forget they don’t end up together in that film!).
And this, of course, does not include bait-y “romances” where they take all the time to build the couple’s bond and then nothing happens at the end – I’m talking everything from Aliens, to Romeo Must Die. Blech.
So, without further ado, my top 7 romantic suspense films, in chronological order (because why not?):
When I first started getting into movies (in a serious way) in my teens, I watched a lot of classics. Laura was always one of my favourites. The witty dialogue, the urbane characters, the intriguing mystery, and of course the romance.
The IMDb summary says it all: “A police detective falls in love with the woman whose murder he is investigating.”
First, he falls for her image—a painting of her—and the stories he hears from those that knew her. When she turns up alive, he starts falling for the real thing. But they also need to solve the mystery of who tried to kill her, because that person still wants her dead.
It’s an imminently rewatchable film.
Nowhere to Run (1993)
Anyone who knows me knows about my love for Jean-Claude Van Damme films. I think he’s pretty underrated as an actor (even in terrible films—see Derailed for what I mean), and his action sequences are usually pretty top notch.
This film is my favourite of his. Probably because it errs more heavily on the romance than most of his others.
Van Damme plays an escaped convict hiding from the police. He stumbles upon a home with a widow and her two children, and she invites him to stay, not knowing who he is. He falls for her quickly, but keeps his distance. But then an evil land developer starts threatening her and the other townsfolk, so JCVD steps in to protect them.
I’m cheating a little here. At the end, he gets taken away in handcuffs, after promising to find a way back to her. And she and the children promise to wait for him. It’s not a traditional happy ending, but it’s close.
I just really dig this one. I like the tropes and the story, I like the actors. It just really works for me.
(Side note: If JCVDs character had definitively got together with his brother’s wife at the end of Lionheart/A.W.O.L/Wrong Bet (whatever you know the film as) I might have included that as well. Because that was CLEARLY a romance. Ugh.)
Army of One/Joshua Tree (1993)
I have also expressed my love for Dolph Lundgren films more times than I can say. Physically, he’s more my type than Van Damme, but he’s a much worse actor, and his fight scenes are often clumsy-looking. (He’s got hella long legs!)
But I LOVE this film. It’s low budget, and it shows in some parts. But that John Woo-esque fight sequence at the end is pretty great. And the hotel scene has such great sexual tension.
In this film, Dolph plays a (you’ll sense a theme here) convict, who escapes from the police and takes a woman hostage. The woman happens to be an undercover cop. And she slowly starts to realise that he’s innocent and wants to help him, and he goes from wanting to use her to wanting to protect her.
In some ways this is another cheat. There are two versions of this film. One ends with him being taken away in handcuffs (again. Though to be fair he did kill a LOT of people to prove his innocence, so…) but the other ending shows him out of prison and the two in a happy relationship. And as long as I don’t think of the logistics of that (like I said, he killed a LOT of people) then I’m counting it as a happy ending.
I have this on DVD, but it’s a terrible release. The blu-ray isn’t available here in Australia, but eventually I will reward myself and buy it from Amazon so I can get the proper widescreen release.
Clearly 1993 was a great year for romantic suspense films!
This one features Madeleine Stowe and Aiden Quinn. He’s a police detective (and a bit of an ass), and she’s recently had an operation to restore her sight (and gives him back as good as she gets!). She witnesses a murder, but her brain is still processing the images because she hasn’t been able to see for so long. So he sticks around her until she can identify the killer.
These two have great chemistry. He’s one of the few brash, asshole heroes I can stand, probably just because she doesn’t let him get away with it AT ALL and it’s fun watching her take him down. This is probably the sexiest entry on this list, too, coming out in that short period where erotic thrillers were all the rage. (Alas, it ended too soon).
Fair Game (1995)
I considered putting Cobra (1986) on this list, which is based on the same book that this film is. But a) I have another favourite Stallone romantic suspense, and b) I think I like this version a little bit more. More focus on the romance!
This features William Baldwin (an underrated Baldwin brother, tbh) and Cindy Crawford. She’s a lawyer, and people want her dead for reasons she doesn’t understand. He’s a police detective who saves her life. When the cops are compromised, he takes her on the run with him while they figure out what the bad guys want.
This film is trashy, I’ll admit, but I’ve never minded that. This is one of the films on this list that most obviously fits within the romantic suspense genre. It has a lot of the tropes, the story beats, and a surprisingly decent sex scene.
I know it was reviewed on the ‘How Did This Get Made?’ podcast, and from memory I pretty much agreed with them. It’s one of those trashy, so-bad-it’s-good films that’s ACTUALLY fun to watch, as opposed to just boring as hell.
Avenging Angelo (2002)
An underrated Sylvester Stallone gem.
This action/comedy/romance again features Madeleine Stowe as the daughter of a mob boss—only she never knew her real father. Stallone plays her (real) father’s bodyguard. When the old man gets whacked, Stallone must protect his daughter from the killers coming after her. But he also has to keep away, because he’s secretly been in love with her for a very long time.
This film is just a comedic delight. Stallone is so FUNNY in it. It really makes me wish he did more comedies, because his timing and facial expressions were perfect in this. And Madeleine Stowe manages to be on the likeable side of shrill and paranoid, which is a tough balance to pull off.
They take time to develop the romance between them, even while a series of hitmen try to kill her. And I laugh my arse off throughout, even during the fart humour scene (and I HATE fart humour). Just so good.
Smoke Screen (2010)
The last entry on this list. This is based on a Sandra Brown novel, and frankly I liked it better than the book. (The hero isn’t such an ass, from memory.)
A television reporter, played by Jaime Pressley, wakes up next to a dead body with no idea what’s happened. Her investigating puts her in the path of someone she used to know—who blames her for his life falling apart. Turns out he had a similar thing happen to him all those years ago, so they team up to figure out what’s really going on.
I’ll be the first to admit that Raley, the hero played by Currie Graham, starts off the film as a total jerk. He is a Sandra Brown hero, after all. But, if you can get past the kidnapping and the aggression of the first part of the movie, he turns out to be totally delightful.
I really just like the way he looks at her, always, with this slight smile on his face. He doesn’t disguise how into her he is, and it’s refreshing. And she’s great—so feisty and determined.
There have been a couple of movies based on Sandra Brown books, but this is by far my favourite. White Hot came out last year and was OK. Though because it was a Hallmark movie they really toned down the sex and suspense. Ricochet, which I know I’ve seen but don’t remember much about, was also alright, but this time I don’t think they softened the hero’s jerk tendencies at all.
I really wish more TV stations or film companies would adapt romantic suspense books, because frankly I think it’s a vast untapped financial market. And I don’t just say that for selfish reasons, though I absolutely will watch them all if they come out.
So, do you have a favourite romantic suspense film? Anything you’d recommend to me?