There might be no matching the chemistry between Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in “You’ve Got Mail” or Sleepless in Seattle.”
There might be no matching the chemistry between Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in “You’ve Got Mail” or “Sleepless in Seattle.” On-screen chemistry can make or break a rom-com.
Apple TV’s rom-com, “Ghosted,” starring Chris Evans and Ana de Armas, had a decent story, but ultimately flopped due to a complete lack of chemistry between Evans and Armas.
“It’s readily apparent that de Armas and Evans, charismatic and charming on their own, have next to no chemistry,” according to Rolling Stone. “Every line delivery is so stilted it’s as though they’re being read off cue-cards, a la SNL.”
The 2023 Netflix rom-com, “Your Place or Mine,” with Ashton Kutcher and Reese Witherspoon, faced the same problem. “You can fake almost everything on camera except palpable chemistry,” criticized the London Times.
As audiences question whether or not the rom-com is dead, maybe all that is missing is the on-screen chemistry from Hollywood duos like Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy or Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, who set high rom-com expectations through legendary on-screen chemistry.
Here are 10 recurring on-screen Hollywood couples we have fallen in love with.
1. Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks
Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks are the gold standard of Hollywood duos. Together, they have created some of the most beloved romantic comedies. They teamed up for the first time in 1990 to create the quirky-but-lovable rom-com “Joe Versus the Volcano” and fell in love with working together. Classic rom-coms “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail” followed.
“He’s just so easy,” Ryan said of working with Hanks, per Today. “He listens; he roots for other people.”
“(Hanks) doesn’t like there to be drama,” Ryan added. “I feel the same way. We’re just really there to have fun, this is supposed to be a creative experience and there’s no reason to get heavy.”
Maybe its their off-screen admiration for each other that brings such sincerity to their on-screen relationships — whatever it is, their chemistry is unmatched.
After decades without a movie from the pair, Hanks and Ryan reunited in 2015 for “Ithaca,” a drama directed by Ryan. Ryan expressed gratitude to her longtime friend Hanks for making time to be a part of her movie.
“I really admire him. He’s just easy to be around, and that’s a big compliment because he’s so smart. He’s kind and he gets people. He didn’t have to do this movie,” Ryan told Vanity Fair in 2016. “I’m so grateful to him.”
Movies together: “You’ve Got Mail,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “Joe Versus the Volcano,” “Ithaca.”
2. Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy
Before modern Hollywood duos, there was Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. The pair starred in nine movies together and their Hollywood love affair was legendary both on and off screen.
“It was a unique feeling I had for (Tracy),” Hepburn wrote in her autobiography, “Me: Stories of My Life,” per Biography. “I loved (him). … I would have done anything for him.”
“I have no idea how Spence felt about me, I can only say, I think that if he hadn’t liked me, he wouldn’t have hung around. As simple as that. He wouldn’t talk about it, and I didn’t talk about it. We just passed 27 years together in what was to be absolute bliss. It is called LOVE,” Hepburn also wrote, per Fox News.
Hepburn and Tracy’s 25-year open secret love affair translated to each film they made. The genuine feelings and passion they had for each other converted to unmatched on-screen chemistry.
“Performer Gene Kelly once recalled Hepburn and Tracy getting together at lunchtimes at the studio, where ‘they’d just meet and sit on a bench on the lot. They’d hold hands and talk – and everybody left them alone in their little private world,’” per Biography.
Movies together: “Woman of the Year,” “Adam’s Rib,” “Desk Set,” “Pat and Mike,” “Keeper of the Flame,” “The Sea of Grass,” “Without Love,” “State of the Union,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”
3. Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler
If only we had more from this riotous duo. Every movie Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler have made together generates the perfect balance of romance and comedy.
Although they have only played on-screen sweethearts three times, Barrymore and Sandler remain tight friends. Which is why Barrymore was invited to present Sandler with the best actor honor for his work in “Uncut Gems” at the National Board of Review Annual Awards Gala in 2020, per Today. Barrymore’s touching words about her longtime off-screen friend left him choked up.
“I love this man so much, and I have always believed in him,” praised Barrymore, per Today. “This moment, honestly, couldn’t be more deserved. I know that everyone is rooting for you because you have earned everyone’s respect. You deserve the best, you give the best and you are the best. I love you very much.”
“Drew, that was amazing. You were just saying all of that stuff and it was amazing,” Sandler said in response, per Today. “I’m glad we met, and I’m glad we did it all and we always make our movies together.”
The last time they collaborated was in the 2014 romantic comedy “Blended.”
Lucky for us, we could see more from this Hollywood duo in the future. In December 2022, Barrymore revealed that she hopes to make another movie with her “cinematic soulmate and partner” Adam Sandler, per Fox News.
“I want to do another movie with Sandler,” Barrymore said during an appearance on the “Chicks in the Office” podcast. “We’ve done it every 10 years, and it’s about to be 10 years.”
“I think that would make me so happy,” she added.
Movies together: “The Wedding Singer,” “50 First Dates,” “Blended.”
4. Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire
Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire mesmerized audiences with their outstanding dance numbers. Despite off-screen tensions, the legendary dance duo kept audiences cheerful through the Great Depression, The New York Times claimed in 2005.
“At their peak, between 1935 and 1937, they were America’s beloved couple. Their musicals offered the purest form of escape from the woes of the Depression, a fantasy of the 1920’s seen through the darker prism of the 30’s,” John Rockwell wrote in The New York Times.
But it wasn’t natural chemistry that earned this Hollywood duo a permanent place in American hearts — it was the hard work they put into every project. While filming the “Never Gonna Dance” sequence in their 1936 film “Swing Time,” the duo filmed 48 takes to perfect the iconic scene.
“I never said a word about my own particular problem. I kept on dancing even though my feet really hurt. During a break, I went to the sidelines and took my shoes off: they were filled with blood. I had danced my feet raw,” Rogers revealed in her 1991 autobiography, while referring to filming “Swing Time,” per the Independent.
Roger and Astaire had fiery, flirty exchanges with one another on screen. Their dance sequences were where their romantic chemistry truly took off.
“(Roger and Astaire’s) relationship on screen was always prickly, his insistence meeting her resistance until the emotions built to the point they could no longer be contained. The only way they could be expressed was the eruption into dance,” Bob Mondello wrote for NPR.
Movies together: “Shall We Dance,” “Top Hat,” “Follow the Fleet,” “The Barkleys of Broadway,” “Swing Time,” “The Gay Divorcee,” “Flying Down to Rio,” “The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle.”
5. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling have only made three movies together, but that was all it took for audiences to notice their top-of-the-line chemistry. This duo was made to play on-screen sweethearts. Their witty banter in “La La Land” and hilarious vulnerability in “Crazy, Stupid Love” makes it hard to believe these two aren’t madly in love in real life.
“You have two actors (here) who have an onscreen chemistry that, I think, is one for the ages,” said “La La Land” producer Marc Platt, per Grazia Magazine.
“Crazy, Stupid, Love” director Glenn Ficarra said creating on-screen chemistry between Stone and Gosling was simple because “they love each other in real life,” per Entertainment Weekly.
“It’s a tall order to ask the actors — ‘OK, you guys just met, and you have to basically fall in love’ — and they totally pull it off,” Ficarra told Entertainment Weekly. “They get on like a house on fire. It wasn’t a lot of heavy lifting on our part. It’s making a move to hire the right chemistry.”
In 2018, Stone gushed about working with Gosling, admitting that she “can’t even imagine what my life would be without Ryan,” per People.
“He’s so special,” she continued. “He’s so talented but he’s such a great person to work with because he’s so collaborative and excited about the process. He’s taught me a lot about being really generous.”
Gosling echoed Stone’s positive feelings about working together.
“Emma Stone is just, like, constantly opening Christmas presents,” Gosling revealed during an interview about “Crazy, Stupid Love,” per Entertainment Tonight. “There’s nobody like her. As soon as she signed on to the film, I knew it was going to be good.”
Movies together: “La La Land,” “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” “Gangster Squad.”
6. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton
There is a reason Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton made a whopping 11 movies together — they shared an epic off-screen romance which translated to extraordinary on-screen chemistry. The pair met for the first time in 1953 and it was — for Burton, at least — love at first sight.
“A girl sitting on the other side of the pool lowered her book, took off her sunglasses and looked at me. She was so extraordinarily beautiful that I nearly laughed out loud,” Burton wrote in his diary of seeing Taylor for the first time, per Vanity Fair.
“She was unquestioningly gorgeous. … She was a dark unyielding largess. She was, in short, too bloody much.”
When Burton was cast as Taylor’s costar in “Cleopatra” in 1963, she finally gave him the time of day. Through 11 movies together (between 1963 and 1973) the legendary duo had a rocky romance, per Vanity Fair. They divorced in 1974, after filming “Divorce His, Divorce Hers,” only to get remarried in 1975 and divorce again after less than a year.
“I don’t want to be that much in love ever again. … I gave everything away … my soul, my being, everything,” Taylor told a friend, per Vanity Fair.
“In my heart, I will always believe we would have been married a third and final time,” Taylor told Kashner and Schoenberger, per Vanity Fair. “From those first moments in Rome, we were always madly and powerfully in love.”
Movies together: “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” “Cleopatra,” “The Taming of the Shrew,” “The Sandpiper,” “The V.I.P.s,” “Boom!,” “The Comedians,” “Hammersmith is Out,” “Under Milk Wood,” “Divorce His, Divorce Hers,” “Doctor Faustus.”
7. Julia Roberts and George Clooney
After their sizzling chemistry in “Pretty Woman,” some think Julia Roberts and Richard Gere make an iconic on-screen duo. But I think Robert’s off-screen friendship with George Clooney makes them a superior Hollywood pair.
“We became instant friends,” Roberts told Jimmy Kimmel of meeting Clooney for the first time. “You just meet people and sometimes you think, ‘I really don’t like that person. I have no reason to not like them. I just don’t like them and I will never change my mind.’ Then there’s some people that you meet, like my GTC (George Timothy Clooney), who you go, ‘OK, I’m going to know this person until the end of time. This is a good one.’”
Clooney felt the same way about their instant friendship.
“The minute we met, we had fun,” Clooney told People in 2022. “The beauty is, when you work with people who take their work seriously and don’t take themselves seriously, and that’s really fun.”
While filming “Ticket to Paradise,” Roberts revealed that Clooney and his family saved her from “complete loneliness,” per The New York Times.
“The Clooneys saved me from complete loneliness and despair,” she said. “We were in a bubble, and it’s the longest I’ve ever been away from my family. I don’t think I’ve spent that much time by myself since I was 25.”
“We started in Hamilton Island, with all these wild birds, and Julia had the house down just below Amal and me and the kids,” Clooney shared with The New York Times. “I would come out in the early mornings and be like, ‘Caa-caa,’ and Julia would come out and be like, ‘Caa-caa.’ And then we’d bring her down a cup of coffee. She was Aunt Juju to my kids.”
Movies together: “Ticket to Paradise,” “Ocean’s Eleven,” “Ocean’s Twelve,” “Ocean’s Thirteen,” “Money Monster.”
8. Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey
The best thing about “Fool’s Gold” is the Kate Hudson-Matthew McConaughey duo. After creating one of the most beloved rom-coms of all time, “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” it was necessary this pair worked together once more. And it is a shame we have only gotten two movies out of this duo, because their on-screen connection is remarkable.
Their unforgettable chemistry in the “You’re So Vain” sequence from “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” apparently worked so well because the pair was experiencing genuine frustration with each other.
“Underneath, probably for things that were happening in character and out of character and off-set, we’d gotten under each other’s skin a little bit. We were legitimately kind of pissed off at each other in a really cool way,” McConaughey said in a 2023 Instagram Live stream. “Like okay, that worked. But can we inject a little more of the charm and the love and the desire and the lust in there?”
Hudson added that “there’s something spontaneous about the way we were able to work together.”
Movies together: “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” “Fools Gold.”
9. Edna Purviance and Charlie Chaplin
Before “talkies,” Edna Purviance and Charlie Chaplin generated intense chemistry through body language. Through dozens of movies, this OG Hollywood duo set the bar for on-screen chemistry. Chaplin met Purviance at just 17 when she visited his film studios, per Turner Classic Movies. They made more than 30 films together.
“Chaplin was instantly captivated by her beauty and charm,” according to CharlieChaplin.org. “The personal chemistry between Chaplin and Purviance served the Tramp’s changing attitudes toward women well, resulting in no small part from the intimate relationship the two enjoyed off screen.” (The Tramp was Chaplin’s recurring on-screen character.)
“In real life as in the films, Purviance and Chaplin were romantically involved, and they remained close friends even after their affair was over,” reports Britannica.
Movies together: “A Dog’s Life,” “The Immigrant,” “A Woman of Paris,” “A Day’s Pleasure,” “Shoulder Arms,” “The Kid,” “The Pilgrim,” “Pay Day,” “Sunnyside,” “The Rink,” “The Idle Class.”
10. Diane Keaton and Woody Allen
Diane Keaton starred in eight films with Woody Allen between 1971 and 1993. The now-controversial director cast Keaton opposite him because there is “nobody I want to work” with other than Keaton, according to Allen.
“There’s nobody I want to meet and nobody I want to work with — I’d rather work with Diane Keaton than anyone — she’s absolutely great, a natural,” said Allen, per IMDb.
In 2015, Keaton credited Allen with giving her career-making opportunities.
“Well, I mean, look, the most important moments in my life are with my family, obviously. Of course, my career, it will always, always, always be Woody Allen. Nothing would have happened without Woody Allen,” Keaton told Vanity Fair.
Following sexual assault allegations made against Allen, Keaton claimed that the allegations have not “overshadowed the work (they) did together.”
“No, not at all,” Keaton said in 2023, per the Independent. “No. I’m proud. I’m proud beyond measure.”
Movies together: “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan,” “Play it Again, Sam,” “Manhattan Murder Mystery,” “Love and Death,” “Sleeper,” “Interiors,” “Radio Days.”