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"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.

Examples of Token Romance include:


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.


Comic Books


Film

  • 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.
  • Neo and Trinity's romance in The Matrix.
    • Very much averted in the sequels.
  • Many a movie based on an action-adventure book with few or no female characters has a Token Romance tacked onto it:
  • 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 the only significant female in the book. Well, apart from Eowyn... but she's supposed to be paired with someone else. Unfortunately, the films don't lay the foundation for Eowyn/Faramir either.
  • Possibly lampshaded in Balls of Fury: "Oh, just kiss already!"
  • Subverted in Titanic, where many audience members went in expecting the Disaster Movie treatment with a tacked-on love story. Instead, the love story is the core of the film and the disaster frames and completes it instead of distracting from it. One of the most successful romance films of all time.
    • One could argue that Titanic is a rare complete inversion of the trope: Being a Romance Movie with a Token Disaster.
  • On the flip side, the Romantic Plot Tumor in the Star Wars prequels is meant to be the core of the story (and indeed is necessary for the wider series plot arc,) but comes off as so painfully forced that it feels like a Token Romance.
  • There's a wonderful example in Disney's Newsies.
  • Willie Scott in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Not only do she 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. On Her Majesty's Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me, The Living Daylights, Licence to Kill, Goldeneye, Casino Royale, and Quantum of Solace avert this. The first one and the last two especially, as On Her Majesty's Secret Service and Casino Royale dedicate great amounts of time to develop their story's romances, while Quantum of Solace averts it entirely as Bond doesn't get together with the girl in the end.
  • Likewise, the by-the-numbers romance between Austin Powers and Foxxy Cleopatra compared with the main plot about Austin and Nigel in Goldmember.
  • The Movie of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian: Suddenly we get a lot of desperate glances between our Prince and the otherwise forgettable Susan, culminating in a ridiculous Last Kiss that had the whole theater this troper was in cracking up. In the original book, there is no romance. Period. Oddly enough, the only romance in the series (other than A Horse and His Boy) involves Caspian later, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where he falls in love with and marries the daughter of a star.
  • The Movie of The Hitchhikers 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. This is the sort of mess that Author Existence Failure can lead to.
  • Parodied ruthlessly in Wayne's World. At the end of the first movie, as the whole cast gets their happy ending in absurdly 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.
  • The romance between Spock and Uhura in the Star Trek 2009 movie was cute, but largely irrelevant to... well, pretty much everything.
    • They do not have a romance plot during the movie, but instead a brief revelation of an ongoing relationship, serving the plot purpose of deflating Kirk's ego slightly without derailing the plot for romance angst.
    • In fact, the entire romance "plot" seemed to be nothing more than a set up for the "Nyota" joke in the transporter room.
  • In Tombstone, Wyatt's thing with the actress serves little more than to illustrate his inner conflict and to provide a happy ending.
  • 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. A strange excuse for an actor.
  • Down Periscope featured a romance between Kelsey Grammer and Lauren Holly, which was somehow thrown into the middle of a silly comedy about a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits aboard a submarine.
  • Puma Man has the romance between Tony the Puma Man and Jane Dobson. Its bearing on the plot was minimal at best.
  • The mostly-forgotten 2000 film 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 where between the lead and his sister and a pair of brothers.
  • National Treasure — the "romance" seems even more forced than a lot of the other elements of the movie.
  • Carrie — The Brian De Palma adaptation. It adds a scene not in the book where Tommy dances with Carrie at the prom and kisses her, implying he has fallen for her. Right, except he has a girlfriend (that he is deeply in love with) and only took Carrie to the prom as a favour to her. 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 apparently Hooked Up Afterwards. (Or for that matter, between her and Einon, though it does help to make him seem creepier.)
  • Kelly and Jason in Mystery Team. Granted, Kelly was essential to Jason's character development, but it's still a fine line.
  • Subverted in 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.
  • Morning Glory. The relationship we're interested in is between the hot young producer and the ancient, grumpy newsman. The tacked-on love affair she has with some stiff from Yale feels, well, somewhat tacked-on.
  • The romantic subplot of The Sorcerers 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 in the first two Transformers movies is one of the main attractions of the movies that doesn't involve Giant Robots and Explosions. So when Mikaela is Put on a Bus in the third movie it's surprising that it has little impact on Sam as a character or the plot. Needless to say the replacement romance between Sam and Carly is pretty much this.
  • 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.


Literature

  • Parodied in the Ciaphas Cain novel Death or Glory, where a footnote describing a popular holodrama called 'Cain's Heroes' made out of Cain's adventures in this book explains that Cain himself particularly loathed the production largely because of a "wholly invented subplot in which one of the militia recruits has a clandestine love affair with him".
  • Similarly, the 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 apparently become thirty years younger) and Gia (The Spock).
  • The romance between Jonathan and Shannon in A Skeleton in God's Closet.


Live Action TV

  • Charmed was pretty bad about this with regards to Phoebe. Starting in season 7 she would have three different five or six episode boyfriends just to give her character something to do. An episode of season 8 rectified this.
  • The Flash (2014 series) — Barry and Iris' relationship. The character of Iris was never probably established independently and has been criticised from early on in the series first season. The series was established as Barry learning to deal with his newfound powers and trying to find the man who murdered his mother. While Iris is part of Barry's adoptive family, the emotional support was mostly provided by his adoptive father, Joe West, who also served as Team Flash's police affiliation and the other part of the foundation for the series, Team Flash, became the supernatural centre, but also heart as Barry, Caitlin and Cisco became very close. The inability to find Iris a place in the narrative and establish her character led to increasingly forced attempts at including her in the existing foundation of the series, culminating with the producers centring the storyline on her being in danger, leading to the most panned season of the series. Nonetheless, they have been made the Official Couple, with season 4 also attempting to position Iris as Team Flash's leader to no improvement and now creating a storyline around her and Barry's future daughter in Season 5.
  • The Last Train — The romance that develops between Mick and Roe is completely unnecessary and if removed would not affect the plot in any way.
  • Primeval — Arguably Stephen and Helen's little fling in season 2. Well Stephen did have to do something other than looking badass with his shirt off.


Video Games

  • Happens a lot in video games, too, particularly when the player is given little or no choice in the matter, and/or The Chick has received very little screen time or is The Ditz. Examples include too many RPGs to mention, where you get to marry the princess in the end in spite of wanting to stay with your plucky healer sidekick. When they're not the same person, of course.
  • Mild subversion in Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, in that rescuing The Chick is an optional sidequest. And, well, she's the only female role in the entire game, and in an action movie (game), of course you're going to end up with the girl.
  • Done awfully in underwater Metroidvania game Aquaria, where the female protagonist gets hooked up with a mute and shallow love interest halfway through the game, with a few lines of cliched monologue. He will annoyingly follow you around, despite having not anywhere near the heroine's speed or firepower, and his presence is mandatory to proceed in the game.
  • World of Warcraft fanbase generally considers Aggra to be this for Thrall, considering the character was created from whole cloth specifically to be Thrall's love interest.
  • Due to the unfinished nature of Knights of the Old Republic 2, 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.
  • All of the romances in Neverwinter Nights 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, though.
    • 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. Which is a shame, because Neeshka is a much better character than Elanee.
  • In Tales of Graces, Cheria is completely irrelevant to the plot other than for being Asbel's love interest. That the couple is Strangled by the Red String doesn't help.
  • Dragon Age 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.
  • Lufia II has a bit of an example with this with Maxim and Selan. It's a bit of a Foregone Conclusion, given how the game is a prequel and they were a couple in the original Lufia, but it's handled with all the grace of a falling cement truck, making the two go from meeting to marriage in what seems to be a matter of days in-game, and less than two hours of gameplay.
    • Their relation is better handled in the DS remake. The newly paired up Tia and Dekar, however...
  • 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 particularily romantic - it's just another feature for your home.


Western Animation

  • Tony and Bridget's romance in An American Tail was a kind of sudden, forced, 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 pretty much exists only for the movie, and he doesn't really 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 practically the entire second half of the movie (even more than most of the recurring characters), though he gets a quick scene with Lisa at the end.
  • The plot of How to Train Your Dragon would have played out exactly the same without Hiccup's crush on Astrid and their implied Last-Minute Hookup. That is, Astrid could have still discovered his secret, been won over by his idealism and rallied the other kids without being his Love Interest.

Notes

  1. The majority of Storm's blood family in Africa didn't let her know they existed because they were afraid of the patriarch -- a dictator Storm could've gotten rid of in all of two seconds without even calling in the rest of the X-Men
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