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The Best (& Worst) Films Starring Real-Life Couples

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    Photo: Courtesy of Universal.


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    It's a testament to our collective lack of imagination that we love to worship onscreen couples in real life. If their make-out sessions are that hot in a movie, why wouldn't two beautiful people be hooking up when the cameras stop rolling too? Oh, right, it's acting. Except, that is, when it isn't.

    Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt act out a troubled marriage in By the Sea — out in UK cinemas this week – and some of us will go see it just to pretend it's a peek into what their marriage is like behind closed doors. The same way audiences flocked to see Bogart and Bacall, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, and even Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson.

    But does real love translate smoothly into fiction? Or does it make for bad acting? Here we've put on our stat nerd caps and collected the data on 15 real life pairings who acted together in a film when they were already an established couple. How much did critics love their pairing? How much bank did they make for it? Did the Academy dig it? And did they live happily ever after? Most of the results are mixed, except one: They do, in fact, turn out to be a huge box-office draw. Read on.

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    Spencer Tracy & Katharine Hepburn
    Both actors were decades into successful careers when Hepburn demanded that Tracy be cast as her husband in 1942's Woman of the Year. Her instincts were spot on, as audiences and critics alike adored their onscreen chemistry. They made nine films together and were a Hollywood hit. But behind the scenes, they had a secretive 26-year romance of the kind that definitely doesn't exist in these paparazzi-infested days.

    Rotten Tomatometer Average (for films together): 77.5% (Three films N/A)
    Critics' Take (at time of release): "Best of all, there are Miss Hepburn and Mr. Tracy. They can tote phone books on their heads or balance feathers on their chins and be amusing—which is about the size of what they do here." — Bosley Crowther, New York Times on Desk Set (1957)
    Box Office (for films together): £54.7million
    Academy Awards (for films together): 1 nod for Tracy (Guess Who's Coming to Dinner); 1 win (Guess...) and 1 nod (Woman of the Year) for Hepburn
    Lasting Love? Yes... Tracy remained married but separated from his wife the entire time, and all friends and coworkers kept the relationship on the DL until long after his death in 1967.

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    Lauren Bacall & Humphrey Bogart
    Bacall was just 19 when she was cast opposite a 44-year-old Bogart in To Have and Have Not (1944) and their on-set romance ended his previous marriage. Then the pair tied the knot and went on to film three film noir-esque movies as husband and wife: The Big Sleep (1946); Dark Passage (1947); and Key Largo (1948).

    Tomatometer Average: 95%
    Critics' Take: "[Bogart] seems uncommonly chastened and reserved... However, the mood of his performance is compensated somewhat by that of Miss Bacall, who generates quite a lot of pressure as a sharp-eyed, knows-what-she-wants girl."
    — Bosley Crowther, New York Times on Dark Passage
    Box Office: £7.4 million (Data N/A for Dark Passage)
    Academy Awards: 0
    Lasting Love? Yes, all the way up to until Bogart's death in 1957.

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    Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton
    Their hookup while making 1963's Cleopatra, when they were both married to other people, is in the hall of fame of Hollywood affairs. As a couple they made a total of 10 theatrically released films and one TV-movie together (plus two marriages and one Lindsay Lohan Lifetime movie), with more flops than wins — but oh, those wins are something. The best is their alcohol-fueled depiction of unhappy marriage in 1966's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

    Tomatometer Average:
    Box Office:
    £75.7 million (Data N/A for Boom!, Under Milk Wood, or Hammersmith Is Out)
    Academy Awards:
    1 win for Taylor and 1 nod for Burton (Virginia Woolf)
    Lasting Love? They divorced for good in 1976.

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    Goldie Hawn & Kurt Russell
    They met on the set of 1968's The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band and got together during 1984's Swing Shift, a sweet movie about factory workers on the home front in World War II. Their classic pairing as a couple on and offscreen was, of course, the amnesia comedy Overboard (1987). Reviews were mixed, but the chemistry was clear.

    Tomatometer Average:
    Critics' Take: "[A] deeply banal farce that... features one-dimensional characters, a good long look at Hawn's buttocks and lots of pathetic sex jokes.” — Rita Kempley, Washington Post
    Box Office: £23.5 million
    Academy Awards: 0
    Lasting Love? Oh, yeah.

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    Tom Cruise & Nicole Kidman
    The pair described their meeting on the set of 1990's Days of Thunder as electric, not that we could tell much in the critically panned race car flick. The couple's IRL romance gave them a boost in 1992's Far and Away, which was unfortunately hampered by the film's schlocky immigrant story. Their off-screen relationship was one of the big draws for 1999's Eyes Wide Shut — and the couple's sex appeal delivered. Though it was awkward to feel like we're peeping in on their marriage by way of Stanley Kubrick's weirdness.

    Tomatometer Average:
    Critics' Take: "Mr. Cruise and Ms. Kidman play out a long, marijuana-laced argument in their underwear, and all of the film's credibility hangs on their ability to make the exchange seem real.” — Janet Maslin, New York Times
    Box Office: £76 million
    Academy Awards: 0
    Lasting Love? They divorced in 2001 after 11 years together.