The Awful Truth (1937): Philosopher Stanley Cavell called them “comedies of remarriage”—the screwballs, like The Philadelphia Story, in which a couple messily breaks up but, come the finale, have regrouped. It was a clever way to circumvent the Production Code, which forbade the depiction of extramarital affairs and other fun stuff. The most extreme example finds Cary Grant and Irene Dunne splitting up and pairing off with others, eventually realizing the errors of their ways—for example, that Ralph Bellamy is, as illustrated again in His Girl Friday, no Cary Grant. Monogamy wins the day, but only after the two have fooled around.
Annie Hall (1977): And to think, one of the great movies about a couple forming then imploding was originally intended to be a murder mystery. That’s what Woody Allen shot, before realizing in post-production that the relationship business was far more trenchant than the stuff where he and Diane Keaton solve crimes. (The two resurrected the material 16 years later for the underrated Manhattan Murder Mystery.)
The War of the Roses (1989): Most films about break-ups wish for their lovers to reconcile. Not Danny DeVito’s pitch black comedy. Subverting one of the ’80’s most beloved screen pairs, he cast Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner as marrieds who grow so far apart that their inevitable divorce breaks into fisticuffs and far, far beyond.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004): The apex of the nonlinear breakup movie—see also: Betrayal , (500) Days of Summer and Blue Valentine—was originally intended to be even darker. Charlie Kaufman postulated that Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet would spend the rest of their lives dating, breaking up, erasing their memories, dating, ad naus.
The Break-Up (2006): Kudos to the filmmakers and studio for not pussing out on that title.
The Future (2011): Inspired by their impending adoption of a cat (who narrates), a couple (Miranda July and Hamish Linklater, who pointedly share the same bushy hairstyle) suffer a pre-midlife crisis that results in July taking up with a middle-aged divorcee (David Warshofsky) and Linklater literally shutting down. July’s whimsy may be polarizing, but it masks true pain. For her, the future is bleak.