In Hollywood movies, men and women are never "just friends."

Friendships between men and women.
Sept. 28 2010 7:14 AM

Harry and Sally

In Hollywood movies, men and women are never "just friends."

Click here to launch a slideshow on the male-female "friendship" in movies.

Of the hundreds of movies my friend Jeff and I watched growing up—on VHS at his house, at the multiplexes on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, or at the independent cinemas downtown—not a single one accurately captured our close, platonic relationship. My standard for accuracy here isn't particularly high: I neither expected nor desired a feature about two smallish New York teens who watch movies when they're not doing homework. It's actually rather low: A script about a boy and a girl who enjoy spending time together but have no interest in having sex—that is, a script about a genuine male-female friendship—would have been satisfactory.

Distracted by gritty '70s dramas and anything by Woody Allen, we may have overlooked a cache of male-female buddy movies. So I asked everyone at Slate and dozens of my Gmail contacts to tell me whether such movies exist. Building from those nominations, plus the assistance of IMDB and Netflix keyword searches, I compiled a list of some 50 films and several TV shows that supposedly depict platonic friendship. Then I watched them all.  


What I found is that there is no secret cache. It's not surprising that most Hollywood movies depict romantic rather than platonic relations between straight men and women, if only because it's more exciting to watch two people flirt than to watch them chatter sexlessly. But the situation is more extreme than that: With very few exceptions, the movies that do broach the concept of male-female friendship make a point of dismissing it—they contend that platonic love is impossible.

The classic thesis, popularized by When Harry Met Sally…, is that friendship bleeds into romance; it's a precursor to marriage. Friendship films that don't end in romantic union are generally frustration narratives, in which one party is secretly in love with the other and feels dissatisfied—deeply, unalterably dissatisfied—with the tenor of the relationship. There are variations on these themes, discussed in the accompanying slide show, but the message is almost always the same: "Friendship" between a man and a woman requires scare quotes.

Click to go to an article on the origins of the term "platonic friendship."

Juliet Lapidos is a former Slate associate editor.


Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.


Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.