Like Dorothy says in The Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.” Movies for families and about families are a staple at the cineplex, and they can be found in every genre from animation to horror.
There’s no shortage of iconic same-sex siblings relationships found on the silver screen: Michael and Fredo Corleone, the March sisters, Thor and Loki, Gilbert and Arnie Grape, Jake and Elwood, Tina and Queenie, and Anna and Elsa. But when it comes to on-screen depictions of brothers and sisters, examples are a tad more elusive but no less compelling. Here are 10 of the most memorable brother and sister duos in movie history.
10 Star Wars — Luke and Leia
Perhaps the most recognizable movie siblings in the world are Star Wars’ Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) whose early relationship has all the makings of a Greek tragedy. Luke and Leia’s toe-dip in the incestual pool is easily enough explained away: the Force draws them together in a confusing way until the truth is revealed.
Even though Leia says she loves Luke, the siblings spend far more time apart than they ever do together (although they’re poised to reunite one last time), and it’s fans’ unconditional affection for the brother and sister that enables them to overlook this fact. The prequels serve as a cautionary tale as to why Jedis should eschew romantic and familial ties and when they don’t, heartbreak, death and destruction ensue.
9 Home For The Holidays — Tommy and Claudia
Single mom Claudia (Holly Hunter) returns to her Baltimore child home to spend Thanksgiving with her parents and chaos ensues in Home for the Holidays. The highlight of this otherwise uneven film is the relationship between Claudia and her younger brother, Tommy (Robert Downey, Jr.). Both siblings face the inevitability that their adult lives will always be inextricably linked to their childhoods no matter how hard they try to distance themselves.
Downey Jr. and Hunter create a believable connection as two people who have known each other their entire lives and genuinely like each other in spite of it.
8 Cruel Intentions — Kathryn and Sebastian
In Cruel Intentions, Kathryn (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Sebastian (Ryan Phillippe) aren’t related by blood, which is good news given the wildly incestuous overtones of their every interaction.
At the core of their relationship, Kathryn and Sebastian are adversaries. They are prone to jealousy and competitiveness. They spar over material possessions and the state of their parent’s marriage. Given the similarities in their personalities and their upbringings, Kathryn and Sebastian are representative of a more provocative sibling rivalry: the kind where moviegoers are allowed to be aroused but not feel icky about it.
7 Ferris Bueller’s Day Off — Jeanie and Ferris
John Hughes’ film, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, is about a boy who goes to great lengths to play hooky with his best friend and girlfriend without getting caught. One person who is eager to rain on Ferris’ (Matthew Broderick) parade is his sister, Jeanie (Jennifer Grey). Jeanie’s hostility towards Ferris is made clear from the jump, and her frustration with her brother isn’t some deep, dark secret: he doesn’t play by the rules, and he gets away with it. Ironically, Jeanie’s attempts to bust Ferris has her breaking a few rules of her own.
At worst, there’s deep-seated dislike on Jeanie’s side, but when it comes to family loyalty, Jeanie has her brother’s back when it counts. Thanks to Ferris, Jeanie embraces her inner wild child, so she saves him either out of gratitude, newfound respect and understanding after her self-imposed ditch day.
6 You Can Count On Me — Terry and Sammy
If there’s a gold standard film that captures a realistic brother-sister relationship in all of its beautiful complexity, it’s You Can Count On Me (2000). Siblings Terry (Mark Ruffalo) and Sammy (Laura Linney) reconnect after a period of estrangement.
Terry turns out to be a much-needed male influence in Sammy’s life as well as her son Rudy’s (Rory Culkin). Orphaned at a young age, Terry’s and Sammy’s choices reflect how each has processed the loss ever since. There are no easy answers or quick fixes when it comes to broken relationships with people who are inherently broken as well. You Can Count On Me is a bittersweet film about acceptance, understanding, letting go and learning that family is always family no matter where they are.
5 Gone Girl — Margo and Nick
After Nick Dunne’s (Ben Affleck) wife goes missing, he becomes the prime suspect in her disappearance. As Nick’s sister Margo (Carrie Coon) learns her brother isn’t the man she thought he was, she grapples with the possibility he could be guilty. She can’t quite bring herself to ask, but viewers can feel the question resting on the tip of her tongue.
Margo turns out to be the most tragic character of them all. She’s selflessly built her life around a family that no longer exists. Nick isn’t just her brother, he’s her twin, meaning there’s a deep connection between them forged in the womb. Even the tightest bonds can be broken, and as Margo crumbles into a sobbing heap during the final moments of the film, she’s the one moviegoers fear for in the end.
4 Halloween (2018) — Laurie Strode and Michael Myers
The most recent installment of the Halloween franchise severs any familial ties between Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Michael Myers, but thanks to the original, several sequels and a Rob Zombie remake, these two will always be related in moviegoers’ minds. What causes Michael Myers to commit sororicide, and why the singular obsession with Laurie?
It could be middle child syndrome on overdrive or simply the fact that he’s a sociopath, but this decades-long stalking of the one who keeps getting away is far more interesting and intimate if Laurie’s tragic life can be chalked up to being born into the wrong family.
3 Gladiator — Commodus and Lucilla
In Gladiator, Lucilla (Connie Nielsen) may find her brother’s constant scheming and ambition tedious, but once Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) kills their father, Lucilla realizes she’s going to have to soothe the savage beast while trying to find a way to put him down. The downward trajectory of their relationship coincides with Commodus’ deteriorating mental health. Nielsen, who is so regal as Lucilla, rarely lets the mask slip to show her true terror.
The more Commodus feels emasculated, the more sexually aggressive he becomes towards his sister. While the scenes between Maximus and Commodus are comprised of standard alpha male aggression, Commodus’ mind games with his sister elevate Gladiator to something more extraordinary than an action film.
2 To Kill A Mockingbird — Jem and Scout
The big-screen adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee chronicles the lives of a southern lawyer, Atticus Finch, and his children Jeremy “Jem” Finch (Phillip Alford) and Jean Louise “Scout” Finch (Mary Badham) who live in a small Alabama town during the 1930s. Despite the events unfolding around them, Jem and Scout’s relationship remains the focus as it undergoes inevitable changes.
Often thrown together due to a lack of options, Jem and Scout’s bond is also one forged by shared memories and experiences. Their relationship represents innocence that slowly erodes as the ugliness of the real world encroaches. Just like their father, Jem and Scout are ordinary people with extraordinary capabilities born out of their love for each other and compassion for others.
1 The Savages — Wendy and Jon
Sometimes a crappy upbringing can bring siblings closer, but this isn’t the case for Wendy (Laura Linney) and Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in The Savages. The two emotionally stunted intellectuals are forced to deal with each other and their issues when their father becomes ill. Jon is oddly comforting despite being emotionally detached, and Linney easily falls into the role of the annoying little sister.
There comes a time when all adults have to let go of their childhood resentments and accept that their life choices are their own. Wendy and Jon help each other to come to terms with this and other inevitabilities. The Savages takes a bleak look at death and mortality, but it also delivers one positive message: it’s never too late to grow up.