There is always something magical about an onscreen kiss. Sometimes, it’s the culmination of two characters’ personal journeys that make us feel joy and hope. Other times, we just like to see really hot people mash their faces together!
However, certain magical onscreen kisses had some less-than-magical outcomes in the real world. In fact, some of them caused controversies that changed the world and ended in a divorce (or two).
Which stars and scenes are we talking about? Here are the onscreen kisses that caused real-life controversy!
Star Trek featured one of TV’s first interracial kisses
Part of the magic of Star Trek was that it was never about starships and aliens. Instead, these were just the trappings that let showrunners comment on real-world issues, and that included the fight for Civil Rights.
In the 1968 episode “Plato’s Stepchildren,” Kirk and Uhura, played by William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols, are forced by aliens to kiss one another. While it is not actually TV’s first interracial kiss, it may indeed be the first kiss between a white person and a black person on TV. Furthermore, it came only one year after interracial marriage was deemed legal by the Supreme Court, and it had serious audience repercussions.
Initially, NBC wasn’t excited about the scene in the script, so the producers made a deal: they would shoot two scenes, one with the kiss and one without. But, as NBC reports, the two actors deliberately messed up their lines on the alternative scene, forcing the network to air the kiss.
The episode ended up being banned by the BBC until 1994 (though they maintain this was about the sadistic villains and not the onscreen kiss). Meanwhile, Uhura actor Nichelle Nichols noted that this episode received more fan mail than any other ep had ever gotten!
Star Trek received backlash for its first same-sex kiss in 1995
We don’t typically associate Star Trek with romance. Nonetheless, the franchise keeps making history with kisses. And it happened again in 1995, when Deep Space Nine gave us one of the first televised same-sex kisses.
The episode “Rejoined” deals with Jadzia Dax, played by actress Terry Farrell, running into former lover Lenara Kahn, played by Susanna Thompson. Where it gets interesting is that both characters are aliens known as Joined Trill, who live for many lifetimes in many bodies. The young female Jadzia Dax formerly lived as elderly male Curzon Dax, for instance.
So, Dax and Lenara were married in another lifetime, but Joined Trill are supposed to avoid linking up with previous romantic partners. They get together briefly and share a kiss forbidden by their alien culture. Of course, in 1995, this same-sex kiss seemed “forbidden” to many outraged viewers.
According to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, show producer Ronald D. Moore revealed that this kiss caused one southern affiliate to stop showing Deep Space Nine altogether. And fellow producer Steve Oster said he fielded more than a few angry viewer phone calls. The most memorable one was a dad who claimed that the episode “ruined” his kids by “by making them watch two women kiss like that.”
Star Trek breaks barriers with its first gay male kiss
In 2017, a more recent Star Trek show, Netflix’s Star Trek: Discovery, featured the first gay male kiss in the franchise’s 50-year history. It took place between Lieutenant Paul Stamets and Dr. Hugh Culber, played by Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz respectively. When their kiss caused backlash among bigoted fans, Cruz went off via Facebook and reminded fans what the purpose of Star Trek really is.
“I’m not here for your comfort,” he wrote. “That’s not why we are here. We’re here to grow. Star Trek is and has always been here to challenge you to look outside of yourself and to see other people and other experiences in yourself.”
Harold and Maude shocked viewers with its 60-year age gap
1971’s Harold and Maude is considered a classic dark comedy today, but “You couldn’t drag people in” to see it when it was first released, according to producer Charles Mulvehill. “The idea of a 19-year-old boy with a 79-year-old woman just made people want to vomit,” he said via The Guardian. In real life the actors weren’t quite 60 years apart: Bud Cort was 20 and Ruth Gordon was 74.
The film bombed at the box office due to people who erroneously perceived it as being about a boy dating his grandmother. (The story was really about a suicidal young man who bonds with an older woman he meets at a funeral.) While many were grossed out, it didn’t seem to bother Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon, who remained close friends for years.
Stranger Things’ unscripted kiss made its young actors uncomfortable
Stranger Things is generally known more for monsters than romance. However, the show did feature an onscreen kiss that caused quite a bit of controversy. Interestingly, the controversy was not over the kiss itself but the circumstances leading to it.
In the second season finale, we see Lucas (played by Caleb McLaughlin) share a kiss with Max (played by Sadie Sink). Both actors were about 15 years old at the time, and it all seemed like a really sweet moment… right up until fans tuned into the aftershow Beyond Stranger Things.
There, as IndieWire reports, Sink revealed that the kiss wasn’t in the script. She only learned about it on the day of filming. Previously, showrunner Ross Duffer had joked about having Sink kiss McLaughlin, and he claimed that because she was “so freaked out” by the idea of the kiss that he decided to throw it in there. McLaughlin was also nervous, as it was his first kiss.
However, the controversy occurred because Sink’s interview came out right around the time the #MeToo movement was gaining steam. Suddenly, a showrunner forcing a young actress into an unscripted and unwanted kiss seemed that much more sinister. In fact, the backlash to this grew so much that Sink eventually had to clarify to TheWrap that while she was nervous, “I never objected to [it] or felt pushed into anything.” Some fans, though, maintain she should never have been put into that position.
Tommy Davidson’s improvised kiss with Jada Pinkett Smith nearly led to a brawl with Will Smith
These days, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith have confirmed that they have an open relationship. But that wasn’t the case back in 1998, and it almost led to a fistfight between Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s Woo star Tommy Davidson.
As People reports, both Davidson and Pinkett Smith were disappointed with the original ending to Woo. Davidson then pitched an idea about the movie ending with him and Pinkett Smith dancing in the street. This ending made it into the final cut, as did something else: a sudden kiss from Davidson to Pinkett Smith that he had not told her about ahead of time.
According to Davidson, Will Smith followed Davidson into his trailer right after the scene and began going off on him to the point that he thought a fight was about to happen. “There was a moment there when we might have come to blows,” he said. “My reactive fight-or-flight instinct was triggered, and I could have exploded.”
Pinkett Smith smoothed things over, and both Will Smith and Tommy Davidson are friends to this day.
Billy Bob Thornton’s love scene with Halle Berry hurt his relationship with Angelina Jolie
Billy Bob Thornton and Angelina Jolie divorced in 2003 after only three years of marriage. At times, Thornton has noted that the two broke up due to lifestyle differences. Jolie wanted to be a globe-hopper and Thornton just wanted a simpler and quieter lifestyle.
However, he once confessed to Yahoo! News that one of the biggest stresses on his marriage was filming an explicit sex scene with Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball. “I go away and do a film like Monster’s Ball with a very explicit sex scene with Halle Berry,” he said. “She is one of the most beautiful women in the world, and I am talking on the phone to my wife, and she says, ‘What have you been doing today?'”
Thornton then mused on what a unique challenge this was for his relationship. “Other people’s situations are hard, with areas of doubt. But if you are a thousand miles from home on a film set simulating sex with a beautiful woman, it’s even tougher.”
Ewan McGregor and Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s onscreen romance led to two divorces
What’s worse than an onscreen romance leading to one divorce? An onscreen romance leading to two divorces, of course!
On FX’s TV drama Fargo, Ewan McGregor plays two roles: Emmit and Ray Stussy. And Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Nikki, a character who falls in love with Ray. The onscreen relationship felt pretty natural, partially because McGregor and Winstead became romantically involved offscreen!
There was just one problem: both actors were already married. It wasn’t long before Winstead divorced Riley Stearns and McGregor divorced Eve Mavraki. While it’s impossible to chart exactly when McGregor and Winstead began dating, many were shocked to see McGregor leave his wife of 22 years to date his younger costar so soon after they began acting together.