10 Films You Have to Watch If You’re Writing a Romantic Comedy
Romance and comedy — the best combination since peanut butter and jelly.
Ah, rom-coms. There’s just something about ‘em.
But one of the most common critiques of the romantic comedy genre is that it’s too formulaic, overrun with cliched meet-cutes, trite lovers quarrels, and sappy romantic moments.
What’s a romantic comedy writer to do? Research!
So settle in, press play, and check out these 10 romantic comedy movies. You’re guaranteed to see your script with heart-eyes after this.
When Harry Met Sally…
The modern rom-com wouldn’t exist without Nora Ephron/Rob Reiner classic. When Harry Met Sally… follows the two titular characters over 12 years in New York City as they attempt to find love and happiness, all the while attempting to answer the age-old question: “Can men and women ever just be friends?” When Harry Met Sally… is a masterclass in character creation, witty dialogue, and emotional, yet grounded scenes.
We all know the trope of the infinite time loop — thank you, Groundhog Day! Then, 27 years after Bill Murray, we got Palm Springs, a fresh take on the time loop trope that hit home for viewers who were just settling into pandemic life.
Palm Springs follows the formula — Nyles and Sarah find themselves living the same day over and over again in Palm Springs, California. But where this movie differs is in its acknowledgment of how it follows the tropes of both time loops and romantic comedies — it’s self-aware storytelling in a refreshing, original way.
On the surface, this Richard Curtis rom-com is about one ginger-haired Brit’s attempt to find true love using his unique time-traveling abilities. About Time does indeed deliver on that premise, but as the story unravels, you also realize that About Time isn’t just about romantic love — more than anything, it’s about familial love.
In a landscape full of rom-com protagonists searching for their one true romantic love, the fact that Curtis chooses instead to focus the climax of About Time on the love that exists between family members is a heartwarming, totally unique spin on the genre.
Silver Linings Playbook
Rom-coms are, by nature, a genre mash-up. But that doesn’t mean you can’t add another genre into the mix. Case in point? Silver Linings Playbook.
This movie has a love story at its core, yes, but it also deftly rides the line between comedy and drama. The two characters in Silver Linings Playbook forge an interesting relationship while both dealing with — and excuse my language here — some really heavy shit. After getting out of a mental hospital, Pat struggles with anxiety and bipolar disorder, while Tiffany is still processing her grief and depression surrounding her late husband’s death. Not exactly your typical rom-com subject matter… and yet by the end of the movie, we want nothing more than to see Pat and Tiffany make it work.
The Big Sick
Most romantic comedies feature some kind of montage where we see the couple get to know one another and fall in love. Not many rom-coms feature extended scenes with the girl in a coma and the guy getting to know her parents.
But then again, not many rom-coms are The Big Sick, which was based on writer and actor Kumail Nanjiani’s real life story. Sometimes life really is crazier than fiction.
For so long, the romantic comedy genre focused on well-behaved, quirky women who had to get fun-loving, commitment-phobic men to settle down. But in this Judd Apatow rom-com, Amy Schumer plays a commitment-phobic career woman who meets and falls for a genuinely good guy. Nowadays, it might seem like the norm, but Trainwreck was a bit groundbreaking in how it turned the typical male and female rom-com roles on their heads.
Crazy Rich Asians
A lot of rom-coms tell the story of how they fell in love and the happily ever after comes when they get together at the end. Crazy Rich Asians chooses to start where most rom-coms end: with a happy couple taking a trip together.
Rachel and Nick head to Singapore for a friend’s wedding, where Rachel is tasked with impressing Nick’s crazy rich family and getting his mother’s approval. Instead of it being the story of how a relationship started, it’s the story of one of the obstacles in that relationship, a unique and original addition to the romantic comedy genre.
(500) Days of Summer
One of the most famous love stories is Romeo and Juliet, right? But people always tend to forget that Shakespeare’s classic is actually a tragedy. The tragic element of love is something that Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber decided to bake right into the central conceit of (500) Days of Summer.
We watch as Tom falls for Summer, romanticizes their relationship, gets his heart broken, and tries to get her back — and yet, from the opening, the audience is told that this rom-com doesn’t have a happy ending. The key takeaway here for rom-com writers is that it’s important not to ignore the other elements that often exist in love stories: tragedy, heartbreak, frustration, conflicting perspectives, and, most importantly, hope.
Crazy, Stupid, Love
The standard cast of a romantic comedy includes two romantic leads and a smattering of less important side characters. Not Crazy, Stupid, Love. Dan Fogelman’s ensemble rom-com about the contrasting ways different generations approach love features a massive cast that includes Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Julianne Moore, Marisa Tomei, Joey King, and Kevin Bacon. Every character feels fully realized and each goes on their own individual journey, and Fogelman even manages to get Josh Groban in a few scenes.
Set It Up
While many of the movies on this list forgo some standard rom-com element in favor of originality, Set It Up does the opposite. It includes all things we’ve come to expect of rom-coms in a completely new way because they are baked into the very premise of the story.
Set It Up follows two overworked 20-something assistants who decide to set their bosses up in a situation straight out of a romantic comedy. Meanwhile, they fail to realize that they’re the ones falling for each other in the traditional rom-com way we all know and love.
Britton Perelman is a writer and storyteller from the middle of nowhere, Ohio. She’s had jobs in travel writing, movie trailers, and podcasting, and is currently getting her MFA in Screenwriting at the University of Texas at Austin. When not writing, Britton is most likely belting along to Broadway musical soundtracks, carefully making miniature bookshelves, or napping with her dog, Indiana Jones. Find more of her writing on her website or follow her on Instagram.