Best Romantic Comedies

As you all know, I have a fondness for romantic comedies.  I don’t think it’s the romantic in me so much as I like the familiar format the genre takes, like those people who read romance or western novels.  Yes, I know they don’t tend to be very challenging or creative, but there is something to be said for settling down for a couple of hours with actors you enjoy in varying combinations and watching a (hopefully) interesting take on the boy-meets-girl story.

Romantic comedies are nice.  I like nice.  Just don’t treat me like an idiot, please.  Write dialogue that sounds like real people talking.  Give them stuff to do that real people do, even if real people don’t look like Jennifer Lopez.  Avoid too many of the cliches, and please spare me the music videos unless you do something clever with them.

I know: So far, I don’t think any romantic comedy has avoided ALL of the little annoyances, but whatever.  Kate Hudson makes up for a lot of music videos or hurry-up-and-get-to-the-play-for-the-kid’s-performance races.

My top ten:

  1. Moonstruck (Cher, Nicholas Cage)
    Oscar cred gives this one a little more weight, but even without it, it’s a lovely movie.  A romantic comedy doesn’t have to be set in an interesting place with interesting people who have interesting histories, but this one is.  It is a thoughtful, funny, wistful film, and the rare romantic comedy that features a middle-aged woman.  Something about this film elevates it above the others in its genre; I think it’s the believable brokenness of the characters.  These characters are not just flawed, they have been beaten, both of them, by their own lives.  If you haven’t seen it in some time, see it again, and look for all the Cinderella elements, including the shoes.  Olympia Dukakis and Cher won Oscars, but Cher is the reason to watch this thing.
  2. My Big Fat Greek Wedding (Nia Vardalos, John Corbett)
    You gotta love those indie-type films that generate enough word-of-mouth buzz to force the mainstream theaters to give them screens.  I loved that this played for weeks at the Varsity (weeks!) first.  Winning performances all around and an unforgettable character.
  3. Splash (Tom Hanks, Daryl Hannah)
    What a sweet movie.  I honestly don’t know how it could have gone wrong with Tom Hanks in the lead, Ron Howard directing, and the Ganz/Mandel team writing.  Creative and charming.  John Candy almost steals it.
  4. Notting Hill (Hugh Grant, Julia Roberts)
    I didn’t see this film in the theater because it looked and sounded like such a loser, even though I’m quite fond of Grant and totally in love with Julia.  One summer when I was trying to get caught up with Julia films, I saw this and found it quite impressive.  I love it when a film’s background characters are interesting enough that you kind of wish you could see a film about THEM.  What I like about the way this film is set up is that it’s Grant’s friends who help you see what kind of person he is.  He’s obviously loved by these smart, interesting people, and that gives the character a credibility most writers of these films don’t seem to want to bother with.  Julia playing Julia (not the first or last time she does this, of course) is magnetic.  I love this film, despite the music video midway through the film.  At least that music video is fairly creative and serves the purpose of showing the passage of a year.
  5. Roxanne (Steve Martin, Daryl Hannah)
    Who saw THIS coming?  Another film where the earnest, winning performance of the lead actor wins you over, which of course is the plot of the film as well.  I could probably watch this every week and not get tired of it.
  6. When Harry Met Sally (Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan)
    It surprises me that this film is this far down the list.  I think maybe it’s because I’ve seen it so very many times that I forget how different it was from other films in theaters at the same time.  Rob Reiner does a great job with these actors, and again, the leads are helped enormously by a terrific supporting cast (Carrie Fischer and Bruno Kirby).  In a film loaded with quotable lines, my favorite: “I promise you, I will never, ever want that wagon wheel coffee table.”  Yes, it beats (for me) “Baby fish mouth.”
  7. Pretty Woman (Julia Roberts, Richard Gere)
    This is probably what should be the prototypical romantic comedy, and it’s certainly the one that leaps to mind whenever someone mentions the genre.  This is another one that plays up the fairy tale theme (“What happens after the knight saves the princess?” “She saves him right back.”) with a cute tribute to the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene.  It’s all about Julia in this one.
  8. The Wedding Singer (Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore)
    I can’t figure out why Roger Ebert didn’t like this.  It’s a good film.  There seem to be a lot of films that poke fun at the 80s, but this one does it in a loving way, which I appreciate.  Although there are a few things that are just way too out there (Barrymore’s fiance is ridiculously unbelievable even in a film with lots of tough-to-believe stuff, including Billy Idol saving the day).  Ultimately, it’s the sincerity of the actors that wins me over, and yeah, I’m a sucker for Barrymore in this movie.  Bonus Buscemi points!
  9. Hitch (Kevin James, Amber Valetta, Will Smith, Eva Mendes)
    A fun movie all around, but it is Kevin James who makes it worth seeing.  I really, really enjoyed this one, and didn’t think I would.
  10. 50 First Dates (Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore)
    There are about a hundred reasons to hate, hate, hate this movie.  Among them are vomiting walruses, Rob Schneider, Rob Schneider affecting a very bad Hawaii local accent, Samwise Gamgee with one muscular arm and one normal arm, and a difficult to believe plot.  There are a few reasons to love it, and I don’t want to ruin it for people who haven’t seen the film, so I won’t give them away, but those reasons are powerful.  It’s a horribly flawed movie that does a few things unexpectedly right, including the motivations of the supporting characters.  It’s rare for a movie to use familial love to make romantic love more believable, but this one does it, and I bought it.

The honorable mentions: About a Boy, Maid in Manhattan, Mannequin (I know, I know; sue me—it’s really Reid’s fault), Stranger than Fiction, The Truth About Cats and Dogs (didn’t make the top ten because I’m not sure it qualifies as a romantic comedy), Two Weeks’ Notice, The Wedding Planner.

Comments, criticisms, and snide remarks are most welcome.

11 Responses to “Best Romantic Comedies”


  1. Reid

    I’ll try to come up with my list, but let me comment on your list first.

    1. Moonstruck I agree that Cher, who is luminous and gives one of her best performances, is a reason to see this. Like Mitchell, I have a hard time putting my finger on the reason this movie works. The characters are broken, yes, but I think it’s the Italian family vibe–which is created wonderfully by all the actors–is a big reason for the film’s magic.

    2.My Big Fat Greek Wedding. You welcomed criticism and snide remarks, right? I don’t get this pick, especially at the #2 position. I loved the underdog nature of the story and the lead character (actor). She was plucky, appealing, and I rooted for her. But the other actors who play her family do a bad job, the kind of thing you’d see in a bad TV special. The film is essentially on par with a lot of bad Hollywood romantic comedies, but the ethnic and indie production make audiences feel like their hip.

    3. Splash! I haven’t seen this in a long time, but I enjoyed it when I did. Hanks showed that he could be an appealing lead. (Was this the big movie for Hanks and Howard?) Hannah was also appealing. These actors really made this movie.

    4. Notting Hill. I agree about the supporting actors. They had some of the funniest scenes in the film–and the film has some funny scenes. Loved Rhys Ifans, as Grant’s roomate. I like Hugh Grant, Julia Roberts and I liked their scenes together, but I have one major problem with this film: the way they meet and instantly fall for each other (mainly Roberts’ character falls for Grant’s). It was totally unbelievable and ridiculous. I’m sure the writers could have came up with a more realistic and believable way for them to get together. Really, if they worked that part out, I would probably love this.

    5. Roxanne. I liked this, but not as much as you.

    6. When Harry Met Sally. Loved this. I’ll say more when I make my list. A little quibble about your favorite line.

    7. Pretty Woman I really liked this film, too. It’s one of those films that if I saw the previews for, I wouldn’t be interested. Julia is great, but Richard Gere’s silver-black hair was pretty cool, too.

    8. The Wedding Singer. I don’t know if I saw this all the way through. I agree that Barrymore is appealing. Btw, was this the first movie where she found this persona? I think prior to that she played more of a wild (even tough) free-spirit. In this and subsequent films, she’s the sweet and vulnerable girl-next-door. She and Sandler–their screen personas–match fairly well.

    9. Hitch Never saw it.

    10. 50 First Dates. I actually watched this and actually thought it was not bad (probably a 5 or 6)–even with Rob Schneider’s utterly horrible pidgin and local character, worse than North Shore. The premise is kinda intersting and the sweetness of both Sandler and Barrymore work for me.

  2. pen

    I’m surprised Groundhog Day is not on Mitchell’s list…but I’m guessing he’s not classifying it as a “romantic comedy.”

    I’ll have to think about my list, but for sure 13 Going on 30 will be in the top 10. For some reason, everytime I’m channel surfing and this movie comes up, I watch it all the way to the end. I think Jennifer Gardner does a great job capturing the 13-year-old girl in a 30-year-old’s body well without going over the top. Plus, the homage to the 80’s with the “Thriller” dance and Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield.”

  3. Mitchell

    Yeah, I don’t really think of Groundhog Day as a romantic comedy, because it’s really a movie about one character and not about the romance; similarly, I put 13 going on 30 on the fence. Romance is a piece of the movie, but only as much as it’s a piece of any young woman’s life. The film is really about the girl in the woman’s body and the romantic relationship’s just one aspect of it. I agree, though, that it’s a sweet movie, but I just HATE the “Thriller” stuff. Ugh.

  4. burgess

    I didn’t really get Moonstruck. I wasn’t a fan when I first saw it, so maybe it’s worth another look. While i’m not necessarily a fan of the romantic comedy, I’m actually surprised I came up with as many as I did.

    1. Love Actually

    great cast, great acting, great writing, great depth in dealing with love. The comentary track on the DVD is quite good as well.

    2. Sabrina (Harrison Ford, Julia Ormond, Greg Kinear)

    3. As Good as it Gets

    4. Sleepless in Seattle

    5. Notting Hill

  5. Marc

    Merry Christmas folks.

    I don’t really have much to add but since I spent part of tonight re-watching Love Actually with my girlfriend I thought I’d second the nomination by Burgess. I think I would also agree with Penny and include Groundhog Day. And while some of these may not qualify strictly as romantic comedy, I would add in no particular order: Tootsie, Singin in the Rain, Forget Paris, While You were Sleeping, Serendipity, and High Fidelity.

  6. Reid

    When I thought of my list, I asked myself this question: “What makes a great romantic comedy for me?” The first requirement is that I have to really like and care about the main characters, I have to want them to get together, and I have to believe the romance or love between the two characters. Specifically, I love when a film succeeds at showing the main characters fall in love. When done well, it’s very compelling and beautiful, and I wonder why more filmmakers don’t take this approach.

    The second requirement is that the film has to have enough comedy scenes in it, and a lot have to be funny (or at least enjoyable). I have no idea what constitutes “enough.” I really liked Pretty Woman, but I don’t know if it has enough comedy for it to fall in the genre. Others may disagree, and it’s subjective. With that in mind here’s my list:

    1. When Harry Met Sally Most romance films don’t spend effort in showing how the main characters fell in love. This was one of the first romantic comedies I saw where the filmmakers use the entire film to do so. Better still is the fact that the characters become best friends first, without any romance, and then fall in love. (That particular development happens to fall in line with my idea of the best way to develop a relationship.) Unlike so many romantic films, I really believe that these characters these characters love each other and that’s partly because I believe that they are best friends. It’s one of the more convincing and appealing romantic relationships I’ve seen in film. In the final scene where Harry runs to the New Year’s party and tells Sally why he loves her–his reasons are great–it’s the stuff derived from a really good friend—and it resonates because the filmmakers have used the whole film to establish it.

      The film also happens to be a very funny film, the comedy for me is almost as satisfying as the romance. As Mitchell mentioned that are many memorable lines, and I would add, great scenes. (I think the orgasm scene is not that funny, but I acknowledge it’s iconic status.) My favorite scenes are between Crystal and Bruno Kirby; the two have really great chemistry and I enjoy seeing them on the screen together. (Too bad Kirby passed away.) When Harry Met Sally is a terrific romance and an equally terrific comedy.

    2. It Happened One Night Like When Harry Met Sally, filmmakers use the entire film to show the main characters falling in love, starting with some indifference, even dislike for each other. The screen presence of Clark Cable and Claudette Colbert contribute heavily to the success of this film. They’re both attractive, engaging and have good chemistry as the down-to-earth reporter and spoiled daughter of wealthy man.
    3. Annie Hall This film doesn’t have a romantic relationship that I really believe in or care about, and the relationship is not something you long for, but that’s part of point. The film is about people’s need and struggle to fall and stay in love. But the comedy is the strong point in the film, as the film would probably make my top ten in comedies. This is the first appearances of Allen’s hypochondriacal, sarcastic screen persona. The direction is also very good in the film, with the reshuffling of time sequences.
    4. The Goodbye Girl An unrecognized classic, imo. Richard Dreyfuss is charming, totally likable, and he carries the film. Marsha Mason is also solid, too (She’s pretty hot in a cute way). Highly recommended to fans of the genre.
    5. Green Card
    6. Peter Weir directed with Gerard DePardieu and Andie MacDowell in the lead roles. I haven’t seen this in a long time, but I remember liking it a lot, primarily because, once again, here’s a film that shows the characters falling in love. The film employs the formula of the leads first hating each other and then gradually falling in love. What I find satisfying in this film is that the characters have to live with each other, but since they openly dispise each other, they are totally free to express negative opinions about the other, e.g. annoying habits, personal character flaws, etc. That is the opposite of relationships that start with the two individuals romantically interested in the other person. In that situation, candor about these things is hard to come by, and both parties often rationalize or minimize them in some way. At some point this has to change–the things that bother and annoy has to come out, if the relationship is going to be solid. The cool thing about Green Card is that all of that happens at the beginning of the relationship.The two characters are real with other–there’s attempt to please the other person–so when they slowly are drawn together, they have a basis for a strong loving relationship. They know and see all the warts from the beginning. The fact that film convinced me that someone like MacDowell could fall in love with someone like DePardieu was no small feat either. I’m pretty sure it has comedy, but I can barely remember the funny scenes in this.

    7. Manhattan
    8. Like Annie Hall the film is more about romantic relationships more than depicting an appealing one(s). Again the comedy is the main reason this makes my list. The black-and-white photography is an added bonus.

    I’m going to stop my list there because these are the ones that stand out for me. I have hard time ranking the rest of the candidates, among them Moonstruck, Seven Chances and others that I can’t think of. Pretty Woman would definitely make the list, but I don’t think it has enough comedy to qualify. (But I haven’t seen the film in a long time, so maybe I’m wrong.) Tootsie would definitely make my list, too, if I thought the romantic relationship was central to the film. (Btw, fwiw, I agree with Mitchell that Groundhog Day does not qualify for the reasons he mentions.)

    Several of you have mentioned Love Actually, and I liked the concept of the film, and while I liked it a little, I didn’t think it was entirely successful.

    Mitchell and everyone else,

    I’d like to hear what separates your favorite romantic-comedies for the others.

  7. Mitchell

    A romantic comedy, in this film-fan’s opinion, is not just a comedy that’s romantic, or a romance that’s funny. First, the film needs to be about the relationship, even if some other contrivance is constructed around the couple. Second, it must be pretty obvious quite early in the picture who the couple is, and it must be obvious that they will be together at the end of the film. Something somewhere along the way will present an obstacle in this relationship, but all will be Happily Ever After in the end.

    It doesn’t NEED to have what Roger Ebert calls a Meet-Cute, but that almost invariably happens.

    For these reasons I don’t count 13 going on 30 (a film much more about one character than about a couple, for sure!), Tootsie, Singin’ in the Rain, and High Fidelity (a film I like very much). While these are better films than almost anything on my list, I just don’t think they’re romantic comedies. If someone asks you to describe any of these films, would you begin with “It’s a romantic comedy starring . . .?” I don’t think so. As for Annie Hall and Manhattan, I might have to see these again, because I think of them much more as one-character movies.

    And now I really have to see Serendipity again, because I do not remember it being very comedic at all!

  8. Jill

    Hi Everyone! Merry Christmas!

    Mitchell, I’m surprised you chose “Hitch”. I loved that movie and it’s on my list. Most people I talk to aren’t that thrilled about it, but Kevin James learning to be cool is really funny to me. I always laugh at the dance scene and especially its outtakes. did you see it? my fav dance move is called: Making the Pizza. 🙂

    I also like lots on your list: The Wedding Singer, Notting Hill, etc….

    Others l really like:
    Along Came Polly- I just saw this on TV. This movie has the Ben Stiller painful humor and is also extremely sweet. I loved it!! Actually, this is my current fav.

    When Harry Met Sally, of course.

    Never saw 13 going on 30, but now I want to.

    I can’t really think of others that would be on my top 10, but I liked Music and Lyrics.

  9. Reid

    Great discussion. Good to see you in here, Pill.

    Mitchell,

    I pretty much agree with your definition of romantic comedy. I want to know more about what sets your picks above the rest–what actually makes a great romantic comedy. (Or maybe I didn’t read your threads carefully enough?)

    I just thought of some other films to finish off my list:

    7. Moonstruck. I decided to add this one in at 7. The comedy part of the film is not strong, but the romance–more than just the relationship between Cher and Cage–is good. John, you might want to give it another shot; when I saw it when it first came out, I actually fell asleep during the film.

    Other picks:

    Something’s Gotta Give I remember Diane Keaton won the award over someone I thought was a lock to win it, and I felt that actor (whom, ironically, I can’t remember right now) got robbed. I said there was no way Diane Keaton should have won–even though I never saw her film! Well, I saw the film, and I was wrong. Keaton was good in this. Nicholson was also likable and not an annoying charicature of himself. The ending is kinda messy though.

    Honeymoon Over Vegas I just love Nicholas Cage in this, particularly the scenes where he’s getting super exasperated. There’s a wackiness to the film that I like, too. This is a dark horse romantic comedy for me.

    If Broadcast News counted, I’d put that in there, but I don’t think it does. Ditto Accidental Tourist. It’s more about William Hurt’s character. Btw this last film is about as good as a Hollywood comedy-drama can get. Spanglish might also could be a contender. There’s some really good dialogue, but it’s more like a TV pilot where they tried to cram too much into.

    Jill,

    Have you seen the older screwball comedies like Bringing Up Baby with Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. You might like that. Then again, some of the gags may be too corny for you. You should also try some Buster Keaton films like Seven Chances (which was the inspiration for the film 40 Days and 40 Nights.) While we’re at it, have you seen any Marx Brothers’ films?

  10. Jill

    Marx Brothers’ movies? I don’t think so…And no, I haven’t seen the others…C’mon, you should know that by now :).

  11. Reid

    Jill,

    You should check out at least one Marx Brothers film. It can be slow at times (especially if you don’t like some of the musical numbers), but it can be pretty hilarious, too. Then again, I saw them when I was young, so I have a connection to them that you may not.

    On another note, I thought of another film that would make my list, probably in the third position. That film is Trust. It’s an independent film with a different slightly different sensibility when it comes to comedy and romance, but it’s there. I love this film!

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