From 1990 to 2015, 209 romantic comedies were released. Two hundred and nine. And the list I found didn’t include all the movies I would count as romantic comedies. From 2015 to now, less than 10 romantic comedies have been made in the U.S. The year 2016 saw zero rom-com movies made in America. Many say the early 2000s were the rom-com’s years in the spotlight — but why? Hollywood was pumping out an average of almost eight a year, with a record 18 in both ‘08 and ‘09.
On March 17, model Chrissy Teigen tweeted, “Where are all the rom coms? there is a shortage of rom coms and thus a shortage of my happiness,” which made me wonder: where have these beloved films gone? Why are some of America’s most treasured movies now almost extinct, forcing movie-lovers to watch and rewatch old favorites every year? What would it take to bring back these movies we cherish so much?
So, what killed the rom-com industry? Is it the cliches of the big-city career woman giving up her dreams for a man (see: “Sweet Home Alabama,” or “The Proposal”)? Or the characters who continually make the wrong choice and aren’t that likeable, but still get the guy (or girl) in the end (see: “The Notebook”)? Possibly.
The light jokes, pleasing visuals, occasional teary moments and ultimate happy ending is appealing. Sure, some of the content is a little goofy, and maybe even frustrating, but I believe that viewers secretly crave this ridiculousness: it’s a leap from real life, a time when your inner sap can escape and feel certain things that life doesn’t provide. But that was then.
A major contributor to this downfall could be that people connect on a different level than they used to. Teens and young adults communicate through social media or apps like Tinder. Yet the movies produced with such themes seem overly cheesy or just absurd. What do we want then?
A big reason for the decline could very well be that the storylines became tired in later years, taking predictable themes from previous hits and replaying them with different actors. The modern rom-com watcher is desperate for a clever, witty flick with an all-star cast like in the past.
Romantic comedies used to have big name actors like Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Aniston and Anne Hathaway. They practically boosted their careers. The “Princess Diaries” franchise actually kick-started Hathaway’s career, followed by “Ella Enchanted” (2004) and “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006). Without the old classic rom-com, we wouldn’t have the likes of Anne Hathaway, who now acts in mostly high-budget dramas. Today, such actors wouldn’t be caught in these films because of their recent stigma. What used to be cool isn’t cutting it anymore.
Films like “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” (2003) and “Bride Wars” (2009) hold a dear place in my heart. They are feel-good movies, they don’t depress me at the end they don’t require much thought afterward. I can sit and enjoy. I get sentimental when I watch “13 Going on 30” (2004) and “A Cinderella Story” (2004) because they take me back to simpler times, when it was easy to love this type of film, whereas the Oscar-winners and indie films of today make you feel a certain pressure to like a controversial or statement movie. And there definitely is a place in my heart for those movies. Maybe what American viewers want is authenticity.
In ‘98 and ‘99, there were three romantic comedies among the top 20 highest-grossing in the box office. In recent years, rom-coms haven’t even made the top 100. Then, the U.S. was the only money-maker for such movies, whereas starting in 2013, the market is almost entirely in China. The most recent rom-com produced was “The Big Sick” (2017), it was the only of its kind in 2017 and grossed over $35 million in the box office. It was even nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.
Taking “The Big Sick” into account, I believe there isn’t reason for the death of the genre. This film gives me hope for the future of the rom-com. Many of the great rom-coms of America’s past were fantastic — they were truly beacons in many childhoods. To revamp this industry, it would take A-list actors and actresses to return to the rom-com screen for films that are actually unique. It would take a clever writer to create the kind of movie no one has seen before, fresh ideas and real plots that are genuine and reflect the modern age. It would take the crafting of characters who represent the modern woman: powerful, independent; not as inherently built on female insecurity. Maybe, it would take the idea that not everything in film has to be portrayed as a perfect love story, because in reality, everyone knows that life is much more messy, unpredictable and full of unknowns.
Written by Claire Maxwell