definitive rom-com rankings

Abstract

I like romantic comedies. At worse they are an easy escape from reality and at best they strike a balance between witty dialogue and moving emotional sequences that make you believe in a probably impossible ideal of love. I’m on break right now and I miss talking about movies, so this list is mostly a thought exercise for myself.

Criteria for Inclusion

The first issue that must be addressed, as with any ranking, is the criteria for inclusion. As I think of rom-coms as more of an orientation than a genre, my generally philosophy will be to be as inclusive as possible. At minimum the movies must involve some element of romantic love and have some moments which are funny. While with a little creativity almost any movie can be interpreted as including those two elements, I will be focusing on movies that place both elements centrally in their plots.

Criteria for Ranking

I am about to write some categories in this section, but ultimately the criteria are how the movie made me feel in the moment and how I feel looking back at it. I understand that that is a faulty system, and believe me that fact haunts me. But to try to fight back a little against my subjectivity, I will try to frame my thoughts about each movie with 3 categories.

1.Relevance to the genre

Related to what I talked about in the criteria for inclusion. How much of a ‘classic rom’ it is.

2. Emotional impact

A measure of how strong and varied the feelings I felt when watching the movie. This criteria includes the sad sappy stuff, the moments of elation, and the general joy of seeing two people fall in love. Extra points if it made me cry. This category will be weighted the most in determining where each movie ranks. The whole point of movies is to make us feel something and the prevalence of rom-coms is due to the fact that humor and the themes of love are easy vehicles to elicit emotional responses. Therefore, I think the ability to make your heart leap or shatter is the single most important quality for a romcom.

3.Quality

For this one, I am basically thinking about the Oscar categories: writing, cinematography, acting, metaphors all that stuff. In reality, I’m not sure to what extent I pick up on those kinds of things. The way I think about this category will be, in the scenario that I am taking a course on film making, how likely am I to select the movie up for evaluation as my topic for the final project.

The Rankings

1. The Big Sick

It combines together the schticks of various classic romcoms and executes them perfectly. Half the movie is comprised of one liners, and it inserts While You Were Sleeping as the second act. It does a masterful job of weaving its three subplots together. Everything you watch is not only funny but also plays a poignant role in the plot. It makes you feel the heart wrench of an immigrant generational divide as well as the awkward but genuine friendship between Nanjiani and Kazan’s parents. The central relationship is not perfect, but every character is so likeable you are thrilled to just sit back and watch them all riff.

Relevance: 9.5/10

has that quitessential romcom air to it

Emotions: 8.5/10

All around lovely lovely

Quality: 9/10

Writing is top notch, it all just comes together

2. Midnight in Paris

It’s a movie as much about romantic love as about a love of life. It sweeps you off your feet and through the streets of 1920’s Paris. It greets you with the company of giants of literature and art and introduces you to a world you never want to leave. Some rom-com’s are really about a relationship between two other people, but this movie has this Harry Potter-esque effect where every scene you watch is one you want to inhabit. You want to have a drink with Hemmingway, dance with Cottillard, and talk about relationships with Fitzgerald. It is easy to make this movie about yourself, your desires, and shortcomings.

Relevance: 9/10

Definitely a romcom but it's not centered around the romantic relationship

Emotions: 9.5/10

a whirlwind romantic adventure

Quality: 7.5/10

all the scenes with McAdams did not fit with the rest of the film

3. About Time

It might change your life. No movie pops into my mind as often as this one. It seems too shallow to shower this film with the usual platitudes—heartfelt, funny, lovely. It is all of those things, but what makes it really special is that the whole time you think you are just watching this guy who can time travel go about his life and you end it rethinking every moment of yours. As a bonus, the whole thing is just beautiful, shot mostly on pristine seaside cliffs with tall waving grass. The most important relationship in the movie is not the romantic one, but that is not a deficiency as much as a creative choice, one that I whole heartedly applaud.

Relevance: 7.5/10

more about life than love

Emotions: 10/10

Elation, sorrow, and a bright outlook on life. What more could you want?

Quality: 8/10

slick and heartwarming. Maybe some plot holes you'll have to overlook

4. Before Sunrise

This movie expresses every romantic's dream—the possibility that in any moment with any stranger that you might light a spark that never goes away. This movie is basically an hour and half long conversation between two people. For the most part they don’t say anything particularly rousing or clever but taken as a whole their back and forth encapsulates the best part about any romcom. You have the privilege of sitting with two people as they fall in love. You see the raw battleground where that development plays out: the words they exchange. There is no movie that portrays simple conversations as beautifully as this one.

Relevance: 6/10

more of a rom than a com

Emotions: 10/10

Every time I’m on some sort of public transport I think of this movie

Quality: 9/10

Perfect writing and pace with the right sprinkle of chaos

5. Notting Hill

I’m just a boy writing a movie review, urging you to watch this movie. The first hour is brilliant. I excitedly waited for any scene where Roberts and Grant are in the same room. Roberts plays the restrained, ethereal, but self-conscious celebrity perfectly (was that even acting?) and Grant is charming yet an empty enough slate for anyone to project onto. The entire movie is really funny, but the birthday dinner is flat out one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. The supporting cast is sublime; the levity and heart of the movie is carried by Grant’s friends and family. Ends on a show-stopper too.

Relevance: 10/10

Classic romcom through and through

Emotions: 8.5/10

I was captivated the whole time

Quality: 7.5/10

well written, maybe did not do enough to recover Roberts’s character

6. Sleeping With Other People

A modern day ‘When Harry Met Sally’. Full of funny sex jokes delivered with wry smiles. The movie is carried by an electric chemistry between Brie and Sudeikis. Every moment they spend together leaves you lamenting that the camera ever pans to anything else. The entire movie is basically two attractive people being their funniest and cleverest to each other. Maybe their relationship is not realistic, but it is the ideal way you want your romantic verbal sparring to go. It is a familiar story about navigating male-female friendships, but it is the best of the bunch. It is brilliant and unabashedly raunchy, but still grounded in a sincere display of two people who make each other better.

Relevance: 10/10

takes dna right from the original 90s romcoms

Emotions: 8/10

fun, funny, with more sentimentality than you'd expect

Quality: 7.5/10

well structured, great performances

7. The Notebook

In premise and ending a modern Romeo and Juliet. It will probably never receive its proper recognition from critics or award shows, but every emotional note it aimed at it rocked. Gosling is fantastic, combining the polite perseverance of Cusack in Say Anything with a country boy flair. Two hours of Gosling and McAdams playing off each other and making out in the rain would have been enough to carry any movie, but the three emotional haymakers the movie throws in the last 20 minutes cements the notebook’s place as a permanent fixture in my heart

Relevance: 7/10

perhaps slightly serious and lacking in the comedy part

Emotions: 9/10

It made me cry, twice.

Quality: 5.5/10

can be quite heavy handed. 20 minutes too long.

8. As Good As it Gets

About a cranky old man who is redeemed through the kindness of his actions. There is something weightier about old people falling in love. They only have so many cracks at it you know. Such an unstable main character makes the movie partially maddening to watch. You never know when he will blow up a social situation or dig deep into his bag as a romantic fiction author and pull out a knockout one liner. That’s part of the fun of it. It is a story of loneliness and compromise. It makes you laugh and smile at situations where both are usually in short supply.

Relevance: 9/10

has the light tone and theming

Emotions: 7.5/10

Maddening and heartwarming

Quality: 8/10

There are really 3 main people in the movie and 2 of them won oscars

9. 10 Things I Hate About You

The sort of movie where it pays to not look too closely at the plot. Let it carry you from one classic high school teen movie backdrop to another. From locker filled hallways to huge parties in opulent homes and finally to the climax of all teen romcoms, prom. You’ll be charmed by the hodge podge array of characters. You won’t mistake them for realistic portrayals of teenagers, but their caricatures of classic tropes add drama, levity, and freshness to a familiar type of movie. Heath Ledger and his smile carry the movie for long stretches, but that is fine by me. He even throws in a bangin’ music number for good measure.

Relevance: 10/10

Could serve as the dictionary entry for rom-com

Emotions: 8/10

Elicits plenty of big toothy grins, without too much depth

Quality: 6/10

Overacted and with an ending that really lets down our lead

10. While You Were Sleeping

This movie is really all about Sandra Bullock. she kills it. She has this unexplainable ability to do all sorts of awful and illegal things while still being really charming. As the movie goes on it constantly surprises you with its heart. It does the really difficult thing of both being a Christmas movie and a romcom, which I can literally not think of another successful example. You’ll fall in love with Bullock and the family she finds herself a part of. The movie bundles themes of loneliness and family into this overarching plot of finding love. It’s all so sweet you kind of forget how ridiculous the plot is.

Relevance: 10/10

Could serve as the dictionary entry for rom-com

Emotions: 7.5/10

Heartwarming and infinitely rewatchable

Quality: 6.5/10

the plot is actually bonkers

Notes

1) I want to pay some homage to “When Harry Met Sally” as the father to the modern-day slate of romantic comedies. It has some really amusing scenes (I’m looking at you Meg-Ryan-faking-an-orgasm-in-a-diner) but I just thought Crystal was unconvincing as a romantic lead. I also didn’t like either character enough to feel particularly attached to their romantic adventures.

2) Rachel McAdams is the Queen of rom coms. She’s in three movies on this list, including two of the top three movies. She shows her range too, flipping between spoiled but spunky to down to earth and demure. She’s great in Wedding Crashers as well.

3) Some honorable mentions: About a boy, Groundhog’s Day, and Pretty Women