Ever since Cary Grant began falling in love on screen, romcoms have warmed our hearts and indulged our fantasies. Audiences memorize heartfelt speeches and swoon with the main characters. During the past 50 years, directors have experimented with the genre in a variety of ways, from breaking the forth wall to introducing strange couplings like man and machine. Here are our ten favorites.
Crazy, Stupid, Love.
This 2011 romcom finds middle-aged Cal (Steve Carrell) suddenly in the midst of a divorce and seeking dating advice from young, hardbodied ladies' man Jacob (Ryan Gosling). Little does Cal know Jacob has fallen in love with his daughter Hannah (Emma Stone).
As the plotlines hilariously twist and wind around each other, only one thing is certain: The audience never has any clue what’s going to happen next.
When Harry Met Sally
Director Rob Reiner’s 1989 gem starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan as best friends who slowly fall in love over several years set the standard for every romcom that followed.
Filled with memorable scenes such as Meg Ryan “faking it” in Katz Deli to Billy Crystal’s explosive speech at a New Year’s Eve Party - “I love that it takes you half an hour to order a sandwich!” - the movie earns the denomination "classic."
In his 1977 breakout, Woody Allen steps outside of the film’s narrative to directly address the audience–a film novelty at the time. Throughout the movie, he breaks the forth wall to explore love, friendship, and his own neurosis as he falls for Annie Hall.
And though she would consistently appear in Allen’s films, Diane Keaton never gave a better performance than her showing as the ditzy character almost certainly based on her real-life persona (she even wore her own clothes in the movie).
Every teenage boy since 1989 has dreamed of holding a boombox over his head while standing outside his crush’s window, just like Lloyd Dobbler (John Cusak) does in Cameron Crowe’s first romcom.
The romance between high school seniors Dobbler and Diane Court (Ione Skye) is hopeless from the start, as Court prepares to head off to college. But that gives it the manic, excited energy that only a doomed love can have.
This star-studded romcom quickly became a Christmas staple. It revolves around a series of eight different, often interlocking romances that all somehow connect to aging rocker Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) and his surprise holiday hit “Love is All Around.”
The film includes hilarious, touching performances from Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Keira Knightley, Julianne Moore and many more. It reminds us that from the Prime Minister to a pair of porn stars, everybody craves love during the holidays.
You might not expect the director responsible for Boogie Nights and the star of Happy Gilmore to create one of the most surreal and affecting romances in recent history.
But that’s exactly what Paul Thomas Anderson and Adam Sandler did in this 2002 indie about a mentally unbalanced man (Sandler) falling in love with a British woman (Emily Watson) while trying to quiet his troubled mind.
Simultaneously hilarious, harrowing, and touching, there’s no other movie like it.
Silver Linings Playbook
Romcoms aren’t generally known for winning awards, but Jennifer Lawrence rightly took home the 2013 Best Leading Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the troubled Tiffany Maxwell as she falls for bipolar Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), who was recently released from a mental hospital.
Director David O. Russell warmly captures their struggles as they both try to find some solace through each other by entering a dance competition that they don’t have a chance of winning.
Director Cameron Crowe had us at Say Anything, but that didn’t stop him from making an even better romcom in 1996. It features one of Tom Cruise’s best performances as the eponymous sports agent who walks away from his firm while finding love with Dorothy Boyd (Renée Zellweger).
In the movie, Cuba Gooding Jr. famously yells “Show me the money!” Crowe must have been thinking the same thing: It was one of the highest grossing films that year.
Sleepless in Seattle
Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan spent the 90s falling in love in romcom after romcom, but none holds up as well as 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle. Director Nora Ephron’s love letter to 1957’s An Affair to Remember is the story of single father Sam Baldwin (Hanks)’s son calling into a radio program to find love for his dad–connecting him with Annie Reed (Ryan).
Sure, it’s overly mushy and a bit melodramatic, but that’s the whole point.
The basic rule of a romcom is that it follows at least two people falling in love, but Her bucks all convention by having Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) fall for a computer’s operating system voiced by Scarlett Johansson. The resulting product could easily have been goofy, absurd or downright unwatchable.
But in the practiced hands of Spike Jonze, it’s guaranteed to produce both laughs and tears from audiences. A true triumph, the movie is further proof that, in film, rules are made to be broken.