Where Did All The Rom-Coms Go?
Only one rom-com in the 2010s has made its way into the top 25 highest-grossing romantic comedies which was Crazy Rich Asians in 2018. The rest are from the late 90s and 2000s.
So what exactly happened to our beloved rom-com?
This is a list of the 25 top-grossing rom-coms since 1995 (adjusted for inflation) and if you look at the dates they’re mostly from the late 90s or early 2000s. There’s also a graph which shows the number of tickets since 1995 which is pretty stable until 2020 (hello, COVID).
But if you look at the percentage of the market share made up by rom-coms there’s a dip around 2011 even though general ticket sales remained fairly stable. Rom-coms just weren’t making as much money as they did before and in 2022 we don’t really have our version of rom-com darlings like Meg Ryan or Julia Roberts.
So where did all the rom-coms go?
What Happened To Rom-Coms?
“It’s kind of a broader question of genre” Ari Mattes told Junkee, “the way Hollywood and popular media work they always work in cycles,” he said.
Ari is a lecturer in Media and Communications and English Literature at the University of Notre Dame. His research lies in the intersection of politics and media theory, digital cultures and studies of popular film and literature.
He told Junkee that “genres always kind of appear go through a period where there’s a really popular film or a breakthrough film that’s used to pitch to get funding for other films or whatever. So a whole cycle’s kind of emerged.”
“If you think something like When Harry Met Sally, that’s so successful that it sets up this precedent. By the end of the cycle films are often obsessively kind of concerned with genre with themselves” he said.
In line with this concept we have this era of rom-coms in the 90s and early 2000s featuring the more classic storylines of boy meets girl à la My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Notting Hill. But then we start seeing movies like The Break-Up in 2006 and He’s Just Not That Into You in 2009 which actively try to subvert these storylines. Protagonists are told that love isn’t like the movies and the plots play around with what audiences have come to expect from the genre.
Did Rom-Coms Get Replaced?
Ari Mattes suggested that audiences were growing tired of the genre by the mid-2000s and for him something else had started to replace it.
“Something like the coming of age film has very much kind of overtaken the position of the rom-com, things like Moonlight or Call Me By Your Name.”
They’re still kind of romantic films, but they’re like coming of age and they’re also kind of very earnest,” he said.
One potential reason for this move into a more serious and earnest brand of movies is the idea of proving some kind of authenticity as part of a broader cultural movement of postmodernism. In simple terms postmodernism is a way of thinking that questions everything that came before like what we consider ‘moral’ or what is ‘objective’ or ‘real.’
So these comforting romantic narratives made way for grittier coming-of-age stories that tried to be more realistic. All the things we associated with old-school rom-coms and the way they followed a familiar narrative just wasn’t what we wanted anymore.
“It occurs in a lot of areas like 20 years ago following a kind of postmodernism. I think that is something more broad about cultural production becoming more serious and more kind of earnest with more of a desire to prove kind of authenticity or something like that.”
Are They Gone For Good?
But before you think they might be gone forever there might be a revival on the way. They’ve been kept alive by streaming platforms like Netflix with movies like The Kissing Booth and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before finding huge success.
The return of iconic 00s couple Ben Affleck and J-Lo seems to have also brought her back to the iconic genre with two rom-coms being released this year. The sequel to Enchanted, one of the highest grossing rom-coms is coming out in November this year. Judd Apatow returns to the genre with Nick Stollar and Billy Eichner with Bros.
Whether it lives on on streaming platforms or gets fully resurrected in cinemas, there’s definitely an interest in these familiar stories of love.