Opinion: Have romcoms lost their spark?

25 years ago, in March 1990, one of the most popular and successful romcoms hit screens across the world, taking in over $11m domestically during its opening weekend and a worldwide lifetime gross of just under $465m.

Classed as Julia Roberts’ first headlining role, the world fell for ‘tart with a heart’ Vivian Ward in Pretty Woman. Roberts took home the Golden Globe for Best Actress and received her first Academy Award nomination for Best Actress while co-star Richard Gere was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Actor.

Together with Meg Ryan, Roberts dominated romcoms during the 1990s, with Ryan starring in such films as Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail and Roberts following up her Pretty Woman success with My Best Friend’s Wedding, Notting Hill and Runaway Bride.


Today, Katherine Heigl, Reese Witherspoon and Rachel McAdams come to mind as being the most prolific romcom actresses, though Witherspoon has successfully diversified, gaining critical success for roles in Walk the Line and Wild.

In terms of actors, Matthew McConaughey, Ryan Gosling and Channing Tatum all have a few romcoms under their belt, though they are now pursuing more comedic, action or dramatic roles.

Story-wise, multiple romance novels by American author Nicholas Sparks have been adapted for film, including The Notebook, Dear John and The Lucky One. These romantic dramas are what McAdams has leaned towards, with the likes of the aforementioned The Notebook adaptation, The Vow and The Time Traveller’s Wife.


As explained previously, fantasy, sci fi and action are my favourite genres, and it’s very rare that I’ll watch a romcom or romantic drama. However, Pretty Woman remains one of the few romcoms that I’ll repeatedly watch; Ryan’s Sleepless in Seattle is another.

While friends around me were going to see 2004’s The Notebook, 16-year-old me refrained, not seeing it until my first year of university a couple of years later. While my housemate cried at the end, like countless people before her, I remained unmoved, as it had become quite obvious to me early on what the outcome was going to be.

I can’t place my finger on it exactly but I feel that romcoms have lost their charm. McAdams has the same winning smile as Roberts and Witherspoon has a similar style as Ryan, but the films they appear in are forgettable.

I’m not anti-romance but I do prefer watching things that stretch your imagination and leave you with lots to think about rather than a warm-and-fuzzy feeling.

Perhaps it’s due to technological advances that the charm has gone.

In Sleepless in Seattle, Ryan’s Annie falls for Tom Hanks’ Sam after hearing him speak on a radio show. She then sends a letter suggesting that they meet up. In today’s society, while Annie might have heard Sam on the radio, she would probably have searched for him online, found him on Facebook or some other social media and then sent him a private message.

That is if she liked the look of his profile, of course.

Today’s rules of dating have changed. It’s not so much the chance meeting seen in Serendipity, though my boyfriend and I did meet in this organic fashion, but more the swipe left/swipe right style of Tinder and other fast-paced mediums.

You can get to know an online version of a person and make a judgement on their personality before physically meeting them.

What do you think? Do you think that today’s romcoms are comparable to my Nineties classics?

10 thoughts on “Opinion: Have romcoms lost their spark?

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  1. The films you featured are prime examples of why mainstream filmmaking was so good in the ’90s; For me it was the last period where rom-coms actually felt romantic and left you wanting to live in that world.
    I’d like to give an honourable mention to another nineties classic, One Fine Day; which is a proper, old fashioned romantic comedy made in an era where you could still cast adults in the lead roles.
    Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney have marvellous chemistry and their performances really elevate the material, which is far wittier than scripts of this ilk today.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Paul. “It was the last period where rom-coms actually felt romantic” – I think you might have hit the nail on the head there.
      I haven’t seen ‘One Fine Day’. I’ll add it to the list.

      1. It is quite sad that we just don’t get these movies any more. Throw a man and a woman together now and it needs a sell-able gimmick, like ‘She has to get married to stay in the country’ or you get a man who knows the formula to winning women but can’t get it to work on the woman of his dreams. Basically every romance or comedy you see comes with a concept, something amusing or silly that the plot revolves around.
        It’s much harder to sell a studio exec or producer on a story of “Two New Yorkers who fight a lot, and struggle to accept themselves and each other.” Nobody seems to want that. But they should,

  2. What Paul said. Okay, yes they seemed to have lost their charm. I think you can point to the studios current penchant at tentpole movie franchises and sequelitis as the culprit. Nothing is stopping them other than letting a filmmaker and screenwriter have at. And occasional clever rom-coms still pop through, but as other movie genres. My examples would be the horror comedy “Warm Bodies” and the underappreciated animation film “The Book of Life”.

    Just one, old romantic’s opinion, mind you. 😉

    1. ‘Sequelitis’ – like it!
      You are quite right; there is the occasional clever romcom. I really enjoyed ‘Warm Bodies’ too, and there are some excellent foreign language romance films. I watched ‘The Lunchbox’ recently. It’s an epistolary film that’s well worth a watch.

  3. Romcoms aren’t romcoms these days. For the most part, they’re adapted Nicholas Sparks novels, which are overly schmaltzy and filled with characters that don’t feel like they’re grounded in any sort of reality I know. The romcoms of the 90s had more realistically flawed characters, not everyone looked like Channing Tatum, and there was a “com” in the “rom com”.

    1. That’s another excellent point, Jaina – “there was a ‘com’ in the ‘romcom'”. I think you’re quite right with regards to a lot of recent romcoms. There’s certainly more of an emphasis on the romantic side, which does often become overly schmaltzy, like you said.

      Thanks for your comment.

    2. Oh I agree. Back in the late 80s/early 90s average looking Joe’s like Tom Hanks and Billy Crystal were the leads. Now you have to cast the likes of Ryan Gosling & Reynolds, Josh Duhamel, or Gerard Butler in order for the films to even get made.
      There was something very warm and accessible about the romantic movies of that era, because all the leads looked like people you know in real life. Not the case anymore…

  4. And perhaps we are what’s different? When I was 16, I used to watch every romcom I could get my hands on. Today I flinch when I see another Nicholas Sparks film coming up. As it was already pointed out, it’s just too far away from reality. But also, we are (becoming) adults – appreciating only the past while failing to understand the present. I’d argue that there are still romcoms worth mentioning. For example, I enjoyed The DUFF (2015), What If (I) (2013), Easy A (2010). Yes, the world of dating is not the same but in its core there is still romance if you know where to look for it.

    1. I agree with you about the flinching! I’m sure they’re great novels but the adaptations I’ve seen are so sugary sweet…

      The world of dating has changed dramatically. Where once you’d send physical love letters that you’d treasure forever, now you have emoticons and other digital displays of love that are much more fleeting.

      You’re right that there are films like ‘Easy A’ that are set in the present day and do work as a romcom. Perhaps it’s not romcom in the traditional sense, as it’s more heavy on the ‘com’ aspect, but it does work.

      Thanks for stopping by 🙂

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