Certain film genres known for usually embodying certain stereotypes. Rom-coms, specifically, are often assumed to be full of cliches. They're not likely to pass the Bechdel test; the only people of any diversity are generally sidekicks or best friends; and most of them end with a man solving a sad, lonely woman's problems. Luckily, some filmmakers aren't interested in repeating the same tired tropes and recognize there is an audience looking for a wider representation of love and relationships, stories that expand or even implode the boy-meets-girl meet cutes we've seen over and over again. Thankfully, there are a good amount of
romantic comedies that aren't too problematic to appreciate, enjoy, and redefine the well-trodden genre.
Rom-coms truly only require two elements: Some kind of central love story (potentially even more than one) and a sense of humor (including jokes, physical comedy, and/or satire). What most of the moviegoing public seems to enjoy most about romantic comedies is the feel-good aspect they deliver. Often, they're comedies-of-errors that leads their characters into peculiar situations in which they are either a-fish-out-of-water or simply uncomfortable with what's taking place (which is why so many seem to incorporate some kind of public performance opportunity including, but not limited to: speeches, karaoke, dance-offs, and participation in athletic events). The uncomfortable relatability of these all-eyes-on-me moments are ripe for the kinds of plot points that rom-coms readily provide, like declarations of love. These quirky, cringe-inducing moments of hilarity pair well with big emotions, and most audiences connect to that kind of vulnerability.
And the reality is that most everyone loves a good love story, and following the foibles and failures of a rom-com's lead character, which will surely lead to a satisfying happy ending, reiterates the rosy message that love wins, there's someone for everyone, and we all can live happily ever after. But it's a real downer when these movies are sexist, racist, homophobic, or otherwise offensive.
To save you that grief, here are 24 romantic comedies that aren't too problematic to enjoy.
1 'Singles' (1992)
Cameron Crowe's take on grunge era relationships between disgruntled twenty-somethings in Seattle has a stellar cast including Kyra Sedgwick, Matt Dillon, Bridget Fonda, and Campbell Scott, as well as cameos from Gen X rock stars like Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder and Soundgarden. It's an ensemble comedy with a lot of confusion, miscommunication, and oversharing set to a spot-on soundtrack of its time.
Steaming on Vudu, YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, and Cinemax. 2 'Imagine Me & You' (2005)
Rachel (Piper Perabo) and Luce (Lena Headey) fall for one another in the most inconvenient of scenarios, as Luce is providing the flowers for Rachel's wedding — to a man. Matthew Goode stars as Heck, Rachel's helpless husband who gets a hopeful ending of his own.
Streaming on YouTube, Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play, and Vudu. 3 'Chutney Popcorn' (1999)
Before Nisha Ganatra was
winning million dollar deals at Sundance, she was starring in this indie she also directed about an Indian-American lesbian who offers to be a surrogate mother for her sister (Jill Hennessy), only to put the stress on her relationship with her girlfriend. It's a unconventional family/romantic comedy with a lot of heart. Streaming on YouTube, Amazon Prime, Google Play, Vudu and iTunes. 4 'While You Were Sleeping' (1995)
Watch out, Meg Ryan and Julia Roberts: Sandra Bullock might be coming for the Queen of Rom-Coms crown. One of the best is the comedy-of-errors,
While You Were Sleeping, which has Bullock's loner Lucy falling for the brother of the comatose man that she's deemed her fiancée. Once he wakes up, chaos (obviously) ensues. Streaming on YouTube, Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, and Hulu. 5 'Empire Records' (1995)
There are bound to be messy relationships in any work place, but that's especially true in this tragically cool record store that largely employees beautiful teens. The central love story, though, is between Corey (Liv Tyler) and A.J. (Johnny Whitworth), whose will-they-won't-they is plagued by the existence of a pop star named Rex Manning, as well as Corey's leaving town to go to Harvard in the fall. Luckily, both of these things prove to be non-issues by the movie's end because A.J. decides to follow Corey to Boston instead of her dropping out to be with her boyfriend, and it's all accompanied by the Gin Blossoms.
Streaming on Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime, Google Play, and Vudu. 6 'The Favourite' (2018)
This campy Yorgos Lanthimos flick has a love triangle that vacillates between a power struggle and a heart-led ploy to win Her Majesty's heart. Olivia Colman won the Best Actress Oscar for her role as Queen Anne, but co-stars Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone certainly helped make the campy film so much fun.
Streaming on Amazon Prime, YouTube, Vudu, and Google Play. 7 'Wristcutters: A Love Story' (2006)
It sounds dark because it is. Zia (Patrick Fugit) and Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon) meet under odd circumstances — they've both committed suicide and find one another in an afterlife limbo of sorts. Zia is still in love with his girlfriend, Desiree (Leslie Bibb), who has apparently also ended up in the same bizarro world, care of a cult-led exercise, but during his search to find her, he sees that Mikal might just be the one he's been looking for.
Streaming on YouTube, Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play, and Vudu. 8 'Secretary' (2002)
Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader star in this sexy film about a sadist lawyer and his willfully masochistic secretary. The relationship is fraught from the start, as Spader's E. Edward Gray is self-loathing about his wants, but Gyllenhaal's Lee Holloway finds stability in providing for her boss-turned-boyfriend, who also gives her the direction (and spankings) she so craves.
Streaming on YouTube, Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play, and Vudu. 9 'I Love You Both' (2016)
Real-life twins Kristin and Doug Archibald play Krystal and Donny in this modern day rom-com that have brother and sister fighting over the same man. Lucas Neff is a bisexual hunk named Andy, and, unfortunately, he's perfect for both of them. The challenge is in how the siblings can play fair and still win the heart of the man they're in love with.
Streaming on YouTube, Amazon Prime, Google Play, Vudu, iTunes, and Hulu. 10 'The Four-Faced Liar' (2010)
Marja Lewis-Ryan wrote and starred in this sexually fluid film that has her character, Bridget, falling hard for Molly, a straight girl. As the two women become closer friends and Molly's boyfriend is revealed to be a cheater who prioritizes his own wants over hers, a budding attraction tuns into a full on blossom once they make out in the bathroom of a bar. The rest is messy entanglements leading to a satisfying ending.
Streaming on YouTube, Amazon Prime, Google Play, and iTunes. 11 'But I'm A Cheerleader' (1999)
Clea DuVall is a worthy love interest for Natasha Lyonne in this conversion therapy-themed satire. When you're both teen lesbians trying to pray away the lust you feel for your roommate, a trip to the local gay dive bar should straighten you right out — pun intended. Melanie Lynskey, Michelle Williams, and RuPaul are all a part of this hilarious and sexy rom-com that rips apart religious based-ex-gay camps.
Streaming on YouTube, Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play, and Vudu. 12 'Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead' (1991)
When the elderly babysitter taking care of her family dies unexpectedly, Sue Ellen (Christina Applegate) has to get a job. Her mom is on vacation with her boyfriend, and she's got a handful of kid sisters and brothers to provide for. Her first career move is Clown Dog, where she hits it off with her coworker, Bryan (Josh Charles). She moves on to a job in fashion (care of a fake resume and lot's of other lies), but her summer romance with Bryan keeps heating up ― until his sister threatens to out her as a phony. A cool '90s fashion show is the culmination/combustion, but it's not all bad for Sue Ellen, who has officially grown up.
Streaming on YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, iTunes, Amazon Prime, HBO Now. 13 'Stranger Than Fiction' (2006)
IRS agent Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is having an existential crisis ― his daily routine is suddenly being narrated out loud by a British woman (Emma Thompson). He tries to track her down and get her to stop, but in the meantime, he's struggling with an attraction to a woman he's auditing, a baker played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Harold eventually finds out he's just a character in a story by Thompson's Karen Eiffel, and he has to decide if his life is a comedy or a tragedy.
Streaming on Vudu, Amazon Prime, YouTube, iTunes, and Google Play. 14 'Just One of the Guys' (1985)
Terry Griffith is an aspiring journalist who can't get the respect she deserves as a reporter simply because she's a woman. She adopts a new male persona and goes undercover at a rival high school to write a gender expose, but breaks some hearts and falls for her new friend, Rick, in the process.
Streaming on Amazon Prime, Vudu, YouTube, iTunes, and Google Play. 15 'Teen Witch' (1989)
When Louise Miller finds out she's a witch, she channels her newfound power to get everything she wants. But it's not so fun to make heartthrob Brad fall for her if it's forced. In the end, she harnesses her own natural personality and charm to become the young woman she wants to be, and is even without additional magic.
Streaming on YouTube, Amazon Prime, Google Play, and iTunes. 16 'The Best Man' (1999)
Taye Diggs plays a novelist who is happy with his girlfriend (Sanaa Lathan), and whose new work is about to be featured by Oprah's Book Club. It's fiction, but based on his real-life friends and their exploits, including his one-night stand with the woman that's about to marry his best friend. An early copy of the book gets into the wrong hands the week of the wedding, and everyone's relationships threaten to erupt. Come for the high drama, stay for the Electric Slide.
Streaming on YouTube, Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, and HBO Now. 17 'Edge of Seventeen' (1998)
A gay teen living in mid-'80s Ohio struggles with his place in the world after his summer fling returns to college. Obsessed with the first man he's ever loved, Eric follows his heart but breaks his friend Maggie's in the process. A coming-of-age rom-com,
Edge of Seventeen shares a sentiment similar to that of RuPaul: "If you can't love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love anyone else?" Streaming on YouTube, Amazon Prime, Google Play, Vudu, and iTunes. 18 'Boomerang' (1992)
Before Lena Waithe gave
Boomerang the BET treatment and turned it into a TV series, the movie was just a well-received rom-com pairing Halle Barry and Eddie Murphy before they were household names. Murphy plays a womanizer ad exec who falls hard for Barry's Angela Lewis, a new coworker he doesn't expect to develop such strong feelings for. He messes up ― a lot ― but comes to see that Angela is the one he should be with. He's blessed she'd deign to give him another shot. Streaming on YouTube, Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, and Hulu. 19 'Daddy's Little Girls' (2007)
Idris Elba and Gabrielle Union have an unlikely romance in Tyler Perry's rom-com about a single dad (Elba) trying to provide for his three young daughters. A mechanic by day, he takes on a second job driving around a demanding businesswoman (Union). The two get to know one another during intimate car rides, and eventually, find out they work better together than apart.
Streaming on YouTube, Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, and Showtime. 20 'The Wedding Planner' (2001)
Jennifer Lopez is Mary, San Francisco's top wedding planner, and she's single. As luck would have it, she's falling for her new groom, a handsome doctor played by Matthew McConaughey. It's all rather inconvenient until the bride (Bridgette Wilson-Sampras) decides she doesn't want to go through with the ceremony, leaving a last-minute opportunity for Mary to marry the man of her dreams (without any kind of catfight, thank god).
Streaming on Amazon Prime, Vudu, YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, and Starz. 21 'After Sex' (2007)
What happens after sex? Well, in this movie, you talk about it. And talk about it. An entire rom-com about processing is the foreplay some of us can truly appreciate, and
After Sex includes eight different pairings doing just that. One particularly iconic duo from this film is Mila Kunis and Zoe Saldana, who play roommates engaging in casual sex that turns out to be not so casual for one of them. Streaming on YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, and Amazon Prime. 22 'Hearts Beat Loud' (2018)
This family story has a lot of love, but the romance is between Kiersey Clemons and Sasha Lane, both queer biracial women portraying characters just like themselves on the big screen. A hit at Sundance in 2018,
Hearts Beat Loud has Sam (Clemons) and Rose (Lane) spending a beautiful New York summer together before Sam takes off for college. If you're not tearing up by the time Sam serenades her love, I question your ability to feel. Streaming on Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, and Hulu. 23 'The Cutting Edge' (1992)
The tagline for this film is "the ultimate love/skate relationship," an accurate description of this will-they-won't-they-of-course-they-will story of opposites attracting. Moira Kelly plays a literal ice queen who pairs up with an injured hockey player (D. B. Sweeney) to compete in the Winter Olympics.
Streaming on YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, and Amazon Prime. 24 'The Broken Hearts Club' (2000)
Before Greg Berlanti brought us
Love, Simon, he directed this ensemble comedy about a group of gay friends in West Hollywood. Timothy Olyphant, Zach Braff, Dean Cain, Andrew Keegan, Justin Theroux, Nia Long, Jennifer Coolidge, and John Mahoney all star in this adorable, funny, feel-good film about modern love and chosen family. Streaming on Amazon, Vudu, YouTube, iTunes, and Google Play.
True, there are some frustrating ones, but these pleasantly un-problematic rom-coms mean that you don't have to swear them off completely.