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Four Weddings and a Funeral
Photograph: CHANNEL 4 PICTURE PUBLICITY

The 50 best romcoms of all time

Love is a funny old game. Or at least it is in the 50 best romantic comedies in cinema history.

Written by
Cath Clarke
&
Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Andy Kryza
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Love makes us do funny things. Some are driven by affection to write terrible poetry. Others are inspired to put on a grand display of public affection. Still others will spend an eternity re-living the same day over and over again in order to endear themselves to their one true love, dying and resurrecting on repeat while Punxsutawney watches from the margins.

Okay, so maybe the plots of romantic comedies aren’t always steeped in universal experiences. But the fact remains that as long as there has been cinematic comedy, there has been the rom-com. The subgenre has endured from the heyday of Cary Grant to the reigns of Nora Ephron and Richard Curtis, all the way up through the current age of Crazy Rich Asians and whatever star-crossed chuckles Netflix is premiering this weekend. 

Yet after all this time, the very notion of a rom-com still elicits eye-rolls because there are so, so many that are outright bad: being funny or romantic is easy. Being both requires genuine chemistry. The films below are the red roses in the cinematic bouquet. The comedy elements vary greatly, from gross-out gags to generational humour and snobs versus slobs narratives. But at the big heart of each you’ll find that love conquers all.

Written by Dave Calhoun, Cath Clarke, Tom Huddleston, Kate Lloyd, Andy Kryza, Phil de Semlyen & Alim Kheraj

RECOMMENDED: The 100 best romantic movies and The 101 best sex scenes of all time

  • Film
  • Comedy

‘Bridget Jones, wanton sex goddess, with a very bad man between her thighs…’

Double-Oscar-winner Renée Zellweger did her very best British accent for this adaptation of Helen Fielding’s newspaper-column-turned-bestselling-book about a loveable but perpetually single thirty-something living in London. It features Hugh Grant as a slimy love rat and Colin Firth as an uptight lawyer, and the script was co-written by Richard Curtis, so it obviously checks all the oh-so-English romantic comedy tropes, from incongruous shots of London to an outlandish garden party (tarts and vicars, fyi). But it’s Zellweger who drives this vehicle, bringing more charm and verve to the film than both those Brit romcom royalties. Long may she reign (although not for the sequels…).

My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997)
  • Film
  • Comedy

‘It’s amazing the clarity that comes with psychotic jealousy.’

Julia Roberts’ career-focused food critic is the perfect foil for bubbly law student Cameron Diaz in this love triangle romance. The real highlight is Rupert Everett, though, who plays Julia’s trouble-making gay best friend with devilish flair.

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It’s Complicated (2009)
  • Film
  • Comedy

‘Here comes your ex-husband. Uh-oh, not the best time to be feeling groovy!’

It was refreshing to see three older actors – Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin – dominating this story of a well-heeled suburban woman and matriarch caught between her charming but hard-to-trust ex (Baldwin) and a potential sweet new love (Martin).

Muriel’s Wedding (1994)
  • Film
  • Comedy

‘You’re terrible, Muriel.’

This Australian movie seems frothy on the surface, but its story about an ugly duckling who's obsessed with Abba also deals with darker issues like psychological abuse and low self-esteem.

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Palm Springs (2020)
Photograph: Jessica Perez, Hulu

46. Palm Springs (2020)

‘One time, I smoked a bunch of crystal, and made it all the way to Equatorial Guinea. It was a huge waste of time.’

A new addition to the romcom canon but a worthy one, this
Groundhog Day-ish comedy ticks all the boxes. It’s funny, sharply written, and, by the end, offers a genuinely soulful examination of the mysteries of human connection. Andy Samberg is a wedding guest permanently stuck in a one-day time loop and Cristin Milioti is the fellow he accidentally lures into his own personal Palm Springs purgatory. They hate each other, then they don’t, then they do again, then JK Simmons’s coked-up lunatic turns up with a bow and arrow. 

While You Were Sleeping (1995)
  • Film
  • Comedy

‘You don’t have to walk me home.’ ‘You block the wind.’

There’s something comforting about basking in the comfort of clichés, and this sugary sweet movie is full of them. Sandra Bullock plays a commuter who saves a guy from falling in front of a subway train then falls for his brother. It’s very sentimental, but in a good way. 

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The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005)
  • Film
  • Comedy

‘I’m a virgin. I always have been.’

'Lonely middle-aged guy meets single mum' is well-trodden ground in the romcom kingdom, but this Judd Apatow take on the narrative is anything but predictable. Steve Carrell plays the titular loser and Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen star as the mates helping him get laid, only to realize that their own lives are remarkably empty once their sexually inexperienced buddy finds a real connection.

Roxanne (1987)
  • Film
  • Comedy

‘Finally, a man who can satisfy two women at the same time!’

Steve Martin’s finest hour as a romantic lead – which is impressive, considering he’s saddled with a four-inch prosthetic conk. Wittily reinventing Cyrano De Bergerac, this graceful comedy has all kinds of fun exploring the complex nature of desire, and comes out firmly on the side of the unconventionally attractive.

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Always Be My Maybe (2019)
Photograph: Netflix

42. Always Be My Maybe (2019)

‘Do you have any dishes that play with the concept of time?’

The centerpiece Keanu Reeves cameo made headlines – how could it not? – but Always Be My Maybe is so much more than Neo’s metaphysical restaurant questions. At its heart – and it’s a huge heart – the story of two childhood friends resisting their lifelong chemistry after reuniting as adults is pure romcom gold in the mold of When Harry Met Sally. Keanu may have the wattage, but stars Randall Park and Ali Wong are truly unforgettable as they struggle to break out of the friend zone. 

  • Film
  • Comedy

‘You don’t want to be in love. You want to be in love in a movie.’

Written by Nora Ephron, the brains behind When Harry Met Sally..., this weepy comedy was a massive box office hit in the early ’90s. It stars Tom Hanks as a heartbroken widower who falls in love with a girl (Meg Ryan) on the other side of America.

Something Wild (1986)
  • Film

‘Charlie, attempt to be cool.’

Jonathan Demme’s brilliantly unpredictable comedy starts out as old-school screwball with an emphasis on the screw, as street-smart Melanie Griffith sweeps straight-laced Jeff Daniels off to a motel for a night of passion. But when she takes him home to meet the folks – and the psychotic ex – things take a deliciously dark turn.

Jamón, Jamón (1992)
  • Film

‘My son will not go out with that girl. Her mother’s a whore!’

Blending sex, love, humour and cooked meat (the title means ‘Ham, Ham’, and refers to the supposed flavour of the heroine’s nipples), this giddily erotic Spanish comedy launched the careers of both Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem.

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Heartbeats (2010)
  • Film
  • Drama

‘I love you. I really want to kiss you. I don’t know why I’m telling you this.’

He’s now one of the best-known young directors in the world, but French-Canadian Xavier Dolan was a 21-year-old outsider when he made this smart, artsy tale of two friends – a girl and a guy – who both fall in love with the same person.

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
  • Film
  • Comedy

‘Who needs affection when I have blind hatred?’

This teen movie teen movie take on The Taming of the Shrew features Heath Ledger in full heartthrob mode. He plays Patrick Verona, a cigarette-smoking bad-boy who’s paid to seduce spiky-tongued school outcast Kat. It’s a classic.

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Gregory’s Girl (1981)
  • Film

‘Hard work being in love, eh? Especially when you don’t know which girl it is.’

Glasgow – city of romance? Perhaps not, but Bill Forsyth’s timeless story of one lanky, lovelorn teenager’s fixation on the new girl in school still manages to be both dryly hilarious and heartwarmingly sentimental.

  • Film

'After all... I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.'

Notting Hill might be schmaltzy and incredibly twee, but there's something eternally charming about '90s Hugh Grant, all floppy hair and stuttering awkwardness. Here, unbeknownst to him, he falls for an American movie star, played by Julia Roberts, after a chance meeting in his travel bookshop. Their compatibility is questioned, with the will-they-won't-they culminating in a hilarious dash through London for the film's great romantic gesture.

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  • Film
  • Comedy

‘Honestly, this has been like the best few weeks of my entire life.’

The optics of a driven female politician needing to become more likeable to make it to the White House feel a little 2016. But don’t let that put you off this unlikely but sparky pairing of Charlize Theron as the wannabe Potus and Seth Rogen as the schlebby, liberal-minded journo she hires to make her speeches more relatable and finds herself falling for. There’s even a faint screwball edge to their courtship, as the pair take in overseas revolutions, political rallies and one majorly funny MDMA binge.

  • Film
  • Family and kids

As you wish...

Fairy tales have never, ever been funnier than this swashbuckling romance. It boasts an undercard packed with so much god-level comic talent (cameo honours are a toss-up between Peter Cook as the Impressive Clergyman and Billy Crystal as Miracle Max) that it can even afford to have Christopher Guest playing the mirthless baddie. Headliners Cary Elwes and Robin Wright provide the magic as lovebirds for the ages, Westley and Buttercup.

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Top Hat (1935)
  • Film
  • Drama

‘In dealing with a girl or horse, one just lets nature take its course.’

This musical comedy is inarguably one of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' finest. The humour's charming, the art deco set is stunning and there's tangible sexual tension in the dance scenes.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
  • Film

‘Random thoughts for Valentine’s Day, 2004. Today is a holiday invented by greeting card companies to make people feel like crap.’

It’s rare to find a film that traverses the comedy, psychological thriller, romance and sci-fi genres as easily as Eternal Sunshine. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet play exes who ask scientists to erase their memories of each other.

The Wedding Singer (1998)
  • Film

‘I know you’re shy and I know you’ve been hurt, so I’m going to make this really easy on you. If you come upstairs, you’re gonna get laid.’

While the title of this film suggests it probably stars Julia Roberts and/or Hugh Grant, this silly romcom actually stars Adam Sandler and a very sweet Drew Barrymore. He’s a broken-hearted wedding singer, she’s a waitress who’s engaged to a douchebag. They fall in love, obvs. 

But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)
  • Film

‘I thought it was just an act, but you really are sweet as fucking pie, aren’t you?’

What’s that – a teen movie that challenges gender roles? Impossible! Natasha Lyonne (now famous from Orange is the New Black) plays a gay cheerleader sent to conversion camp to ‘cure’ her homosexuality only to fall in love with a fellow camper. This cult hit also stars RuPaul. 

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Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)
  • Film
  • Drama

‘One more look at him with those bedroom eyes and I’ll break your leg!’

It may be remembered for its spectacular Busby Berkeley song ‘n’ dance numbers, but this endlessly enthusiastic backstage comedy all centres around the forbidden passion between a well-bred songwriter and a chippy chorus girl.

Say Anything (1989)
  • Film

‘I gave her my heart, she gave me a pen.’

It’s the film that made high-schoolers think that standing on someone’s lawn holding a boombox was the ultimate declaration of love. A baby-faced John Cusack stars as a wannabe kick-boxer who falls for a straight-A student.

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His Girl Friday (1940)
  • Film
  • Comedy

‘You’ve got an old fashioned idea divorce is something that lasts forever, till death do us part.’

The fastest and funniest screwball comedy of them all. Rosalind Russell is the ace reporter whose lethally charming ex-husband (Cary Grant) just won’t take no for answer. Will she marry her dull-as-ditchwater fiancé or go back to Cary? What do you think?

Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
  • Film
  • Comedy

'Basically you're saying marriage is just a way of getting out of an embarrassing pause in conversation.'

Boy meets girl. Well, actually, boy meets several girls and, um, well, things, erm, get fairly awkward. Then boy meets the girl and after much flirting, some killer gags and Hugh Grant at his most charmingly bumbling and foppish… well, you know the rest. A strong supporting cast and a tear-jerking funeral scene give it all extra heart.

 

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The Apartment (1960)
  • Film
  • Comedy

‘When you’re in love with a married man, you shouldn’t wear mascara.’

Talk about office politics. Jack Lemmon plays a white-collar worker pimping his flat to his bosses, who use it for their illicit affairs (well, it’s cheaper than a motel). Shirley MacLaine plays the lift girl he has his eye on. The Apartment may be bitter and nihilistic, but its heart is firmly in the right place.

Guys and Dolls (1955)
  • Film
  • Drama

‘Your eyes are the eyes of a man who’s in love, may they gaze evermore into mine…’

Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra star in the coolest musical on the block. The duo play NYC hustlers who lay bets on whether Brando can seduce pious Salvation Army girl Jean Simmons. It’s the movie that brought us the song ‘Luck Be A Lady’, so that’s surely reason enough to watch it. 

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There’s Something About Mary (1998)
  • Film
  • Comedy

‘I’m fucking with you, Ted!’

Ben Stiller plays a former high-school nerd who hires a private investigator to track down his high school crush Mary (Cameron Diaz). This is the film that brought us the iconic ‘hair gel’ scene, so expect a romcom full of penis gags and offensive humour.

  • Film
  • Comedy

‘There is a very fine line between love and nausea.’

Coming to America is best remembered for Eddie Murphy’s showstopping multi-character performance. Too bad it’s not also lauded as the perfect romcom that it is. If it were, perhaps Eddie’s ‘90s output would have had fewer Klumps and more turns like his charming African prince seeking his future queen in, of course, Queens. Murphy is at his charming best as the smiling paragon of innocence, and his chemistry with Shari Headley is as touching as the fish-out-of-water comedy is hilarious.

The Lady Eve (1941)
  • Film
  • Comedy

‘I’ve got some unfinished business with him – I need him like the axe needs the turkey.’

Henry Fonda is a fabulously rich snake expert who falls into the clutches of sexy gold-digger Barbara Stanwyck in this ferociously funny battle of the sexes. A glittering screwball comedy from the master of the form, Preston Sturges, The Lady Eve is near perfect.

  • Film
  • Comedy

‘Snap out of it!’

Cher gives an Oscar-winning performance in Norman Jewison’s film about a 37-year-old widow who falls in love with her fiancé’s young hot-headed brother, played by a wounded and grunting Nicolas Cage. Not only does the film never mention the age gap between the two romantic leads, but Jewison is loose-handed with genre, adding sprinkles of magical realism to what is otherwise a kitchen-sink comedy about two New Yorkers who fall in love. It’s wickedly funny and romantic as hell.

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I Know Where I’m Going! (1947)
  • Film

‘They’re not poor, they just haven’t got money.’

A headstrong young woman (Wendy Hiller) knows exactly what she wants: she’s heading to the Hebrides to marry a reclusive tycoon twice her age. But nature, wise locals and Roger Livesey as a young naval officer get in the way in this near-perfect loch-side romance.

Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)
  • Film
  • Comedy

‘Men are horrible, vain and conceited. They have hair all over their bodies.’

Ingmar Bergman isn’t the first name that trips off the tongue when considering the great romcoms, but before he got all gloomy and existential the Swedish master turned out this hilarious and bawdy country-house farce.

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The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
  • Film

‘I really wouldn’t care to scratch your surface, Mr Kralik, because I know exactly what I’d find. Instead of a heart, a handbag. Instead of a soul, a suitcase. And instead of an intellect, a cigarette lighter… which doesn’t work.’

It was loosely remade as You’ve Got Mail, but we urge you to check out the infinitely superior original, a tale of loathing turning to love between the employees of a glamorous department store in pre-war Budapest.

Bringing Up Baby (1938)
  • Film

‘It isn’t that I don’t like you, Susan, because, after all, in moments of quiet, I’m strangely drawn toward you. But – well, there haven’t been any quiet moments.’

Hepburn! Grant! Leopard! The ultimate screwball comedy, this story of a down-to-earth gal, a dippy scientist and a stray big cat named Baby is sheer, ridiculous fun from start to finish.

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Pretty Woman (1990)
  • Film
  • Comedy

‘I want the fairy tale.’

With a plot laced with greed, sex and boxy suits, this Richard Gere-headed film is painfully ’80s, but in the best possible way. This is largely thanks to Julia Roberts spitting her witty lines with fiery intensity.

Ninotchka (1939)
  • Film
  • Comedy

‘I’m so happy, I’m so happy! Nobody can be so happy without being punished.’

‘Garbo Laughs!’ proclaimed the posters, advertising the fact that one of Hollywood’s most austere stars had made her first comedy. As a Soviet attaché who falls for a down-to-earth American businessman, Greta Garbo mocks her own ice-queen persona throughout this flawless political satire.

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The Big Sick (2017)
  • Film
  • Comedy

'So... to fully know I love someone, I have to cheat on them?'

Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, the real-life couple who penned this film, give us a Pakistani-American culture-shock romance that isn’t awash with clichés. We meet Emily (Zoe Kazan plays Gordon’s on-screen surrogate) and Kumail (Nanjiani playing a version of himself) just before Emily falls into a coma. Suddenly for Kumail, there’s heartache, hospitals and parents to deal with.

Clueless (1995)
  • Film
  • Comedy

‘Why should I listen to you, anyway? You’re a virgin who can’t drive.’

This satiric look at LA high school might be full of frenemies and makeovers, but at its heart, it’s a cute love story. Sure, it’s a slightly perverse tale of romance between Cher (Alicia Silverstone) and her step-brother (Paul Rudd), but it’s cute nonetheless.

It Happened One Night (1934)
  • Film
  • Comedy

‘I’ll stop a car, and I won’t use my thumb!’

The original Hollywood romcom, this whipsmart road movie about an heiress on the run and the sleazy reporter who picks up her trail scandalised America in the 1930s. It went on to win a bunch of Oscars, though, so all was clearly forgiven…

Roman Holiday (1953)
  • Film
  • Romance

‘It’s always open season on princesses.’

The film that made Audrey Hepburn a star. And she was never better, playing a tomboyish European princess who goes missing from a royal tour of Rome and falls for a tabloid hack.

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Show Me Love (1998)
  • Film

‘Is it true you’re a lesbian? If you are I understand, ‘cause guys are so gross. I’m also going to be one, I think.’

This sweet and moving Swedish coming-of-age tale tells of two teenage girls, bored out of their minds by life in their small town, who gradually come to realise the best thing going for them is each other.

The Philadelphia Story (1940)
  • Film
  • Comedy

‘We all go haywire at times and if we don’t, maybe we ought to.’

This vinegar-sharp satire about a society dame torn between two equally appealing suitors is steeped in Old-Hollywood elegance and fiery, proto feminist irony. Katharine Hepburn was never more bullishly brilliant.

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Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
  • Film
  • Comedy

‘I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine.’

With its strange, dreamlike tone and moments of sudden violence, Paul Thomas Anderson delivers an indie romcom like no other: the story of an angry, mixed-up man-child and a woman with her head in the clouds.

Groundhog Day (1993)
  • Film

‘I like to see a man of advancing years throwing caution to the wind. It’s inspiring.’

Bill Murray plays a TV weatherman who’s trapped living the same day every day in this nightmarish fantasy-comedy. He’s forced to re-examine his priorities until he realises he’s in love with his news producer.

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  • Film

‘I love you, June. You’re life and I’m leaving you.’

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s dizzying wartime fantasy has more on its mind than simply love and humour – as the title suggests, it covers pretty much the entire spectrum of human experience, and beyond. But at its heart, this is a giddily funny romance.

Harold and Maude (1971)
  • Film
  • Comedy

‘A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they are not dead, really. They’re just backing away from life. Reach out. Take a chance. Get hurt.’

This cult comedy follows a romantic relationship between a suicide-obsessed teenager and an 80-year-old woman he meets at a funeral. The film's dark humour and daring subject matter still feel taboo.

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Annie Hall (1977)
  • Film
  • Comedy

‘That sex was the most fun I’ve ever had without laughing.’

From the lobster scenes to Diane Keaton’s waistcoat and tie, this Woody Allen film is referenced so often in popular culture that it’s easy to forget it’s nearly 45 years old.

When Harry Met Sally… (1989)
  • Film

‘I came here tonight because when you realise you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.’

We dare you to try and think of a romcom scene that’s more iconic than Meg Ryan pretending to orgasm in a diner. The tale of two enemies turned friends turned potential lovers asks the question: can guys and girls just be mates?

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