The 50 best romcoms of all time: 50-41
‘After all... I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.’
Sure, Notting Hill is as slushy as your dad’s wedding speech, but no one does floppy-haired charm like Hugh Grant in the ’90s. This time around he’s falling for an American movie star (Julia Roberts) who stumbles into his bookstore while on a publicity trip.
‘I will swear by it that you love me, and I will make him eat it that says I love not you.’
Director Joss Whedon shot this low-budget adaptation of the Shakespeare play in his own house, with his laundry room doubling as a guardhouse.
‘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.
‘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).
‘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.
‘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.
‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’
Keira Knightley, Rosamund Pike, Carey Mulligan and Jena Malone star in this remake of the beloved Jane Austen novel. It's a little spicier than earlier BBC-on-a-Sunday-afternoon takes on the book.
‘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.
‘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.
‘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.
The 50 best romcoms of all time: 40-31
‘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.
‘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.
‘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.
‘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.
‘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.
‘This is true love. You think this happens every day?’
Playing out like a traditional damsel-in-distress story, The Princess Bride switches up the fairy tale traditions to bring us an absurd and witty love story. You probably watched it at school in the build up to Christmas.
‘You will never age for me, nor fade, nor die.’
Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes play Shakespeare and his love Viola in this witty look at the playwright's life, but it's supporting cast members like Judi Dench as Queen Elizabeth I who steal the show.
‘Goodbye, Jennifer. Be a bad girl.’
Veronica Lake may not be a household name these days, but in the golden age of Hollywood her unique platinum-blonde locks were recognised all over the world. This hilarious supernatural romp isn’t quite her best movie – that’s Sullivan’s Travels – but it is her finest hour as a louchely comic romantic lead. The film would be reworked for TV as the long-running sitcom Bewitched.
‘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.
‘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.
The 50 best romcoms of all time: 30-21
‘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.
‘I just met a wonderful new man. He’s fictional but you can’t have everything.’
This 1930s-set Woody Allen film tells of a woman (Mia Farrow) who falls in love with a character (Jeff Daniels) who steps out of the screen at the cinema, only to find herself also being wooed by the actor playing said character (also Jeff Daniels). It’s one of Allen’s most original stories.
‘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 Ru Paul.
‘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.
‘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.
‘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?
‘Do you think there really are people who can just go up and say, “Hi, babe. Name’s Charles. This is your lucky night”?’
‘Hugh Grant plays a charming Brit who falls in love with a beautiful American woman’ is hardly a ground-breaking storyline, but Four Weddings does it well. A strong supporting cast and a tear-jerking funeral scene give the film extra heart.
‘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.
‘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.
‘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.
The 50 best romcoms of all time: 20-11
‘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.
‘Isn’t everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?’
If you liked Boyhood, why not take a trip back to the early days of writer-director Richard Linklater and star Ethan Hawke’s careers: in this loose, walking-and-talking romance, Hawke plays an American in Europe who has an intense one-night affair of the heart with a French fellow traveller (Julie Delpy).
‘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.
‘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.
‘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.
‘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.
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.
‘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.
‘She’s 17. I’m 42 and she’s 17. I’m older than her father, can you believe that? I’m dating a girl, wherein, I can beat up her father.’
In the late 1970s Woody Allen served up the essential New York movie (and he’s made a few) with this wistful, black-and-white story of a nervy over-thinker (Allen, of course) who steps out with a much younger woman (Mariel Hemingway) before falling in love with a married friend’s secret girlfriend (Diane Keaton).
‘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.
The 50 best romcoms of all time: top ten
‘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…
‘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.
‘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.
‘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.
‘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.
‘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.
‘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.
‘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.
‘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 40 years old.
‘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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