Rom-Coms certainly haven’t been dead in recent years (Sleeping with Other People and The Big Sick would like to have a word with you if you think that), but they haven’t been thriving. In the thick of tentpole studio trends and on the heels of a particularly nasty spat of early aughts misfires (2009-2011 was a particularly sorrowful time), romantic comedies got the boot for a minute there; the once cherished and profitable genre of the 80s and 90s relegated to a handful of ill-advised misfires. But 2018 marked a major comeback for the genre, from Netflix’s super successful Summer of Love to some of the best-reviewed and highest-performing theatrical releases of the year.
Call it a sign of the times. I only have colloquial evidence, gathered among me and my friends, but many like myself (even in my most dedicated horror and weird-loving circles) suddenly have an appetite for easy, positive entertainment. With political divisiveness and toxic discourse flooding the world, with the relentless negativity of social media always biting at our heels, more people seem to be turning to the simple pleasures. I can’t believe how many people confessed this year — myself included — that they became fans of romantic comedies after a lifetime of dismissing the genre. In a year like this one, everyone needs a little love and happiness in their lives.
At the same time, the movies themselves are getting better. It should come as no surprise that the romantic comedy’s path to resurgence was laid by inclusivity and diversity, inviting all kinds of audiences to imagine themselves in a fairytale romance. In 2018, rom-coms were for everyone; multi-cultural, body-positive, LGBT-inclusive, and more. They weren’t all succesful, but at least they took swings, updating the often lazy and corrosive tropes of the much-maligned genre in favor of smarter scripting and more interesting characters. Sometimes, a genre just needs to shake up its formula to find new life.
Without further year, let’s look at the essential romantic comedies of the year, from worst to best. We’re not including every rom-com released this year, just the must-see entries that hit it big at the box office, dominated the conversation, or took the genre to new heights.