To all the genres I’ve loved before
Once upon a time, romantic comedies (or rom-coms) used to be synonymous for greatness and success. Back in the good ol’ days, it was almost impossible to walk into a theater and not see at least one poster of the latest hot release of the genre.
But now, the term ‘rom-com’ has to be uttered in hush tones, quiet enough so no one hears you. It has come to mean nothing more than ‘silly, air-head movies that are only good for background noise’. Why? Let’s find out.
Personally, I have always been a sucker for romantic comedies. Ever since I was little, I have been an avid watcher of rom-coms, in all its nuances and time periods. Didn’t matter whether it was a sappy feel-good love story set in the ‘90s, or a tragic tale dating back to the 1940s… I was simply in love with the genre. I don’t think there is anything that hits like a cheesy romance with a splash of comedy!
But even I (i.e. the textbook definition of a hopeless romantic) find it a bit hard to get through rom-coms that have been released in recent years. Of the few that are still being made, quality has gone down, and viewership even further down – but why did that happen?
When feminism met rom-coms…
For starters, the main audience of rom-coms has changed drastically over the last few years.
Women have usually been the target group of romantic comedies, but changes on the social level in the 2000s and 2010s have impacted how well they welcome this genre, particularly due to the evolution of feminism over the last two decades.
The 21st Century Feminist Woman wants to feel empowered, independent, and self-sufficient. She doesn’t want movies who tell her finding Mr. Right is what will ultimately make her happy. Furthermore, as rom-coms usually rely on gender stereotypes for comedic relief and toxic tropes to drive their story, they just don’t have the same impact they once did.
For instance, beloved romantic comedy How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003) was successful in its glory days, and has become a genre classic since then. But if it were released now in 2022, the reaction could well turn out a lot different.
The movie perpetuates the worst stereotypes about women, and basically suggests they should depend on men and their love for happiness. As it was released 20 years ago, we surely can’t expect it to be a champion for feminism, but I don’t think it would be received well if it debuted in the present day.
And so, most film studios now prefer to simply steer clear of rom-coms, and focus on other genres which leave more room for feminism to prosper, such as superhero movies with a female heroine. However, that can also be a topic for discussion, particularly because those films usually represent a very narrow and not-intersectional wave of feminism, one that is more about appearance rather than substance.
Meanwhile, as rom-coms decrease in ratings and audience, they only grow more problematic.
Take The Kissing Booth (2018) as an example. The movie features sexual rhetoric, casual slut-shaming, the awful trope of ‘he is mean to you because he likes you’, and basically all the worst and most problematic elements of rom-coms. Yet, the film still got the green light, and so did its sequel and the sequel’s sequel… and none of them got any less problematic or any better in quality.
But that’s possibly due to the fact that as studios were seeing the rom-com audience get smaller day by day, they realized that investing hundreds of millions of dollars into making rom-coms was just not worth the money, as they were going to lose more than gain anyways.
The Kissing Booth cost around $10M to make, which might seem like a lot, but is actually nothing if you compare it to predecessors in the genre. For instance, Notting Hill (1999) had a budget of $42M, and… well, you can definitely see a leap in quality.
In fact, film studios have been investing increasingly less in rom-coms since 2004, likely when they began to see a downward spike in revenues, viewership, and market share of the genre. This has sadly led to an unfortunate vicious cycle – since less people tune in, studios invest less, which deteriorates the quality, leading to (once again) less people tuning in… and so on and so forth.
But all things aside, rom-coms do still live on – just not on the big screen…
You’ve got TV shows
TV shows have gone through a strong renaissance in mainstream media in the last few years (particularly in the years of the COVID-19 pandemic), and romance series are among the ones taking the public by a storm.
Sitcoms usually include elements of comedy in their stories, so when you add romance to the mix you get… romantic comedies. That is why I think romance series may represent a glimmer of hope for the future of rom-coms – they have all the elements of the genre, are usually good, and people actually watch them.
For instance, the show Never Have I Ever (2020) most likely classifies as a rom-com sitcom, and it managed to snag 40M households globally in the first month of its release – an impressive number for any genre. Another good example is the Netflix show Bridgerton, which (albeit not officially being categorized as comedy) includes humoristic elements intertwined with the romance, and has staggering viewership numbers.
Additionally, Korean Dramas (or K-Dramas) are another excellent contemporary version of rom-coms. They are undoubtedly romantic and, nine times out of ten, include several moments of comedic relief.
Furthermore (and most importantly), they are usually up there in terms of quality, with their stunning cinematography, interesting dialogue, amazing soundtracks, and detailed, innovative plots.
Another aspect of K-Dramas that are commendable comes from the fact they’re not afraid to take the romance to the next leve; they’re not scared to come off as corny and cheesy. As more and more movies and shows are nearing cynicism when it comes to love, it’s refreshing to still have outlets for us romantics.
And the good thing is that people actually watch them! Let’s use Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha (2021) as an example – not only did the show score high in viewership in South Korea, but it quickly became one of Netflix’s most popular non-English shows of all time. Clearly, there’s demand for this genre, and thankfully the quality is up there as well.
The end of it
Nevertheless, once in a blue moon there is still a new good rom-com movie being released. It’s rare, sure, but it still happens sometimes. But the good thing about contemporary rom-coms is that they are becoming increasingly open to telling the stories of minorities.
Crazy Rich Asians (2018) is a good example – the film features an all-Asian cast, and made a whooping box office gross of $239M against a $30M budget. That is an impressive record in itself, but it gets even better when you consider how most other rom-coms are performing nowadays. Another title which comes to mind is The Half of It (2020), a coming-of-age rom-com by Alice Wu, which follows the trials of romance of a young LGBT+ Asian-American girl.
Both these movies constitute big steps forward in the matter of representation within rom-coms, which is a huge problem the genre has had to face. The vast majority (basically the entirety) of existing romantic comedies deal with a cis heterosexual couple, where both counterparts are often white. As society is evolving, it’s very nice to see diversity becoming more common, both in front of and behind the camera.
All in all, even though the genre of rom-com movies may have died, it is not very likely that rom-coms in general will ever completely disappear. They may exponentially decrease in quality (though, God forbid) and they might transfer entirely to the series format, but odds are that it will continue to live on in some way.
So, if you’re a hopeless romantic like me, don’t despair yet! There’s still a light (albeit feeble) at the end of the tunnel! After all, as good rom-coms taught us – love conquers all.
Do you agree? Do you think the future of the romcom lies in Tv rather than film? Do let us know in the comments below!