David Jonsson as Dom and Vivian Oparah Yas in 'Rye Lane' laughing with each other outside a house.
(Searchlight Pictures)

The Best Rom Com Movies to Watch

The romantic comedy genre is perhaps one of cinema’s most popular yet trivalized film genres. It’s often praised and critiqued for its narrative makeup. Seen as the “women’s genre,” as is every genre related to romance in any capacity, but the rom-com is a large part of cinema. Depending on who you ask, it’s perceived as heartwarming or superficial. Despite the mixed reactions, the genre persists on the large screen. Audiences still crave the impossible and often endearingly magical world the rom-com conjures. Where people meet by chance and fall in love. Tropes become the storytelling tool, and somehow, despite how often they’re used, they never get old. 

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Whatever gets said about the romantic comedy genre, a relentless theme of hope runs through all of them that grounds them in something tangible. Hope that love is, as Hugh Grant says in 2003’s Love Actually, “all around us.” So, with that in mind, it’s important to preface this list with one disclaimer: Nora Ephon’s iconic When Harry Met Sally, arguably a staple of the genre, is not included in this list. In the hopes of modernizing a list of best rom-coms that’s been done countless times, it was best to mix it up with new releases that bring something new to the conversation. 

Sleepless in Seattle

Meg Ryan as Annie Reed, Ross Malinger as Jonah Baldwin and Tom Hanks as Sam Baldwin in 'Sleepless in Seattle'
(TriStar Pictures)

A best rom-com list would be remiss without a classic Nora Ephron film. Considered the creator of the modern rom-com after When Harry Met Sally first released in 1989, her influence persists years after passing in 2012. One of her earliest films, Sleepless in Seattle, was the start of the Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks memorable duo of the rom-com genre. Hanks stars as a widowed father who moves to Seattle after the death of his wife. Ryan is a Baltimore reporter who, one lonely Christmas night on her drive back to the city, tunes in to a radio show where destiny intervenes. In this case, destiny takes shape in the son of a widower who calls into the same radio show Annie’s listening to. Ephron weaves such a sweet tale of cross-continental love that we never see Hanks and Ryan kiss on screen by the end but still feel just as satisfied as they walk out of the Empire State Building holding hands. 

Notting Hill

Julia Roberts as Anna Scott and Hugh Grant as William Thacker in 'Notting Hill' walking down the street.
(Universal Pictures)

Julia Roberts comprises part of the trifecta of rom-com leading ladies of the late 90s and early 2000s: Meg Ryan, Sandra Bullock, and Julia Roberts. It’s why 1999’s Notting Hill is a must in any rom-com-related list. This may be one of the most “fantastical” of the rom-coms plot-wise. That being said, there’s nothing quite like Hugh Grant leading a film where he’s hopelessly in love with a beautiful Julia Roberts, who ironically pays a famous actress. After running into Grant’s little bookshop in Notting Hill, London, to hide from the press, Roberts and Grant initiate a secret romance that leads to one of the best press conference scenes of any other rom-com. There’s more than one unforgettable line reading from Notting Hill that would extend into its own piece altogether. Two people from different lives fall in love in the most unexpected and extraneous circumstances. That’s the magic of the rom-com. 

You’ve Got Mail

Meg Ryan as Kathleen Kelly and Tom Hanks as Joe Fox in 'You've Got Mail' standing next to each other in a grocery store.
(Warner Bros.)

Yes, two Ephron films in a single rom-com list. Well, there’s a reason she’s the patron saint of the genre: because everything she wrote turned into cinematic gold. After the success of Sleepless in Seattle back in 1993, it was only a matter of time before Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks reunited for another Nora Ephron-led rom-com. Kathleen Kelly and Joe Fox remain the “enemies to friends to lovers” magic formula we see in many modern rom-coms and novels. After meeting in an online AOL chatroom (remember dial-up? Yeah, me too), unbeknownst to them, Katheleen and Joe will also become rivals as Joe’s conglomerate bookstore, Fox Books, is out to destroy Katheleen’s mom-and-pop bookstore that she inherited from her mother. Chaos ensues as they fight each other in the corporate world, meanwhile falling in love online.

Rye Lane

David Jonsson as Dom and Vivian Oparah Yas in 'Rye Lane' laughing with each other outside a house.
(Searchlight Pictures)

This was one of 2023’s most delightful releases. It made the rom-com truly breathe back to life after years of lifeless reimaginations of the genre. Starring a charismatic David Jonsson and uncompromising Vivian Oparah, Raine Allen Miller’s Rye Lane is a modern rom-com that recontextualizes the genre in a new and exciting way. You feel that structure of what made some of the older rom-coms so successful, but there’s a new generation feel that finally found its voice. Jonsson and Oparah’s characters meet in the bathroom stalls of an art gallery in the middle of South London. They bond over similar situations involving broken hearts and broken relationships. They decided to spend the day together and, ultimately, what seemed to be the rest of their lives. Nathan Bryon’s and Tom Melia’s script is a mixture of wit and genuine warmth that shines through Oparah and Jonsson’s on-screen chemistry as they riff off one another. It’s vibrant and utilizes the South London scenery as a witness to the blossoming romance between their two characters. Rye Lane indicates the possible reassurance of good romantic comedies in the near future. 

Bridget Jones’s Diary

Renée Zellweger as Bridget Jones and Colin Firth as Mark Darcy in 'Bridget Jones's Diary' kissing in the snow.
(Universal Pictures)

A Playboy Bunny-clad Renée Zellweger as Bridget Jones is forever seared into the iconography of the many rom-coms released during the early 2000s. It stands out as Zellweger embodied the role of a down-on-her-luck Bridget Jones in Bridget Jones’s Diary. This movie is a perfect example of stars aligning to make the rom-com of all rom-coms during this time. By that point, the genre had perfected its formula, producing a raunchy, sweet, poignant, and sexy movie starring Colin Firth (otherwise known as Mr. Darcy) and Hugh Grant as leading men to Zellweger. Jones, for the problematic faults of the character, introduced a voice to women who yearn for love. Their life would feel richer if they had someone to share it with. While not entirely perfect in its portrayal of this particular sector of women, it was the first in a way that felt authentic and raw. Sometimes, loneliness is expressed through a large consumption of alcohol and eating your weight in chocolate. It can also be possible to love yourself outside of that yearning. 

13 Going on 30

Jennifer Garner as Jenna Rink and Mark Ruffalo as Matt Flamhaff in '13 Going on 30' eating candy and walking down the street.
(Columbia Pictures)

Here’s where the genre lands on a sweet spot between fantastical and overtly silly with a dash of romance. 13 Going on 30 is the kind of relatable that speaks to the impatience felt by 13-year-olds. Starring Jennifer Gardner as a 13-year-old who turned 30 overnight, 13 Going on 30 is the metaphorical time machine rom-com that packs a lot of heart. Jenna Rink embodies the misunderstood teen angst who gets the chance to see into their future, should she choose it to be that way. It’s the kind of movie every 13-year-old should have growing up. Of learning self-acceptance and being kind to yourself. It also features a sweet Mark Ruffalo, hopelessly in love with Jenna Rink in every timeline of Jenna’s life. 13 Going on 30 has persevered throughout the years because its message is timeless. It’s also one every young person who thinks their life begins and ends in their teens. Life is short, but what you make of it is also up to you.  

Enough Said

Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Eva and James Gandolfini as Albert in 'Enough Said' eating popcorn at the movies.
(Searchlight Pictures)

It’s a bittersweet feeling that Enough Said is one of James Gandolfini’s second-to-last performances before passing away in 2013. After years of playing brutal mob boss Tony Soprano in The Sopranos, seeing him play a soft and emotionally tender man in Nicole Holofcener’s rom-com was nothing short of a revelation. Equally endearing is comedic legend Julia Louis-Dreyfus dropping the snark of Veep’s Selina Meyer to play a middle-aged mom looking for a second chance at romance. Sometimes, the most unlikely pairings make magic on screen, and that’s precisely what happens with Gandolfini and Dreyfuss in Enough Said. Not enough rom-coms feature middle-aged characters who get that second chance at love. Or, even a first chance of it. 

Something New

Sanaa Lathan as Kenya Denise McQueen and Simon Baker as Brian Kelly in 'Something New' kissing in the garden.
(Focus Features)

Sanaa Hamri’s Something New is more on the smoldering side of the rom-com genre. Sanaa Lathan and Simon Baker’s chemistry sizzles on screen. If you’re familiar with this film, there’s a toe-painting scene with no real business being as overtly sexual as it was. That’s what happens when you have Simon Baker play anyone’s lover on screen. Lathan also has one of rom-com’s most memorable performances as an uptight businesswoman who deals with the racial tension of dating a white man like Baker. Something New is a perfect balance of romance and social commentary that doesn’t sacrifice one for the other. It’s an honest look at the lives of black women who sacrifice love for their work, and when love does come, what happens when it’s not exactly as it’s dictated by society? It’s a lighting rod film that feels almost like a mirage that may never happen again.  

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

John Corbett as Ian Miller and Nia Vardalos as Toula Portokalos in 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' in the back of a car after their wedding.
(Universal Pictures)

If you come from a large family, you understand the many intricate rituals and steps of dating within such a dynamic. My Big Fat Greek Wedding is an ode to the women whose large families come as a package deal in any romantic relationship. Written, directed, and starring Nia Vardalos, My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a charming portrayal of romantic and familial love. How both can coexist and bridge gaps between immigrant families and American communities. John Corbett stars opposite Vardalos as the endearing high school teacher who gets more than he bargained for when falling in love with Vardalos’s Toula Portokalos. Toula’s Greek family is a colorful cast of eccentric characters when perceived from the point of view of the average American. They’re also steadfast in their love for one another and would sacrifice anything for the other’s happiness. This rom-com crosses cultural boundaries and sheds light on the complexities of prominent families and the role of individual love. 

The Wedding Date

Dermot Mulroney as Nick Mercer and Debra Messing as Kat Ellis in 'The Wedding Date'
(Universal Pictures)

If Simon Baker in Something New is sexy in a tender way, Dermot Mulroney is sinfully attractive as a male escort who teaches Debra Messing a thing or two about what love really is. The Wedding Date is easily the sexiest of the rom-coms on this list. Mulroney and Messing have a palpable chemistry that culminates in one of the most sensual love scenes inside a parked boat. It’s also profoundly charming and witty in ways that are lacking in most rom-coms made today. Clare Kilner made a film that was drenched in sex while still keeping that shin of hope that marks the rom-com. Love and sex coexist in the soulful gaze of Mulroney and Messing’s look of utter drunken devastation as he emotionally and physically undresses her throughout the film. Not enough of our rom-coms today have this much electric energy coursing through the screen like Mulroney and Messing had in The Wedding Date. What a shame.

(featured image: Searchlight Pictures)

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Image of Mariana Delgado
Mariana Delgado
(she/her) is a contributing writer at The Mary Sue. She's also Editor in Chief and co-founder of independent publication Screen Speck for the past two years. She's previously contributed to publications like Collider, Inverse and Film-Cred. Proud mother of one beautiful little schnauzer named Pepe and lover of all things trauma-related theory. When she’s not rewatching The Leftovers, she may also be found rewatching LOST as a means to finally understand the human condition one traumatic show at a time.