It’s only logical that romantic comedies make good blockbusters: they’re lighthearted, they tend to be on the shorter side, and they’re great for date nights. But we’re not talking about any old romcom, here. We’re talking about ones that broke box office records—and thanks to the data at Box Office Mojo, we can tell you which are the kingpins of their genre. This list covers the top ten most financially successful romantic comedies in Hollywood history, with figures adjusted for inflation (technically it’s the top eleven, but no matter how much it earned Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America seems out of place on this list). Get ready for a lot of posters with white backgrounds and Hollywood stars leaning on/physically pressed to each other.
10. My Best Friend’s Wedding, 1997 – $231,253,200
The first entry on this list is also the first of three to star Julia Roberts. For a good fifteen years or so, casting her in the lead in pretty much any given movie assured box office gold, and My Best Friend’s Wedding is no exception. Directed by P.J. Hogan, who also wrote and directed the fairly successful Australian romantic comedy Muriel’s Wedding in 1994, My Best Friend’s Wedding focuses on a restaurant critic (Roberts) who is overwhelmed with envy when another woman (Cameron Diaz) becomes engaged to her best male friend of many years (Dermot Mulroney). Besides receiving a generally warm reception, particularly from Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers and Total Film, it is also notable for its cover of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “I Say a Little Prayer (For You),” which appears in the film as an impromptu vocal performance at a restaurant.
9. Hitch, 2005 – $233,820,200
Hitch stars Will Smith as the eponymous character, a romantic advisor of sorts, who coaches a hapless schmuck (played by Kevin James) on how to be successful on the dating scene, all the while gradually discovering that his tried and tested tactics don’t work so well for himself. Hitch not only provided a romcom vehicle for the former Fresh Prince but also turned James, previously of sitcom The King of Queens, into a comedic star by his own right. Review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes summarizes Hitch as predictable but fun thanks to “warmhearted performances” by Smith and James. Apart from landing James several top-billing roles in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry and Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Hitch also inspired the Bollywood film Partner. Interestingly, Smith told the Birmingham Post that the studio had an issue casting Smith opposite a white or black actress, with either choice breaking a taboo or alienating worldwide white audiences, respectively. MSNBC, among others, have speculated this is why Latina Eva Mendes was cast as his love interest.
8. Runaway Bride, 1999 – $250,240,700
Roberts’ second appearance in the top 10 is also her second romcom collaboration with Richard Gere, with whom she had previously appeared in Pretty Woman. The 1999 film, directed by Garry Marshall (Beaches, The Princess Diaries), stars Gere as a New York columnist who’s fired after it’s discovered his piece about a repeat jilter (Roberts) is inaccurate. Attempting to regain his credibility, he visits the hometown of the “runaway bride” to contact her and write a newer version of the story. As one might guess, the two fall in love. Reviews were mixed—Roger Ebert gave it two stars out of four—and Rotten Tomatoes’ consensus is that Roberts and Gere lack the chemistry they had during their first collaboration. Nevertheless, it more than compensated for middling reviews with high box office numbers.
7. Sleepless in Seattle, 1993 – $255,503,700
Inspired by and paying liberal homage to the Cary Grant/Deborah Kerr vehicle An Affair to Remember, Sleepless in Seattle—directed and co-written by the late Nora Ephron—stars Tom Hanks as a widower whose son convinces him to talk about his loss on a call-in radio show. A Baltimore Sun reporter, played by Meg Ryan, feels drawn to the single father in spite of her engagement. After some correspondence, the two eventually meet in New York during the Christmas holidays—specifically at the top of the Empire State Building, an in-fiction reference to An Affair to Remember. It received largely positive reviews from critics and, nearly two decades after its release, was turned into a stage musical. Sleepless in Seattle is perhaps Meg Ryan’s most well-known romcom role after Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally…, and she and Hanks would team up again in You’ve Got Mail, also directed by Ephron and paying homage to another romantic comedy, in this case a remake of The Shop Around the Corner.
6. As Good as It Gets, 1997 – $264,485,800
“Jack Nicholson” and “romantic comedy” don’t often appear in the same sentence, but the results of such an eclectic mixture have been surprisingly successful. One of Nicholson’s first outings in the genre was a supporting role in James L. Brooks’ Terms of Endearment, which cast him opposite Shirley MacLaine. As Good as It Gets was another such collaboration with Brooks, who is perhaps best known for co-developing The Simpsons. It stars Nicholson as a grumpy, OCD-ridden novelist who becomes entwined in the affairs of a server (Helen Hunt) at his favourite diner as well as those of his neighbour (Greg Kinnear), a gay artist who entrusts him with his dog. The offbeat film received significant critical acclaim and netted Nicholson and Hunt Oscars for Best Actor and Actress.
5. Arthur, 1981 – $271,716,900
While its 2011 remake was a critical and commercial failure, the original 1981 Arthur starring Dudley Moore and Liza Minelli was anything but. It follows Arthur Bach, an immature libertine who is heir to his family’s substantial fortune, and who is torn between marrying someone he doesn’t care for so he can come into his money, or spending the rest of his life with a the shoplifting waitress he actually loves (Minelli). Besides making a dent in the box office, Arthur was critically acclaimed, currently holding a 90% aggregate score on Rotten Tomatoes, and was nominated for four Oscars: Best Actor (Moore), Best Supporting Actor (John Gielgud as Arthur’s valet Hobson), Best Original Screenplay and Best Original Song (“Best That You Can Do,” by Christopher Cross). It netted the second and fourth awards.
4. What Women Want, 2000 – $276,298,900
It’s hard to think of Mel Gibson as romcom material nowadays, especially after his infamous comments made to a female police officer during a DUI arrest, but he was the top-billed star in one of the most successful romantic comedies of all time. Directed by Nancy Meyers (Something’s Gotta Give, The Holiday), What Women Want focuses on a sexist adman who, after being electrocuted, gains the ability to hear women’s thoughts. Though it currently has a “rotten” 54% on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie was very, very successful in theatres, and for a while was the highest-grossing film directed by a woman, according to the New York Times.
3. There’s Something About Mary, 1998 – $312,946,500
Perhaps the raunchiest romcom in this top ten, There’s Something About Mary was the Farrelly brothers’ follow-up to Dumb & Dumber, depicting the veritable war between three men (Ben Stiller, Matt Dillon and Lee Evans) obsessed with the title character, an orthopedic surgeon. There’s Something About Mary was praised by many critics, Roger Ebert and Todd McCarthy among them, which makes it a rarity among gross-out comedies. It was the most successful comedy of 1998 and was a boon to both Stiller and Diaz’s careers.
2. My Big Fat Greek Wedding, 2002 – $345,852,600
Starring Greek-Canadian actress Nia Vardalos, who also wrote the film, My Big Fat Greek Wedding was a smashing independent movie success, earning 6,150% of its $6 million budget, according to CNBC. Originating as a one-woman play, it tells the story of a 30-year-old single woman who falls for a non-Greek schoolteacher (John Corbett) despite her parents’ wishes. Apart from its commercial success, My Big Fat Greek Wedding was quite well received and even spawned the sitcom My Big Fat Greek Life, though the latter was panned after several episodes.
1. Pretty Woman, 1990 – $352,173,100
The first romcom outing of Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, Pretty Woman was also helmed by future Runaway Bride director Garry Marshall. Gere plays a corporate raider who enlists the services of a Hollywood prostitute (Roberts) to be his week-long escort so he can make an impression while enacting business deals. As the week progresses, however, their relationship becomes far more than professional. Reviews were mixed, but that didn’t matter to filmgoers: Pretty Woman remained on the box office top ten for 16 weeks, according to Box Office Mojo. For her role as prostitute-turned-escort Vivian, Julia Roberts earned her first Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.
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