Romantic comedies may be an endangered species in theaters, but on Netflix, meet-cutes and dramatic races through airports are still thriving.
The streaming behemoth offers a home to everything from black-and-white foreign-language Oscar winners to middling ’80s-era throwbacks about preteens battling monsters, but the rom-com is one area in which the platform has consistently excelled. After a few years out of fashion, the once-lucrative genre has enjoyed new life at Netflix and is slowly regaining appreciation both critically and financially. You could even make the case that the streamer played a critical role in saving romantic comedies over the past few years, or at least reminding viewers just how much fun it can be to watch two nice people fall in love against a backdrop of misadventures and hijinks.
Many rom-coms still tend to struggle at the box office — here’s looking at “Bros” — but an equal amount find a thriving audience among subscribers. The 2018 megahit “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” comes to mind as an instant triumph for Netflix, supported by two sequels (released in 2020 and 2021) and countless other original rom-coms seemingly crafted in the trilogy’s image. From the workplace shenanigans of “Set It Up” to the tortured friend zone of “Always Be My Maybe,” Netflix continues to invest in flirty tales about finding the one.
That said, May 2023 is a bit of a fallow month for romantic comedies on the streamer, though originals like “The Half of It” or “The Incredible Jessica James” ensure that a decent library of fizzy love stories will always exist on Netflix. Many of the best rom-coms that populated the service in the last several months, like “Notting Hill” or “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” have departed from streaming, leaving a noticeable absence in their wake. That said, there are still some great options, including Nora Ephron’s all-time great “Sleepless in Seattle”; Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey’s beloved “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days”; and Tom Cruise sports dramedy “Jerry Maguire.” Plus, there’s Alia Shawkat and Laia Costa in the melancholy “Duck Butter”; Spike Lee’s original “She’s Gotta Have It” film (or you could try the serialized Netflix original!); Noah Baumbach’s directorial debut “Kicking and Screaming;” and more.
From modern classics like “La La Land” to new originals like “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga,” Netflix is filled with prime examples of all the loving, funny stories the genre still has to offer. Here are 18 romantic comedies you can watch right now on Netflix. Selections are listed in ascending order of quality and genre relevance.
With editorial contributions by Kate Erbland, Proma Khosla, and Sarah Shachat.
[This story was originally published in February 2023 and has since been updated.]
18. “The Wedding Date” (2005)
Nobody would confuse “The Wedding Date” as a masterpiece of the rom-com form, but the 2005 vehicle for Debra Messing and Dermot Mulroney is a perfectly enjoyable and fizzy mid-aughts treat. Messing is Kat: a single woman dreading the wedding of her half-sister Amy (Amy Adams, right before she broke through with “Junebug”), because the best man is her former fiancé Jeffrey (Jeremy Sheffield). In order to make Jeffrey jealous and avoid looking pathetic, Kat hires Nick (Mulroney): a male escort who agrees to pose as her boyfriend. Of course, Kat soon finds herself taken by the handsome, intelligent stranger. The jokes are a bit creaky, and the plot is both outlandish and overly predictable, but Messing and Mulroney are charming (and hot!) together, and will have you rooting for the two mismatched leads to kiss. Sometimes that’s all you need a rom-com to accomplish. — WC
17. “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” (2003)
“How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” was not particularly well-received when it first hit theaters in 2003, but the film proved a hit at home, and its fanbase has only seemed to grow in the years since. A bit of a modern day comedy of manners, the film stars Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey as Andie and Benjamin: a journalist and advertising executive who make bets with their coworkers that they can get a man to dump her and make a woman fall in love with him, respectively, over the course of only 10 days. Naturally, they end up choosing each other as their targets, and hijinks ensue as Andie tries to shake off Ben, who is determined to stay no matter what. Hudson and McConaughey make for apealling leads in the film, which is loaded with adorable moments like the “You’re So Vain” singalong. In retrospect, it’s a charming last hurrah of its rom-com era, when likeable stars and intense chemistry were enough to power the genre to box office success. —WC
16. “The Half of It” (2020)
The tale of Cyrano de Bergerac has been directly adapted more than a dozen times, most recently with Peter Dinklage as its star in 2021. Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play has inspired as many romantic comedies, from 1987’s “Roxanne” to 2009’s “The Ugly Truth.” Still, Netflix original “The Half of It” stands out as a winning coming-of-age story anchored by its endearing but grounded queer lead and a story that pushes boundaries, albeit gently. Leah Lewis plays Ellie Chu: an artsy, straight-A student whose homework-for-hire business lands her in the middle of a blossoming romance between jock Paul (Daniel Diemer) and the passionate Aster (Alexxis Lemire). Writer/director Alice Wu spins an infectious LGBTQ love story with her trio of leads and, though it isn’t wholly revolutionary, what “The Half of It” lacks in bombast it makes up in joy. —AF
15. “Duck Butter” (2018)
Co-written with star Ali Shawkat, director Miguel Arteta’s “Duck Butter” is decidedly uneven but spectacular at moments. The breezy then claustrophobic dramedy (perhaps the most serious fare on this list) accompanies two women on a quest to “fast-forward ten years” of their would-be romance by spending 24 uninterrupted hours together. Shawkat’s unsure and cynical Nima begins the slightly meta film as a struggling actress in a Duplass brothers production (with Jay and Mark playing themselves!) But when faced with the effervescent tumultuousness of Laia Costa’s Sergio — a Latin-American singer and painter with an intimidating magnetism — Nima is forced to confront what she really wants. —AF
14. “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” (2020)
Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams deliver a rom-com and so much more in director David Dobkin’s ferociously silly (if seriously uneven) “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.” Lars Erickssong and Sigrit Ericksdóttir are best friends and small-time musicians from Iceland with dreams of making it big. Winning the famed international songwriting competition would put the pair — ill-received at home and woefully unprepared for the spotlight — on the global map. But the couple’s complicated will-they-won’t-they threatens to undo Lars’ over-the-top ambition as Sigrit’s unrequited love cuts deeper. The Netflix original earned a nod for Best Original Song with the epic ballad “Husavik” at the 93rd Academy Awards. —AF
13. “Set It Up” (2018)
Arguably the breakthrough title in Netflix’s burgeoning library of original romantic comedies, Claire Scanlon’s charming throwback relies on some old staples of the genre: adorable leads with big chemistry and a slightly convoluted plot designed to throw them together as frequently as possible.
Harper (Zoey Deutch) and Charlie (Glen Powell) are a pair of overworked assistants whose lives are dominated by their demanding bosses, but when the pair meet-cute in the lobby of their office building, they hatch a plan to set up their superiors (played by Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs), all in hopes that a romance will distract them from further ruining their lives. Inevitably, it’s Harper and Charlie who fall for each other, but Katie Silberman’s script has a lot of fun getting them to that point, and damn if it isn’t a joy to see a new pair of rom-com superstars emerge in Deutch and Powell. —KE
12. “A Knight’s Tale” (2001)
Don’t trust any historian who doesn’t immediately profess their love for “A Knight’s Tale.” Brian Helgeland’s 2001 film makes no pretensions towards adapting the Geoffrey Chaucer story of the same name nor any scrap of recorded history, and instead it has everything that makes the medieval era actually fun: jousting, wildly inaccurate but incredibly early ’00s fantasy dresses, James Purefoy with a sword, Alan Tudyk with a dinner roll, a David Bowie needle drop, and Paul Bettany’s bare ass. The cherry on top (or the apple inside the roast pig) of this part-sports underdog story, part-buddy comedy, part-euphoric historical anachronism is that there is a fair damsel named Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon) for the bold jouster and commoner impersonating a knight named William (Heath Ledger) to win. Sossamon and especially Ledger are at the height of their powers here, and their tug-of-war between the lovers convincingly imperils and then ultimately inspires Will’s triumph in the jousting lists. The Ren-Faire trappings of “A Knight’s Tale” merely prove that love stories are timeless. —SS
11. “The Incredible Jessica James” (2017)
Jessica Williams dazzles as the titular “Incredible Jessica James” in writer/director James C. Strouse’s hidden gem from 2017. Having recently broken up her with ex-boyfriend Damon (LaKeith Stanfield), the newly single playwright seeks out different experiences in New York City, meeting blind date Boone (Chris O’Dowd) along the way. Both are struggling to get over their past relationships, and quickly bond through their parallel heartbreak. Through imaginative flashbacks and dream sequences, audiences watch as Jessica grapples with feelings old and new for a fresh feminist perspective on a familiar romantic formula. —AF
10. “The Lovebirds” (2020)
“The Lovebirds” introduces its starring couple four years into a crumbling relationship. Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani are instantly recognizable as charismatic counterparts doomed for mutual destruction: sniping over everything from dinner plans to “The Amazing Race.” When the would-be exes collide with a criminal organization in the midst of a breakup, however, they’re forced to problem-solve in a kind of a hyper-high stakes session of couples therapy caught somewhere between “Eyes Wide Shut” and “The Big Lebowski.” Though “The Lovebirds” script sometimes falters, Michael Showalter brings the same confident direction that made “The Big Sick” a smash. —AF
9. “The Duff” (2015)
“DUFF” or “Designated Ugly Fat Friend.” It’s a cruel monicker, indicative of everything that makes teenage girlhood hell. And yet, that off-putting title proves a surprisingly sweet starting point for director Ari Sandel’s hidden gem rom-com about a snarky high schooler (Mae Whitman) set on glowing up. With the help of her hunky science partner (Robbie Amell), our heroine begins a quest for self-confidence and finds a little something extra [wink] along the way.
As in the TV show “Good Girls,” Whitman is unceasingly likable. Her natural charm coupled with Amell’s bad boy/good heart act, as perfected on the sci-fi series “Upload,” transforms what could have been a “She’s All That” knockoff into bubbly chemistry. —AF
8. “Always Be My Maybe” (2019)
By the time Nahnatchka Khan’s breezy feature directorial debut “Always Be My Maybe” offers up a hearty wink at “Pretty Woman,” the Netflix original feature has already earned its stripes as the online streamer’s next great rom-com. Khan’s film pulls liberally from the genre playbook — stars and co-writers Ali Wong and Randall Park haven’t been shy about the film’s early inspirations, especially classics like “When Harry Met Sally” — but it also offers its own charms thanks to Wong and Park, who delight both on-screen and on the page.
And while “Always Be My Maybe” doesn’t reinvent its genre, it’s a welcome addition that contributes cultural diversity to a typically white-dominated screen space, and leans into tropes that have always made rom-coms (well, good rom-coms) such a joy to watch. —KE
7. “Kicking and Screaming” (1995)
Before he was getting Oscar nominations for scenes where Scarlett Johannson and Adam Driver yell at each other — or, more recnetly, co-writing the script to the “Barbie” movie — Noah Baumbach made his feature directorial debut with “Kicking and Screaming.” Not to be confused with the raunchy 2005 comedy about Will Ferrell coaching a children’s soccer team, Baumbach’s low-key but sharp debut focuses on a group of college graduates who stick around their university’s town out of fear of facing the real world. Josh Hamilton, years before he became one of cinema’s best dads in “Eighth Grade,” leads the cast as the slacking writer Grover, whose blasé approach to growing up is thrown out of order when his girlfriend Jane (Olivia d’Abo) accepts a fellowship in Prague, leaving him with only memories of her.
Although the film — so drenched in the ennui of its cast of adults in arrested development — never quite becomes the conventional studio romantic comedy that it flirts with, Grover’s struggles to grow up for the sake of his relationship provide the ambling character study its backbone; the film even climaxs with Hamilton giving an impassioned speech at the airport, desperate to reunite with his beau. Plus, like all good rom-coms, they got an absolute ringer to play the lead’s parent: Elliot Gould should really be the dad in every romantic comedy. —WC
6. “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993)
One of romantic comedy maestro Nora Ephron’s most beloved films, “Sleepless in Seattle” flips many of the conventions of its genre on their head by saving its lead’s meet-cute for the very end. When Seattle-based architect Sam Baldwin (Tom Hanks) recounts the story of his wife’s death from cancer on national radio, his story touches Baltimore journalist Annie Reed (Meg Ryan), who quickly falls for a man she doesn’t even know. Despite being engaged to another man (Bill Pullman, in an iconic romantic runner-up role), she writes a letter asking Sam to meet her in New York on Valentine’s Day, much to the delight of his precocious son (Ross Malinger).
This soulmate-esque relationship might be corny on paper, but “Sleepless in Seattle” somehow pulls it off, telling a lovely and slightly melancholy story about taking a chance on love. It helps that the characters are played by such likable leads as Ryan and Hanks, who made the film as the second in the three-picture run — also including “Joe Versus the Volcano” and “You’ve Got Mail” — that cemented them as one of the romantic comedy’s most iconic screen duos. —WC
5. “She’s Gotta Have It” (1986)
Legendary for launching Spike Lee’s career, microbudget triumph “She’s Gotta Have It” is frequently cited as a revolutionary turning point in the representation of Black women and Black sexuality on screen. Tracy Camilla Johns stars as Nola Darling: a free-spirited artist whose polyamorous attraction entangles her with three different men (Tommy Redmond Hicks, John Canda Terrell, and Lee himself). The 1987 feature is an imperfect film, frequently criticized for a scene involving sexual assault; Lee himself has described the sequence as a major regret. But it’s raw magnetism is essential to understanding Lee’s career and makes Netflix’s serialized take on the film an even more gratifying watch. —AF
4. “La La Land” (2016)
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling soft-shoed their way into a Best Actress win, a Best Actor nod, and (a regrettably notorious) Best Picture nomination with Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land.” The 2016 rom-com musical has been described as an ode to dreamers, and chronicles the love of an aspiring actress and struggling jazz pianist in the City of Angels. Inspired by Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, and much of Hollywood history, Chazelle dreams up an enchanting, if melancholy, tale of having it all with a particularly keen eye for the heartbreaks unique to artists such as himself. —AF
3. “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” (2018)
Netflix’s vise grip on the new wave rom-com market is tight, but the streaming giant has also found time to zero in on a previoulsy underserved subgenre: teen-centric rom-coms. Hit charmer “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” cracks what should be an obvious code: find a sweet protagonist, and even the most outlandish of storylines can work.
Featuring a knockout performance from Lana Condor, the Susan Johnson story takes Jenny Han’s best-selling YA novels and turns them into a very cute feature. The film follows Condor’s Lara Jean after her (secret!) love letters are released into the world, a wild idea that allows other, more grounded emotion to take wing.
Mostly, though, “To All the Boys” keeps a tight hold on the formula of every rom-com and adapts it for the younger set. Every beat of the film might be obvious, but that doesn’t detract from the enjoyability of watching an indelible young heroine like Lara Jean figure out her own life and just maybe fall in love in the process. —KE
2. “Jerry Maguire” (1996)
Help me, help you: “Jerry Maguire” is one of the best romantic comedies ever made. Cameron Crowe’s 1996 delight stars Tom Cruise as a sports manager, who is forced to set out on his own after he’s unexpectedly let go from his agency. In an impassioned speech, the titular Jerry asks his colleagues if anyone will leave with him to start a new business. “I’ll go with you,” pipes up Renée Zellweger’s sweetheart of a character. “Dorothy Boyd, thank you.”
“Jerry Maguire” was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Cuba Gooding Jr. won Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Jerry’s only client, a wide receiver for Arizona Cardinals. —AF
1. “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” (1998)
“Love is friendship.” That simple but maddening sentiment kicks off a love triangle for the ages in writer/director Karan Johar’s 1998 Bollywood classic “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai”: a bittersweet and bubbly story of young love, missed opportunity, and female friendship starring genre icons Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, and Rani Mukerji. When Rahul — a charismatic flirt practically attached at the hip with his tomboyish best friend Anjali — falls for new girl Tina, he clumsily mangles what was once an unbreakable friendship. Years in the future, with some help from his adorable daughter also named Anjali (Sana Saeed), Rahul gets a second a chance with his would-be college sweetheart. Come for the promise of silly but still flashy ’90s hip hop choreography and costuming combined with stunning Indian dance. Stay for what’s quite possibly the most romantic gazebo scene of all time. —AF