Americans' favorite romantic comedies

Taylor OrthDirector of Survey Data Journalism
February 02, 2023, 6:40 PM GMT+0

As Valentine's Day approaches, love is in the air, and what better way to celebrate than by indulging in a heartwarming and humorous film? With many classic and contemporary romantic comedies to choose from, it can be difficult to know where to begin. To help you decide, YouGov has compiled a list of Americans' most beloved rom-coms. Topping the list of 65 classics: Pretty Woman, Sleepless in Seattle, and Sixteen Candles.

The list was created through a series of polls. First we asked Americans in a survey to name their favorite romantic comedy films. Responses to this open-ended question, along with information from other relevant sources, were used to generate a list of 75 movies. In a subsequent survey, we asked Americans if they had seen a randomly selected subset of these films; those who had were asked to rate it. To ensure that our contenders for top rom-com were, in fact, rom-coms, we chose a subset of 20 of the 75 movies — selected based on what Americans say are necessary elements to make a film a rom-com — and asked people who'd seen each of the 20 films whether they'd count it in the genre. If fewer than half of viewers classified a movie as a romantic comedy, it was not included in the final list. That eliminated 10 films from contention. Our final rom-com ranking includes 65 films released over the past seven decades.

How many Americans have seen popular rom-coms?

The poll first asked respondents whether they had seen a randomly selected subset romantic comedy movies on our list, including sequels or remakes when applicable. The results show that just 11 of the 65 rom-coms asked about have been seen by at least half of Americans, with the top three being Pretty Woman (71% have seen), Father of the Bride (58%), and Sleepless in Seattle (54%) — all movies released between 1990 and 1993. The vast majority of movies, however, have been seen by at least one in five people; all of the exceptions were released since 2000.

Which rom-coms are Americans' favorites?

In the next phase of the survey, respondents who said they'd seen each movie were asked their opinion of it — that is, whether they loved, liked, disliked, or hated it. While all movies are loved or liked by more people than hate or dislike them, some rom-coms are particularly beloved.

Looking at the share of each movie's viewers who give it a positive review — that is, they say they either love it or like it — we find that the five most loved or liked rom-coms are Pretty Woman (91%), Sleepless in Seattle (90%), Sixteen Candles (88%), Easy A (88%), and Father of the Bride (88%). These aren't niche films buoyed by narrow audiences: All were viewed by at least one-quarter of Americans, and all but Easy A have been seen by at least half, making them among the most viewed films of any contenders. A variety of decades are represented in the top 10 most loved or liked rom-coms, including Breakfast at Tiffany's from the 1960s, Sixteen Candles from the 1980s, Pretty Woman and Sleepless in Seattle from the 1990s, 50 First Dates and 13 Going on 30 from the 2000s, and Easy A from the 2010s.

Another way of slicing the data involves looking only at the share of people who say they "love" each movie. Using this metric, the films tied for first place are two of the most recent releases — 2022's Bros and 2018's Crazy Rich Asians, with 49% of viewers saying they love each. Pretty Woman is No. 3 by this measure, with 48% saying they love it. One thing that many of the films on the most-loved list share is a setting outside the U.S.: Crazy Rich Asians is set in Singapore, Roman Holiday in Rome, Mamma Mia on a fictional Greek island, and The Holiday in England.

Which movies do Americans classify as romantic comedies?

To arrive at our list of 65 rom-coms contending for most beloved, we trimmed our initial list of 75 movies by excluding ones that can't reasonably be classified as romantic comedies. Of the 75 movies, we selected 20 that didn't satisfy all criteria majorities of Americans agreed are necessary for a film to be considered a rom-com, such as having its central plot focus on a couple that ends up together. We then asked respondents who'd seen each of the 20 films whether they would classify it as a romantic comedy. The 10 movies that were classified as rom-coms by fewer than half of the people who saw them were removed from our final ranking. These included movies that may instead classify as dramas, such as Titanic (just 17% classify it as a rom-com) and The Notebook (29%), as well as ones that may be thought of more as comedies than romantic comedies, such as Mean Girls (23%), Clueless (45%), Legally Blonde (45%), and The 40-Year-Old Virgin (49%).

A handful of the movies that were removed from the final list because fewer than half of viewers classifying them as romantic comedies would have earned a spot on each of the top 10 rankings (most liked or loved — or most loved) had they been included. In terms of the share of viewers who love or like a movie, Legally Blonde (88%), Titanic (87%), and Grease (87%) would have ranked Nos. 4, 7, and 8. And on the list of most loved, Grease (47%), The Notebook (47%), and Titanic (44%) would have ranked Nos. 4, 5, and 6.

When rom-coms peaked

When do Americans think the genre reached its peak — so far? While many aren't sure, the largest share of people (17%) believes the 1990s was the best decade for romantic comedies; people who say they "love" romantic comedies are even more sure of this (22% said the '90s were best). In second and third place are the decades immediately before and after the 1990s: the 1980s (13%) and the 2000s (11%).

Americans' age plays a significant role in when they think rom-coms peaked. Adults under 30 are most likely to say 2000-2009 featured the genre's best, while 30- to 44-year-olds say the 1990s and 45- to 64-year-olds say the 1980s. Americans who are 65 and older are outliers in this regard: The largest share believes the 1950s had the best rom-coms. The 2010s don't rank among the top two decades for any age group, and the brief 2020s lag even further behind.

Rom-com casting

Who are Americans' favorite rom-com stars? The poll presented respondents with lists of 12 female and male actors who have starred in popular romantic comedies and asked them to select all whom they would enjoy watching in a romantic comedy.

Sandra Bullock (52%) and Julia Roberts (48%) top the list of actresses that Americans would like to see in a rom-com, followed by Jennifer Aniston (44%) and Reese Witherspoon (44%).

Among leading men, Matthew McConaughey (43%) is the most popular choice, followed by Ryan Reynolds (40%), Tom Hanks (40%), and Adam Sandler (35%).

Related: Americans' relationship with romantic comedies: It's complicated

— Carl Bialik and Linley Sanders contributed to this article

See the results for this YouGov poll

Methodology: This article includes data from four online polls conducted January 9 - 13, January 10 - 16, January 18 - 23, and February 8 - 10, 2023 — each among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to March 15, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 28% Republican). The margin of error for each question is approximately 4%.

Image: Adobe Stock (Hulton Archive)

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