Photos: Netflix

Growing up, basically all I watched were romantic comedies. And my repertoire was expansive, from all the classics like When Harry Met Sally and Notting Hill, to modern favorites like 10 Things I Hate About You, A Cinderella Story, and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, to name a few. But years have gone by, and where did all the good rom-coms go? For a solid decade, we idled by, rom-com-less in favor of superhero franchises, action dramas, and period pieces. Don’t get me wrong: those films have merit in their own right, but I missed the days of cozying up on the couch in my PJs watching a fluffy romantic comedy that didn’t make me think too much and gave me the warm and fuzzies.

But then, along came streaming giant Netflix with its penchant for creating gripping and enjoyable original series and movies. And slowly, they struck gold. They reinvented the rom-com. From cutesy high school love stories, to millennials trying to succeed in the workforce, traveling adventures, and even cheesy holiday-themed romances, Netflix has brought back the rom-com with films that never fail to put a smile on my face every time I watch.

According to Netflix, more than 80 million account users have watched a romance film or love story on the streaming site in the last year. That amount nears two-thirds of the Netflix global audience, further proving how much we as a society crave an indulgent love story to take our minds off the stressful real world. In addition, nearly 80 million subscribers have watched a rom-com on the platform this summer alone during their “Summer of Love” original premieres, the platform’s annual Q3 earnings report revealed this week.

“Netflix’s membership is global, so we have the goal of creating content with diverse voices and perspectives that many different audiences will enjoy,” co-head of Netflix’s Indie Film Decision, Matt Brodlie, said. “In terms of our films, this can be anything from arthouse to big blockbuster titles to ‘comfort food’ like rom coms, which, in particular, we saw weren’t being made as much as they used to be.”

It all started with A Christmas Prince, Netflix’s response to every adorable holiday romance movie, typically seen on the Hallmark Channel. Rose McIver won our hearts as a struggling journalist covering the inauguration of a fictitious prince who—what else—falls for her. We were swept away by the simplicity and normalcy of the characters, and all the royal moments that made it a classic romantic film. Then, the releases kept coming, and at least once a month we saw a variety of protagonists and original stories that were unique, but stayed true to their rom-com roots.

The first in a series of high school-based romantic comedies was The Kissing Booth, which yes, had its issues, but nonetheless compelled viewers to watch (again and again) the cheesy teenage story of teenybopper first love. According to Netflix data, based on members who watched the fanfiction-turned-film, two in every five viewers also rewatched it. This rate is two times higher than the average movie is rewatched on the site. Why? It’s mindless, careless fun that never fails to make you smile. That’s why.

In a revitalization of the once mega-popular genre, Netflix confirms that people are indeed loving these new rom-coms, as people are rewatching such titles nearly double the amount of other genres. The amount of viewers watching titles such as When We First Met and The Kissing Booth is on par with those watching titles from the genre heyday of the 2000s, Netflix confirms, such as Sweet Home Alabama and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.

What Makes These New Rom-Coms Different?

Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell star in this summer’s Set it Up. Photo: Netflix.

Not only do thees new movies feature plenty of tropes that make them  classic, enjoyable rom-coms, but they reinvented the genre for a modern age. ‘00s rom-coms relied on the tropes of perfect-appearing characters with dream jobs, dream wardrobes, dream cars and apartments, but just missing love. And now, new rom-coms, such as To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Ibiza, and Set it Up take a more realistic and honest approach, in a way that makes these characters genuine and relatable to the modern viewers’ own lives.

For example,  Set it Up perfectly illustrates a realistic take on modern women. Take a look at the character of Kirsten (Lucy Liu). It’s empowering and progressive to see a woman (even of a certain age) prioritize her career over finding a husband and having a baby. She even notes how she doesn’t want to explain her life choices at baby and bridal showers for her friends who have chosen a different path in life. And that is exactly how Netflix has evolved the beloved genre. Women don’t have to solely exist to find a spouse or a mate, and can have a career, be successful, and they don’t need to settle for the one guy that shows a semblance of interest. Secondly, Harper (Zoey Deutch) does not want a boyfriend (she’s perfectly content watching videos with popcorn in her backward-facing hoodie, which—side note—aren’t we all?). She’d rather have a kickass career following her passions, much like her boss Kirsten. Also, in the film Ibiza and When We First Met, the women are more relatable to viewers because they aren’t looking for a man to come save them, but rather trying succeed on their own terms. Characters in TATBILB, Sierra Burgess is a Loser, and The Kissing Booth portray their lead protagonists with relatable—sometimes awkward—personalities and interests, in a way that’s relatable and genuine, so a variety of viewers can see themselves on film.

Based on Netflix data, these romantic films resonate well with the audience, thanks to a diverse casting and varied plot lines. This point is echoed in looking at the social media following of the films’ stars. For example, the stars of TATBILB, Noah Centineo’s social following leapt from 800,000 to 13.9 million and his costar Lana Condor saw an increase from 100,000 to 5.6 million. Similarly, stars of The Kissing Booth also saw an increase in social followings: Joey King’s increased from 600,000 to 8.4 million; Jacob Elordi’s grew from 15,000 to 6.4 million; and Joel Courtney’s increased from 300,000 to 2.9 million. This growth shows how these films substantially influence viewers.

Netflix charts the popularity of their film stars before and after their Netflix’s programs aired. Photo: Netflix.

Romantic comedies will always be great viewing because it’s escapism: Click play, and leave your stressful real lives and problems for a few hours to watch two people somehow find each other and fall in love by the time the credits roll 90 minutes later.

The screenwriter behind the service’s Sierra Burgess is a Loser, Lindsey Beer, previously told Glamour, “We’re in such dark times right now. People want movies that feel good.”

While these are films feature all the classic rom-com tropes expected in a romance film, they are also smart, witty, and empowering. The female protagonists are intelligent, funny, kickass, and diverse women whom are not just trying to find love, and that’s what makes the genre adapt to the current generation. Similarly, the male leads are awkward, goofy, and sensitive, making them even more likable and genuine. Netflix takes the rom-com genre we know and love and fits it for our modern world, in a way that viewers can enjoy the simple love story we’ve always adored without sacrificing inspiration to live their best lives.

“Knowing our members are interested in love stories, we jumped on the opportunity to work on films like The Kissing Booth, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and Sierra Burgess is a Loser.” Brodlie said. “We know we made the right choice because the response to these titles has been tremendous.”

As the success of these rom-coms have shown, the people want more love stories in which to indulge, and in true Netflix fashion, they are ready to give the people what they want. The streaming service revealed that they are already in production of “the next set of original rom-coms” for its subscribers. Rom-com fans can keep an eye out for upcoming movies on the platform, including Always Be My Maybe, The Last Summer, romance film All the Bright Places, comedy film Wine Country, and Someone Great, in addition to the already-publicized Christmas romance films in the works (hello, Christmas Prince 2: Royal Wedding!).

About the author

Miranda Siwak

Miranda Siwak

Miranda Siwak is an assistant editor at Adventure Media & Events, where she writes for the Pop Insider and the Toy Insider, and also contributes to The Toy Book. When she’s not covering the latest news and trends, she can usually be found reading a good book, searching for her next DIY project, or keeping up with all of her favorite must-watch TV.