In our fast-paced modern world, rooting for the happily-ever-after ending in a romantic comedy can sometimes feel a little phony.
Think of all the times we’ve watched two people fall in love, try and be happy, fall apart, and somehow make up again within a 90-minute runtime. It can often feel manufactured and unrealistic, which makes us jaded and cynical… but that doesn’t mean we don’t still want it.
These days, happy endings can still happen… as long as the characters earn it. We expect characters to work for it rather than have their happy ending arrive via tired, old, contrived plot devices—and this has made romantic comedies more challenging for modern filmmakers.
But when a romantic comedy successfully nails this idea of characters realistically earning their romantic moments—especially when they do so in new and original ways—it can be truly memorable and heartfelt.
Here are our picks for the best romantic scenes and moments in rom-com movies that were truly earned and left us feeling warm inside.
8. The Poem (10 Things I Hate About You)
As Kat Stratford stands up before her English class, having volunteered to read her poem first, she does so in front of Patrick Verona—the boy she’s fallen for, the boy who has broken her heart.
Kat looks out at her classmates and begins reading her poem: “10 Things I Hate About You.” It’s clear that she wrote it for Patrick, about how much she dislikes many of his traits and yet how she doesn’t hate him. “Not even a little bit, not even at all.”
She breaks down and leaves the room as she finishes, unable to comprehend why he never called her afterwards to explain things. And while the scene is certainly sad, it’s also the purest expression of one’s feelings for another despite betrayal, which is incredibly powerful.
7. The Wedding (Crazy Rich Asians)
Entirely set to “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” the wedding sequence in Crazy Rich Asians feels like a dream wedding.
As the floor becomes a shallow pool of water with flowers floating on it, the entire procession looks in awe as the bride walks down the aisle. However, the focus is on best man Nick Young and Rachel Chu as they glance at one another throughout the event.
The version of Elvis Presley’s beautiful song becomes the perfect tone for the intense romance underscored during the scene, with Kina Grannis’ adaptation showing how the love between Nick and Rachel is deeply rooted despite all those who try to break them up.
6. Hawaii (Punch-Drunk Love)
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When Barry realizes that he needs to go to Hawaii to be with the woman who makes his bland existence that much brighter simply by being in it, he doesn’t wait. He immediately leaves.
Despite the fact that he can’t yet redeem his pudding coupons for airline miles, Barry still gets on a plane with no luggage and heads off to see Lena on her business trip.
When he reaches her hotel, he boldly walks toward her with hand outstretched—and as they come together, she ignores the hand and instead kisses him deeply.
This moment in Paul Thomas Anderson’s film is the climax of romance and gives the audience a beautiful moment of intense connection between the two oddball characters.
5. I Love the Way You Look at Me (When Harry Met Sally)
Harry and Sally’s journey to love starts with them disliking one another, which turns into indifference, and then becoming friends across the decade after they finish college.
The pair spend pretty much the entire movie as close friends who encourage each other to find the special person they need to be with. But as they grow closer, they realize that their friendship has become something more than the platonic bond it started as.
When Harry realizes that Sally is the only person in the world for him—a realization that comes after they stop being friends due to an argument—he runs to get her.
He tells Sally everything he loves about her, including the idiosyncratic things that would drive anybody else nuts, and the moment leaves them (and us!) finally happy that they’ve found one another.
4. You Make Me Want to Be a Better Man (As Good As It Gets)
When Melvin Udall surprises his waitress Helen by taking her along on a journey to Baltimore to see his neighbor’s parents, Melvin takes Helen to dinner at a fancy restaurant that he’s not dressed for.
After a quick trip to the nearest store, they sit down while having fun with the waiter—before, in typical fashion, Melvin makes a withering comment about Helen’s dress. She stands to leave, but Melvin asks her to stay… and she does, but she also demands a compliment.
Melvin tells her that he started taking his medication after she had previously come to his apartment in the middle of the night to tell him she won’t sleep with him. She doesn’t understand how that’s a compliment, so he tells her: “You make me want to be a better man.”
The sequence is a perfect bullet into any romantic’s heart, as he cuts through his usually venomous mouth with the most genuine compliment anybody could ever have.
3. I Don’t Know How to Say Goodbye (Roman Holiday)
Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn’s definitive romantic comedy—about a princess who runs away for the day and a reporter who finds her on the street—is one of cinema’s most enduring treasures.
In this reversal of The Prince and The Pauper, we find Princess Anne and Joe Bradley falling deeply in love during their day spent exploring Rome together as he gets to know the person she is underneath the tiara.
But Princess Anne knows she must return to her duties, so she asks Joe to drop her off near her family’s palace in Rome. She hasn’t told him that she’s a princess, but she also doesn’t know that he knows who she is—but in that car, at that moment, none of that matters.
They say goodbye to one another in a scene that’s a pure moment of found love. It’s one of romantic cinema’s best moments, heartwarming and heartbreaking in equal measure.
2. I Wanted It to Be You So Badly (You’ve Got Mail)
You’ve Got Mail has crept up in the standings of great romantic comedies over the years. It was somewhat placid at first release, met with a general shrug by critics of the late-1990s.
In retrospect, You’ve Got Mail is a strong example of the genre as a long-form tale of books and rivalry turned into romance.
When businessman Joe Fox swoops in with his massive conglomerate book store and ruins Kathleen Kelly’s independent book store, they happen to meet in a chatroom (anonymously) and start chatting with each other via email without realizing who the other person really is.
Eventually, Joe figures out what’s happened between them and he makes an effort to become Kathleen’s friend after running her out of business. He uses his alias to ask her to meet him in a New York park.
Kathleen goes to meet the man she’s fallen in love with online and starts crying with joy when she realizes it was Joe all along: “I wanted it to be you so badly.” Nora Ephron’s powers of romance remained undiminished and the scene proved it emphatically.
1. The Boom Box (Say Anything)
Lloyd Dobler is the ultimate hero of romantic movies. He’s good, innocent, noble, and makes the life of Diane Court better for being in it.
So, when Diane breaks up with him because of her father’s domineering advice, she’s heartbroken—but finds him standing outside her window playing Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” on a boom box lifted in his arms.
It’s a moment of pure romance as he tries to show Diane how much he cares about her. They might be teenagers, and it might all go horribly wrong at some point in the future, but that doesn’t matter. At this very second, they are in love and that’s it.
Of all the expressions of love put to film, Lloyd Dobler standing outside the window is more powerful than any other—because it’s an admission in the face of pain, and that’s worth everything.