Romantic comedy is one of cinema’s oldest and most reliable genres for good reason: Real-life romance is complicated and sometimes exhausting. That can be true for characters in movies, too, but their problems are generally funnier than our own, and, anyway, they’re not our problems. We’re comforted either because we know everything will work out fine for our cinematic counterparts—or because we know we won’t have to deal with the hilarious and/or poignant consequences of interacting with other humans.
In that spirit, these are some of the best romantic comedies currently streaming on Netflix—everything from ’90s favourites to non-English language imports to older classics.
13 Going on 30 (2004)
Not all rom-coms need a high-concept, but some of the best rom-coms have them. And next to Groundhog Day we can slot 13 Going on 30, a time-hopping love story about a frustrated teen girl who can’t grow up fast enough—until the day she wakes up to discover she’s magically 30, and in way over her head when it comes to love. On the plus side, she looks like Jennifer Garner, and her childhood best friend has grown up into foxy Mark Ruffalo, so things could be worse. It’s a delight merely for the mid-aughts setting, particularly for that fantastical time when working for a magazine was actually a cool and lucrative career path people could aspire to. Sigh.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Bradley Cooper and an Oscar-winning Jennifer Lawrence meet cute over their shared struggles with mental illness in this critically lauded rom-com from director David O. Russell, and based on the novel by Matthew Quick. The characters here are far more messed up (or at least, far more upfront about being messed up) than many a film romance protagonist, and you’ll root for them to get together, even though it might be a disaster if they do.
Nappily Ever After (2018)
Violet Jones (Sanaa Lathan) spends her life in near-terror of rain, for fear that her rigorously straightened hair will be ruined. That hair is a signifier in every aspect of her life, straightening sessions even having been a way to bond with her demanding mother (Lynn Whitfield). Following a breakup with her boyfriend because of her exacting nature (particularly regarding her hair), she experiments: different colours that her friends object to; a natural style that renders her either invisible or the subject of derision; she even shaves her head at one point, which only gets her invited to a cancer support group. Director Haifaa al-Mansour’s movie makes a great point about the fraught nature of Black hair, particularly when that hair belongs to a woman. Meeting a salon owner in the middle of a freak out, Violet begins a slow journey to learning to love herself, her hair, and maybe the hot salon owner (Lyriq Bent).
Always Be My Maybe (2019)
Romantic comedies are often (not always) comfort food, and so we often find familiar plots: Here, longtime friends who’d lost touch (Ali Wong and Randall Park) reconnect after a falling out years before. She’s a successful celebrity chef and engaged; he’s fixing air conditioners with his dad, which is how the two meet up. Nahnatchka Khan (creator of Fresh Off the Boat) brings a light touch here, and Wong and Park have great chemistry; they’re joined by a fun supporting cast that includes a really funny turn from Keanu Reeves playing himself.
Set It Up (2018)
Some of the best romantic comedies involve a slightly outlandish scheme, and this reliably charming Netflix original has one of those great setups: Two overworked assistants (Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell) come up with the idea that, if they can get their bosses (Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs) laid, they’ll be less interested in stressing out their employees. So the two harried assistants plan to set their bosses up, which, not unexpectedly, goes very comedically awry in pretty much every way. Naturally, these things never work out as planned, and the romance in the offing is not the one that anyone had expected.
The Perfect Find (2023)
Though Numa Perrier’s film hits plenty of the traditional rom-com beats, lead Gabrielle Union provides the spark that ignites the whole film (based on the Tia Williams novel). She’s never been better than she is here, playing Jenna, a woman in her 40s making a clean break of a long-term relationship and taking on a high-profile, high-stakes career in beauty journalism—only to wind up in a one-night stand with Eric (Keith Powers), 15 years younger and the son of her boss.
The Half of It (2020)
Writer/director Alice Wu made a splash with her queer classic Saving Face way back in 2004. Her long-awaited follow-up, a comedy-drama inspired by Cyrano de Bergerac, is better. Here, friendless high schooler Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis, from “Nancy Drew”) is tasked with writing love letters to her crush, Aster (Alexxis Lemire), on behalf of a football player named Paul. There’s plenty that’s familiar here, but Wu makes everything feel fresh and fun.
Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998)
One of the most iconic and memorable rom-coms of the 1990s might be new to many American viewers, who are missing out on a movie that’s both wonderfully goofy and deeply poignant in the best tradition of the genre. Shah Rukh Khan plays Rahul Khanna, best friends in college with Anjali (Kajol), but smitten with Tina (Rani Mukerji). Rahul and Tina get married and time goes by, but Tina always feels a little bit guilty, like maybe she got in the way of something. With little time left to live following complications in childbirth (did I mention there’s also drama here?), Tina writes her daughter a series of letters—the last one asking that she make sure that dad and Anjali reconnect.
Our Souls at Night (2017)
Indian director Ritesh Batra (The Sense of an Ending and The Lunchbox) brought together screen legends Robert Redford and Jane Fonda for this well-received romantic drama from a top-rate director. Despite the ominous title, it’s a quiet and sweet film that’s worthy of its stars. It’s not really a comedy, so I’m cheating a bit by putting it here, but it’s got such a satisfyingly light touch that it hits most of the same buttons as more straightforward rom-coms.
A Perfect Pairing (2022)
A high-end Hallmark movie in tone (nothing wrong with that!), A Perfect Pairing has a flawless setup: Harried Los Angeles wine exec Lola (Victoria Justice) comes across a little-known family-made wine from Australia, but a co-worker steals her idea and pitches it to the boss before she can. So fed-up Lola heads Down Under to secure the client for what she hopes will be her new company. Trying to work her way in, she volunteers to cover for a missing hand at the sheep farm owned by the family. The big-city girl down-on-the-farm premise comes, of course, with the slightly cocky but increasingly charming (and often shirtless) station boss (Adam Demos) with whom she works.
Alex Strangelove (2018)
High schooler Alex Truelove (Daniel Doheny) is psyching himself up to have sex with his girlfriend, Claire, for the first time—but something’s holding him back. Openly gay Elliott (Antonio Marziale) has an idea why Alex is so reluctant and, frankly, the audience ought to have a clue by that point, as well. It’s a perfectly sweet, good-natured coming-of-age story that has some fun with Alex’s awkward efforts to set expectations aside and just kinda be himself.
Barakah Meets Barakah (2016)
Class-busting romance is nothing particularly new, but this candid Saudi Arabian comedy-drama sees middle-class civil servant Barakah (Hisham Fageeh) strike up a relationship with Bibi, a boundary-pushing Insta celebrity. Just finding time and space to pursue a frowned-upon relationship in modern Saudi is challenging, but the movie explores the social and political obstacles with a light touch.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)
Imagine that everyone you’d ever had a crush on received a letter expressing your exact feelings. It’s a nightmare scenario, but a reality for shy high school junior Lara Jean (Lana Condor), who’d written the letters as a form of secret diary, only to show up at school one day to find that her little sister had mailed them all. Can you imagine? Condor is fantastic here, and the whole thing is delightful. It’s been followed by two also-very-good sequels, as well as an ongoing spin-off series (XO, Kitty).
Seriously Single (2020)
We start out in familiar territory here: Dineo and Noni (Fulu Mugovhani and Tumi Morake, both very funny) are a couple of successful big-city women—this time in Johannesburg. Dineo is on the hunt for a long-term relationship, even after getting dumped via livestream at work, while Noni is perfectly content with one-night stands. Their romantic (and un-romantic) trials are alternately charming, horrifying, and hilarious. The heart of the movie is its two leads, and the friendship that sustains them.
Lead Image Credit: Netflix/Sony/Lionsgate