Film & TV

How to Write A Romantic Comedy Screenplay, Plus 15 Classic Rom-Coms to Watch for Screenwriting Inspiration

Written by MasterClass

Jun 26, 2019 • 7 min read

If box office sales are any indicator, romantic comedies are some of the most popular films of the last 50 years. Whether on a date night out or a girl’s night in, audiences have a soft spot for joyful movies with happy endings. Learn more about rom-coms, and get tips on how to write one of your own.

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What Is Romantic Comedy?

Romantic comedies, also known as rom-coms, center around a love story between two people. The stories usually follow a couple as they meet, fall in love, overcome obstacles that keep them apart, defy the odds, and often live happily ever after.

As the name suggests, rom-coms blend romance with comedy and contain elements of both genres. They’re charming, lighthearted, funny, love stories that generally end on a happy note.

The Basic Structure of a Romantic Comedy Screenplay

Rom-com screenplays are usually formulaic: Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back. This structure makes romantic comedy a great genre for first-time screenwriters to try. Below are the general beats in a rom-com script:

  • Introductions: The audience meets the two main characters separately before those characters meet each other.
  • The meeting moment, aka the “meet cute”: The two characters meets under memorable circumstances, and sparks fly.
  • Falling in love: The couple’s chemistry develops, and their relationship grows.
  • Turning point: The couple faces a conflict or hurdle, or has an argument that threatens to end their relationship.
  • Breakup: The couple is (temporarily) torn apart because of their differences.
  • Happy ending: The couple resolves the conflict, finds true love, and lives happily ever after.

Tips for Writing a Romantic Comedy

Remember these as you write your screenplay:

  • Give the main character a reason to find love. Whether they went through a bad breakup or are just lonely, give the protagonist has a relatable reason as to why they want to find love.
  • Introduce a love interest early on. It gets the audience interested and gives them a reason to keep watching. However, the first love interest your main character meets doesn’t always have to be the one they end up with. You can add a layer of drama by introducing multiple love interests and making the protagonist choose.
  • Give the main character a best friend or a sidekick. A best friend or sidekick often serves as your main character’s sounding board and confidant. Your main character will almost certainly get swept away by their new romance, and the best friend or sidekick can be honest and tell them what they need to hear.
  • Lean in to the romance. People watch rom-coms because they want to watch two people fall in love. Lean in to dialogue, scenes, and character arcs that are sweet and slightly over-the-top. It’s okay to write a scene that wouldn’t actually happen in real life if it makes for a compelling story.
  • Make sure the main character stays true to themselves in the end. It’s normal for rom-com protagonists to temporarily lose themselves in a relationship or get swept away by love, but in the end, they should come back down to Earth and stay true to themselves—even if it means they don’t live happily ever after with their love interest.

15 Classic Romantic Comedies to Watch for Inspiration

The best place to find inspiration for writing your romantic comedy script is by studying popular films in the genre. Watch and learn from these classics, each of which use a range of themes and plot devices:

  1. When Harry Met Sally… (1989) Directed by Nora Ephron, this is a love story based on the question of whether men and women can be nothing more than platonic friends. The film follows the two main characters, played by Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, as they try to find out. Ultimately, their experiment fails, but they live happily ever after.
  2. Pretty Woman (1990) An unlikely love story between two people from very different walks of life: One is a wealthy businessman (Richard Gere), and the other is an unrefined prostitute (Julia Roberts). Their romance blossoms as they get to know each other, but they worry they’re too different to make it work. In the end, they beat the odds and find a happy ending. Pretty Woman is a modern retelling of the classic story Cinderella. Some critics think it’s demeaning to women and sends a misguided message that women need to be saved by men, but it’s generally regarded as a classic.
  3. Sleepless in Seattle (1993) Nora Ephron also directed this movie, about a reporter (Meg Ryan) who falls in love with a widower (Tom Hanks) after she hears him open up about losing his ex-wife on the radio. She pursues him despite the fact that she’s engaged to somebody else and ultimately leaves her fiancé. The movie includes one of the most iconic and often-referenced grand gestures of all time: meeting your love at the top of the Empire State Building in New York City.
  4. You’ve Got Mail (1998) Yet another Nora Ephron classic starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. This movie is about two bookstore owners who don’t get along in real life but unknowingly fall in love with each other’s online identities. By day, the two butt heads over business. But by night, they chat online, completely unaware that they’re falling for their nemesis. Once he learns the truth, he eventually embraces it, tells her, and lives happily ever after.
  5. The Wedding Singer (1998) A movie about a man (Adam Sandler) who has given up on love after being jilted at the altar. He finds hope again when he meets a great woman (Drew Barrymore), but he’s devastated to learn that she’s engaged to someone else. It’s a race against the clock for him to woo her and change her mind before her wedding day, and he ultimately wins her over.
  6. Notting Hill (1999) A movie about a bookstore owner (Hugh Grant) and a famous American actress (Julia Roberts) who have a chance encounter and fall in love. Though they come from very different worlds and lead very different lifestyles, they try to make it work in the name of love.
  7. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) This movie is a modernization of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, with the story unfolding in a high-school setting. Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Larisa Oleynik play students who fall in love, break up, and eventually work it all out.
  8. Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) A complicated love story starring Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, and Renée Zellweger about a woman stuck in a love triangle with two men. Bridget Jones’s Diary is a modern reinterpretation of the classic novel Pride and Prejudice.
  9. Legally Blonde (2001) A movie about a woman who will do anything to win her boyfriend back. Motivated by her breakup, she takes the LSAT and enrolls in Harvard Law School so she can go there and keep an eye on him. However, she realizes she has a knack for practicing law and goes all for herself. Even though the happy ending isn’t the one you may be initially rooting for, it’s satisfying that she chooses herself in the end.
  10. Love Actually (2003) A star-studded ensemble cast—Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Bill Nighy, Emma Thompson—play couples in various stages of their relationships: Neeson is a widower; Linney is in love with her coworker; Thompson realizes her marriage is on the brink of failure; Firth falls for his maid after discovering that his girlfriend cheated with his brother.
  11. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004) The sequel to Bridget Jones’s Diary follows its titular character as she tries to figure out why her boyfriend (Colin Firth) won’t propose (she’s suspects that he fell for his female coworker). The original love triangle resurfaces, but ultimately, the main characters reunite and get engaged.
  12. 50 First Dates (2004) A rom-com about a man (Adam Sandler) who must prove his love to a woman (Drew Barrymore) over and over again—because the woman suffers from short-term memory loss. Every day it’s as if they’re meeting for the first time. But in the end, love prevails, and they find a way to make things work and have their own version of a happily ever after.
  13. Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011) A movie about a man (Steve Carell) who must learn how to be single again when his wife divorces him in his forties. He befriends a handsome, single younger man (Ryan Gosling) who gives him a makeover, teaches him how to date, and restores his confidence. Crazy, Stupid, Love is not a traditional rom-com because not everybody has a happy ending, but it contains many rom-com elements that make it a classic.
  14. About Time (2013) A rom-com about a man who learns he has the ability to time travel and uses it to get a girlfriend. About Time breaks tradition because it contains elements of science fiction, which don’t usually appear in a rom-com.
  15. Crazy Rich Asians (2018) The more a woman tries to impress her boyfriend’s parents, the less she fits in—until she realizes she doesn’t need their approval and finds confidence in who she is. This movie centered around a classic rom-com element: disapproving in-laws.

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