Of the 25 highest grossing romantic comedies released between the years of 1995 and 2013, only two are from the last five years. The Proposal and It's Complicated both came out in 2009 and the latter was last on the list. With numbers like these, it's obvious that rom-coms are in trouble, but why?
A recent article from Think Progress poses a few theories that might explain the decline of the romantic comedy. The writer suggests that the dry spell that romantic comedies are experiencing, both creatively and in box office numbers, is due to the fact that the characters in those films are largely unrealistic to the current consensus about marriage.
In the past marriage signified that you were an adult, and the actual "figuring out everything else that goes along with being a grown-up came after." Now, things are pretty much reversed. College educated Americans are starting careers first and putting marriage and kids after that, while Americans without degrees are having kids first and marrying later. Maybe the problem with romantic comedies is that the characters usually reflect only the reality of college educated Americans, who aren't the majority.
Rom-coms of recent years barely feature characters with less than affluent lifestyles prior to meeting their love interest. In The Proposal starring Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock, both halves of the romantic circle have successful careers and are financially well off. Similarly in It's Complicated, Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin both play successful career people. What's different about the Streep film, however, is that it's the story of middle aged lovers.
In light of this, only one of the one of the films on that list from the last five years is about characters in the usual rom-com age bracket, which could only give us more reason to believe that romantic comedy scripts are missing the boat when telling the love stories of marriage-minded young people today. Perhaps The Proposal did so well because it was funny, and not so much because it was realistic romantically (it was a pretty funny movie).
So if we were tell rom-com screenwriters what we wanted to see, what would we say? Is there any hope for "The Return of the Romantic Comedy," so to speak?