Growing up, I was a total sucker for romantic comedies. I was raised on the best of the late '80s and '90s: "Working Girl," "Sleepless In Seattle," "When Harry Met Sally," "You've Got Mail," "While You Were Sleeping," "Pretty Woman."
It was the Nora Ephron-helmed sweet spot for rom-coms, but sadly for the entertainment industry, the genre has gone way downhill in the last 15 years.
Jezebel's Reuben Fischer-Baum used box office numbers to demonstrate just how poorly rom-coms have been faring. (Click over to Jezebel to see the infographic.) "Inflation-adjusted domestic ticket receipts have plummeted despite a huge number of releases," he wrote. "At the same time, traditionally male-oriented Superhero movies have seen a meteoric rise. What happened?"
Here's what happened:
1. Studios stopped courting women at the box office. As Fischer-Baum convincingly argues, romantic comedies are no longer created with a core female audience in mind. In a post-"There's Something About Mary" era, rom-coms are often marketed to men through the use of slapstick (and often lazy) humor, and male protagonists. Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller and Will Smith are no Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan and Sandra Bullock.
2. Rom-coms aren't tackling the realities of 21st century love and dating in an effective way. Where is the funny, irreverent, well-thought-out movie about online dating? "Meeting on Match" -- or OKCupid or EHarmony or JDate -- has been mainstream for years now, and Hollywood hasn't moved beyond cyber-sex jokes and catfishing. "You've Got Mail" struck such a nerve because it embraced the AOL-saturated IM-giddy atmosphere of its time, and people related to it. That tale is long overdue for an update.
3. The plotlines got lazy. "Bridesmaids" was a successful, female-centric, non-cliche romantic comedy. More of that, please! We need to mix up the rom-com formula so that this "Every Romantic Comedy Ever" mashup isn't so damn accurate. Having less talented writers and directors recreate watered-down versions of Nora Ephron's movies over and over again won't cut it if you want audiences to flock to the theater. Maybe movies should start taking their cues from innovative women on TV (cough cough Mindy Kaling cough cough).
4. Current rom-coms often make women look awful. This is somewhat of an adendum to #3, but seriously, it's gotten bleak for female characters. Katherine Heigl has singlehandedly portrayed a whole range of frustratingly one-dimensional female leads: the girl who lives her romantic life through self-help books ("The Ugly Truth"), the girl who can't seem to snag husband despite the fact that she loooooves marriage ("27 Dresses") and the uptight lady who is destined to fall for a man who really doesn't have his sh*t together ("Life As We Know It"). These sort of leading ladies are not only insulting, but they're painful (and boring) to watch. Rom-com screenwriters: Do better.
5. We refused to let our definition of romantic comedy evolve. Let's stop differentiating so heavily between rom-com and action film and work film and drama. "Morning Glory" was a movie about work and love and a woman who was trying to figure out her place in the world. It was cute, a little sappy and a little bit romantic. Does it count as a rom-com? Who knows.
Until studios figure out how to make a good romantic comedy, I'll be sticking to the ones I grew up watching.
Pass the popcorn and the Nora Ephron, please.
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