Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Romancing the stone

Posted by metaphorical on 4 November 2007

Does the public really like romance movies? Especially ones that aren’t romantic comedies?

The answer seems to, “not so much.” A friend of mine recently asked me to name my two favorite romance movies, generously allowing, when asked, that romantic comedies were indeed romance movies. I came up with my first choice very quickly: The Lady Eve.

The second one didn’t come so quickly, so I went to the IMDB list of top 250 movies ever, as determined by the ratings given by the hundreds of thousands of people registered at the site. (Note that people simply rate movies; they’re not voting specifically for either their favorites nor what they think are best-ever.)

Is It’s a Wonderful Life (#31) a romance movie? Not really. Forrest Gump (#68)? Both are feel-good movies, but not romances. Singin’ in the Rain (#71)? No, it’s about something else. Back to the Future (#115)? Too much adventure and male bonding. Manhattan (#231)? One user comment at IMDB was, “A love song to Manhattan disguised as romantic comedy,” which I think is pretty accurate.

So here’s what we’re left with. I’ve italicized the romantic comedies.

  • 9. Casablanca (1942)
    46. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
    78. Some Like It Hot (1959)
    94. The Apartment (1960)
    123. Annie Hall (1977)
    138. It Happened One Night (1934)
    147. The Graduate (1967)
    148. The Princess Bride (1987)
    162. The African Queen (1951)
    173. Gone with the Wind (1939)
    179. Groundhog Day (1993)
    207. The Philadelphia Story (1940)
    244. Doctor Zhivago (1965)
    245. To Have and Have Not (1944)

Without the comedies, here’s what remains, a single movie in the top 10 (barely), two in the top 100, and another three making it into the top 200. With eight in the top 250, pure romance makes for a mere 3.2% of the list.

  • 9. Casablanca (1942)

    46. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
    147. The Graduate (1967)
    162. The African Queen (1951)
    173. Gone with the Wind (1939)
    207. The Philadelphia Story (1940)
    244. Doctor Zhivago (1965)
    245. To Have and Have Not (1944)

Even with the six comedies, the broad category of romance-movie accounts for less than 6% of people’s best-liked movies. To me, that seems odd. While I’ve never worked out my own personal top-250, it might well include three movies from the highly specialized category John-Cusack-romantic-comedies, none of which makes the IMDB list, or even comes very close (#250 of the top-250 gets a 7.9):

  • High Fidelity (7.6)
    Grosse Pointe Blank (7.4)
    The Sure Thing (6.7)

Oddly, When Harry Met Sally, which I would guess is one of the most cited movies of all time, also get a mere 7.6. Soapdish, one of the few totally successful screwball comedies to be made after the 1940s, and one of the funniest movies of all time, in my opinion, gets an embarrassing 6.0. But this just confirms that romance movies, even romantic comedies, maybe be a staple of movie life, but it’s rarely what we feast upon.

Either the romance movie just isn’t most people’s cup of tea, or, perhaps, if the fault lies in the stars, and not ourselves, it just rarely rises to greatness. (Here’s a clue: The Lady Eve gets an 8.1 rating, but apparently not from enough voters, or enough of the right voters.)

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5 Responses to “Romancing the stone”

  1. Tiltmom said

    I’ll argue that box office receipts are as reasonable — and unreasonable — a metric as IMDB ratings.

    On the adjusted-for-inflation domestic charts, Titanic comes in at #6. The Graduate is #18 and Love Story is #32.

    Not incidentally, boxofficemojo.com lists Titanic as a romance, whereas The Graduate falls under comedy/drama. Love Story is #32 on that same chart.

    And now I’m off to Netflix The Lady Eve.

  2. It’s a fair point, though box office receipts are skewed by marketing budgets, by people who pay for a movie they don’t like, and by those who think little of paying for a movie twice or more, along with the skewed demographics of people with disposable time as well as money.

    DVD rentals and purchases might be an even more interesting stat, a little less subject to those problems.

  3. hannahb said

    I think that the general demographic of raters on IMDB is also quite relevant. Although the raters are numerous (“hundreds of thousands,” as you said), I don’t think they are a realistic representation of American movie watchers, and therefore not necessarily indicative of the fashion in which we consume romance movies. While obviously I don’t have statistics on this, I do think it’s important to take into consideration.

    I am also concerned about the fact that IMDB apparently attracts raters with a tragic blind spot for the beauty of the John-Cusack-romantic-comedy category. Very distressing.

  4. B Pryde said

    Personally, I’d say one of the best romance films is An Affair to Remember. It’s a little hokey and overwrought, but Kerr and Grant are magical.

  5. ClaireDePlume said

    It’s just been a full moon and I am struck to respond to this post, though I’m likely a bit out of step…

    I don’t read much. Let me correct that – I don’t read much hype and hooplah about what sells box office tickets. All I know is, that if I had to pick TWO (not one, three is out, and four is right out), I’d likely be drawn to those hokey old romantic comedies when Hollywood made movies that were more “aha’s” than groaners.

    “Some Like it Hot” was funny long before men in tights were considered oddly amusing in the world of comedy. After watching this film maybe half a dozen times or so, I still laugh out loud at Jack Lemmon shaking his castanettes after climbing through the hotel window at daybreak to announce his engagement…

    “The Philadelphia Story” has a great line up of stars (yes, in those days there were indeed Hollywood stars), a fun to watch plot, and it stands my personal test of time. That’s universal enough for me, without ever having to count the $$$ it yielded as its mark of excellence.

    At one time, I was going to sequester myself in the Blue Ridge Mountains without cable, internet, running water but with wild bears and moths the size of flying squirrels. I did have my priorities though which meant bringing these two DVD’s along to my own ‘desert isle’.

    And being struck by a full moon did not even enter into the picture :P

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