Maybe you were a proud basic who hosted a Love, Actually viewing party every Christmas and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of Sandra Bullock's oeuvre. Or perhaps you were the performatively alt cool girl who claimed to prefer Juno but secretly mainlined The Holiday when everyone was out. Either way, if you're in your twenties, there's a high chance you came across plenty of romantic comedies during your teenage years.
Rom-coms were big business in the 1990s and 2000s, when everyone was straight, cis, white and able to fit into a borrowed sample size Prada dress from the office store cupboard. Where New York was the only place in the world and nobody had heard of depression. Where the only job anyone ever had was working for a Conde Nast women's publication – not that it mattered, because as the protagonist their real job was to marry the hot white guy after exactly one public declaration of love.
I wonder how these films would be received today. Gen Z teens are woker than previous generations; they follow Barbie Ferreira on Instagram and do climate strikes. They've heard of the gender spectrum and pay no attention to Piers Morgan. So what do they think of the classic rom-coms that made millions at the box office just a decade or two ago?
'She's All That' (1999)
"I couldn't ignore the sexism enough to enjoy this one. The girls in the film are so objectified, it made me feel a bit sick; the main guy at the start says something along the lines of: any girl could be prom queen as long as she has 'a good rack' and a boyfriend – so pretty much telling teenage girls watching that their worth is decided on their appearance and who their boyfriend is. As a teenager supposedly a similar age to those in the film, I didn't relate to them at all – they didn't seem like actual humans to me. Their only aspirations are to be popular and prom queen." – Lydia, 16.
"When the main character gets dumped by his girlfriend he says she's 'replaceable' and makes a comment about how, when you strip away her makeup, she's just a 'C minus and a Wonderbra'. It's so misogynistic to call his ex fake and dumb just because he's bitter about being dumped, and implies that the only thing that matters to men is looks and social status." – Taylor, 16.
"The protagonist, Laney, is supposed to be this weirdo loser just because she's not that interested in makeup and clothes, she's a bit of a tomboy and she's really into art. When she's given a makeover it's like they remove all the things that make her herself. It suggests that the only attractive thing about girls is their bodies – that they all have to be super feminine, and that their personalities and interests get in the way." – Hannah, 17.
'Bridget Jones' Diary' (2001)
"Bridget lives in London, which is the most diverse place in the UK, but as far as I can remember there isn't a single person in the whole film who isn't posh and white. Even the background characters aren't diverse at all. It wouldn't be acceptable if it was made now." – Jack, 15.
"The main premise of this film is that Bridget is lonely and depressed because she doesn't have a boyfriend. It's fun to watch if you decide not to focus on this issue, because Bridget seems much more of a real and well written female character than in a lot of these films – but it still sends a message that a woman isn't much without a male partner." – Lydia.
"Bridget in this film is supposed to be some complete mess who needs a man to magically fix her, even though she's got a good job and lives in her own flat. It's quite fatphobic too, because there are loads of comments about her being fat when she's a very normal weight. She says something like, 'Is the reason it never works out because I'm overweight?' It basically says that unless you're skinny, nobody will love you." – Daisy, 19.
'How to Lose a Guy In 10 Days' (2003)
"The male and female protagonists at least seem to be on an equal footing at the start of this film, in that they both think they can manipulate the other. It's definitely not perfect, but I like that the main character has actual career aspirations, and seems driven and ambitious. She’s a journalist and wants to write about 'stuff that "matters", like politics and religion". It definitely lacks diversity, though; the women are conventionally beautiful, i.e. thin, and the common theme that women's lives revolve around which man they can get disregards the fact that being heterosexual isn't the only sexuality there is." – Lydia.
"The most problematic aspect of this film is that the article the main character is writing is supposed to be showing women the mistakes they make when they date men that lead to them getting dumped. It implies that you have to hide your feelings and act a certain way if you want a man to like you, and that you can't be your authentic self. I think it teaches young girls to put themselves second and not prioritise their own feelings and happiness." – Taylor.
"The way the film suggests that most women act clingy and pathetic around men is obviously problematic, but so is the message that the reason the real Andi is attractive is because she's a 'cool girl' and acts like a 'guy' in that she likes basketball and card games, eats and drinks what she wants and isn't too needy or emotional, but she can still look hot in makeup and a dress. It's just another male fantasy being projected onto women and dictating how you should be and act if you want to be attractive to men." – Hannah.
'27 Dresses' (2008)
"I do enjoy this film, despite what I find problematic about it, which is mainly the way it suggests that all women fantasise their entire life about having a huge fancy wedding. The idea that women marry for the wedding and not for the guy really annoys me." – Lydia.
"I find it so annoying that she's supposed to be in love with her boss in this film, even though he treats her like a servant and is only nice to her because she does everything for him. And the power dynamic maybe implies that men should always be in charge and earn more money. Everything about this film makes me roll my eyes." – Taylor.
"It puts forward this idea that the only reason she isn't married yet is because she's a bridesmaid to so many people that she never had time to do anything else, and that her whole life revolves around weddings. It's basically saying that, as a woman, your life doesn't have much meaning if you're not married to a man. I think times have changed in terms of society thinking that all women need to get married to be satisfied in life." – Daisy.
'500 Days of Summer' (2009)
"The main character in this film thinks he's in love with Summer because of things like her laugh and her smile and haircut, and then later on he says he hates those same things about her. It shows how his feelings aren't very serious and how a lot of the time straight men are only nice and respectful to women when they want something out of them." – Jack.
"Summer is a classic manic pixie dream girl. The film introduces her with a black-and-white montage, which says things like that in school, when she started working at an ice cream shop, it suddenly got really popular, and that she always gets discounts on rent because everyone is so mesmerised by her. No real human girl is like this, and it's obvious that Tom has fallen in love with a fantasy rather than the real person. It's no surprise she dumps him." – Taylor.
"It's quite interesting for a romantic comedy to be told completely from the man's point of view, but it makes it problematic in different ways. Tom is very entitled and acts like he deserves Summer's love and attention. You see everything through his eyes, so when I first watched it I didn't notice that he's kind of a dick. He doesn't seem very interested in actually knowing her past superficial things – like that she likes The Smiths and has a nice smile – and he acts like she's messed him around, but Summer tells him quite early in the film that she's not looking for a relationship and he doesn't listen to her at all." – Hannah.