Clueless: “Oh my God. I love Josh!”
After failing her driving test and getting in a fight with Tai, Cher wanders the boutiques of Beverly Hills wondering why she can’t do anything right. She begins to wonder why Tai would even like Josh, her gross ex-stepbrother who listens to “complaint rock” (Radiohead) and is “not even cute” (in the conventional way). Then, as the Electric Fountain erupts and Jewel’s “All by Myself” crescendos, it dawns on her: “I am majorly, totally, butt-crazy in love with Josh.” See the moment in GIF form here.
Much Ado About Nothing: Classic taming of the wild heart
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from Shakespeare, it’s that sometimes love needs a little “push” from our friends. In the 1993 film adaptation of Much Ado, Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh play Beatrice and Benedick, sworn enemies who are both staunchly opposed to marriage. Naturally, their friends hatch a scheme to set them up. As Hero says, “Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps.” And fall into the trap they do. After “accidentally” overhearing their friends discuss their unrequited love for one another, Beatrice and Benedick decide they will bid their mutual contempt farewell and “love on.” As in Clueless, the fountain in this scene plays an important part in dramatizing the moment of epiphany.
My Fair Lady: True love can only be actualized through song
It’s not until the end of the film that hard-bitten Henry Higgins realizes he is in love with his pupil — the newly refined and soon to be betrothed Eliza Doolittle. We see this epiphany dawn on him after what he thinks is their final goodbye, during the song “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.” As he walks home he sings, “Her ups, her downs / Are second nature to me now / Like breathing out and breathing in,” admitting for the first time that it’s he who needs her. Eliza then returns to him in what we can only assume is their happy ending, because this is what happens when Pygmalion is turned into a musical. (For George Bernard Shaw’s explanation on why the two should not end up together, see his 1916 postscript essay “What Happened Afterwards” — ultimately a diatribe against our “lazy dependence” on happy endings. Ouch.)
Roxanne: Sometimes the answer is as plain as the nose on your face
When the beautiful Roxanne moves to town, she immediately overlooks Charlie Bales for his incredibly less intelligent, but slighter-nosed employee Chris. And despite his feelings for Roxanne, Charlie helps Chris woo her by instructing him to take credit for the love letters he has been writing her three times a day. Eventually the identity of the true penman is revealed and Roxanne is infuriated. But soon she realizes she’s not interested in men with “flat featureless faces” and runs to Charlie’s house, where she finds him perched on the roof. She proclaims skyward: “I love your nose! I love your nose, Charlie. I love you, Charlie.”
Can’t Hardly Wait: Geek finally gets the girl
Here’s another rom-com made possible by epistolary passion. It’s high-school graduation and the stars are finally aligning for Preston Meyers: prom queen Amanda Beckett is officially single and he’ll be attending a party she’s attending. Unfortunately, the evening doesn’t go as planned and the love letter Preston waited four years to give Amanda ends up in the trash. But fate delivers it into her hands and she realizes that a guy she hasn’t noticed in all four years of high school just might be the one. The next morning she finds him just as he’s about to get on a train for a workshop led by Kurt Vonnegut and they make out. The epilogue informs us they are still together to this day. If anything, the prolonged will they/won’t they is worth it for Jason Segel’s brief appearance as stoned watermelon guy.
Jerry Maguire: Tom Cruise runs through a deserted airport
There are some who choose to remember Tom Cruise as he was in 1996, and this is why. In the film’s now iconic denouement, Jerry Maguire realizes his wife is “the one” and gets on a plane as fast as he can so that he can get to her doorstep and utter those indelible words: “I love you. You… complete me.” This late-game romantic plea demonstrates the importance of the callback (in this case to an early scene in which Jerry and Dorothy share an elevator with a deaf couple) to the rom-com genre.
American Pie 2: A different kind of band camp story
It’s not until the sequel that Jim realizes that Michelle, the nympho band geek he took to prom, is actually “the one.” After confessing this to Nadia (the woman Michelle has been “preparing” him to have sex with all summer), Jim runs to Michelle’s band concert and serenades her with a trombone. 3 Doors Down’s “Be Like That” comes up while Jim runs to the stage where the couple embrace. Before leaning in for the kiss (and thunderous applause), Jim says, “How’s this for a band camp story?” Why can’t an opportunity ever arise in real life when this would be an appropriate thing to say?
Friends with Benefits: You can’t outsmart the rom-com
In yet another sex-buddy romp, Dylan and Jamie watch a sappy rom-com (actually a fake movie-within-a movie starring Jason Segel and Rashida Jones), inspiring them to embark upon a mature sex-based relationship without the clichés. You can guess what happens. This rom-com makes the list for the sheer fact Dylan confesses his feelings to Jamie via flash mob, set to the tune of Semisonic’s “Closing Time.” (Another nice use of the callback!) Now, what did Ashton do for Natalie in No Strings Attached? That’s right. We can’t remember.
The Sure Thing: When mutual hate turns to love
Walter Gibson and Alison Bradbury each hate the way the other lives, but as the fate of their college ride-share board would have it, they end up traversing cross-country together for Christmas break. She’s headed to UCLA to see her equally uptight boyfriend, and he’s going for a “Sure Thing” (yep, it’s what it sounds like). Throughout the trials of the trip Alison falls for Walter, and she even lets him teach her how to shotgun a beer. But her hate reignites when she learns about his Sure Thing. Luckily, the two are in the same English class and Walter is eventually able to reveal the truth to Alison — that he didn’t sleep with the Sure Thing — in an essay his professor reads out loud. And thus we have a lesson that’s somewhat applicable to real life: for those of you who still can use the classroom as a romantic platform, take advantage.
When Harry Met Sally: The ultimate BFF rom-com
For many, this movie is the answer to the telltale question of whether or not friends can have sex (nope). For others, it’s the impetus to find their own Harry or Sally — a best friend they could potentially fall in love with five-to-ten years from now as back-up. And for the remainder, it’s a reason to continue to wait for a friend’s requited love. Are the last two alternatives viable? We want to say no. But then again, who are we to say when love’s outside the realm of possibility? That would require the assumption that we even know what love is. Perhaps, as we learned from the end of When Harry Met Sally, it’s just a matter of making it impossible for them to hate you. So, for those still holding out, please enjoy this clip while you wait.