How The Sexual Revolution Killed The Hollywood Rom-Com

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(OPINION) The death of the Hollywood rom-com’s popularity is a tragic side effect of embracing the values of the sexual revolution — and only a change in those values can truly bring it back.

This year, two back-to-back films opened about the failure of the romantic fantasy that so many people feel: “Priscilla,” the Sofia Coppola-directed film about the wife of Elvis Presley, and “What Happens Later,” directed by Meg Ryan about two former lovers who meet again at an airport while simultaneously having their flights delayed. 

“Priscilla” deals with Priscilla being swept up in the fairy-tale romance of being wooed by, and then-married to Elvis Presley, only for that fantasy (and marriage) to fall apart. Meanwhile, “What Happens Later” deals with how the fairy-tale love story the protagonists thought they would have in their younger years never materializes. 

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It’s common knowledge that the Hollywood rom-com has been largely “dead” for a while now. Obviously, Hollywood still makes them, such as “To All The Boys I Loved Before” and “Love At First Sight,” but also releases anti-rom-com’s like “Somebody I Used To Know.”

They are largely low-budget affairs that typically come and go in limited release or on streaming amid little fanfare and to small audiences. Gone are the days of Hollywood romance dominance, where rom-coms were blockbusters in their own right. Films like “When Harry Met Sally,” “You Got Mail” and “Hitch” come to mind, not to mention something as colossal like “Titanic.”

Causes For the decline

Many explanations for the decline of the Hollywood romance film have been touted in recent years. The rise of the “mega blockbuster” and superhero movies, the death of the mid-budget movie and the rise of streaming services have all been put out there as possible reasons. 

There’s good reason to believe that at least part of the decline in rom-coms comes from the fact that a large part of the audience just doesn’t believe in romance anymore. Fewer and fewer people are getting married and increasingly people are getting disillusioned with dating. And this is bleeding its way into people’s viewing preferences. 

A new study shows that Gen Z has said they want TV and movies to focus less on romantic relationships and more on platonic ones like friendships. Why? I would argue a big part of this is the rom-com genre itself, which sold people a lie about what love is supposed to look like and how to find it – causing generations to become disillusioned with love itself and some to give up on it. Once people give up more and more on love in the real world, the less they want to see it portrayed on screen. 

The rom-com genre since the 1980s and ‘90s has promoted a view of love and romance based around the cultural shifts of the sexual revolution of the same era. This sexual revolution was based, in part, on the migration of people from farms to cities in the early 20th century and the wide acceptance of birth control and abortion decades later. According to “Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating” the migration to cities meant that people were largely choosing dating partners among a larger pool and people they’d known for only a short time. This meant people were choosing who they dated far more based on superficial characteristics like looks and charm. Widely available birth control and abortion — along with other cultural attitude changes — lowered the cost for women to engage in casual sex.

Unlike what some have claimed, Hollywood romance and rom-coms almost never devalued marriage or monogamy in favor of shallow casual sex. In movies like “Trainwreck” and shows like “How I Met Your Mother,” Amy and Barney’s anti-marriage and pro-casual sex philosophies are treated as toxic responses to childhood trauma. Almost every Hollywood romance elevated commitment and marriage. 





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