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These Are The Queens Of Terrible Yet Great Romantic Comedies

Romantic comedies have long been a major feature of the cinematic landscape. From 1940's "His Girl Friday" to 1960's "The Apartment" to 1993's "Sleepless in Seattle," the rom-com endures through the decades. This is the genre that launched such luminaries as Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. Moreover, despite changing attitudes regarding romance on film, many rom-coms have stood the test of time. 

But in the last two decades or so, the rom-com has been descendent. These films, which are often cheap to make and slight in their ambitions, have largely been relegated to streaming platforms. Major stars don't flock to them the way they used to, either. Maybe this is because they've become a bit formulaic — there are only so many possible variations on meet-cutes and break-ups, after all. Maybe it's because there hasn't been a truly great romantic comedy that's also made a pile of money for awhile. Maybe we've simply fallen out of love with love.

But just because the rom-com is down doesn't mean it's out. The rom-coms of the last 20-to-30 years might not be cinema's finest, but they're still hugely enjoyable and ripe to become many fans' comfort viewing of choice. Some are unapologetically predictable and sentimental. Others feature completely absurd premises. A lot contain broad performances that make viewers cringe, even as they laugh out loud. Perhaps most memorably, many of them star the same famous female faces. Today, we're celebrating these queens of the terrible-yet-great romantic comedy. They'll make you laugh, cry, and maybe wince a little — but above all, they're sure to entertain.

Queen Latifah

Romantic comedies might not be the first thing that comes to mind when fans think of Queen Latifah. After all, the multifaceted star began her career as a rapper and singer back in 1989 with her debut album "All Hail the Queen." In the mid 1990s, she starred as Khadijah James on the celebrated sitcom "Living Single." Her career got even bigger in 2003, when she was nominated for an Oscar for her powerhouse turn as Matron Mama Morton in the smash-hit musical "Chicago." In the years since, she's enjoyed starring roles in movies like "Hairspray" and the "Ice Age" series, led TV dramas like "The Equalizer," and raked in plenty more awards.

Queen Latifah's career as a rom-com actress is practically a side hustle — but it's an important one. She had a supporting role in 2002's "Brown Sugar," which received solid reviews. She then headlined the delightful (and surprisingly dark) "Last Holiday" with fellow rapper LL Cool J in 2006. This film follows a woman named Georgia who receives an incorrect terminal diagnosis. She decides to live what she thinks are her last days to the fullest. Latifah followed this up with the 2010 sports-centric rom-com "Just Wright." She stars alongside fellow musician-slash-actor Common, who plays an NBA standout who falls in love with his brainy physical therapist. Though critics weren't too impressed, many audience members went home happy.

Latifah's rom-coms might be middling, but her presence in them certainly isn't. At a time when the genre almost exclusively cast white women, her run as a romantic lead represented a significant cultural shift. She's also uniformly stellar in every single role. There's no denying it: Latifah is queen wherever she goes.

Katherine Heigl

When many people think of romantic comedies, they immediately think of Katherine Heigl. The actress started out in very different flicks, however: She spent the early-to-mid '90s appearing in stuff like "Bride of Chucky," "Valentine," and "Under Siege 2: Dark Territory." Then she hit it big by getting cast as Dr. Izzie Stevens on Shonda Rhimes' long-running medical drama "Grey's Anatomy." As Heigl's star rose, she quickly transitioned to rom-com ingenue and released a number of genre classics in rapid succession. First up was 2007's "Knocked Up," in which she plays a girlfriend who's out of Seth Rogen's character's league, but becomes unintentionally pregnant with his child. This flick got good reviews, and seemed to promise a sparkling future for Heigl.

Unfortunately, her next few efforts weren't as well-received. In 2008's "27 Dresses," she plays Jane, a girl who's very literally always a bridesmaid and never the bride. Critics weren't impressed. After that, she appeared alongside Gerard Butler in the 2009 workplace rom-com "The Ugly Truth." Notably, audiences were a lot more kindly disposed to that film than critics were. Then, in 2010's "Life as We Know It," Heigl and Josh Duhamel play antagonistic godparents who end up raising a girl together. Though viewers liked it well enough, Heigl followed it up with the embarrassingly bad 2011 ensemble romance "New Year's Eve." 

Heigl's rom-com reign was brief, and, in some ways, unremarkable, outside of "Knocked Up." But she still put her stamp on the genre with titles that balance edginess with earnestness. There's something magnetic about each and every one of them, which comes directly from Heigl's charming performances.

Kate Hudson

Kate Hudson burst onto the scene with a vivid performance as groupie Penny Lane in Cameron Crowe's 2000 semi-autobiographical hit "Almost Famous." She was rewarded with a Golden Globe win and an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress. More recently, Hudson received critical acclaim for her supporting turn as Birdie Jay in the decidedly unromantic "Glass Onion." In between, she mostly made romantic comedies. Though many of them haven't earned the best reviews, they still have legions of devoted fans.

Hudson was promoted to leading lady in 2003's "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days," opposite Matthew McConaughey. Critics weren't impressed, but audiences liked it better and made it a financial success, which cemented Hudson's status as a rom-com darling. She and Luke Wilson followed that up with 2003's "Alex & Emma," which follows a stenographer who helps a writer finish his book before the mob comes for him. Then came 2003's "Le Divorce," based on a popular novel, and 2004's "Raising Helen," which mixes death with meet-cutes. Hudson rounded out the 2000s with 2006's "You, Me and Dupree" and 2008's "Fool's Gold," which reunited her with McConaughey. Finally, there was 2009's "Bride Wars," which stars Hudson opposite Anne Hathaway.

Hudson has starred in many rom-coms, but few of them have ever gotten solid reviews. However, her chemistry is undeniable. Whether she's working opposite McConaughey, Hathaway, or either Wilson brother, she brings charisma to the screen — sometimes in spite of the movie that surrounds her.

Jennifer Garner

Jennifer Garner's career spans a multitude of genres and mediums. Many still know her best as Sydney Bristow from the fast-paced ABC spy thriller "Alias." Others remember her as the clear-eyed and compassionate adoptive-mom-to-be Vanessa Loring from 2007's "Juno." Some immediately think of her stint as an action heroine in 2005's "Elektra," a pre-cinematic universe Marvel movie.  But many still associate her most closely with romantic comedies. 

At the peak of her "Alias" fame, Garner starred in 2004's "13 Going on 30" opposite Mark Ruffalo. Here, she plays a junior high girl who gets her wish to grow up, a la Tom Hanks in "Big." After this charming hit came a string of disappointments, unfortunately. 2006's "Catch and Release," which follows woman who gets close to her fiancé's buddies after his untimely passing, doesn't do a great job of balancing death, romance, and laughter. 2009's "Ghost of Girlfriends Past" — starring frequent so-bad-they're-good rom-com offender Matthew McConaughey — is basically "A Christmas Carol," if Scrooge were a pickup artist. Garner also has the distinction of appearing in both 2010's "Valentine's Day" and 2016's "Mother's Day," both of which were panned by critics. Yet Garner endures. Her wit and humanity shine through every performance, dimming any weaknesses in her vicinity. There's a reason Ariana Grande paid tribute to her "13 Going on 30" character in the "thank u, next" video — Garner is just that good.

Reese Witherspoon

Reese Witherspoon has appeared in a diverse array of critically acclaimed, award-winning movies, including "Election," "Pleasantville," "American Psycho," and "Walk the Line." There's very little she can't do, and even less she can't do excellently. Witherspoon's career-best performance as Elle Woods in 2001's "Legally Blonde" lofted her into the realm of rom-com legends — but much of the rest of her filmography is bloated with rom-coms that fell short of expectations. In 2002's archetypal "Sweet Home Alabama," she was cast alongside (you guessed it!) Matthew McConaughey as a country girl who's made it big in the city. Though audiences enjoyed it, critics were left cold. "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde" did okay at the box office, but was a major letdown with critics and audiences

Witherspoon added a holiday comedy to her résumé with 2008's "Four Christmases," co-starring Vince Vaughn. Then, in the 2010s, her rom-coms got weirder and riskier. She plays a forlorn softball player who falls for Owen Wilson in the usually-reliable James L. Brooks' ultra-flop "How Do You Know." 2012's "This Means War," a romantic comedy thriller about a trio of spies, sees her torn between two lovers played by Chris Pine and Tom Hardy. Critics identified it as a low point for all three actors. Her last real entry into the genre is 2017's post-divorce comedy "Home Again." 

Though they might have middling reviews, Witherspoon's rom-coms are — with the exception of "Sweet Home Alabama" — less cookie-cutter than they seem. That doesn't make them better, but it does make them more interesting to consider in the context of her legacy as a movie star and mogul. 

Jennifer Aniston

It's possible that no one on this list is as synonymous with a role as Jennifer Aniston is with Rachel Green. The actress portrayed the spoiled 20-something forced to start over on "Friends" from 1994 to 2004, and was widely expected to become a huge movie star once the sitcom wrapped. Aniston has occasionally impressed critics with her work in independent films such as 2002's "The Good Girl" and 2006's "Friends with Money," but fans were more likely to see her romantic comedies. These tried (and usually failed) to harness her undeniable comedic skills. 

While "Friends" was airing, Aniston starred in 1996's "She's the One" with Cameron Diaz and Edward Burns. In 1997, she had two rom-com bombs with "'Til There Was You" and "Picture Perfect." In the latter, she plays an ambitious woman who pretends to be married to get a promotion. Next came 1998's "The Object of My Affection" in which a pregnant and single Aniston enlists her gay best friend to help her raise the child ... until the father reappears. Aniston enjoyed a small uptick when she appeared in 2003's "Bruce Almighty" and 2004's "Along Came Polly," however. She followed these up with 2005's hugely meta "Rumor Has It," and co-starred with Vince Vaughn in 2006's "The Break-Up." 

The misses don't stop there. Aniston appears in 2009's regrettable "He's Just Not That Into You," as well as oddball 2010 sperm donor comedy "The Switch." Her bad rom-com streak continued with 2011's "Just Go With It," in which she pretends to be married to Adam Sandler. In short, it's been a rough road for Aniston. But she's still here, because there's still something irresistible about her.

Sandra Bullock

Sandra Bullock is one of the most versatile and bankable actresses in Hollywood. She's at home in action thrillers, prestige dramas, and everything in between — and that includes romantic comedies. But while she's been in well-received rom-coms like 1995's "While You Were Sleeping" and 2000's "Miss Congeniality," more often than not, her entries in this genre miss the mark. Perhaps none of her rom-coms has missed the mark harder than 2009's "All About Steve," co-starring Bradley Cooper. Bullock plays Mary, an odd woman with a pet hamster who ends up stalking the man her parents set her up with. Critics derided the film to the point of brutality, and audiences weren't much more keen.

Most of Bullock's rom-coms aren't quite that bad, thankfully, but they are often better appreciated by audiences than critics. 1998's "Hope Floats," 2002's "Two Weeks Notice," and 2009's "The Proposal" all fall into that category. Sadly, nobody really cared for 2005's "Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous." It's probably a good thing Bullock has largely returned to what she does best: pretty much every other kind of movie. Still, no one can deny she shines wherever she goes.

Drew Barrymore

One-time child actress and current talk show host Drew Barrymore spent a great deal of her career as a rom-com regular. Her style has, at times, been a lot more slapstick than her counterparts. This can probably be chalked up to the significant number of movies she's starred in opposite Adam Sandler. Barrymore is adorkable in the 1998 cult favorite "The Wedding Singer," in which she plays a not-happy-enough bride-to-be who's hired Sandler to rock out at her reception. Volumes two and three in their rom-com trilogy, 2004's "50 First Dates" and 2014's "Blended," don't hold the same place in the culture, unfortunately. The actress has also starred in high concept rom-coms like 1999's "Never Been Kissed," about an unlucky-in-love reporter who goes undercover as a high school student, and 2010's "Going the Distance," about a bi-coastal relationship. While neither earned stellar reviews, they're both well-regarded among fans.

Barrymore has some other decently reviewed rom-coms on her CV, like 2005's "Fever Pitch" and 2007's "Music and Lyrics." However, she's also attached to some of the worst, like 1998's "Best Men," in which her marriage to ex-convict Luke Wilson is postponed so the bridal party can commit some crimes. Then there's 2001's atrocious "Freddy Got Fingered," which might truly be one of the worst movies ever made. Barrymore's rom-com stint might contain more whiffs than hits, but this resilient actor, entrepreneur, and producer who comes from Hollywood royalty didn't need the genre to make a name for herself. 

Jennifer Lopez

Jennifer Lopez is as excellent as an actress as she is as a musician. She shines in 1998's "Out of Sight" and steals the show in 2019's "Hustlers." Along the way, she's established herself as a rom-com queen: The genre takes up a significant chunk of her filmography.

Most recently, she produced and starred in 2022's perfectly pleasant "Marry Me," in which she plays a world-famous pop singer who marries a bashful math teacher (Owen Wilson) on a whim. However, the vast majority of Lopez's love stories haven't exactly gone down like a spoonful of sugar. First came 2001's "The Wedding Planner," which earned little love from critics. Then came 2002's "Maid in Manhattan," which did slightly better. In 2004, she was part of a love triangle with Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon in "Shall We Dance?" Then, in 2005, she faced off against Jane Fonda in the truly forgettable "Monster-in-Law." Lopez later appeared in 2010's "The Back-Up Plan" and 2012's disastrous "What to Expect When You're Expecting," both of which revolve around pregnancy. Neither of them delivered strong notices. 

Suffice it to say, Lopez has walked a bit of a rocky rom-com road. But the highs are undeniably high, and often remembered fondly by fans. Her early 2000s hits are especially charming, if flawed. And hey — they certainly didn't dent her career too badly. Today, Lopez is as big a star as ever.

Julia Roberts

Let's be clear: Julia Roberts is the queen of romantic comedies. But this means she's also the queen of the kind of mid-level, mid-budget romantic comedies that can't, in good conscience, be called good — even though they still get watched over and over again. No one will shame fans for returning to Julia Roberts classics like "Mystic Pizza," "Pretty Woman," "My Best Friend's Wedding," and "Notting Hill." A tier down from those titles, however, are curious misfires like 1994's genre-mashing "I Love Trouble," about rival reporters who get cozy while investigating a conspiracy. There's also 1995's "Something to Talk About," based on the thin source material of the popular Bonnie Raitt song. 

Roberts has been the marquee name over many middling projects, in fact. 1998's "Stepmom," 1999's "Runaway Bride," and 2001's "America's Sweethearts" all fit that bill. She landed the coveted lead role in 2010's "Eat Pray Love," which ended up disappointing critics and audiences, then shared the screen with Tom Hanks in 2011's underwhelming "Larry Crowne." Moreover, like Jennifer Garner, she managed to appear in both "Valentine's Day" and "Mother's Day." Things have changed recently, however: Roberts landed a commercial hit with 2022's "Ticket to Paradise," which was, according to The Los Angeles Times, one of the first rom-coms to do well in theaters after a considerable dry spell for the genre. Leave it to movie legend Julia Roberts to revive the hugely fun, if not necessarily excellent, romantic comedy.