Romantic comedies have been a significant film genre going back almost as far as the medium's existence, but if you had to pick a decade with the best, the 1980s stands above the rest - loaded with content from directors like John Hughes and Rob Reiner, and actors like John Cusack and Meg Ryan.
This list features some intriguing facts about ‘80s rom-coms that most die-hard fans probably don’t know, including the behind-the-scenes stories that went into ensuring everyone who grew up during this decade knew the phrases “I'll have what she's having" and “I want my two dollars.”
Check out the films below, and if you learn something you didn't already know about your favorite '80s rom-com, give it an upvote to see which fact rises to the top!
- Photo: 20th Century Fox
The scene in 1989's Say Anything... where Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) holds up a boom box playing Peter Gabriel's “In Your Eyes” outside Diane Court's (Ione Skye) home is among the most emotive and memorable images from '80s rom-coms. It's been both copied and parodied ever since, and has become an indelible part of the 20th century's zeitgeist. Even people who've never seen Say Anything... likely know the scene of Cusack with the boom box.
Of course, what you see on-screen and what went into making it are often two different things. Dobler stands in front of his car with a scenic copse of trees in the background on a neatly mown lawn. It's a lovely spot, but it's not outside Court's house - it's outside a 7-Eleven.
The scene was shot in separate takes; when Skye did hers elsewhere, she revealed that “In my mind, I was like, ‘I hope my stomach isn’t looking fat in this nightgown.’" Cusack wasn't even there to see it, as he was holding a boom box in a North Hollywood park across from the home of the Slurpee.
- Photo: Universal Pictures
Pretty in Pink follows Andie Walsh (Molly Ringwald) as she navigates through high school and must decide whether to date her childhood sweetheart or the rich kid she's crushing on. It's another of John Hughes's entries in the genre, and among the best.
While the dress at the end is something of a horror that Ringwald hated, something else at the end upset many other people - it concludes with Walsh leaving “Duckie” (Jon Cryer) and going for Blane McDonnagh (Andrew McCarthy).
Some people would have liked to see events play out the other way, and this wasn't lost on Hughes. The original ending did see Walsh end up with Duckie, but it was a casualty of the cutting room floor. In a 2021 interview with Vogue for the movie's 35th anniversary, Ringwald spoke about shooting the ending:
All I remember is the studio having to put me up at the hotel where we were filming because I was so sick. I would rest between takes, and someone would have to come and get me to go back on the extremely hot dance floor. I remember Jon and I spinning around and around until I literally passed out in the middle of the prom. But I don’t think anyone ever saw that, unless the studio decided to put it out on one of the DVD releases or something.
Neither the studio nor Hughes's estate has a copy of the original ending of Pretty in Pink, leaving fans without the ending they've longed to see for decades.
- Photo: Columbia Pictures
Many fans feel that 1989's When Harry Met Sally is director Rob Reiner's best entry in the genre, and it's supported by the well-cast Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan). The supporting cast includes Bruno Kirby and Carrie Fisher in major roles, so there's plenty of talent packed into this 96-minute film about male/female relationships and the journey of the titular characters from barely acquaintances to best friends to lovers over 12+ years of their lives.
The film revolves around the question, “Can men and women ever just be friends?” and answers it perfectly. When Burns and Albright are still just friends, they share a meal at Katz’s Delicatessen in Manhattan and the discussion steers into whether Burns can tell if a woman fakes an orgasm. He shuts Albright down, so she puts on a show of her best one, filled with table-slapping and screaming “yes!” repeatedly. When she finishes, Harry gives her a knowing smile and nods.
Of course, it wasn't Ryan's only take, and she had to recreate her best orgasm for hours during the shoot. At the next table, a woman tells her server, “I'll have what she's having” - perhaps the most memorable quote in the entire film. Crystal had come up with the line, and when it came time for someone to say it, the director leaned on his mother, Estelle Reiner. Incidentally, to this day, Katz's has a sign reading, “Where Harry met Sally… Hope you have what she had!” In a 2019 interview with People, Rob Reiner spoke about using his mother for the scene:
We had the extras, the crew - a lot of people. My mother [was] sitting there… Billy [Crystal], he added the biggest laugh in the movie, which is the biggest laugh in any movie I’ve ever been involved with. “I’ll have what she’s having.”
- Photo: MGM/UA Communications Co.
Moonstruck stars Cher as Loretta Castorini, a widow who falls in love with Ronny Cammareri (Nicolas Cage), the estranged younger brother of her fiancé Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello). Rounding out the cast are Olympia Dukakis and Vincent Gardenia as Loretta's parents Rose and Cosmo.
In the 1987 film, Ronny is a hot-tempered man who ignites a fire of passion in Loretta's heart, and it gets pretty steamy. This was an early film in Cage's career, which had just begun to pick up speed following his performance in Raising Arizona the year prior.
Like his character, Cage got a little overheated on the set and took it out on his co-workers. Director and co-producer Norman Jewison was getting fed up with his actors requiring take after take, so he cleared the set to speak only to the actors. Nobody was taking his direction, and his talk didn't help as they continued to knock out one failed take after another. This frustrated Cage so much that he chucked a chair at another actor who tried to give him direction. Cage expanded upon what happened to Rolling Stone in a 1999 interview:
[Julie Bovasso] was saying, “Come on, loud and fast, that’s how you do it, loud and fast.” And I was doing it very sotto voce, taking my time with it. I believe that there’s only one director on the set, and I got mad. I threw a chair, and I said, “Don’t you dare tell me how to act!” I did apologize later. And after that, she was very sweet about it.
- Photo: Warner Bros.
Better Off Dead is about a young man named Lane Myer (John Cusack) who becomes suicidal after his girlfriend dumps him. Fortunately, he's incredibly inept at carrying out the act, and with each failure, he realizes he has more to live for.
Granted, it doesn't hurt that Myer's neighbor is a hot foreign exchange student, and also that he has an opportunity to show up the guy who took his girl, so the flick has everything you'd expect from an '80s dark rom-com, including hallucinations and a newspaper boy who will do anything to collect his two dollars.
Making a movie is no easy task; among other things, it involves developing a budget, obtaining financing, building sets, holding auditions, and hiring hundreds of people. Someone who helped make Better Off Dead a reality was none other than Henry Winkler, of Happy Days fame. Director Savage Steve Holland described the long process of getting the movie made on its 30th anniversary:
It’s almost a miracle we ever got Better Off Dead made, especially knowing what I know now and the way the business is. I was a doofus out of college, and I just thought maybe what I was doing was the way it works all the time.
Winkler and Holland first met in the early 1980s, when the latter's autobiographical short film My 11-Year-Old Birthday Party opened the LA Film Festival:.
Henry took me to lunch, and he said that my movie was so funny. And I’m like, “Well, wait a minute - it wasn’t supposed to be funny, it’s a sad story about my life.” So he asked if I had any more sad stories about my life and I’m like, “Of course I do!”
Although Winkler had a production company, he didn't end up producing the film. He brought Holland and his script for Better Off Dead to the attention of a studio, which then hooked Holland up with Cusack, after which Holland sold the idea to producer Michael Jaffe - and the rest is history.
- Photo: 20th Century Fox
Working Girl is another quintessential '80s movie, if only for the overabundance of shoulder pads and hair spray. The film follows corporate secretary Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) as she takes over for her boss, Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver) after the latter breaks a leg. This elevates the ambitious McGill to new heights, and she also forms a romantic relationship with Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford). Nora Dunn plays Ginny, one of Katherine's colleagues.
The 1988 romantic dramedy was Dunn's first feature film, and she was rather starstruck in the presence of Hollywood royalty. As she revealed during a Hollywood Reporter interview with her fellow castmates, Ford in particular caught her eye:
In between shots in the office, we would be wheeling around on our chairs, and we would wheel around Harrison Ford. Everywhere he went, we were there. We all had such a crush on him. One time we were shooting at night because I was rehearsing Saturday Night Live during the day. I was walking into the makeup truck, and Harrison walked up to me and said, “I hear that you’re working on a different project, and that’s why we’re working tonight. What are you working on?”
I could barely speak. I said, “I’m working on Saturday Night Live.” And he said, “Oh, yeah, sorry, I haven’t seen it.” And I go, “Oh, it’s not that good.” I disowned everything about myself. I even had my hand in my pocket wrenching off my wedding ring. I turned into a complete ignoramus.
I came home very late that night, like five in the morning, and my husband was in bed. He said, “Oh, I’m glad you’re home. I have a little cough.” And I said, “Why don’t you take better care of yourself?” I was such a traitor because I was blown away by Harrison Ford. He was in such great shape and such an absolutely perfect movie star. The whole package.