Sure, rom-coms are intended to be feel-good escapes, something mindless to make you laugh or help you forget a bad day. This doesn't mean, however, that certain rom-com plots aren't problematic – in fact, on closer inspection, some would be absolute nightmares if they happened in real life. The worst rom-com plots involve situations as disturbing as brainwashing the woman you love, destroying your best friend's life, and out-and-out stalking. That's not to mention all the depressing relationships. How romantic!
These rom-coms that are secretly awful aren't flops that barely made an impression at the multiplex. Nope, the secretly dark romantic comedies below were major box office hits, raking in the millions and remembered as classics. All of which proves that A) Hollywood has the expert-level ability to package and sell any insane plot, and B) audiences are willing to put down their hard-earned money to go see these plots play out.
From twisted premises to secretly tragic "happy" endings, these rom-com plots are pure nightmare fuel. You could just suspend your disbelief and not think too hard about them, but where's the fun in that?
Julianne (Julia Roberts) in My Best Friend's Wedding is supposed to be charming and goofy. Instead, she is despicable. The movie has its moments; Julianne's klutziness, for example, is always funny. But even expert pratfalls can't save her rotten character.
Realizing she's been in love with her best friend (Dermot Mulroney) for years, Julianne sets out to stop his wedding. And not just stop it, but destroy the wedding and the lives of her supposed best friend and his fiancée. Julianne puts everyone through hell for one long wedding weekend, leaving emotional wreckage in her wake, and yet she's totally, inexplicably, forgiven by the time the credits roll.
If My Best Friend's Wedding were a Lifetime movie and Julianne were played by Tori Spelling, it would be a really bad thriller. Instead, it's just a really bad rom-com.
Actors: Cameron Diaz, Julia Roberts, Paul Giamatti, Rupert Everett, Rachel Griffiths, + more
Initial Release: 1997
Directed by: P. J. Hogan
#94 on The Funniest '90s Movies
#37 on The Best Movies of 1997
What Women Want is troubling even before you remember it stars Mel Gibson. Gibson plays a man who can read what women are thinking, a trait that would be downright scary if it were to happen in real life. Imagine all the ways the Mel Gibsons of the world could terrorize women with their ability to read minds.
There's also a lot of other ickiness going on in What Women Want. Many of the female characters are borderline offensive. For example, Gibson's character cannot read the thoughts of his two female assistants BECAUSE THEY DON'T HAVE ANY THOUGHTS. How did this movie gross over $374 million?
Actors: Mel Gibson, Marisa Tomei, Helen Hunt, Bette Midler, Martha Stewart, + more
Initial Release: 2000
Directed by: Nancy Meyers
In Never Been Kissed, Josie (Drew Barrymore) is a journalist and fully-grown woman who goes back to high school to research an undercover story. Not the most original of plotlines, but there were a few elements that differentiated it from all the variations out there: namely, that Josie has a romantic relationship with one of the teachers at the school – a teacher who thinks she's a high school student. And not only that, when Josie is asked to prom, she readily agrees to go with a popular classmate. A teenager, mind you.
There's a lot wrong with Never Been Kissed. Elle even called it "the weirdest, most screwed-up romantic comedy of all time."
Actors: Jessica Alba, Drew Barrymore, James Franco, Leelee Sobieski, John C. Reilly, + more
Initial Release: 1999
Directed by: Raja Gosnell
#28 on Movies Turning 20 in 2019
#73 on The Best Movies of 1999
A snotty rich heiress (Goldie Hawn) falls off a boat and gets amnesia. A local carpenter (Kurt Russell) she once stiffed on a job sees her story on the news and tells her she is his wife. To get back at her, he then practically enslaves her, making her keep house and home while raising his brood of brats.
Seen from this perspective, is Overboard in any way romantic? Or even a comedy? It is much more sinister than its rom-com façade would have you believe: a man turns a woman into his personal slave as his own brand of twisted revenge. And worst of all? They fall in love at the end. Stockholm Syndrome, anyone?
Actors: Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Roddy McDowall, Katherine Helmond, Edward Herrmann, + more
Initial Release: 1987
Directed by: Garry Marshall
#67 on The Funniest '80s Movies