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The trope of rom-com jobs will either be subtle or obvious to the average watcher. Either they’ll groan at another high-strung female lead addicted to her work falling for a slacker free-spirit type, or they won’t have noticed the trope of romantic comedy jobs at all.
It’s easy to miss, rom-coms can seem very paint-by-numbers but actually, we discovered that amongst the top rom-com job tropes there are actually some surprising professions. So, are you in one of the top rom-com careers? Are you unwittingly about to embark on your own rom-com adventure at the next office party? Find out below.
What we did
At our own discretion, we picked the most globally iconic rom-coms (excluding ensemble casts, sorry Love Actually) and looked at the jobs of the lead characters. We pulled data from the year the film was released and its box office earnings. From this we simplified the positions of the lead characters i.e. Julie Roberts as Maggie Carpenter in Runaway Bride (1999) works in her dad’s hardware store, so we simplified it to ‘Retail’. We then grouped these careers and ranked them according to their repetition.
It seems the reason journalists might be so busy is that they’re constantly having fantastical romantic comedy hijinks in their spare time!
Journalist nabbed the top spot for both men and women. Which is not surprising when you think of all the iconic romantic comedies with press junkies or columnists in their starring roles. We wondered if this trend was just typical of the 90’s but not only has this trope got roots in classic rom-coms like His Girl Friday (1940) but is still be utilised in the 00’s with The Proposal (2009).
Lead Male Journalist Roles
His Girl Friday (1940), When Harry Met Sally (1989), One Fine Day (1996), Runaway Bride (1999), 27 Dresses (2001).
Lead Female Journalist Roles
His Girl Friday (1940), When Harry Met Sally (1989), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997), Never Been Kissed (1999), How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003), 13 Going on 30 (2004), Hitch (2005), Sex and the City (2008), The Proposal (2009).
The results also showed us that men tend to have a lot more variety in rom-coms than women. With only five votes Journalist topped the male lead chart, but women dominated with nine films portraying the female lead as some sort of reporter/writer.
A close second for men was the role of Architect with four top rom-coms (Just Like Heaven, Sleepless in Seattle, 500 Days of Summer, It’s Complicated). An architect is an interesting choice since it’s such a specialized position that requires so much training. However, it’s a good movie choice because, honestly, who knows what architects get up to on a daily basis other than the fact that they’re cultured and wealthy? This is perfect for a male rom-com lead – uncomplicated and swoon-worthy.
In second place for the lead female role is PA, not the most exciting career choice for a protagonist you’d think but somehow it’s very popular in movies. 27 Dresses, 500 Days of Summer, America’s Sweethearts and Music & Lyrics all had their leading ladies essentially doing admin for the majority of the film.
You can check out all the 50 best romantic comedy jobs here.
Do Sexist Career Stereotypes Exist in Romantic Comedies?
In the past few years, the gender pay gap has been a big debate in most countries. Stereotypes about women more prone to working part-time hours, doing low skilled jobs or taking caregiving roles have been debunked or shown as a wider sociological problem due to a lack of representation in the media. Is this also reflected in the best romantic comedies from the past few decades?
Do big box office films perpetuate any myths around typical male and female stereotypes? We categorized the job roles of our leading men and ladies for our top 50 romantic comedies into ‘High Flyers’ and ‘Average Joes’ to find out.
Our criteria couldn’t just look at just our simplified job roles, it had to take the context of the film into account i.e. In You’ve Got Mail both Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are bookstore owners, the difference is Meg Ryan owns a small independent shop and Tom Hanks is an owner of a bookstore chain. He’s a High Flyer, and she’d be classed as an Average Joe.
Female High Flyers and Average Joes
It’s a close call, but it seems that unfortunately, Hollywood is less likely to portray a woman as having a high flying career compared to their male counterparts.
Looking at our data it seems that women tend to be either very superficially successful or their career is a total afterthought. Our High Flyers include an Orthopedic Surgeon (There’s Something About Mary) Fashion Designer (Sweet Home Alabama) and, of course, a hotshot writer (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days). These roles tend to be Type A high-strung and dedicated career women, who learn to loosen up with the help of their leading man.
Alternatively, the film is a more ‘rags to riches’ story with the female lead having an administrative or custodial type role. They appear as a PA (500 Days of Summer), Waitress (As Good as it Gets) or, oddly, a baker is quite common (Bridesmaids, It’s Complicated). This is typically juxtaposed with the male lead having a very important job i.e. Maid in Manhattan.
Male High Flyers and Average Joes
Looking at the male professions there’s an interesting mixed bag of professions. As we mentioned earlier, men in rom-coms tend to get more of a diverse career range as compared to women. They tend to be more kooky and odd, like The Wedding Singer (Wedding Singer), Groundhog Day (Weatherman) or Sweet Home Alabama (Glassblower, seriously?)
Interestingly, while men tend to get more High Flyer roles in rom-coms, they are also more likely to be unemployed as well. In Knocked Up and Failure to Launch both the lead roles are unemployed and while this is a sizeable plot point in both films, not one woman in 50 movies are portrayed as out of work. There are also two films where we could not find the woman’s occupation anywhere – Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Wedding Date have wealthy women with no job mentioned anywhere.
Are Romantic Comedies still Big Box Office Draws?
Romantic comedies were at their peak in the 90’s – early 00’s with 65% of the 50 iconic movies we looked at taking pace in a 15-year period. We wanted to see what effect release year had on box office earnings. Did rom-coms become more popular in the 90s? Are they getting less successful?
The graph above shows us that rom-coms are still big earners for studios. While we see that there are ups and downs, the downs tend to be for more ‘independent’ or non-US based movies i.e. Knocked Up, Bridesmaids and Four Weddings and a Funeral.
What it does seem to show is that a movie needs an established Hollywood name attached for it to break through the 350 million ceiling i.e. Julia Roberts, Will Smith, Mel Gibson, Sarah Jessica Parker etc.