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October 15, 2018

Are rom-coms shorter (and worse) than serious romance films?

Today’s topic was suggested by my wife (hello, honey!). For the longer story as to how this topic came up, see the epilogue at the end of the article.

For now, I’ll focus on what she suggested I research: Are romantic comedies shorter (and do they receive poorer reviews) than non-comedic romance movies?

I built a dataset of all movies which grossed at least $1 in US cinemas between 1980 and 2017 (13,159 movies) to try to discover the answer.

How romance compares to other genres

Let’s start by having a look at how the romance genre compares to other genres.  For each movie I gathered three pieces of information (where available):

  • Length, measured in minutes, from IMDb.
  • Metascore, which is the average score of all major critics, out of 100.
  • IMDb user rating, out of 10.

The average running time of romantic movies is 107 minutes – very close to the overall average for all genres of 105 minutes.

Across all reviews, romantic movies received an average of 55 out of 100.  This again puts romance in the middle of all genres.

Finally, let’s look at what film audiences think of romantic films, via the IMDb rating.  Across all movies, romance averages 6.3 out of 10 – yet another middle range.

So far, we’ve only seen how romance compares with other genres.  This tells us that it’s no outlier by any of these three metrics.  So let’s now look at how the presence (or lack) of comedy affects the scores.

Are funny romantic movies shorter than serious romantic movies?

In order to answer our core question, I split all “Romance” films into two categories: funny and serious.  I used the IMDb “Comedy” genre classification to do this and, just by chance, it split the 2,768 almost exactly down the middle, with 1,385 coming out as “funny” and 1,383 being labelled “serious”.

For the past three decades, romantic comedies were an average of 8.5 minutes shorter than their more serious counterparts.  In the last few years, the trend has weakened and in 2016, serious romances were shorter for the first time since at least 1990.

Let’s turn to what film critics think of romantic movies, as measured by their Metascore. Rom-coms get an average of 52 out of 100 whereas non-com-roms score an average of seven points higher.

This has been true for most of the past three decades, but has switched in recent years.  It seems that the most recent romances are bucking the historic trend in both length and quality.

And the same pattern is true for film audience scores, as measured by IMDb ratings.

I’m not sure what is causing this recent shift in the romance genre.  As I wrote about a few months ago, there has been a lot of change among romantic movies recently and so this may just be another consequence of a fast-changing genre.

Further reading

If you want to dig deeper on any of the topics I covered today then you may enjoy these past articles:

Notes

The data today came from IMDb, Metacritic and the Numbers.  For the time series charts, I focused on 1990 onwards as some of the pre-1990s data is patchy.

Epilogue

As promised, here’s the slightly longer story for how this topic came up.

My wife was assessing her options for movies and I browsed the VOD platform NowTV to find recommendations.  As she sat at her laptop, I scrolled on the TV, calling out possible movies and why I thought she might like each of them.  She was on the lookout for something romantic, but funny-romantic, not weepy-romantic.

I found a contender and called out: “here’s one I’m sure you’ll like – it’s a romance with a short running time and a rating of two out of five”.  My now-rather-confused wife came over and wanted to know why I was suggesting a short, bad movie.  My honest answer was… “I’m not sure, but my gut is telling me this is the right romance for you”.

Offended that I had implied her idea of a good romance is short and bad, she demanded the research to back up my claim.

Needless to say, I had a lot riding on the outcome of today’s investigation.  Fortunately, I now have the data to prove that it’s just her taste in movies which is “short and bad,” rather than her romantic life more generally.  (Although if the research had proved the reverse it could have spelt trouble for our two-year marriage, thereby proving that it wasn’t just her taste in movies…)

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3 Responses

  1. Illona October 15, 2018 at 4:43 pm #

    Curious… how did you categorize the genres? Or was it based on how IMDb classified the movies?

  2. roman October 16, 2018 at 1:47 pm #

    my wife too liked to choose ‘bad’ romantic movies for us to watch
    [ lots of french bad punk love gone bad (why not research on those ? ]
    until we realized she was interested in an emotional panoramic view, emotions as diversity…
    recently it seems to me that women watch movies in another key perception,
    not synesthesia but emotionally…
    we finally upgraded from ‘betty blu’ to ‘nikita’ to ‘your name” to recently ‘julie and julia child’
    by the way, many ‘action women movies’ are really bad romantic movies with action,
    n’est c’est pas ?
    Ps. love your research blog ! cheers from Rio.

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