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Call it evolution or devolution, but the change in tone dovetails with larger cultural changes: Both young men and women increasingly prioritize friends and careers over marriage and family. People are dating longer, settling down later and seeing relationships less as a one-shot attempt at a soulmate and more as another chapter in their biography.

"I wonder if women grow up and they become slightly more disinterested in the romantic comedy because you realize that a happy ending is so fleeting and untrue." —Drew Barrymore

In 2006, Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn's The Break-Up was novel because they didn't reconcile at the end. Now, bittersweet — or at least ambiguous — endings are expected. In pursuit of emotional truth, love stories that could have been comedies have sobered up and become winsome romantic dramas like The Spectacular Now, Blue Jasmine and The Best Man Holiday.

"There's a little bit of disillusionment with that perfect relationship," explains Los Angeles–based therapist Caroline Frost, who specializes in romantic angst. "More movies are puncturing the fantasy. Even on television, you're seeing more shows with couples counselors as a character, so you're getting more of a sense of people working through things, as opposed to fate swooping in and making everything happen."

Director Paul Feig with Kristen Wiig on the set of Bridesmaids: "I've been lectured so many times by producers and people in power, 'You don't want to get pigeonholed in the whole woman thing.'"
Suzanne Hanover, Universal Studios
Director Paul Feig with Kristen Wiig on the set of Bridesmaids: "I've been lectured so many times by producers and people in power, 'You don't want to get pigeonholed in the whole woman thing.'"
"Knocked Up was the last great romantic comedy, and that was seven years ago," says Evan Mirzai, co-author of Doppelgangers, an unproduced rom-com script on the Black List.
"Knocked Up was the last great romantic comedy, and that was seven years ago," says Evan Mirzai, co-author of Doppelgangers, an unproduced rom-com script on the Black List.

For Frost's clients, the glossed-over good cheer of romantic comedies can be depressing. She says, "What I hear the most is, 'I was watching this movie and it made me feel so sad about my life,' or 'I was watching this movie and it reminded me how empty my life is.'"

"Life isn't a fairy tale," says actress Drew Barrymore, who starred in several of the genre's sweetest hits, including two with Adam Sandler. "We're in a time right now where a young guy and a young girl are kind of crass with each other. It's not so romantic. They drink and sleep together on the first night and it's, like, 'Whoa! Taboo! How do we deal with that?' I don't know if we know exactly how to work with that kind of genre yet because it's so new. The we-all-have-sex-and-drink-and-talk-dirty-and-swear romantic comedy, that sort of worked for a minute, but it seems to have gone away as quickly as it came."

Recently, Barrymore took a four-year break from the genre. In May, however, she and Sandler return to romantic comedy with Warner Bros.' Blended, ending the major studios' rom-com drought.

Still, by last decade's standards, Blended is unusual: Barrymore and Sandler play divorced parents on a blind date with their children in tow. By betting only on proven stars, the genre has been forced to age up; that, in turn, means fewer films about first weddings and more about middle-aged adults old enough to know that love might not last.

"I think the movies that we've made have been very reflective of where we are in our personal lives," Barrymore says. "The last thing on the agenda with this film was the happy ending. It's much more about the how-to-make-it-work functionality of it all, and can that be joyful. If you can find happiness in your day-to-day life, that's far more valuable than a happy ending, because that's not the way reality works."

She adds, "I wonder if women grow up and they become slightly more disinterested in the romantic comedy because you realize that a happy ending is so fleeting and untrue. Maybe the system is in overdrive, and people aren't just allowed to make a lot of throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-if-it-sticks kind of romantic comedies. Maybe it's only going to be the much better ones that make it through."

For now, however, she has embraced the bromance, even though it leaves actresses like her mulling their next movies. "I think maybe we've forgotten how to place men and women together," Barrymore says. "To me, Superbad was actually a romantic comedy between the two guys. I feel like there's better chemistry between men right now than [between] males and females."

SUSPECT NO. 5: SUPERHEROES AND SEQUELS
No love burns brighter than that between a superhero, his super-buddies and the studio that scores with their billion-dollar beer bash — especially when they can go back to the keg for another round. What made money in 2013? Franchises. Eight of the top ten moneymakers were sequels or reboots of old series with numbers in their titles: Despicable Me 2, Fast & Furious 6. The ninth was a Disney cartoon; the tenth was Gravity — the sole stand-alone, adult-driven film.

Romantic comedies don't launch franchises. Where do you go after a happy ending? Stasis or divorce. With The Proposal 2: Propose Harder off the table, studios lack the incentive to fund films that are one-and-done. These days, they'd rather spend money repeating a proven hit.

But the obsession with franchises comes with a high — and literal — cost. Blockbusters don't always make money, but they definitely spend it. Sequels seem to be the obvious answer when you scan the box-office winners, but in terms of return on investment, they're a riskier bet.

Let's crunch the numbers. The biggest rom-com in 2012, Silver Linings Playbook, made just more than half the domestic gross of The Amazing Spider-Man. Worldwide, it made a third as much: $236 million versus $752 million. But check the price tags: Silver Linings Playbook cost $21 million, a fraction of Spider-Man's $230 million budget, and made its money back eleven times over. Spider-Man made more cash, but it wasn't as profitable.

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