Ten Australian romantic comedies to make life seem a bit better

Sometimes all you need is an obstacle or two between yourself and true love – or a feel-good romcom that does the hard work for you.

Let’s face it, the world is turning to shit. It can be brutal, confusing and horrible out there – so who can blame us for trying to soothe our nerves and feel a bit better about life for just an hour or two? In no particular order, here are ten Australian romantic comedies to salve our battered souls.

Top End Wedding (2019)

Directed by Wayne Blair and starring Gwilym Lee and Miranda Tapsell (who also co-wrote the film and was executive producer), Top End Wedding is sure to warm the cockles in even the most cynical heart. Loved up and engaged, Ned (Lee) and Lauren (Tapsell) have ten days to find Lauren’s mum, whose gone missing in the Northern Territory, in order to get Lauren’s parents back together and enjoy their dream wedding.

I mean, romance: check! Road trip: check! Lovely things to look at: check!

Notable as one of the very few romcoms with an Indigenous protagonist, and with a feel-good ending rarely in doubt, the film has a 90% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with Natasha Alvar describing it in The Critical Movie Critics as:

a welcome breath of fresh air – it tells a love story in a genuinely moving way, with the recognition that weddings aren’t about the wedding dress or how good the hors d’oeuvres are.

The Critical Movie Critic

Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt) (2020)

Nothing says romance like a dead aunt in a film’s title … No, that came out wrong …

This award-winning LGBTQIA+ romcom, written and directed by Monica Zanetti, stars Marta Dusseldorp, Zoe Terakes and Sophie Hawshaw. It tells the story of 17-year-old Ellie (Hawkshaw), who is too nervous to invite her classmate Abbie (Terakes) to the school formal.

Enter her dead Aunt Tara (Julia Billington), an LGBT activist who passed away in the 1980s and has arrived as a fairy godmother to offer unsolicited advice. The perils of coming out, for both parents and their kids, are covered sensitively and with laughs, and the film is based on Zanetti’s 2016 stage play of the same name.

Shot in Sydney and produced in considerable part through crowdfunding, it was given a four-star rating in The Guardian by Jinghua Qian, who wrote:

Ellie & Abbie celebrates queer love – romantic, familial, and intergenerational – in all its distinction. It’s nice, it’s different, and it’s delightful.

The Guardian

The Sentimental Bloke (1919)

Often lauded as Australia’s first romantic comedy, Raymond Longford’s silent film follows Bill (Arthur Tauchert), a Sydney larrikin gambler and ex-prison inmate who falls for pickle-factory worker Doreen (Lottie Lyell) but faces stiff competition from his rival, Stror ‘at Coot (Harry Young).

Can the love of a good woman help Bill reform his ways? (Let’s hope so). Might Bill’s uncle help out with a job offer to help him on his way? (That’d be good). Might Doreen and Bill settle down to their happily-ever-after? (Jeez, we’d love that!). It was a massive commercial and critical success on release and, thanks to digital restoration by the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA), can be enjoyed for many more years to come.

Based on CJ Dennis’s 1915 verse novel, The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke, the film is described by many, as Paul Byrne’s points out on the NFSA’s Australian Screen website, as ‘ the greatest silent film that Australia has produced’.

Part of what makes The Bloke so enduring is that Longford and Lyell (who collaborated on all aspects of the film) have real affection for the milieu and characters they depict […]

Even with its reformist message, the film never seems preachy. Rather, it had a strongly optimistic tone, a sense of hope – which may have been another reason for its success.

Australian Screen

Ali’s Wedding (2017)

Jeffrey Walker’s Muslim-Australian romcom follows Ali (Osamah Sami), the musically-gifted son of an Iraqi Shia cleric, who struggles – don’t we all? – to make the right life choices.

He loves one woman, Dianne (Helana Sawires) but has been promised to another at his dad’s mosque. Will he go through with the marriage that will make his dad proud or will he say nah, no can do, and follow his heart, forget about what others want him to do and, you know, make us all cheer, throw popcorn across the living room and embrace our cats like they’re our one true love?

You’ll have to watch it to find out, I guess. It has a 92% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with Sandra Hall writing in the Sydney Morning Herald that:

Ali’s Wedding neatly strips away the solemnity enveloping that lead balloon of a word ‘multiculturalism’. There’s a joyously comic lack of inhibition here and, even better, we’re told it’s largely a true story.

Sydney Morning Herald

Crocodile Dundee (1986)

‘That’s not a knife,’ you say? And, what … ‘That’s not a romantic comedy’? You bet your dusty Akubra it is, mate.

Peter Faiman’s hit was the highest grossing film ever in Australia on release and the second highest grossing film in America (after Top Gun, but only just …) in 1986.

Sue Charlton (Linda Kozlowski), an American nepo baby who writes for her dad’s newspaper, travels from New York to Walkabout Creek in the Northern Territory, to meet and interview Mick Dundee (Paul Hogan), a legendary bushman who supposedly crawled hundreds of miles to safety after a croc bit off half his leg.

But there’s just no way these two people could fall in love – especially given Sue is dating the editor of her dad’s paper (ewww) back home – right? And she would never invite Mick to America to continue her feature story on him when her engagement to whatshischops (Mark Bloom) looms, right?

As anyone who’s ever tried to do that finger trick Mick does to calm an angry dog will know, fiction is often, rightfully, stranger than reality.

Strictly Ballroom (1992)

Baz Luhrmann’s feature debut – based on a play he and fellow students put on during their time at NIDA – follows Scott (Paul Mercurio), the frustrated son of a family of ballroom dancers, who has been training since the age of six and who risks it all in the name of success, performing an unorthodox routine with his new partner, Fran (Tara Morice).

Never has John Paul Young’s Love is in the Air sounded so good, and never was it clearer that an Australian director with unholy levels of pizzazz had arrived on the scene.

The film has an 88% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with Peter Stack of the San Fransisco Chronicle summing it up best:

It’s hard to imagine a more exuberant and sheerly romantic comedy than this Australian import … In its mixture of camp and reality, the film is irresistible.


Love is in the Air (2023)

Speaking of Love is in the Air, this year’s romcom of the same name (sadly) doesn’t feature the song, but makes up for it with predictable and easy-on-the-eyes romcom goodness. Adrian Power’s Netflix feature tells the story of Dana Randall (Delta Goodrem), the lone pilot of Fullerton Airways, flying in and out of the Whitsundays, who finds herself falling for the bumble-faced Brit (Joshua Sasse), who arrives to sink her family business.

But you can’t really fall for a business shark, can you? You bet your 74 small islands off the central coast of Queensland you can. As Anthony Morris wrote in his four-star review for ScreenHub:

Every character in this film is a cliché, but that’s hardly a flaw. Dana basically has two settings – earnest but loveable dogooder and angry doogooder – which Goodrem is able to handle pretty well, while Will is a dork who has a not-so-secret studly side (largely revealed by playing sport with the local children). There’s not a lot of passionate chemistry between them, but the steam here is coming from the tropics. They’re basically two likeable people you want to see get along.

This is nobody’s idea of a classic movie, but once you understand what kind of story it’s telling it’s a solidly entertaining one. Familiar beats are hit with comforting regularity, while things move along quickly enough to prevent boredom from setting in.


Better Than Sex (2000)

In this Jonathan Teplitzky film, Josh (David Wenham) and Cin (Susy Porter) have a one-night stand in Sydney a few days before his planned return to London – and then he doesn’t go to London. But then she goes to London, thinking he’s gone. And then he gets his bleeding plane to London but three days later. And …

Frankly, it’s not a romantic comedy unless there are all sorts of dramatic obstacles that could easily be sorted out with a quick phone call. Yes, this was made seven years before the first iPhone but public pay phones, not to mention landlines and the Nokia 6110, had been around for ages. I mean, they literally use phones to call other people loads of times in the film.

Still, that’s what we want in our romcoms: avoidable mishaps and good-looking leads, with a bit of oo-la-la and plenty of satisfied, even unsatisfied, eye-rolling. Here’s what Carrie Rickey wrote in the Philadelphia Enquirer:

With remarkable grace, [Teplitzky’s] actors balance the competing demands of candor and whimsy, and the result, while not unforgettable, is charming.

Rotten Tomatoes

Love and Other Catastrophes (1996)

Set well before the current industrial action, Emma-Kate Croghan’s debut feature takes place at the University of Melbourne, where film studies students Mia (Frances O’Connor) – recently split up from her girlfriend (Rhada Mitchell) – and Alice (Alice Garner) need to find a housemate, stat. Even more pressingly … they need to find lurv.

But will it be with part-time gigolo (Matthew Dyktynski) or with the sensitive medical student (Matt Day) who’s looking to rent that spare room? The film was nominated for five Australian Film Institute Awards and drew praise for its young actors. It’s also garnished with an epic soundtrack. Guinevere Turner, for The Advocate, wrote that:

Love and Other Catastrophes exudes talent. It’s gorgeously shot, carefully directed, thoughtfully written, and loaded with complex and convincing performances.

Rotten Tomatoes

Muriel’s Wedding (1994)

Who amongst us hasn’t listened to the entire ABBA back catalogue on repeat as a crutch for our social awkwardness while hoping to escape our humdrum lives with an incredibly glamorous fantasy wedding? Anyone?

Thought not.

Written and directed by PJ Hogan, and starring Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths, the film – alongside contemporaneous hits Strictly Ballroom and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – gained Australia an international reputation for quirky comedies with substance.

In the case of Muriel’s Wedding, that came via a skewering of provincial Australia, which provided the perfect backdrop for Muriel’s (Collette’s) big-hearted transformation.

And again, who amongst us hasn’t performed ABBA’s Waterloo with our bestie in front of the girls who made our life a living hell at school while hanging out at a resort called Hibiscus Island?

Or was that just Muriel, Rhonda (Griffiths) … and me?

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Paul Dalgarno is author of the novels A Country of Eternal Light (2023) and Poly (2020); the memoir And You May Find Yourself (2015); and the creative non-fiction book Prudish Nation (2023). He was formerly Deputy Editor of The Conversation and joined ScreenHub as Managing Editor in 2022. X: @pauldalgarno. Insta: @dalgarnowrites