What's a meet-cute, and why does it work so well?
I love a good romantic comedy. There's something comforting about seeing the beats of a story we all know so well. A couple gets together, enjoys their time, gets in an argument, breaks up for a few beats, and then eventually gets back together.
It's like a warm blanket of storytelling.
The core pillar of every romantic comedy is the meet-cute. We expect it, we want them to be kind of crazy, and we love them when they happen. Meet-cutes are part of the wish-fulfillment of the genre. They're what makes the audience buy tickets or refuse to switch the channel.
But what exactly is a meet-cute, and how can you use it effectively in your own writing?
Today we'll examine that question, provide the definition, and some key examples across film and TV.
Ready? Let's go find love.
What Is a Meet-Cute in Screenwriting? (Definition & Examples)
As I said in the opening, I am a sucker for when a couple meets the first time. As a writer, this is how you channel a character's energy. You distill them to who they are and put them in a situation where their significant other can appreciate them for that.
A meet-cute is a scene in a film or TV show in which the two characters who will form a romantic couple encounter one another for the first time. This usually happens under strange, funny, or cute circumstances.
As stated in the intro, a meet-cute is one of the most reliable romantic comedy tropes. You see it in movies and sitcoms and probably have read a few in books.
Romantic Comedy Tropes
The meet-cute is a pillar of romantic comedy. We need a couple to meet to fall in love. If they meet in a funny way, there's the comedy.
It fights alongside the other tropes like opposites attract, the dumped person, the wild child, the false start, the grand declaration, and a crazy supporting cast of friends.
Why Is the Meet-Cute so Important?
Above all, meeting someone is the most important part of the story. It usually happens in act one, and it pushes the story into action. Once the couple meets, you can play with the idea of the "will they" or "won't they." You can also get into the escapades that make these stories so much fun.
This is where people can make the location a character, and you can use it to make these people meet as well. Stuff like this is so important in these kinds of movies and TV shows.
In your writing, the meeting is also a way to set yourself apart from the competition. Can they meet in a memorable way that will leave producers and actors dying to make this project?
Let's look at some of the best examples across film and television.
Meet-Cute Examples in TV
Let's start with something standard. In How I Met Your Mother, the meet-cute happens in the pilot when Ted meets Robin at the bar. He's introduced by a zany friend and has to pick up the pieces. He's in over his head, looking for his soulmate. The show that follows always shows him and Robin trying to find their way. All while Ted tells his kids about the other woman he loved after her, even if he loved Robin before that person. Too real for your kids, Mosby!
Another hilarious meet-cute comes in Schitt's Creek when David meets Patrick. David shows up to file some paperwork, and the guy who gives him the form is a handsome love interest. This is a more subdued one. It fits the tone of the comedy but immediately gets funnier as the scene progresses. Your meet-cute does not have to be huge—it can just be a coincidence that then gets bigger.
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMpxdQeiFGI
One of my favorite TV shows of all time is Happy Endings. I wanted to include it here because it's a show about a group of friends who already exist when we meet them. There aren't meet-cutes that happen in the present, but the show wisely uses them to show how characters met in the past. This self-aware show really uses the trope to surprise the audience. While I couldn't find that clip... enjoy some fun couple banter from them.
Meet-Cute Examples in Movies
While they are fun on TV, these meet-cutes are much more prevalent in films than in television. The reason for this is that films have to have a big moment for the rest of the plot to unfold. There are so many romantic comedies with great meet-cutes, it was tough choosing three examples, but let's see what I got.
First, we should start with one that subverts everything we know. In Sarah Polley's Take This Waltz, we actually have a meet-cute that leads to an emotional affair between the main character and a guy she meets while writing a travel journal. This is not the relationship we are rooting for. We want her to be with her husband, but this meeting and then the eventual reveal that they live on the same street is the event that leads everything to happen.
It's a dark meet-cute, but I thought we deserved one after all this sappiness and cheer.
Another one I want to include is the scene from But I'm a Cheerleader. It happens in a group scene and shows a woman coming to terms with her own sexuality while also catching the eye of another gal who she met a few scenes prior, but this is where their attraction really starts. It's played for laughs, but I think this was a poignant and progressive look at how the tropes were flipped on their heads.
Finally, we can look at your typical meet-cute, this one from The Wedding Planner, where Matthew McConaughey literally saves Jennifer Lopez's life, and then she finds out she's the one planning his wedding. It is the definition of crazy and puts the characters in a hilarious position for the rest of the movie as they flirt. They have instant, palpable chemistry and see each other without the baggage of the rest of the movie, just with those puppy love eyes that shows immediate attraction.
What's next? Get our free screenwriting eBook!
So much of what we're talking about on No Film School when it comes to screenwriting is summarized in our new eBook. It also helps guide you through a 10-week writing plan that will get your script actually finished.