Will Thacker spilling his orange juice on movie star Anna Scott, Sam Baldwin meeting Annie Reed on the top of the Empire State Building, and Harry getting to know Sally in her car as she drives across the country with him. These are all examples of the classic meet-cute, arguably the most important ingredient in a romantic comedy.
A meet-cute is exactly what it implies: the two protagonists meet for the first time under charming circumstances, which are typically unique and memorable. It’s the moment that we, the audience, will begin to root for their love story. Unsurprisingly, the meet-cute is a vital piece of your script, and crafting a good one will set up your characters’ unforgettable love story.
Here’s what to know about the classic movie meet-cute, including what it is, how it will serve your story, and some meet-cute examples.
Read More: The 9 Elements of All Great Rom-Coms
A meet-cute is a scene in a film or TV show where the romantic protagonists meet for the first time. Usually, this happens under strange, funny, romantic, awkward, or, yes, even cute circumstances. The characters could feel mutual attraction or disdain for one another or even a bit of both. Either way, sparks fly, and there’s no turning back. These characters are fated to be a part of one another’s lives.
The scene itself is usually pretty short, but it gets straight to the point: no matter the circumstances under which they meet, these two characters are meant to be, and we, as the audience, know it.
The term “meet-cute” was coined from the classic scene in Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (1938), in which Claudette Colbert and Gary Cooper meet for the first time while shopping for pajamas. Cooper’s character tells the shop owner that he only wants to buy the pajama top, and Colbert’s character says she will purchase the bottoms. Boom! A meet-cute is born.
Legend has it that the director, Ernst Lubitsch, struggled with English and couldn’t find the words to describe the encounter between the two characters, so he referred to it as a meet-cute. The rest is history.
How Does a Meet-Cute Serve Your Story?
Fans of rom-coms understand that the meet-cute is the core part of the story. It’s the beginning of their “will they or won’t they” journey and holds the audience’s attention as we stay with these characters for the next two hours. Your meet-cute serves as the first important glimpse into why we want these two lovebirds to come together at the end of your story while setting up what could get in the way of their love story coming true.
In short, your meet-cute is the inciting incident of your script.
The meet-cute is the moment that the lives of your two characters are forever changed. There is no turning back! You are essentially creating conflict here by using your characters as the catalyst for each other’s growth. These two characters might not know right away that they’re MFEO (Made For Each Other), but they should eventually discover why they need one another and why they are willing to beat the odds to come together.
Don’t forget that a satisfying meet-cute is usually the part of your script that will stand out the most from other romantic comedies. That is why it should be original, memorable, and authentic to the love story you’re creating.
How to Write Your Own Meet-Cute
Conflict is everything when it comes to story and character. It drives the plot forward and furthers the emotional stakes. Not to mention, it makes your characters’ love story more interesting.
An example is to have your characters detest each other right away. They could have radically different perspectives on life like Harry and Sally do in When Harry Met Sally (1989), and decide they have nothing in common.
Or the characters might have a conflict of interest. Joe and Kathleen discover they own competing bookstores in You’ve Got Mail (1998). Whichever conflict you decide upon, the tension should be high and intriguing enough to move the story forward and your characters closer together.
Surprise the Audience
Some of the best meet-cute moments are ones we never saw coming like Will Thacker bumping into Anna Scott on the street and spilling orange juice all over her in Notting Hill (1999). Or when Bridget Jones meets Mark Darcy for the first time at a cringey Christmas party, and he is wearing that hideous Christmas sweater in Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001). Awkward moments make for a memorable first impression.
Set Up Resistance
No matter how much your characters might like each other or have an instant attraction towards one another, something stands in their way of being together.
For example, Sam Baldwin and Annie Reed in Sleepless in Seattle (1993) don’t know each other and live on opposite sides of the country, but she falls for him when she hears his story on the radio. Or it could be similar to Vivian and Edward in Pretty Woman (1990). She’s a call girl, and he needs a date. It’s a business arrangement with a timeline, even if they are crazy for each other.
Here are some classic meet-cute examples from some of the most popular films.
Annie gets pulled over by policeman, Rhodes. She makes a fool of herself, sparks fly, and they end up talking for the night, including munching on baby carrots.
The Big Sick (2017)
Kumail meets Emily after his stand-up routine when he confronts her for heckling him during his set. Banter ensues, and their chemistry is evident. No sooner are they dating.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)
Toula meets Ian for the first time at her family’s restaurant. She is awkward and nervous around him; he is charmed but isn’t romantically interested in her. Their meeting prompts her to glow up, and Ian eventually asks her out.
The Notebook (2004)
Noah meets Allie while she is on a date with another guy at the fair. He is smitten with her, while she is not. To get her attention, Noah hangs from one of the bars on the Ferris wheel and threatens to let go if she doesn’t agree to go out with him.
Reality Bites (1994)
Leilana meets Michael at a stoplight. She’s not impressed by his “yuppie” vibes and rolls her eyes before flicking her cigarette at him, which causes him to crash his car.
Jonathan Trager and Sara Thomas reach for the same pair of black cashmere gloves at Bloomingdale’s during the holidays. Despite both characters being in relationships, a mutual attraction leads them to have dessert at a nearby cafe and kicks off their love story.
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Author: Brianne Hogan