Marc Webb’s directorial debut subverts all conventions of the rom-com genre. The ‘anti rom-com’ is perhaps best identified by its most iconic “expectation vs. reality” split screen scene. 500 Days of Summer ditches the techniques of realism in favour of presenting true reality. It is feel-good and warm, but real and raw. The movie follows the relationship between hopelessly romantic Tom and free-spirited Summer, over a span of 500 days. It’s a story about love, but it’s “not a love story.” It debunks idealised love and rose-tinted worldview — a story of disillusionment. It is also a story of embracing reality and finding your true self. There are several other movies that have similarly broken the mould and struck a chord with viewers. Here are 15 other movies like 500 Days of Summer for those who want to explore the genre beyond the obvious:
1. Annie Hall (1977)
A milestone in its genre, this classic rom-com drama can almost be viewed as a predecessor to 500 Days of Summer. Comedian Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) casts a retrospective glance on his relationship with nightclub singer Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) and attempts to understand how it failed.
The characters are quirky, messy, and unique in a way that makes them feel real. The movie is full of witty dialogues and cultural references. It uses innovative and unrealistic sequences to portray something all too real. Even the soundtrack is integral to the narrative. Heartbreaking and funny in equal measures, it is a must-watch for fans of 500 Days of Summer.
2. High Fidelity (2000)
In High Fidelity, music and love are inextricably intertwined. In an incredibly (500)-Days-of-Summer way. The music of misery which Rob (John Cusack) and his friends have formed their identity around may be the very cause of their misery. The immense, snobbish, and pedantic love of music they share seems to be their way of compensating for a loveless life.
After Rob’s relationship with Laura (Iben Hjejle) collapses, he revisits his “Top 5” ex-girlfriends, and tries to figure out why he is unlucky in love. But Rob is far from a likable character. He is self-absorbent, self-pitying, self-serving, and self-everything-but-comprehending. The brilliance of this dark comedy is in exposing Rob’s stunted psyche to the viewers even as he tries and fails to understand it himself.
3. Begin Again (2013)
This musical movie explores matches and mismatches in love in a variety of ways. Greta (Keira Knightley) is a singer-songwriter who has just broken up with her corporate sell-out, cheating boyfriend. Dan (Mark Ruffalo) is a record label executive, who is estranged from his wife and has just been fired.
When Dan sees the potential of Greta’s heartfelt music, they join forces to make a live album recorded all over New York. We follow their professional and personal journey together while they create this album. The highlights of the movie are the unconventional bond Greta and Dan develop and the beautiful soundtrack. The film presents an optimistic take on artistic integrity and finding one’s true self. Deep down, it is a love letter to indie music.
4. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Now this movie is an actual boy-meets-girl love story — a bipolar boy with an estranged wife meets a young girl with a dead husband. It is a movie about two deeply damaged people chasing after the silver linings in life.
Pat (Bradley Cooper) is released from a psychiatric hospital and is determined to win back the wife who cheated on him. When he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), they develop an electric connection. While Pat tries to reconcile with his wife through Tiffany’s help, she gets him to partner up with her for a dance competition. The messy emotions, humour, and dancing combined with powerful performances from Cooper and Lawrence make this twisted romance shine.
5. Blue Valentine (2010)
Like 500 Days of Summer, this movie presents a non-linear narrative of two almost-compatible people going through the development and disintegration of their relationship. But this one does away with the niceties and is a devastating and difficult watch. It is a shattering portrait of a decaying marriage: a marriage founded on bright leaves and weak roots.
Hopeless romantic Dean (Ryan Gosling) marries Cindy (Michelle Williams), believing they are destined to be together. But difficult situations and a fundamental incompatibility eventually catch up with them. The movie explores why and how a relationship fails. It brings out the complexities of a relationship in constant flux with unflinching accuracy.
6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
Based on director Stephen Chbosky’s own novel of the same name, this is one of the best modern coming-of-age romantic dramas out there. It explores the well-trodden path of teenage love and teenage anxieties, but with honesty rather than clichés. It is heartbreaking as well as heartwarming, and brilliantly explores a myriad of complex psycho-social situations.
The movie follows Charlie (Logan Lerman) as he begins high school while also trying to cope with a traumatic past. He’s a social misfit, but connects with his seniors Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson), who are step-siblings. While Charlie tries to process his developing feelings for Sam, Patrick goes through issues of his own. This movie is refreshing, touching, and buoyed by a great cast and the soundtrack.
7. Ruby Sparks (2012)
Like (500) Days of Summer, this rom-com drama also debunks the notion of idealistic love. It does so through a unique plotline. A young novelist, Calvin (Paul Dano), is suffering from writer’s block. He creates a fictional character who is the embodiment of his ideal romantic partner. When this character, Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan), unexpectedly comes to life, Calvin thinks he can write his way into the perfect relationship.
But his fantasies start falling apart at the seams as he gradually loses control over Ruby and she becomes her own person. This movie is innovative, unpredictable, and whimsical. It is an interesting take on romance as well as on the power politics between the creator and the created.
8. The Sun in a Net (1963)
A cultural cornerstone in Czechoslovak cinema, this film is often credited with launching the Czechoslovak (later Czech and Slovak) New Wave(s). It marked a radical deviation from the socialist-realist films of that era, and presented a poignant, nuanced psycho-social study revolving around a young couple.
It follows the troubled lives of a Bratislavian teenage couple, who seem to have irreconcilable differences. They are separated when Fajolo (Marian Bielik) is forced to enrol in a summer work camp. Fajolo and Bela (Jana Beláková) find new partners and also try to find themselves. The exploration of internal conflict, the rich visuals steeped in poetic symbolism, the innovative camerawork, and the remarkable film score make it a masterpiece.
9. Office Romance (1977)
This Soviet rom-com is a love story as well as a screwball comedy. It indulges in romance while also satirising its tropes. Anatoli (Andrey Myagkov) is a single father, who works in a statistical bureau. His boss is Lyudmila (Alisa Freindlich), who has a reputation for being cold and difficult. In the hope of a promotion and a raise, Anatoli feigns feelings for Lyudmila.
This plan soon spins out of his control and results in genuine affection. There are witty dialogues, comical situations, and an amusing sub-plot of supporting characters dealing with their own brand of relationship troubles. The film is renowned for its depiction of Moscow in the late 1970s and its humorous take on ordinary people. This makes it feel life-like and authentic like 500 Days of Summer.
10. Palm Springs (2020)
Palm Springs is a sci-fi movie as well as a rom-com, and it pushes the boundaries of both the genres. Nyles (Andy Samberg) meets Sarah (Cristin Milioti) at a wedding reception and sparks fly between them. When Nyles is mysteriously attacked, he crawls into a cave, and Sarah goes after him. And suddenly, she finds herself stuck in a time-loop.
The film presents an innovative take on the time-loop trope, as it is revealed that Nyles and his attacker have already been stuck in it for a while. Nyles and Sarah live through the same day again and again, slowly falling in love. However, they are complicated and flawed people. This leads to twists and turns which make this movie fun, fresh, and unique.
11. Two Lovers (2008)
This romantic drama explores dark themes and the complicated nature of desire. Leonard (Joaquin Phoenix) is a young man who lives with his parents and is on medication to cope with his mental afflictions. He becomes involved with sweet and pretty Sandra (Vinessa Shaw) after their parents set them up.
But when he meets the enigmatic, beautiful, and seemingly unattainable Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), he is taken on an emotional rollercoaster. His desire for her makes him overlook the several red flags — her married boyfriend being one of them. This movie is original, authentic, and unpredictable. It explores the ever-changing dynamics of affection brilliantly.
12. Summer with Monika (1953)
The Swedish romance from the legendary Ingmar Bergman is a thought-provoking take on young love. The film made Swedish actress Harriet Andersson, who plays Monika, an adventurous, rebellious, and sensual young woman, an international star. When she meets Harry (Lars Ekborg), they are besotted by each other. Both are frustrated with the daily drudgery of their working-class lives, and go off to an island for a summer of escape.
Real life eventually crashes into their fantasy, and the cracks in their connection start forming. Many elements of this complex film resemble 500 Days of Summer. Harry idealises Monika, and thinks that his happiness lies in spending his life with her. Monika’s ideas of an exciting life are largely influenced by commercial Hollywood and pop culture. Summer with Monika is another excellent exploration of incompatibility among couples.
13. Beginners (2010)
This rom-com drama has a refreshingly unconventional plotline. It is a non-linear narrative where we follow Oliver (Ewan Mcgregor) as he looks back on his life and also tries to find somebody he connects with. His father, Hal (Christopher Plummer), who came out of the closet after Oliver’s mother’s death, has passed away recently.
Oliver reflects on his early life when his mother was alive and the five years after her death when he grew close to his newly-liberated father. Through flashbacks we learn that Hal embraced his new beginning, and found true love. Inspired by his memories, Oliver tries to assess whether he should pursue Anna (Melanie Laurent). The film is warm, sensitive, and optimistic. To top it off, there’s an adorable dog who might just be the wisest of them all.
14. Garden State (2004)
This is a humorous and quirky rom-com drama with a Grammy-winning soundtrack. Andrew (Zach Braff) has clear parallels with Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) from The Graduate (1967). He is a soul-deadened actor-waiter ambling through life without purpose. When he returns home to attend his mother’s funeral, he meets Sam (Natalie Portman). Her infectious enthusiasm helps him open up to new experiences and changes his life.
This movie also explores tense family ties and the effects of heavy medication, the central factors behind Andrew’s jaded nature. Meanwhile Sam is a pathological liar who is ironically transparent about her dishonesty, and suffers from epilepsy. Despite some flaws, Garden State is fun, smart, and an authentic representation of its time and cultural background.
15. Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008)
This musical rom-com is about two people who are brought together through their love of music. When Nick (Michael Cera) meets Norah (Kat Dennings), neither of them are aware that Norah’s annoying friend, Tris, is also Nick’s ex-girlfriend. Norah asks Nick to pretend to be her boyfriend for some time so Tris can stop teasing her for being single.
What follows is a night out searching for their favourite band’s secret show and also for Norah’s drunken best friend. Along the way, there are encounters with exes which determine the fate of the protagonists. The movie also celebrates the nightlife of New York City and indie music. The sidekicks are colourful, and the soundtrack is great. The movie does not break any new ground, but is entertaining and light-hearted.
Like 500 Days of Summer, many of these movies subvert expectations. Some are often misunderstood, and might seem to encourage Summer’s initial view of love being an unreal fairy-tale. But as Summer herself would say by the end of the film, that isn’t quite true. It is not about cynicism, but about seeing things clearly.
If you’ve finished watching all the above, here are some more movies like 500 Days Of Summer that have engaged viewers by defying stereotypes. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and La La Land (2016) are two of my favorites. Some other great options are Submarine (2010), Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015), and Lady Bird (2017).