Does a romance story need to have a happy ending? — we debate, you vote

Eugenio Mastrandrea and Zoe Saldaña as Lino and Amy smiling in From Scratch
Eugenio Mastrandrea and Zoe Saldaña in From Scratch (Image credit: Netflix)

In the world of romance, there is a well-accepted formula that the genre usually follows when it comes to TV and movies: a character longs to find true love, comes across that special someone, overcomes some uphill battle to be with this person and in the end, the pair rides off into the sunset in their happily ever after. 

While this is what most people are accustomed to watching, every now and then, a romance project is released where the protagonist is not left celebrating love with a partner by the time the credits roll.

Take for example the latest Netflix series From Scratch. It’s a widely celebrated romance, but by no means follows the above formula. It’s more likely to leave you in tears actually. With that said, should romance lovers be quick to dismiss a successful project such as this from the genre? 

If there isn’t a happily ever after concluding a TV show or movie, can it really be a romance? Is showing that love can be attained and experienced enough? Or do all romances have to end like a fairytale? 

The WTW team decided to tackle the question: does a romance need to have a happy ending? 

Terrell Smith, writer: romance does not need a happy ending

Zoe Saldana as Amy and Eugenio Mastrandrea as Lino embracing one another in From Scratch

Zoe Saldaña and Eugenio Mastrandrea in From Scratch (Image credit: Netflix)

At the risk of sounding like a Donnie Downer, I don’t think that romance has to end with a couple walking hand-in-hand into their blissful future. Without giving away too many spoilers, From Scratch is honestly one of the most romantic TV shows or movies of 2022, and yet, the ending has to be one of the saddest I’ve ever seen. Amy (Zoe Saldaña) doesn’t get to spend a lifetime with her "one" Lino (Eugenio Mastrandrea), and I’m okay with that. The series still taught a lesson in discovering love in unexpected places and that love can carry people through the most trying of times. 

Additionally, I appreciate a romance that shows what happens when two people finally get together. So often those projects that fall under the genre follow a character’s adverse journey to finding their soulmate and then just stops. As if a couple won’t face adversity once they say "I do."

Something like From Scratch portrays that in real life, even when you find that special someone, you’re going to still face adversity, and sometimes that adversity may just be too large to overcome. Although in the latter cases, the troubles and hardships don’t have the power to diminish a real connection between two people. 

Also, on an interesting note, IMDb has listed the top-earning box office romances, and the number one earner is none other than Titanic. Many critics will agree without hesitation that it’s a romance, and I think we all remember what happened to Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) in the end.  

Claire Crick, UK editor: romance stories need a happy ending

Justin Hartley, Chrissy Metz and Sterling K. Brown in black sitting on steps in This Is Us

Justin Hartley, Chrissy Metz and Sterling K. Brown This Is Us (Image credit: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

As a sucker for a good old-fashioned love story, I’m definitely team "happy ending" when it comes to a romance story. Don’t get me wrong, I love a few twists and turns along the way, after all a love story wouldn’t be complete without a few will-they-won’t-they moments, but ultimately at the end there has to be some level of happiness for the characters I have become attached to.

Bittersweet happiness is fine, we have all seen the ending of This Is Us, which has to be one of the most emotional and well-written show endings ever aired (just in my opinion!)… but still there was a hint of happiness and togetherness amongst the heartache and sadness at the end.

We all know that in real life not everything has a happy ending, and so when I watch TV or a movie I want to escape what is going on around me and delve into someone else’s story. When a love story comes to a sad conclusion, I feel like the time and emotion I have invested in the show has somehow been a bit of a waste and I feel let down as a viewer… real life doesn’t always work out, but on screen it should!

Sarabeth Pollock, writer: romance and love stories are two different things

Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis in Top Gun

Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis in Top Gun (Image credit: Paramount Pictures / PictureLux / The Hollywood Archive / Alamy Stock Photo)

I’m more of a middle-of-the-road type when it comes to romance, love stories and happy endings. Blame my freshman year logical reasoning class. Does romance need a happy ending? Well, like most relationships, it’s complicated. 

All romances are love stories, but not all love stories are romances. If that was the case, then Top Gun could be considered a romance when it’s clearly not. However, Top Gun highlights the fact that many dramas, action adventures and comedies have love stories but aren’t considered romance movies. James Bond, Jason Bourne and Indiana Jones all feature love stories but they’re not romance movies in the slightest. 

In the literary world, most — but not all — romances have a happy ending. Generally speaking, a romance novel should have a happy ending and romance authors often have to note in previews whether their books have HEAs (yes, happily ever afters) so that readers know what to expect. There are lots of romance readers who won’t read a book that doesn’t have a happy ending because that’s precisely what they’re after.

Romeo and Juliet is labeled a love story, but it’s actually one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies. From Scratch features a beautiful love story but doesn’t have a traditionally happy ending. (It’s also classified by IMDB as a drama). In both cases, there is a beautiful love story; the former has a tragic ending while the latter, though sad, has a hopeful ending, made stronger because of the ill-fated love story.

At the end of the day, when it comes to romance, I truly believe that there should be a happy ending, but I don’t believe that all love stories need to have a happy ending. 

We've made our cases for whether or not a romance TV show or movie needs a happy ending, but what do you think. Vote on whether you need the characters to ride off into the sunset together happily ever after or are OK if things don't always work out.

Terrell Smith

Terrell Smith has a diverse writing background having penned material for a wide array of clients including the federal government and Bravo television personalities.  When he’s not writing as Terrell, he’s writing under his pseudonym Tavion Scott, creating scripts for his audio drama podcasts. Terrell is a huge fan of great storytelling when it comes to television and film. Some of his favorite shows include The CrownWandaVision, Abbot Elementary and Godfather of HarlemAnd a fun fact is he's completely dialed into the TLC 90 Day Fiancé universe. 

With contributions from