Every generation gets a tragic, tear-jerking romance it can call its own. In the 1970s, it was Love Story (love means never having to say you’re sorry); in the 1980s, it was Endless Love (love means burning down your in-laws’ house); and in the 1990s, it was Titanic (love means making sure your new girlfriend doesn’t drown in the Atlantic). But for those who came of age in the 2000s, the go-to weepie was The Notebook, a movie that spurred countless crying jags, launched the careers of Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, and inspired a gazillion or so GIFs.
Released 10 years ago today, the adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’s 1996 novel — in which Gosling and McAdams play Noah and Allie, two star-crossed lovers whose romance is threatened by war, parental disapproval, and old age — wasn’t an immediate smash. (It was outgrossed in its opening weekend by the lowbrow Wayans brother comedy White Chicks). But The Notebook proved to be a summer-long sleeper hit — it eventually earned more than $81 million — and its cult has only grown over time, as evidenced by everything from homemade Goslingnotebooks on Etsy to Notebook-inspired engagement photos. In fact, a decade later, the effects of the movie are still being felt. Here are four ways The Notebook changed Hollywood:
1. It Marked the Start of Gosling-mania
When The Notebook was released, its two young leads were hardly big-name stars: Gosling was a former Mickey Mouse Club mouseketeer who’d won indie cred thanks to the bleak Sundance hit The Believer — the movie that inspired director Nick Cassavetes to cast him as Noah. (In a bit of Method madness, Gosling even moved to Charleston, South Carolina, and learned how to make furniture to help get into character.) McAdams, meanwhile, had recently starred in the hit Mean Girls, but wasn’t yet a household name.
But the two actors’ relative obscurity wasn’t an issue once people saw how good they looked together onscreen: Gosling had a boy-band handsomeness, an innate inability to keep a shirt on for more than five minutes, and a neo-Brando edge, while McAdams boasted old-school movie star charms and a Julia Roberts-level smile. The chemistry they shared was so palpable, few were surprised when they hooked up in real life after the film was released. (Oddly, the two didn’t get along at first, with Gosling telling the Guardian that they “inspired the worst in each other” during filming). The movie turned both actors into stars, and their real-world romance became an obsession for fans; after they broke up, Gosling told GQ that one heartsick and angry fan “came up to me on the street, and she almost smacked me. Like, ‘How could you?’”
Though McAdams would go on to grab high-visibility leading roles in Wedding Crashers and Red Eye, Gosling recoiled a bit from the post-Notebook limelight, making only four movies in the next six years. But this only increased his movie star mystique, and his fanbase became more fervent in his absence. And though he’s never been a huge box-office draw — aside from The Notebook, his only other moneymaker was 2011’s Crazy, Stupid, Love — he’s clearly captured the hearts and minds of young moviegoers.
2. It Demonstrated How Social Media Could Give a Movie a Second Life
When The Notebook was released as a sleepover-friendly DVD in February 2005, Myspace and Facebook were becoming massive; as a result, The Notebook, like its near-contemporary Mean Girls, proved to be seminal for a generation of (mostly) women who quickly made the film part of their online lives. YouTube, which was founded around the same time, still has tens of thousands of fan-made Notebook clips, while Tumblr is awash with pictures and GIFs inspired by the film (we’re especially fond of the mini-meme that swaps out Allie’s head with food). There’s also plenty of Notebook fan fiction, including a particularly inspired entry that replaces Ryan Gosling’s Noah with Harry Styles. And, as the social media generation came of age and fell in love themselves, the movie even inspired a trend of Noah-and-Allie-centric engagement photos. Aw.
3. It Reignited Hollywood’s Romantic Side
By the time The Notebook arrived, the teen-skewing weepie looked dead. It had been seven years since Titanic, the last classic, irony-free romance to connect on a huge scale, and while others had tried to imitate that film’s billion-dollar success — notably Pearl Harbor — most had failed to connect with younger viewers (only 2002’s A Walk to Remember, another Sparks adaptation, found an audience). As a result, the young viewers who were an ideal fit for a movie like The Notebook were absolutely love-starved by the time of the film’s arrival, which happened in a summer that was packed with CGI spectacles.
For the next 10 years, the big studios tried to capitalize on the success of The Notebook with a flood of teary-eyed romances. There were, of course, the numerous Sparks adaptations that followed in its wake, including 2010’s Dear John and 2013’s Safe Haven. And McAdams herself starred in both 2009’s The Time Traveler’s Wife and the 2012 hit The Vow. This year’s smash The Fault in Our Stars, meanwhile, again proved that there’s room for a downbeat weepie among the many superhero movies that hit in the summer months.
4. It Gave Young Male Movie Stars Permission to Show Their Sensitive Side
It’s easy to forget now, but it took years for Leonardo DiCaprio to shake his pinup image from Titanic: The actor was still seen by some in the public — and even some in the industry — as a pretty boy who wasn’t suited for tough-guy roles. As a result, many actors, particularly young up-and-comers, became scared of tackling the romance genre for fear of being typecast. But in The Notebook, Gosling proved that a leading man could be both tender and macho. After all, Noah wasn’t just a guy who could expertly lock lips in the rain; he was a dude who could build a house with his bare hands and get into the occasional fistfight. This rugged-but-sensitive approach would be adopted by other young male actors: Channing Tatum’s career got an early jolt from weepies like Dear John and The Vow, but that hasn’t stopped him from winning tough-guy roles. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, meanwhile, converted rom-com stardom in (500) Days of Summer into parts in action-packed blockbusters like Inception and The Dark Knight Rises. They both owe a debt to The Notebook, a movie that, ten years after its release, is still breaking hearts and spurring on tissue sales around the world.
Photo Credit: Everett Collection