'Friends With Benefits' vs. 'No Strings Attached': Let's compare!


Image Credit: Glen Wilson

Now that the Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis romantic comedy Friends With Benefits has finally hit theaters, we can legitimately compare its plot with that of the similarly-themed, hooking-up-with-an-otherwise-platonic-buddy Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman romantic comedy No Strings Attached. Turns out, they’re not quite as alike as you may have thought. SPOILER ALERT!

The meet not-so cute:

Friends With Benefits: Mila is a headhunter in New York, who meets Justin’s web designer from California at the airport while she’s chasing the makeshift sign with his name on it on the luggage conveyor belt to take him to his interview to become the new art director for GQ. She has to sell him on New York before midnight, when the job offer expires. She does. They become friends because he’s emotionally unavailable due to his ambition and fear of getting hurt, and she’s emotionally damaged juggling the lack of commitment her mother (Patricia Clarkson) practices and preaches and her own desire for her life to be like the romantic comedies this film claims to hate.

No Strings Attached: More complicated. They meet at a summer camp when they’re young, then again when they’re college-age and Natalie invites Ashton to a nameless event that turns out to be her father’s funeral. A few years later they run into each other: She is now a resident at a hospital, he is a production assistant/wannabe writer on a High School Musical-type show. (I buy these jobs more.) Still, they’re not friends.

Their first time:

Friends With Benefits: While drinking and watching a (fake) cliché romantic comedy at her place starring Jason Segel and Rashida Jones, they start a conversation about how sex should be like playing tennis with someone. You do it, and you don’t want to spend the weekend with them afterwards. No expectations, no emotions, no need to polite, so you can tell the other person exactly what you like in bed. Which they do. In an extended scene. Later, they think it’s a bad idea — but they do it again. And it works for a while.

No Strings Attached: After Ashton finds out his actor father (Kevin Kline) is sleeping with his ex-girlfriend, he gets drunk and dials every woman in his cell phone. He wakes up naked on the couch in Natalie’s apartment, and, after all her friends pretend they had sex with him, she escorts him into her bedroom to put on his pants and hear his story. They end up having sex, which neither of them expected. She has to leave for the hospital and tells him he has 45 seconds to pull himself together. He does. Ultimately, she’s the one who asks him to be her sex buddy. She doesn’t believe in love, nor does her job allow for the time to have breakfast with someone. He’s game, but he soon falls for her.

The breaking point:

Friends With Benefits: Mila decides she’s ready to date again and starts going out with a seemingly perfect pediatric oncologist (Bryan Greenberg). After sleeping with her on their fifth date, the new rule she was trying, he tries to make a run for it when she’s out getting them coffee. It’s Fourth of July weekend, and apparently planes aren’t crowded, so Justin uses his miles to get Mila a ticket to come home with him to Los Angeles. They end up making love, which freaks him out. His sister (Jenna Elfman) is trying to get him to admit he cares for Mila when Mila overhears him tell her that she’s too screwed up for him to be really interested in her. She leaves that night.

No Strings Attached: There’s another doctor who clearly has his eye on Natalie. Still, Ashton doesn’t make his move until Natalie has his back at a dinner with his father and ex during which they tell him they’re going to try to have a baby. He convinces her to go out one date with him, on Valentine’s Day. It goes well until he tells her that he loves her. They stop seeing each other.

The big gesture:

Friends With Benefits: Eventually, Justin organizes a flash mob in Grand Central Station to their song, “Closing Time,” because that’s exactly what would happen at the end of a movie that started with her taking him to a flash mob in Times Square. He tells her he wants his best friend back because he’s in love with her and they agree to go on their first date — where they end up making out instead of talking.

No Strings Attached: Natalie realizes while out-of-town for her sister’s wedding that she does want to be with Ashton. She calls him. It’s too late. She drives all the way to his place but sees him with another woman (Lake Bell), a colleague who’d helped him get a script filmed. She heads back to her sister’s wedding, which is the next morning, and Ashton gets a call that his dad is in the hospital. After Ashton’s ex breaks up with his father (through Ashton), he calls Natalie from outside the hospital and says if she wants to fix things with him she needs to do it in-person not on the phone. Luckily, she’s there at the hospital. A friend had told her his dad had been admitted and she turned around. She admits she loves him and invites him to another event. After stopping for breakfast along the way, they arrive at her sister’s wedding and walk in hand-in-hand.

Friends With Benefits earned a slightly higher grade from EW than No Strings Attached — a B- for the former, a C+ for the latter. But what do you think (whether you actually saw both films or just read about them now)?

Comments (55 total) Add your comment
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  • ty

    I haven’t seen fwb yet but I think nsa was funny. I’m just not ready to buy into Justin the actor I wish he would just make another album already.

    • SS

      You’re right on – Justin was kind of bad in the movie. The acting just wasn’t convincing.

  • ZF

    Now that you’ve given away the beginning, middle, and end of each movie, there’s no reason to see either one.

    • Jeanne

      There was a very obvious SPOILER ALERT posted before the jump in the article. If you didn’t want to be spoiled, you shouldn’t have clicked on READ MORE.

    • ZF

      The spoiler alert didn’t show before the jump — maybe the article moved to a different spot on the home page. In any event, when I clicked the link, it took me right to “The meet not so cute,” so I never saw the spoiler alert. It didn’t spoil anything for me, since I wasn’t planning to see either one at the theater, but now there’s no need for me to bother with them when they eventually show up on cable.

      • Wha’ever

        What are you talking about ? The article’s title states it’s going to compare the two movies. How do you want it to do that without giving away the plots ?

  • JJ

    Both would have been better off with different leading men. Still, I can tolerate a corny Mila film better than I can with a corny Natalie film. Rom-coms aren’t exactly Academy award material, so I’ll pick the hotter girl over the better actress.

  • belle start

    I can’t understand why women like Justin Timberlake, he’s bald, average looking and he can’t act or sing.

    • Ann

      It’s because he’s rich.

    • Kalie

      I don’t get it, either. He really is average looking and his voice is like nails on a chalkboard.

    • Safanah

      Because he’s hot ! *.*

    • S

      I never noticed that he’s bald.

  • Chase Hilton

    Friends with Benefits had a flash mob in Grand Central Station as the climactic love scene… enough said. Not Strings Attached was waaaay better.

  • Jessica

    i love both actresses (Mila, Natalie), but FWB (friends with benefits) stole the idea from NSA (no strings attached), and NSA was amazingly funny, NSA wins.

    • allie

      Actually, No Strings Attached had to change their name from FWB because Mila and Justin had already signed on to do a film called FWB. Then NSA had to change their premier date because they wanted to release this summer also. So it seems like NSA was the copycat, even though it was released first. It’s called fact checking.

    • not really

      No they did not steal anything….both films were beign shot at the same time last summer. One got released first, that is it.

  • tracy bluth

    Both sound as cheesy as the typical romantic comedies there were supposedly trying not to be. And I’ve never understood the appeal of either Ashton Kutcher or Justin Timberlake.

  • David

    Saw both. Loved NSA, liked FWB. Might have been a different story if I had seen the other first. I’m not a fan of either guy, but I loved both girls. NSA had much much better friends and family than FWB. Saw NSA in the theater twice, but won’t see FWB again until DVD. Still liked it though.

  • Kate

    I haven’t seen FWB yet, and probably will when it is on HBO, but I really enjoyed No Strings Attached. It had the problem of billing itself as a light comedy when it might have better served itself in that dramedy type role. I mean, Natalie’s character was so damaged by her father’s death, that was serious. Ashton’s character thought Natalie’s character was really cool from the time they were twelve. There were silly moments, but it was a quieter movie than FWB looks like it will be.

  • Kristin

    I cannot fathom why anyone thinks no strings attached was better. Friends with benefits was clearly more thought out and comical. Although both had cheesy climatic points, I could not keep from laughing at ashton kutcher’s line about “never letting go.” The main reason I favor friends with benefits is because you actually see their friendship grow and you see them fall in love. In no strings attached they’re not even friends first, they’ve seen each other a few times so the preview that says “can best friends be sex friends?” is inaccurate and misleading. Anyone in their right mind can see the clear difference in quality of these movies.

    • Amanda

      I completely agree with you.. I think people would’ve liked it more than NSA if it would’ve cme out first. Friends with Benefits is 10 times funnier and the movie script was a lot better.. I also loved no strings attached and Ashton kutcher is one of my favorite favorite actors of all time

      • Amanda

        FWB #ftw. It was a lot funnier and the chemistry between Mila and Justin was incredible. Mila is a natural and considering Justin is a singer I thought he did an amazing job in this movie, maybe it was because Mila and him got along really well. However I did love NSA as well Ashton is one of my favorite actors.. Ever and Natalie is a sweetheart so I liked both movies, I just think FWB was a lot more refreshing

  • hello1

    No Strings Attached beat Friends with Benefits at the box office, NSA had a bigger opening weekend, and that was in January!!! FWB opened in the summer so they failed. Natalie Portman is a better actress too. Ashton is less of a dbag lately compared to JT so NSA wins again.

    • not really

      You failed to point out that FWB also opened in the middle of blockbuster season against Capt. America and Potter, while NSA also opened in more theaters. The reality is FWB did just as well at the box office, while NSA had minimimal competition. Not to mention the fact that FWB is a far superior film, and is getting FAR better reviews.

    • Amanda

      Are you kidding, Mila kunis is a natural.. you cant even notice she’s acting

  • kp

    I know I’m in the minority here but I thought No Strings Attached was terrible. The dialogue was predictable, forced and crass for the sake of being crass. I found the characters to be really irritating. While I’ll admit JT is not a great actor (but really, is AK?), their repartee was entertaining and I laughed a lot more at the jokes in FWB. When I laughed during NSA it was mostly because I couldn’t believe how desperate the whole thing seemed.

    • not really

      You aren’t in the minority…you are right.:) And the far better reviews for FWB are pointing that out.

    • Joana

      I have your opinion, No Strings Attached was horrible. And FWB was really funny, with great soundtrack and the both Flash Mobs were amazing!! I loved the final…

    • dolph

      You are not in the minority. Did you see the poll? :)

  • landslide

    Considering FWB is winning the EW vote with 73.5 percent to 26.5 percent I would say it’s pretty clear which is considered the better film.

  • Vanessa

    I’ve now seen both films. FWB was great- NSA was horrible. I really can’t understand how anyone could prefer the latter. Justin and Mila in FWB had great chemistry and the jokes were actually funny; the movie was well put together. NSA seemed as if it was just thrown together- no thought put into. I love Natalie Portman, I like Ashton Kutcher, but their characters in this movie were just so.. blah. This movie was blah!

    FWB, for sure:)

  • Safanah

    I love , like , adore FWB …I saw it 2 times and I’d love to see it again and always . NSA is a good movie but I don’t think is funny as much FWB was. Natalie Pittman can’t be funny but mila kunis is so freaking funny and lovely ! both of movies has a different story so stop saying that they copied each other !

    So I prefer friends with benefits

    • KingoftheReel

      Who’s Natalie Pittman? P.S. I didn’t see either film but I saw trailers and spots and neither looks or sound even halfway funny. I love Natalie Portman, but um…. yeah… Both lose. Sorry.

      • kpax

        Way to judge films you have never seen. Really brings validity to your opinion.

      • boom

        Come on! Not funny?? Are you emotionally damaged or something? Yes, this is in reference to FWB.

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