The fluid dynamics of the collision and coalescence of liquid drops has intrigued scientists and engineers for more than a century owing to its ubiquitousness in nature, e.g. raindrop coalescence, and industrial applications, e.g. breaking of emulsions in the oil and gas industry. The complexity of the underlying dynamics, which includes occurrence of hydrodynamic singularities, has required study of the problem at different scales – macroscopic, mesoscopic and molecular – using stochastic and deterministic methods. In this work, a multi-scale, deterministic method is adopted to simulate the approach, collision, and eventual coalescence of two drops where the drops as well as the ambient fluid are incompressible, Newtonian fluids. The free boundary problem governing the dynamics consists... of the Navier–Stokes system and associated initial and boundary conditions that have been augmented to account for the effects of disjoining pressure as the separation between the drops becomes of the order of a few hundred nanometres. This free boundary problem is solved by a Galerkin finite element-based algorithm. The interplay of inertial, viscous, capillary and van der Waals forces on the coalescence dynamics is investigated. It is shown that, in certain situations, because of inertia two drops that are driven together can first bounce before ultimately coalescing. This bounce delays coalescence and can result in the computed value of the film drainage time departing significantly from that predicted from existing scaling theories.