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Did ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Save the Romantic Comedy?’

The movie not only won the weekend’s box office, but it’s among the best rom-com debuts in years.
Crazy Rich Asians Awkwafina
By  · Published on August 19th, 2018

The movie not only won the weekend’s box office, but it’s among the best rom-com debuts in years.

The media has been championing Crazy Rich Asians as the movie that would single-handedly save the romantic comedy genre. Never mind last year’s hope that The Big Sick was the savior of the rom-com. Sadly, while that movie was an acclaimed and ultimately Oscar-nominated effort, and its domestic gross was decent for a film of its size, it wasn’t a monster box office hit. Not on the level of rom-com heydey titles like Pretty Woman and Sleepless in Seattle (and other vehicles for Roberts & Gere and Hanks & Ryan in the ’90s). Could Crazy Rich Asians make up the difference? It’s already got rave reviews and Oscar buzz. Now comes the money.

Over the weekend, Crazy Rich Asians came in first place with (a better than estimated) $26.5 million, according to Box Office Mojo. And since it opened on Wednesday, the movie is already up to $35.3 million in its first five days. That comes out to roughly 3.8 million tickets sold — I’d say that’s the number of people who saw it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s repeat attendance for this thing. Crazy Rich Asians is a special movie, only in part because of its specific representation, more so because of its representation in general. Chinese-American audiences definitely appreciate seeing themselves on screen. But a lot of other moviegoers want diversity and inclusion in cinema, too.

We can compare the attendance of Crazy Rich Asians to its 25-year-old cousin The Joy Luck Club, which did just over double the business in total — 7.9 tickets sold — during its entire run. We should also compare it with other romantic comedies, the best-selling of which have lately been movies with more inclusive and/or fresher perspectives. The last rom-com to do as well, and much better, in its opening weekend was Trainwreck, which sold 4.6 million tickets in its first five days in 2015 on the appeal of Amy Schumer’s modern and honest and arguably even revolutionary script and lead performance.

Before that, the biggest rom-com debuts of the 2010s included 2014’s About Last Night (3.6 million tickets in five days) and 2012’s Think Like a Man (4.8 million tickets in five days), both movies featuring predominantly black casts, even sharing stars Kevin Hart, Regina Hall, and Michael Ealy. Then there were the earlier outliers in terms of the inclusion factor: the Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston movie Just Go With It, which sold 4.9 million tickets in its first five days in 2011; the 2010 sequel Sex and the City 2, which drew in 6.5 million people over five days with a Thursday start; and 2010’s Valentine’s Day, which did 8.3 million in five days.

Rounding out the last decade, It’s Complicated opened to 4 million people in its first five days back in 2009, while He’s Just Not That Into You did 4.2 million people, The Ugly Truth did 4.7 million people, and The Proposal did 5.8 million people all that same year. That was a good time for the rom-com, it seems, although none of them were quite the hit that the original Sex and the City movie was in 2008: 9.5 million tickets in its first five days. Obviously, the Crazy Rich Asians opening was far off from the figures of last decade, so it’s worth looking at its success in the context of the last five years of rom-com releases.

Here are the top 10 rom-com openings (including the first five days) of the last five years by attendance, plus their eventual total domestic ticket sales in parentheses:

1. Trainwreck (2015) – 4.6 million (13.4 million)
2. Crazy Rich Asians (2018) – 3.8 million (n/a)
3. About Last Night (2014) – 3.6 million (6.1 million)
4. How to Be Single (2016) – 2.5 million (5.5 million)
5. Blended (2014) – 2.3 million (5.6 million)
6. Overboard (2018) – 1.9 million (5.4 million)
7. That Awkward Moment (2014) – 1.27 million (3.3 million)
8. Don Jon (2013) – 1.25 million (2.9 million)
9. Bridget Jones’s Baby (2016) – 1.23 million (2.8 million)
10. Baggage Claim (2013) – 1.22 million (2.6 million)

With strong word of mouth, Crazy Rich Asians could take at least the number two spot for just a comparison of total attendance. It’s by far the best-reviewed of this bunch and has the best CinemaScore grade (‘A’) among them. As for well-received fresh-plotted (and in the genre’s defense) rom-coms of the last five years, Crazy Rich Asians is far more popular at the movies than The Lobster, Her, and Love, Simon. With its combination of acclaim and, fittingly, riches, Crazy Rich Asians may not be saving the rom-com, but it’s certainly showing how it’s done.

Definitely not bad for a movie that two months ago was tracking for, according to Box Office Pro, only 1.4 million tickets ($13 million) for its opening weekend and even last week was forecast for slightly less — 2.3 million for three-day ($22 million) and 3.4 million five-day ($32 million) — than it did.

In other box office news, fellow new release Mile 22 significantly underperformed while Alpha opened better than expected. Ethan Hawke went neck and neck with his own directorial effort Blaze coming in 36th place and the rom-com he stars in, Juliet, Naked, debuting in 35th. Meanwhile, the Kevin Spacey movie Billionaire Boys Club hasn’t yet posted weekend figures but has been in the news for only grossing $126 total (no, the “million” or even “thousand” isn’t missing) on Friday.

Here are the past weekend’s top 10 titles by the number of tickets sold with new titles in bold and totals in parentheses:

1. Crazy Rich Asians – 2.8 million (3.8 million)
2. The Meg – 2.3 million (8.9 million)
3. Mile 22 – 1.5 million (1.5 million)
4. Mission: Impossible – Fallout – 1.14 million (19.3 million)
5. Alpha – 1.1 million (1.10 million)
6. Christopher Robin – 0.9 million (7.1 million)
7. BlacKkKlansman – 0.8 million (2.5 million)
8. Slender Man – 0.5 million (2.2 million)
9. Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation – 0.4 million (16.4 million)
10. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again – 0.36 million (11.9 million)

All non-forecast box office figures via Box Office Mojo.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.