"Anyone but You" has become a rare word-of-mouth sensation since opening in theaters Christmas week.
It has made over $80 million worldwide and proven big studio rom-coms can still find audiences.
More studios need to invest in rom-coms, especially in the wake of superhero fatigue.
Director Will Gluck knew the gamble Sony was taking on his latest rom-com, "Anyone but You." In December, he welcomed the audience at the New York City premiere to "the last romantic comedy to be made by a Hollywood studio."
And, at first, it seemed his joke might be true. The Australia-set romance starring Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney brought in just $6 million at the domestic box office over its opening weekend — not even a fourth of the $25 million it cost Sony to make.
However, instead of preparing the title for an early exit from theaters and shipping it off to streaming, the studio, to its credit, dug in its heels. As the calendar turned to 2024, "Anyone but You" became the new year's first box-office success story.
Fueled by an explosion on TikTok, word of mouth helped "Anyone but You" build up its box-office numbers. The movie rebounded its second weekend, earning $8.7 million despite playing at the same amount of theaters as opening weekend.
The rom-com added another $9.7 million to its earnings the following weekend — the best-ever third-weekend increase for a movie widely released over Christmas week. And, on Monday, January 8, it took first place at the box office that day, earning over $1 million, a rare and impressive feat for a title that'd been out for several weeks.
To date, "Anyone but You" has brought in over three times its budget, totaling $81.2 million worldwide. Its remarkable performance proves the studio rom-com is built for a comeback.
Studio rom-coms feel higher quality and better made than ones done for streaming
The romantic-comedy genre was once a major part of the studio system pipeline. At its zenith during the 1990s, releases like "Pretty Woman," "Sleepless in Seattle," and "The Wedding Singer" turned the rom-com into a beloved genre. More classics like "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" and "Hitch" continued to be made in the early 2000s.
But by the 2010s, everything changed. Rom-coms went from having nine major studio-wide releases a year (a high water mark for the genre within the previous decade) to zero studio-level releases in 2017.
In place of romantic comedies, studios found a new love: superheroes.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe brought in box-office dollars that rom-coms could never compete with. When the MCU launched, the romantic comedy died seemingly overnight.
But the genre regained some of its footing once the streaming era began, especially in 2018 when Netflix released "Set It Up," starring Powell and Zoey Deutch.
However, the steaming-made rom-com felt different than the studio-backed ones we grew up with. Many great studio films took us to amazing settings and featured stunning fashion. The ones made for streaming felt like they were cutting corners.
"It looks different, its feels different, there's no question the streamers are shooting them faster," Scott Meslow, author of "From Hollywood with Love: The Rise and Fall (and Rise Again) of the Romantic Comedy," told Business Insider. "Part of the fantasy of the rom-com is it lives in this heightened universe where everyone is gorgeous and witty, and you're just seeing the most beautiful places. These basic differences audiences are savvy enough to catch."
In comparison, "Anyone but You" is a return to form, which could be another reason for its success. Like the great studio rom-coms of the '90s and '00s set in envious locations, the movie offers stunning views of Australia, building the romance at a huge beachside home. For the finale, the couple find themselves on the steps of one of the world's most iconic landmarks, the Sydney Opera House.
"This movie could have easily been at a lot of different places but Sydney and I decided to take a big swing," Powell told BI before the movie opened. "This is a genre that has typically existed on streaming platforms for the past decade. We are taking a swing here to bring back the big theatrical rom-com. We really thought about the audience at every turn and made sure their dollar was well spent."
But will the success of "Anyone but You" change how studios see the genre?
The rom-com should make its move now in the wake of superhero burnout
"Anyone but You" certainly isn't the first studio rom-com to find box-office glory in the last few years. In 2022, Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum's "The Lost City" took in over $192 million worldwide. The same year, "Ticket to Paradise," starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts, earned over $168 million worldwide.
And, just last summer, Jennifer Lawrence's raunchy rom-com "No Hard Feelings" brought in $87 million worldwide on a $45 million budget. When it hit Netflix four months later, it climbed to No. 1 on the platform and became the most-streamed title during the week of October 23-29, according to Nielson data.
But the recent success of "Anyone but You" could be symptomatic of a larger shift in the industry. Studios are breaking up with their superheroes. With audiences experiencing Marvel fatigue, now's the perfect time for rom-coms to swoop in and take over.
The first step is to greenlight more rom-coms.
"We just need to rejuvenate it," said John Fithian, former head of the National Association of Theatre Owners and now founding partner of The Fithian Group, a theatrical consulting firm. "The way to rejuvenate any genre is to make enough of them and make them good and market them well. Quantity is as important as quality, and when you just don't have enough there for people to see, they forget about seeing rom-coms in theaters."
"Audiences adapt to what they are offered," he continued. "The conventional wisdom in Hollywood is that Hollywood follows the audience, and Hollywood doesn't make as many rom-coms anymore because the audience said it didn't like them. Wrong. Hollywood didn't make as many rom-coms and didn't make as many good ones, so audiences adapted to what they were offered. Audiences will adapt to whatever is good in the marketplace, as long as enough of it is offered."
The groundwork for the rom-com resurgence has been laid, at least by one major studio. Sony backed both "No Hard Feelings" and "Anyone but You," and already found a magnetic pairing that could easily take on more of these movies. Powell, the current rom-com king, told me he'd work with Sweeney again "in a heartbeat."
In a recent chat with an executive at Sony, I tried to work my own matchmaking powers, telling them, "Let's commit to one rom-com release a year. Just one!" The executive remained non-committal but admitted that, yes, rom-coms are "good for our business."
So, for now, fans of the genre must wait and see if Hollywood will move forward with more romantic comedies. But Meslow is "cautiously optimistic" studios will recognize how special movies like "Anyone but You" are, especially to their bottom line.
"For a long time, it felt like everything that was coming out of the studios was just aiming at putting down $200 million and try to make a billion. Everything has to be a home run," he said.
"Seeing 'Anyone but You' have this slow burn success is fun. It's kind of cool to see a movie can still work like this," he continued. "I would like to see the studios recognize that and be more comfortable with the slow burn release because that has not been the conventional wisdom for a while."
"Anyone but You" is now playing in theaters.
Read the original article on Business Insider