The summer of the rom-com continues as Crazy Rich Asians debuted with a $34 million five-day total ($25 million of which came from the typical Friday-Sunday frame). This is a GREAT result for anything that isn’t a franchise entry, and it’s especially great for a romantic comedy, long thought dead as a genre, and it’s even greater for a film entirely headlined by a non-white cast. It came in just over the high end of industry expectations, and should be able to top $100 million in the US, with word of mouth—which will be good, as indicated by an A CinemaScore—and a dearth of major releases for the rest of summer leaves its path clear.
Meanwhile, Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg unleashed yet another bomb with Mile 22, which pretty well puts that would-be franchise dead on arrival. GOOD. That movie doesn’t even have an ending, so it definitely doesn’t deserve a part two. And audiences didn’t like it, handing it a B- CinemaScore (remember on the CinemaScore curve, a B- is more like a C). This all feels very karmic.
So what’s the future for CRA? With two more books in the series and a breakout hit on their hands, Warner Brothers would be, well, crazy not to greenlight a sequel. However, they would also be smart to keep the budget low. Part of CRA’s success story is that it cost around $40 million (with marketing) to put out in the world. That kind of responsible budgeting makes it easier for a movie to find success and make the kind of money that justifies sequels. Marvel movies have to earn a billion dollars because they cost a fortune to make. Rom-coms are not Marvel movies. If Warners goes ahead with China Rich Girlfriend, the next book in the series, they would be wise to keep it in the mid-budget range and not hamstring themselves with a $100 million budget. This is the edge they’re dancing with The Meg, which is doing well but also cost $150 million—at least—to make. (HOW? WHERE DID IT ALL GO?) The foreign box office is saving that movie, but comedies don’t usually earn as much overseas as they do domestically—comedy is much more subjective than punching—so they can’t necessarily count on an international bonanza to gild the lily.
Especially since CRA still isn’t locked in for a Chinese release. China has a quota on foreign films imported each year, and while they’re getting squiffier with the total every year, they do still limit it to a few dozen per year. But it’s doing well in North America, which is a validation of the message that began this year with Black Panther—audiences will turn out for movies starring people who aren’t white. Throw that old saw that audiences won’t invest in non-white leads on the trash heap and set it aflame with the rest of 2018. If the movie is good, people will turn out for it, regardless of who is starring in it. And it’s further validation for the return of the rom-com, although to be honest Netflix is propping up the renaissance more than traditional theatrical release. Still, this is a huge win for Crazy Rich Asians and ought to inspire more studio brass to greenlight movies with Asian leads. The door is open.