While Wonka has dominated the box office this winter with a staggering £56.1m in earnings since its mid-December release, it’s the romantic comedy Anyone But You that has caught the film industry off guard in recent weeks. Despite a star-studded cast including Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell, the film only brought in $6m (£4.7m) during its opening weekend in the US and a mediocre £1.2m in the UK.
The movie has displayed impressive longevity since its release, largely due to positive reviews and the limited options for female-focused films during the winter season. In the UK, it has consistently earned around the same amount as its initial £1.2m opening, which is a rare occurrence. In the US, it has performed even better, with a third weekend gross of nearly $10m (£7.8m) and surpassing its initial $6m debut each subsequent weekend.
According to Daniel Loria, the SVP of The Boxoffice Company, it is increasingly rare to see a shopping mall multiplex film perform strongly week after week. He references the indie hit Everything Everywhere All At Once from 2022 as a recent example. Since the rise of streaming, studios have been hesitant to keep underperforming films in theaters for an extended period of time. Loria notes that this type of performance used to occur more frequently before major studios heavily invested in streaming services. He also points out that Sony does not have its own streaming platform, and continues to follow the successful playbook that has been used for the past 100 years.
The resurgence of Anyone But You marks a glimmer of hope for the once-humbled romantic comedy genre, which has been mostly confined to streaming services in recent years. According to Scott Meslow, author of From Hollywood With Love: The Rise and Fall (and Rise Again) of the Romantic Comedy, the decline of romcoms on the big screen was not due to a lack of interest from audiences, but rather the growing focus of major studios on high-budget “tentpole” films like The Avengers and Avatar. Meslow explains, “There was a trend of either $200 million movies that could make a billion dollars or $10 million movies given to a specific director that could potentially win an Oscar. There used to be many films in the $20 million range that could earn $80 million and be considered a major success.”
The increase in big-budget action films had a greater impact on movies targeted towards female viewers, even though their interest in films did not decrease. According to Meslow, Netflix recognized the success of the romcoms they were licensing and started producing their own. Screenwriters who had been unable to get their romcoms noticed for years suddenly had a chance when Netflix expressed interest.
Major film companies, inspired by the achievements of Netflix’s movies such as Set It Up in 2018 (which also featured Powell), have started investing in romantic comedies again. This has led to a wave of new romcoms being released since the pandemic, including The Lost City with Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum, and Ticket to Paradise with George Clooney and Julia Roberts, both coming out in 2022. Another romcom from last year, No Hard Feelings with Jennifer Lawrence, also had big-name stars and extensive marketing efforts. However, Anyone But You has already surpassed No Hard Feelings’ box office earnings in the US and is expected to overtake Ticket to Paradise as well. Loria believes that the timing of Anyone But You’s release in the middle of winter, with no major blockbusters competing for screens or viewers, played a crucial role in its success. He explains, “Without a big holiday season hit like Avatar or Spider-Man, a word-of-mouth film like Anyone But You has a better chance of getting more showtimes and reaching audiences over multiple weekends.”
According to Hannah Strong, who is the digital editor for Little White Lies magazine, the film Anyone But You captures what audiences desire – a light-hearted, comedic and effortless movie. She believes that the success of Anyone But You can be attributed, in part, to the release of Barbie in the summer of 2023. Strong explains that after Barbie was released, people realized their enjoyment of going to the cinema, even those who may have stopped during the pandemic or those who do not frequently go to the movies felt more accommodated. She also notes that Anyone But You specifically caters to a female demographic, which is often overlooked in mainstream cinema.
The film “Anyone But You” also includes scenes of nudity and sex, which is a common element in mainstream movies that has received high praise, just like romantic comedies. Strong explains that the film caters to an adult audience, allowing the romcom genre to be more sensual and not limited by purity. This topic has been a point of discussion among filmmakers in recent years, as studios often shy away from producing films for adults due to fear of offending someone. As a result, many films lack unique qualities and substance.
The movie also benefits from the pairing of Powell and Sweeney, who have gained popularity since their roles in Top Gun: Maverick and the HBO show Euphoria, respectively. Although there were rumors of a romantic relationship between the two during filming, Strong believes that it did not significantly affect the film’s success at the box office, which was evident in its lackluster first-week numbers in the US.
According to Meslow, the success of Anyone But You can be attributed to a tried and true formula in Hollywood: “If you have popular actors who are willing to star in this type of film, and you promote it effectively – combined with making a quality movie – audiences will flock to see it.”