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The History-Making Success of ‘Crazy Rich Asians’

On the verge of yet another weekend of box office dominance, ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ is cementing itself as one of the biggest breakouts of 2018—and one of the biggest rom-coms in a decade

Warner Bros. Pictures/Ringer illustration

In the morass that is the August box office, one gem stands out. Heading into Labor Day weekend, Crazy Rich Asians is expected to lead the box office for a third consecutive weekend, with a projected gross between $12 million and $15 million. That might not sound like a huge sum of money, but looking a little deeper—specifically at the film’s relatively meager budget, impressive total gross, and shockingly steady weekend-to-weekend hold—it’s impossible to regard Crazy Rich Asians as anything less than one of the biggest success stories of the year.

After earning $26.5 million domestically from Friday through Sunday of its opening weekend—the film was originally released on a Wednesday and brought in $35 million total in its opening week—Crazy Rich Asians made $24.8 million over the same three-day frame in its second weekend. Those are [extreme Captain Obvious voice] very similar returns; all told, the movie’s intake dropped by just over 6 percent. By comparison, Black Panther—one of the biggest movies of the year and an undisputed box office hit—had a 44.7 percent drop-off in its second weekend, which was considered a good hold for a blockbuster of its size. Among films that have opened in more than 3,000 theaters, Crazy Rich Asians now boasts the 26th strongest weekend-to-weekend hold of all time—it ranks only four spots below Avatar. That still doesn’t fully do the movie justice, though. If you look at the list of films that had stronger holds than Crazy Rich Asians, nearly all of them are movies that were released the weekend before the Christmas or Thanksgiving holiday, a tactic employed by studios to avoid big drop-offs, and an advantage Crazy Rich Asians didn’t have. Hardly anyone expected Crazy Rich Asians to do as well as it did in its first week—it was projected to make around $25 million—and even fewer people expected it to almost maintain those numbers in its second week. Now with another win lined up heading into a weak Labor Day weekend, Crazy Rich Asians is primed to join Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War as the only 2018 releases to top the box office three weekends in a row. That the movie has been able to sustain this kind of success in August, a historically lean month at the box office, is proof not only of the film’s warm reception but of a yearning for more stories centered on Asian and Asian American characters. It’s no surprise that Warner Bros. has already announced that a sequel is on the way.

Of course, it’s certainly helped that Crazy Rich Asians was competing against a bad batch of wide releases (even by August standards). Its biggest threat on opening weekend was one of the worst movies of the year, the laughably incoherent Mark Wahlberg action flick Mile 22. Then last weekend, it was up against The Happytime Murders and its barrage of puppet-sex jokes. As the first major studio release to feature a predominantly Asian cast in more than 25 years and because it was well reviewed to begin with, Crazy Rich Asians was perhaps always destined for some level of success. The almost total lack of competition, though, has put the movie in position to be one of the breakout box office hits of the year.

The biggest question remaining for Crazy Rich Asians is how long its box office dominance can continue, as September brings highly anticipated releases like The Nun (September 7) and The Predator (September 14). Regardless of whether the movie stays on top next month, though, it’s only a matter of time before it breaks the $100 million mark domestically, which would make it the first rom-com to do so since Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck in 2015. From there, the next milestone would be a total gross of $150 million, which would propel the film into the top-10 highest grossing rom-coms ever in the United States. That’s not outside the realm of possibility. (Though we should concede it almost certainly won’t top My Big Fat Greek Wedding’s leading haul of $241 million.)

If Crazy Rich Asians were to merely break into the rom-com top 20—a realistic $120 million would do it—it’d be the first in the genre to do so in six years. Not since 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook has a romantic comedy eclipsed that mark—and that was a movie marketed less as a rom-com and more as prestigious Oscars fare (with a November release to boot). Taking Silver Linings Playbook out of the equation, the last straight-up rom-com to land in the top 20 was released almost a decade ago, the 2009 Sandra Bullock–Ryan Reynolds vehicle The Proposal.

The steady decline of romantic comedies in Hollywood can largely be attributed to the death spiral of mid-budget films: Nowadays, there’s very little room for a movie like Crazy Rich Asians and its $30 million budget when most studios either release massively expensive blockbusters or micro-budgeted indies, with little in-between. And even as Netflix’s streaming model becomes the ideal destination for future rom-coms—as evidenced by the success of Set It Up, The Kissing Booth, and To All the Boys I’ve Loved BeforeCrazy Rich Asians demonstrates that there are always exceptions to the rule, especially if the finished product meets or exceeds expectations. Were Crazy Rich Asians to hit $150 million domestically, it’d fall just short of making the list of the top 10 best-performing films of the year (it already sits at 20 heading into Labor Day weekend). That a romantic comedy—with an almost entirely Asian cast—is even close to achieving that feat in 2018 is an incredible story in and of itself.