With blockbusters arriving as early as February (hello, Black Panther) and extending as far as August (please inject Hobbs & Shaw straight into my body), there are rarely opportune windows for major, non-blockbuster theatrical releases to thrive at the box office. Case in point: attempting to open the weekend after Avengers: Endgame. As Endgame has continued to dominate the domestic and global box office—after just two weeks, it’s already pulled in $2.18 billion, making it the second-highest-grossing release of all time behind Avatar—its competitors are fighting over scraps.
That includes Long Shot, a political rom-com starring Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen, which opened this weekend to $10 million domestically, according to Box Office Mojo. The film trailed Endgame’s massive $147.3 million second weekend domestically and made roughly $1 million less than Sony’s release of The Intruder: a movie where Dennis Quaid is really obsessed with the house he had to sell. As a result, Long Shot’s breaking even on its roughly $40 million production budget and $30 million marketing budget is a, well, long shot.
It’s disappointing, if only because of what Long Shot’s success—or lack thereof—could spell for the future of mid-budget rom-coms at the box office. Last August, Crazy Rich Asians broke out en route to becoming the sixth-highest-grossing film in the genre’s history, making just under $175 million. (Naturally, a Crazy Rich sequel is on the way.) It was a significant breakthrough for a genre that has had limited success at the box office since 2010. As mid-budget films have slowly dissipated—making way for bigger blockbuster and micro-budget indies—the rom-com’s best chance of survival has seemed to be streaming services. Indeed, Netflix has been tinkering with the rom-com formula to largely satisfying returns, finding the right ingredients and actors—once again, Noah Centineo season is in full bloom—to churn out trendy hits. The company is notoriously tight-lipped on its viewership data, but even Netflix couldn’t resist flexing a bit about how well its “Summer of Love”—featuring films like The Kissing Booth, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser, Like Father, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and Set It Up—was received by subscribers in 2018.
But Crazy Rich Asians made a compelling argument that rom-coms could still succeed at the box office, under the right conditions. Certainly, an August release—when its biggest competitors were the laughably terrible Mile 22 and The Happytime Murders—was to the film’s benefit. It was the rare, ideal window of financial opportunity. And as the first major studio release with a predominantly Asian cast in more than 25 years, the film had positive buzz baked into its premise. Though not without its criticism, Crazy Rich Asians had a 91 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an “A” audience grade from Cinemascore, furthering its broad appeal.
The disappointing early return for Long Shot is by and large a product of terrible circumstance. It’s still too early to tell whether Endgame can usurp Avatar as the highest-grossing film of all time, but it’s safe to surmise that competing against the second weekend of what is now officially the second biggest movie ever released is a steep mountain to climb. It doesn’t matter that Long Shot was well-received, and that those who did see the film largely enjoyed what it offered: Any movie, even one featuring A-list stars like Theron and Rogen, will be relatively anonymous in the shadow of a cultural phenomenon. Even rom-coms released earlier in the year with far less unanimous critical praise, like Isn’t It Romantic and What Men Want, had stronger opening weekends—pulling in $14.2 million and $18.2 million, respectively.
While some fault could lie at the feet of Lionsgate for electing to release Long Shot one week after Endgame, there really isn’t a good window for a rom-com to succeed at the box office for the foreseeable future. Endgame’s continued success aside, May will also see the release of Detective Pikachu, John Wick 3 (hey, at least Lionsgate can recoup some money there), and the live-action Aladdin. That run of blockbusters effectively extends all the way until the beginning of August with the aforementioned Hobbs & Shaw.
Perhaps that speaks to the larger lesson at play. Several stars (some of which are out of a studio’s control) have to align for a rom-com to break through in our current moviegoing environment. Before Crazy Rich Asians, a rom-com hadn’t properly excelled since Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck in 2015. Long Shot may not be the Rom-Com Who Was Promised, but that doesn’t mean every forthcoming release in the genre will succumb to the same fiscal pitfalls—at the very least, Crazy Rich Asians 2 will have a lot going for it whenever it’s released. In the meantime, well, you can always check out what Netflix is dropping for its Summer of Love 2.0.