With a $4.8 million opening weekend, Billy Eichner’s Universal-backed comedy “Bros” underperformed at the box office compared to the $8 million to $10 million that the production company had anticipated. In a now-famous tweet, Eichner asserted that “Bros” underperformance was caused by straight people not attending an LGBTQ comedy.
Eichner wrote, “Staight people, especially in certain sections of the country, just didn’t show up for ‘Bros’ despite glowing reviews, great Rotten Tomatoes ratings, an A CinemaScore, etc. Although frustrating, the situation is what it is.
Eichner is undoubtedly right that some straight moviegoers were uninterested in the subject matter, and homophobia towards two men falling in love is probably a factor as well. For instance, this writer witnessed a group of males being overtly homophobic while criticizing the “Bros” billboard because it showed a man placing his hand on another man’s butt during a recent trip to a multiplex in Georgia. However, “Bros”‘ $4.8 million opening suggests that many LGBTQ viewers also chose not to attend the comedy’s theatrical debut. So why was “Bros” a letdown?
Simply said, the star power was lacking.
The official poster for “Bros,” as previously reported, showed the posteriors of two males. Why? Due to the fact that leading actors Luke Macfarlane and Billy Eichner aren’t currently box office draws. In the wake of the pandemic, celebrity power has become significantly more crucial to the success of an original title’s first weekend that isn’t a superhero or horror film, the two most popular and long-lasting subgenres at the box office (see the $22 million debut of “Smile” over the weekend). Brad Pitt’s “Bullet Train” debuted to $30 million, while Viola Davis’ “The Woman King” debuted to $19 million. The fact that both movies featured action set pieces to draw in viewers—something “Bros” lacked as a comedy—meant it need even more star power.
Star power is now crucial for the romantic comedy genre to draw audiences out of the house. The George Clooney-Julia Roberts rom-com “Ticket to Paradise” is already a hit overseas with $45 million ahead of its U.S. debut later this month. Paramount’s “The Lost City” made it to the $105 million mark in the U.S. off the strength of pairing A-listers Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum (that it had adventure elements to its plot and a Brad Pitt cameo didn’t hurt either). Without stars, it seems like rom-coms would do better on streaming than in theaters.
The marketing placed more emphasis on the movie’s significance than its humor.
The press release for “Bros” stated that it was “one of the first romantic comedies from a major studio to include an almost exclusively 2SLGBTQIA+ cast” when it was revealed that it will make its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. The phrase “as comic as it is historic” was highlighted in TV ads for “Bros.” The marketing for “Bros” strove really hard to sell its significance as the first significant LGBTQ studio comedy, yet aggressively positioning a film as a glass-ceiling breaker can make it feel like homework to audiences. Many box office experts concur that Universal overplayed the movie’s significance rather than promoting some of its humorous set pieces to convey that it’s a comedy that’s, uh, actually quite hilarious. Rarely, if ever, did the film’s promotion emphasize the fact that its director had created the hit comedies “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Neighbors.”
Since “Black Panther” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” are recent additions to the most popular film franchise in the world, Marvel can promote them as the first comic book films to feature a Black and Asian superhero, respectively, without much backlash at the box office (and the first time these highly popular comic book characters have led their own movies). Warner Bros. emphasized the significance of “Crazy Rich Asians” in 2018, but since it was based on a best-selling book, it already had built-in notoriety. The movie shrewdly debuted in August to allow for a modest start at the box office and to dominate buzz in a month with fewer theater releases.
Although inclusivity and shattering glass ceilings are deserving of celebration and can generate interest in a film, they cannot be the only focus of a film’s marketing. Just take a look at the fate of Warner Bros.’s “In the Heights,” which didn’t sell its plot or characters but instead bet everything on changing the way Latinx people are portrayed on the big screen. Despite having a disastrous $11.4 million opening, “In the Heights” was simultaneously streaming on HBO Max (streaming numbers were also reportedly low, however).
The historical significance of a film that symbolizes the Filipino culture seems to be prioritized over the laughter that would appeal to all moviegoers in Jo Koy’s August comedy “Easter Sunday.” On a $17 million budget, that movie also failed miserably, grossing just over $13 million globally.
For rom-coms, October is a no-go month.
Only four of the top 100 highest-grossing rom-coms, according to Box Office Mojo, were released in October, and they aren’t exactly titans of the genre: “10,” a 1979 Bo Derek vehicle, debuted at number 48; “Life as We Know It,” a 2010 movie starring Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel, came in at number 84; “Serendipity,” a light comedy starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale It’s obvious that rom-coms don’t do well at this time of year, and even though Halloween mania had already swept pop culture, the movie managed to sneak into theaters on the last day of September.
Given the overperformance of “Smile,” customers definitely wanted to hold their dates tight out of fear rather than love. After all, the two most obvious movie genres to take a date to in the past were rom-coms and horror.
It would have been wiser to release it on September 9th, when there would only have been two other films in competition: the pre-spooky season horror film “Barbarian” and the Bollywood superhero film “Brahmastra Part One: Shiva.” Why resist the inevitability when social media was already overrun with #Halloween content by the release date of Sept. 30?
Strong streaming releases diverted the attention of consumers.
The much anticipated Marilyn Monroe biography “Blonde” on Netflix and the eerie family comedy “Hocus Pocus 2” on Disney+ both made their streaming debuts the same week “Bros” came out. Both of those films would probably attract fans of Eichner’s Hollywood-soaked wit just as much to stay in and watch them. “Bros” was probably overwhelmed by the abundance of options, especially with the recent debut of the wildly popular “Dahmer” series on Netflix and an onslaught of seasonally-appropriate horror available at the touch of a button.
Has “The Bubble” damaged Judd Apatow’s reputation?
Given the paucity of stars in the movie, producer Judd Apatow was frequently mentioned in advertising materials as a key selling factor. However, both fans and critics are giving his April movie “The Bubble,” a brutally unfunny parody of COVID culture that Netflix released, career-low ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB. Could the Midas Touch of the superproducer have dwindled after his most recent movie underwhelmed?