“Crazy Rich Asians” is the top-grossing romantic comedy in 10 years

“Crazy Rich Asians” sated audiences’ hunger for smart, sweet comedy.
“Crazy Rich Asians” sated audiences’ hunger for smart, sweet comedy.
Image: Warner Bros.
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US audiences must have been starved for a smart, sweet romantic comedy on the big screen. Jon Chu’s Crazy Rich Asians, based on the novel by Kevin Kwan about super-affluent Asian elites, is now the highest-grossing romantic comedy released in the last decade.

The much-hyped romantic comedy, which struck a cord with Asian-American audiences in particular because of its predominantly Asian cast, pulled in more than $165 million through Sept. 30 at the box office in US and Canada, the world’s largest movie market.

Crazy Rich Asians surpassed both 2009’s The Proposal, starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, and 2008’s Sex and the City film at the box office, according to industry tracker Box Office Mojo. That makes it now the sixth highest-grossing rom com ever, behind 1998’s There’s Something About Mary in fifth place. Globally, the film, which cost about $30 million to make, has earned more than $218 million.

High-profile romantic comedies have been fewer and farther between in the last decade because of their limited prospects at the box office. The highest-grossing romantic comedy in history, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, earned $368 million globally in 2002. The big-budget superhero movies, action flicks, and franchises that studios have gravitated toward instead routinely earn far more, and get sequels. This year’s big event films, like Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and the second Jurassic World movie, each earned more than $1 billion worldwide. Last year, fewer romantic comedies hit US cinemas than in any year since 1989, Box Office Mojo data shows.

Independent studios, cable-TV networks like Lifetime and Hallmark Channel, and streaming services such as Netflix have picked up the slack. Netflix has invested more in romantic comedies with new releases like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Kissing Booth, and Set It Up hitting the service this year. It says about two-thirds of its global audience watches the genre.

The streaming platform reportedly offered a lot of money up-front for Crazy Rich Asians, more than studio Warner Bros., but the creators turned the payday down. They felt the movie, the first in Hollywood since 1993’s Joy Luck Club to star a majority Asian cast, was too important not be shown on the big screen.

“Here, we have a chance for this gigantic payday instantaneously,” Crazy Rich Asians author Kevin Kwan told the Hollywood Reporter. “But Jon and I both felt this sense of purpose. We needed this to be an old-fashioned cinematic experience, not for fans to sit in front of a TV and just press a button.”

Kwan and director Chu should both feel good about that decision now.