Billy Eichner’s Universal-backed comedy “Bros” flopped at the box office during its opening weekend with a $4.8 million bow, about half of the $8 million to $10 million that the studio projected. Eichner, in a now viral tweet, claimed that straight people not showing up to an LGBTQ comedy was a driving force behind “Bros” underperformance.
“Even with glowing reviews, great Rotten Tomatoes scores, an A CinemaScore, etc., straight people, especially in certain parts of the country, just didn’t show up for ‘Bros,’” Eichner wrote. “And that’s disappointing but it is what it is.”
Eichner is certainly correct that some straight moviegoers weren’t interested in the material, while homophobia about two men falling in love also likely figured in. During a recent trip to a multiplex in Georgia, for instance, this writer saw a group of men being openly homophobic by mocking the “Bros” poster for featuring a guy putting his hand on another guy’s butt. However, the $4.8 million opening for “Bros” is so low that it also means many LGBTQ viewers didn’t show up to see the comedy in theaters either. So why did “Bros” disappoint?
The star power just wasn’t there.
As mentioned above, the official poster for “Bros” featured the backsides of two men. Why? Because leading stars Billy Eichner and Luke Macfarlane just aren’t box office draws at this point in their careers. Coming out of the pandemic, star power has become far more integral to successfully opening an original title that’s not a superhero movie or a horror movie, the two most enduring genres at the box office (see the $22 million opening of “Smile” over the weekend). “Bullet Train” opened to $30 million with Brad Pitt front and center, while Viola Davis’ “The Woman King” got off to a $19 million start. Both films also had action set pieces to lure in viewers, something “Bros” lacked as a comedy, which only means it needed that much more star power.
For the romantic comedy genre, star power is integral these days to getting people out of the house. Paramount’s “The Lost City” made it to the $105 million mark in the US 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), while the George Clooney-Julia Roberts rom-com “Ticket to Paradise” is already a hit overseas with $45 million ahead of its US debut later this month. Without star power, a rom-com seems better off taking the streaming route than the theatrical route.
The marketing prioritized the film’s importance over the film’s comedy.
When “Bros” was announced to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, the press release for the movie called it “one of the first romantic comedies from a major studio to feature an almost entirely 2SLGBTQIA+ cast.” TV spots for “Bros” prioritized a pull quote calling the film “as hilarious as it is historic.” The point here is that “Bros” marketing worked overtime to sell its importance as the first major LGBTQ studio comedy, but aggressively marketing a movie as a glass-ceiling breaker can make it feel like homework for viewers. Many box office pundits agree Universal leaned too much into the film’s importance instead of marketing some of the film’s comedic set pieces in order to get across that it’s a comedy that’s, well, actually very funny. Rarely did the marketing highlight the film is from the director of popular comedies “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Neighbors,” if at all.
Marvel is able to all superhero movies like “Black Panther” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” as the first comic book films to be led by a Black and Asian superhero, respectively, without much blowback at the box office since these are new entries in the most successful film franchise in the world (and the first time these highly popular comic book characters have led their own movies). Warner Bros. touted the importance of “Crazy Rich Asians” in 2018, but it already had built-in awareness by being based on a best-selling book. The film also wisely opened in August so it could leg out slowly at the box office and dominate buzz during a slower theatrical release month.
While inclusivity and glass-ceiling breaking are important factors worth celebrating and can stir up interest in a movie, they can’t be the sole focal point of a movie’s marketing. Just look at what happened to Warner Bros.’ “In the Heights,” which didn’t market its storyline or characters and instead went all-in on the movie being a game-changer for Latinx representation on the big screen. “In the Heights” bombed with an $11.4 million opening, though it was also available to stream on HBO Max at the same time (streaming numbers were also reportedly low, however).
Jo Koy’s August comedy “Easter Sunday” also seemed to promote the historic nature of a film that represents the Filipino community over the laughs that would bring in all moviegoers. That film bombed as well, making just over $13 million worldwide on a $17 million budget.
October is a nonstarter for rom-coms.
According to Box Office Mojo, only four of the top 100 highest-grossing rom-coms have been released in October, and they aren’t exactly titans of the genre: 1979’s Bo Derek vehicle “10” at number 48; 2010’s Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel film “Life as We Know It” at number 84; John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale’s featherweight “Serendipity” at 91; and the witchy tale “Practical Magic” landing at number 100. Clearly rom-coms do not fly high at this time of year, and despite sneaking in to be released on the last day of September, Halloween fever had already overtaken pop culture.
After all, the two most obvious genres of movies to take a date to have historically been rom-coms and horror, and given the overperformance of “Smile,” consumers clearly wanted to hold their dates tight out of fear rather than love.
A smarter move would to have been to drop it during a quieter week in September, such as the 9th, in which the only competition would have been the pre-spooky season horror flick “Barbarian” and Bollywood superhero movie “Brahmastra Part One: Shiva .” By the Sept. 30 release date, social media was already flooded with #Halloween content, so why fight the inevitable?
Consumers were distracted by strong streaming releases.
The week “Bros” was released also saw the debut of two buzzy films on streaming: The eagerly-awaited Marilyn Monroe biopic “Blonde” on Netflix, and the spooky family comedy “Hocus Pocus 2” on Disney+. Fans of Eichner’s Hollywood-soaked wit would likely be just as tempted to stay at home and watch either of those titles. Coupled with the recent release of the uber-viral “Dahmer” series on Netflix — plus an avalanche of seasonally-appropriate horror available at the push of a button — “Bros” was likely overwhelmed by the power of choice.
Has ‘The Bubble’ tarnished Judd Apatow?
Given the film’s lack of star power, many of the promotional materials cited “Bros” producer Apatow as a major selling point. But his April film “The Bubble,” a painfully unfunny riff on COVID culture that Netflix released, is sitting at career-low numbers on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB from fans and critics alike. Could the superproducer’s Midas Touch have diminished after his latest film failed to deliver?