Diversity rules box office with ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ pushing ‘Meg’ down

crazy rich asians cast images at box office

With a slow building but strong marketing buzz, “Crazy Rich Asians” pushed last week’s box office ruler “The Meg” down one spot. Stellar reviews helped power the rare Hollywood film led by Asian stars. This was the first Hollywood studio film to feature an all-Asian cast in 25 years with the last one being Disney‘s “Joy Luck Club” in 1993.

So it’s no surprise that “Crazy Rich Asians” is being seen a big moment by Asian-Americans much like how African-Americans felt with the release of Marvel‘s “Black Panther” in February.

Glitz won over guns as the gilded romance “Crazy Rich Asians” debuted at No. 1 in North American theaters this weekend, surpassing industry expectations and beating out action-packed fare like “Mile 22.”

Warner Bros. estimates that the film earned $25.2 million over the weekend and $34 million since its opening Wednesday. It’s a surefire win for the film, which cost $30 million to produce and went into the weekend with months of buzz and a 93 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

It was the best result for a PG-13 romantic comedy in six years — since “Think Like a Man,” which featured an all-black primary cast and collected $33 million over its first three days. Among all nonsequel comedies, “Crazy Rich Asians” (Warner Bros.) posted the biggest turnout since the R-rated “Girls Trip,” which was released last summer and focused on four black women, a rarity.

“This shows — once again, with emphasis — that true diversity matters,” Brad Simpson, a “Crazy Rich Asians” producer, wrote in an email on Sunday. “Audiences are tired of seeing the same stories with the same characters. And we have to give people a reason to get off their couch or devices. We have to give them something different.”

Breakout star Henry Golding told media outlets on Sunday that the film’s performance is a “testament to the people who are turning up.”

“It’s not just the Asians who are coming. It’s people of all colors from all walks of life who are enjoying this cinematic experience,” Golding said. “It’s a real shift in Hollywood.”

Adapted from Kevin Kwan’s best-seller, “Crazy Rich Asians” stars Constance Wu as an American woman who gets a culture shock meeting her boyfriend’s obscenely wealthy family in Singapore. The studio strategically bumped up the film’s opening to a Wednesday earlier in the summer.

About 38 percent of ticket buyers for “Crazy Rich Asians” were Asian, according to Jeff Goldstein, Warner’s president of domestic distribution. Asian moviegoers typically make up less than 10 percent of the opening-weekend audience for a film. About 68 percent of the audience was female.

“We knew we’d get avids who read the book and a large Asian following,” Goldstein. “We figured OK, we get good reviews, open on Wednesday, word of mouth will spread and really propel the movie into the weekend, and that’s exactly what happened.”

As recently as July 26, box office experts were predicting that the film would open to at least $18 million over its first five days, but no one expected a launch of over $30 million.

“I think the audience isn’t an obvious audience,” Goldstein said. “When you get a culturally important event like this movie, I think it just takes off like wildfire.”

The stakes were high for the first studio-produced movie led by Asian-Americans in 25 years. The filmmakers even turned down a big offer from Netflix to give the historically significant film a theatrical platform. Cast members and fans started using the hashtag #GoldOpen to try to encourage more opening weekend support.

The movie business has changed dramatically in the last decade, however, making the turnout for “Crazy Rich Asians” all the more impressive. As living room entertainment services like Netflix and Amazon have grown in popularity, filling seats in theaters has become much harder. To compete, studios have moved to the extremes: horror movies made on shoestring budgets, and lavishly expensive franchise films aimed at the broadest possible audience.

In turn, studios have largely abandoned mid-market movies like romantic comedies and uplifting sports dramas.

Netflix almost beat out Warner Bros. for the film rights to “Crazy Rich Asians,” which was directed by Jon M. Chu and based on Kevin Kwan’s best-selling book. But Mr. Chu and Mr. Kwan decided at the final minute to forego the Netflix offer, which included generous upfront payments and the guarantee of a “Crazy Rich Asians” trilogy. The men decided that it was important for their film be seen on big screens and backed by a thundering studio marketing campaign.

Director Jon M. Chu tweeted his appreciation Sunday and asked audiences to keep spreading the word.

“We still have a long run to go, but our message to the world has been heard. We have arrived,” Chu wrote. “Now let’s go tell more of our stories! We have a lot more to say. And I don’t want to wait another 25 years to see them. This is only the beginning.”

Despite the success of “Crazy Rich Asians,” other films still found audiences this weekend, including Warner Bros. shark movie “The Meg,” which fell only 53 percent in its second weekend, adding $21.2 million. The Jason Statham-led film has now grossed over $300 million worldwide.

Mark Wahlberg’s action-packed “Mile 22,” his fourth collaboration with director Peter Berg, debuted in third place with an estimated $13.6 million. The STX film had a $35 million production budget.

Launching with $10.5 million, “Alpha,” an Ice Age-set adventure tale, tied for fourth place in its opening weekend with “Mission: Impossible — Fallout.”

In limited release, Sony Pictures Classics’ “The Wife” opened with $111,137, and Roadside Attractions’ “Juliet, Naked” debuted with $60,922. Both films opened in four theaters.

One film that did not find much of an audience was Kevin Spacey’s “Billionaire Boys Club,” which Vertical Entertainment released in ten theaters this weekend after making it available for purchase on Video on Demand last month.

This was a not surprising humiliating result that cements Mr. Spacey’s status as a Hollywood pariah. Last year, more than a dozen men accused Mr. Spacey of sexually harassing, groping or assaulting them; he denied some of the accusations against him while also saying he would seek unspecified “treatment.”

Official earnings were not reported to comScore, but industry trade publication The Hollywood Reporter said Sunday that the film earned a dismal $425.

“Billionaire Boys Club,” which was already available as a video-on-demand release, is about affluent high school boys in Los Angeles who get involved in a Ponzi scheme. Filming was completed before accusations against Mr. Spacey surfaced in October. The film’s distributor, Vertical Entertainment, justified the release by saying the rest of the cast should not be penalized.

Hollywood’s winning streak continues with the summer season up 12.4 percent from last year and the year overall up 8.9 percent.

“The box office is on a roll,” said comScore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian, noting the diverse genre offerings in cinemas this summer. “The line-up basically looks like a streaming service. That’s what people have become accustomed to, and the movie theater is delivering it in a big way this summer.”

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to comScore. Where available, the latest international numbers for Friday through Sunday are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

Crazy Rich Asians’ Paces Strong ($30M+ 5-Day); ‘The Meg’ Adds $20M+; ‘Mile 22’ Modest ($14M+); ‘Alpha’ Eyes $9M+
  1. “Crazy Rich Asians,” $25.2 million ($730,000 international).

2. “The Meg,” $21.2 million ($67 million international).

3. “Mile 22,” $13.6 million ($538,000 international).

4. “Alpha,” $10.5 million.

4. (tie) “Mission: Impossible — Fallout,” $10.5 million ($20.5 million international).

5. “Christopher Robin,” $8.9 million ($7.9 million international).

6. “BlacKkKlansman,” $7 million ($1.2 million international).

7. “Slender Man,” $5 million.

8. “Hotel Transylvania 3,” $3.7 million ($28.3 million international).

9. “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” $3.4 million ($15.3 million international).

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at international theaters (excluding the U.S. and Canada), according to comScore:

  1. “The Meg,” $67 million.
  2. “The Island,” $38.7 million.
  3. “Hotel Transylvania 3,” $28.3 million.
  4. “Mission: Impossible — Fallout,” $20.5 million.
  5. “Europe Raiders,” $19.5 million.
  6. “Go Brother!,” $17.7 million.
  7. “The Equalizer 2,” $17.5 million.
  8. “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” $15.3 million.
  9. “Oolong Courtyard: Kung Fu School,” $14.8 million.
  10. “Incredibles 2,” $8.9 million.