“Crazy Rich Asians” Scores More Than Just Box Office Title

Rom-com starring Constance Wu, Michelle Yeoh upends traditional Hollywood thinking.

August 19, 2018 2:21 pm
Constance Wu stars in Warner Bros. Pictures' and SK Global Entertainment's and Starlight Culture's contemporary romantic comedy "Crazy Rich Asians" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Constance Wu stars in Warner Bros. Pictures' and SK Global Entertainment's and Starlight Culture's contemporary romantic comedy "Crazy Rich Asians" (Warner Bros. Pictures)

The $25.2 million Crazy Rich Asians earned domestically in its first weekend — padding its five-day take since it debuted Wednesday to $34 million — may not sound like crazy rich numbers in a summer filled with tentpoles. But the box office title earned by Warner Bros.’s landmark rom-com has major implications for future movies.

As the first major American film with an all Asian cast since 1993’s Joy Luck Club — with a marquee headlined by Michelle Yeoh, Constance Wu (Fresh off the Boat),  Henry Golding and Gemma Chadn (Humans)  — and directed by a filmmaker of Asian descent in Jon M. Chu, there was a lot at stake. A disappointing performance would probably reinforce traditional Hollywood biases against casting actors of color in lead roles.

 “The currency here isn’t necessarily just the dollars and cents, it’s how the movie was accepted so strongly by general audiences,” Paul Dergarabedian, senior box office analyst for ComScore, told RealClearLife. “That was an important step in furthering the cause of increasing the diversity.

“If you’re going to try to push forward the idea that diversity and inclusion is good for business then it helps that the movie over-performed at the box office.”

Michelle Yeah co-stars in “Crazy Rich Asians” (Sanja Bucko/Warner Bros.)
Sanja Bucko

It was an especially good weekend for Warner Bros. considering the studio also had the second-place film, last week’s box office champ, The Meg, which earned $21.2 million and pushed its worldwide total past the $300 million mark.

Buoyed by great reviews and excited buzz from inside and outside Asian American communities, Crazy Rich Asians outpaced the $25 million total over its first five days predicted by industry watchers going into the weekend. It’s win is even more impressive considering audiences haven’t been in love with the romantic comedy genre in recent years. The last true romantic comedy to break the $100 million mark was 2009’s The Proposal (although an argument could be made that the 2015 hit Trainwreck was really a romantic comedy.)

And because of the time of year — a period in which all the summer blockbusters have come and gone — Crazy Rich Asians has a shot of staying in theaters long enough to hit that mark.

“If you look at how the success of Black Panther and Get Out (in recent years) opened a lot of doors and obliterated a lot of preconceived notions,” said Dergarabedian. “Every movie like this breaks down those barriers a little more, those preconceived notions that were considered a Hollywood formula.”

Considering Crazy Rich Asians is based on the first novel in a series by author Kevin Kwan that includes two more books, a sequel is virtual certainty.

The successful debut of Crazy Rich Asians should have implications that go beyond a potential trilogy. It also helps raise the profile for an actress like Wu, for example, who deserves to land lead roles of the type that would normally be doled out automatically to white actresses.

“Every time we have movies succeed like this it opens eyes and it opens minds,” said Dergarabedian. “If the movie doesn’t resonate, the message won’t either.”

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