The final major release of the 2018 summer box office isn’t a tentpole blockbuster, but it is a film that Asian-Americans who have been pushing for more representation in entertainment have been waiting for.
That film is Warner Bros.’ “Crazy Rich Asians,” the first film to feature an all-Asian cast since “The Joy Luck Club” was released in 1993. In an attempt to help build word of mouth heading into the weekend, WB is releasing the film on Wednesday, with projections expecting a $26 million opening over five days.
But analysts who spoke with TheWrap say that the film has a big upside, and that an opening of at least $30 million should be expected. Even though it doesn’t have the superhero pedigree of “Wonder Woman” or “Black Panther,” like those films, “Crazy Rich Asians” is fulfilling a long-standing demand for a section of the moviegoing populace to see themselves on-screen.
According to MPAA’s annual report, Asian-Americans accounted for only six percent of all ticket sales last year, but they are expected to drive ticket sales for this film well above expectations. Fandango has reported that advance ticket sales for “Crazy Rich Asians” have topped that of last summer’s stealth hit “Girls Trip,” which was one of the few recent comedies to dodge the genre’s box office struggles with a $31 million opening and a $140 million theatrical run. WB also had a one-night preview screening on 350 screens last week, with most theaters reporting sellouts.
And if you narrow down the recent track record of comedy films to romantic comedies, the box office history is even worse. The last rom-com to earn over $100 million domestically was “Trainwreck” three years ago. “Crazy Rich Asians,” which tells the timeless rom-com story of the in-laws from hell through the lens of Asian culture, has earned praise from critics for both its universal romantic appeal and for providing an Asian-oriented story that Hollywood hasn’t really put forth until now.
“This is a movie that’s giving us a lot of things we haven’t seen in theaters in quite some time,” said comScore’s Paul Dergarabedian. “Don’t be surprised if the Friday and Saturday numbers really pick up after early moviegoers get a chance to see it with these weekday screenings.”
Directed by Jon M. Chu, “Crazy Rich Asians” follows an NYU professor named Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), who is invited by her boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding) to meet his family in Singapore during his cousin’s wedding. What Nick conveniently leaves out is that he is the heir to the biggest fortune in Singapore and one of its most eligible bachelors. With little preparation, Rachel must prepare to face a world she’s never been in, and worse, the attempts by Nick’s mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) to split them apart.
Based on Kevin Kwan’s best-selling novel of the same name, the film also stars Awkwafina, Ken Jeong, Gemma Chan and Jimmy O. Yang. It currently has a 98 percent Rotten Tomatoes score and a reported production budget of $30 million.
Also releasing this weekend is STX’s “Mile 22,” which is expected to contend with “The Meg” for No. 2 this weekend with an opening weekend of $17-18 million against a reported $35 million budget. This is the fourth collaboration between director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg, and tells the story of an elite CIA team tasked with protecting a valuable asset being hunted by terrorists. John Malkovich, Lauren Cohan, Iko Uwais, Ronda Rousey also star.
Finally, there’s Sony’s “Alpha,” a film the studio is releasing as part of a distribution deal with Jeff Rabinov’s Studio 8. Telling the story of the earliest days of man’s relationship with canines, “Alpha” stars Kodi Smit-McPhee as Keda, a Paleolithic hunter left behind by his tribe after he is injured during a hunt. Struggling to survive on his own, he encounters a wolf who has been similarly abandoned by his pack, leading to the two bonding together to survive. Albert Hughes directed the film, which is expected to open to $7 million this weekend.