Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell’s ‘Anyone But You’ was a surprise box office success. How the movie may usher in a new wave of modern rom-coms.

When Anyone But You was released in theaters on Dec. 22, the R-rated romantic comedy starring Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney barely registered a blip at the box office in its opening weekend. Adapted from the William Shakespeare play Much Ado About Nothing, the film grossed only $8 million over its initial four-day Christmas period.

Then something surprising happened: It started gaining traction.

Fueled by word of mouth, a massive TikTok boost and a growing audience appetite for mindless romps over big-budget tentpoles (like the underperforming Aquaman sequel), Anyone But You rebounded at the box office — peaking over New Year’s Day weekend when it earned $11 million.

The Bard-inspired movie has since become a sleeper hit, grossing more than $80 million domestically and $90 million internationally to date, according to BoxOffice Mojo, easily recouping the reported $25 million it cost to make. It reached No. 1 at the box office on its 18th day of release and remained there for four days.

Capitalizing on the frenzy, Sony Pictures released a new theatrical version featuring bonus footage, just in time for a likely Valentine’s Day box office bump.

“People want popcorn [movies] where they can go and not have to use their brain, which is by and large what rom-coms are for to begin with,” Maggie Boccella, an editor at Collider and host of the Does It Get the Pass? romantic comedy podcast, tells Yahoo Entertainment. “It was a perfect storm.”

How Anyone But You cut through

Anyone But You, which reimagines fake-dating and enemies-to-lovers tropes prevalent in Much Ado About Nothing and other Shakespeare tales, wasn’t a particularly well-reviewed movie. It currently has a 53% rating among film critics on Rotten Tomatoes, though audiences give it a score of 87%.

Critics typically aren’t the target audience for a film like this. Director Will Gluck told The Hollywood Reporter he set out to make “a fun movie, especially now.” It definitely lived up to his promise: Natasha Bedingfield’s 2004 pop tune “Unwritten” (which was the theme song for The Hills) yielded hundreds of viral TikTok videos.

In Anyone But You, a one-time fling between Bea (Sweeney) and Ben (Powell) — their character names are shortened from the ones in Much Ado About Nothing — turns into an icy misunderstanding. After crossing paths months later, they start their fake relationship ruse in order to make a destination wedding in Sydney, Australia, more bearable and throw everyone off their scent. Direct references and lines were made in homage to Much Ado About Nothing, which Gluck said was an effort to honor the work that came before.

The main draw for moviegoers wasn’t the story itself per se, but the chemistry of its two romantic leads, Powell and Sweeney.

Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney attend Columbia Pictures’ Anyone But You New York City premiere. (John Lamparski/WireImage)

“It stars two wildly likable actors. It appeals to a broad audience. And it’s a crowd-pleaser,” Travis Knox, associate professor at Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, tells Yahoo Entertainment. “There’s nothing else out there right now that checks all of these boxes.”

Boccella notes that the combination of Powell and Sweeney, “two conventionally attractive people who have had a lot of conventional Hollywood success,” coupled with the framework of a modern Shakespearian retelling makes it harder for the movie not to find an audience.

‘We know they work’

Anyone But You’s unexpected box office domination could usher in Hollywood’s reinvestment in big-screen romantic comedies at a time when the genre is “slightly more in the background,” Boccella explains.

Incorporating elements of Shakespeare, whose works have proven to be a creative gold mine for the genre and who is credited with inventing every romantic comedy trope, is advantageous.

“We know they work,” Boccella says.

Twelfth Night and Taming of the Shrew, which inspired movies like 2006’s She’s the Man with Amanda Bynes and 1999’s 10 Things I Hate About You with Julia Stiles, respectively, are just two of Shakespeare’s go-to plays often mined for new rom-com takes, to varying degrees of success.

Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles in a movie scene.

Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles in 10 Things I Hate About You. (Buena Vista/Getty Images)

“Shakespeare’s plays have a classic structure, timeless stories and unforgettable characters. It’s tempting to adapt them,” Knox explains.

“It’s kind of a cheat code. You know you’re going to have something at least partially successful,” Boccella says. “You already have a structure, you have the characters and you have things you know audiences are going to like.”

The same could be said for Jane Austen, another prominent literary figure whose works — such as Emma, Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility — have been popular source material and inspiration for numerous romance adaptations. (Hallmark is dedicating the month of February to original Austen-inspired movies including a new update on Sense & Sensibility.)

“Austen and Shakespeare both wrote complex, compelling characters,” Rachel Wagner, film critic and host of the Hallmarkies Podcast, tells Yahoo Entertainment. The difference is that Austen tends to write more coming-of-age stories, where women are often “coming to their own and having to make decisions about what they’re going to do with their lives.

“What makes the characters appealing is that they are honest and true, and you see them evolve through the course of the story,” she adds. “They are about these characters making choices, and we can relate, even though we have different choices now.”

Return of the rom-com?

If there’s one takeaway from the success of Anyone But You, it’s proof that audiences have an appetite for watching romantic comedies in theaters, whether they’re Shakespeare-inspired or not. The timing may be right amid fatigue from big-budget superhero movies that don’t have quite the same effect they once did.

Anyone But You beating box office odds and doing really well is a great sign because studios are going to look at that and say, ‘This is successful,’” Boccella explains. That is combined with the fact, she adds, that “there’s evidence that tentpole movies are failing. Argylle cost Apple $200 million and tanked. We’re burnt out on Marvel. Massive-budget movies don’t really fit the way they should anymore or the way they used to.”

Rom-coms have largely been relegated to streaming over the last several years. Some have been mediocre. Others have become cultural touchstones, like 2018’s Set It Up, which starred Powell and Zoey Deutch; 2018’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, led by Lana Condor and Noah Centineo; and 2023’s Red, White & Royal Blue, with Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzine.

“There’s still people that want to make them. It’s just a matter of, will studios put their faith in them?” Boccella says. “And I think they will, given the fact that Anyone But You had such success against its competitors.”

Wagner agrees, adding a word of caution. “Nothing in theatrical is the same as it was before, but if we could see a resurgence,” it would be a step in the right direction.

Anyone But You could very well be the stepping stone for a return to form for the genre.

“A rom-com coming out on top, it’s not every day that that happens anymore,” Boccella says. “It’s nice to see [the genre] back in the public discussion and not just doing well at the box office. People continuing to talk about [Anyone But You] after the fact — that staying power is what’s going to get more of them made.”

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