TikTok may have just saved romantic comedies from being banished forever from the big screen to the hinterlands of streaming.
Sony’s Anyone But You, based on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, has become a box office darling and could reach $85 million to $100 million domestically against a $25 million budget, despite mediocre reviews and an equally meh B+ CinemaScore. It has impressed Hollywood to the point where normally adversarial studio heads are gushing over the film’s astounding run as if it were their own.
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After opening to a lowly $8 million over Christmas weekend, the Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell romancer went viral after moviegoers began flooding TikTok with videos of themselves reenacting the film’s credit sequence, which is overlaid with actors from the film dancing to and singing snippets of Natasha Bedingfield’s 2004 single “Unwritten.” The self-made videos have become so well known that in cinemas across the country, many audience members seem to be waiting for the end so they can begin singing and waving their arms.
In its second weekend, Anyone But You spiked 45.6 percent, the third-best hold of any wide release in history behind The Greatest Showman (another Christmas film people wrote off when it didn’t exactly wow in its launch) and Cheaper by the Dozen. And it became the first Christmas release in history to earn more in its third weekend ($9.8 million) than in its opening. The movie is also over-performing overseas, where it has amassed $22.8 million.
All of this upends the argument that rom-coms are the purview of streaming now, and that younger folks aren’t interested in seeing them on the big screen as a communal experience as they would with a horror film. One rival studio executive tells THR they couldn’t be more pleased since it’s a genre that deserves a life on the big screen. “I don’t think this age group, which is 18-24, has been offered these movies theatrically,” says the exec.
Anyone But You director Will Gluck sees the story as lending itself to the communal experience.
“Shakespeare mounted his plays in front of audiences at the Globe Theatre 400 years ago, and these types of stories are still viable in front of audiences in movie theaters today,” Gluck says. “I feel the most important thing that’s been missing these last few years is sharing rom-coms with other people.”
TikTok is the perfect place to grow interest in a film among younger demographics and spark the thing needed most of all for a movie’s success — word of mouth. The platform has been important to Hollywood marketers since its rise last decade, but its importance increased a hundred-fold during the pandemic, when usage spiked.
Custom content and stunts can spread like wildfire on TikTok in a way they can’t on more traditional marketing platforms. A video of Miles Teller dancing at the Cannes Film Festival at the 2022 world premiere of Top Gun: Maverick went viral on TikTok and became a moment. Younger people were hardly the movie’s target audience, yet they played a big role in helping Top Gun 2 soar to $1.45 billion in global ticket sales. (And don’t forget about TikTok in terms of helping to spawn the Barbenheimer moniker and resulting phenomenon last summer.)
More recently, Paramount relied heavily on TikTok when marketing the new Mean Girls movie, which along with Warner Bros.’ Wonka, and to some degree, fellow Warners title The Color Purple, have punched at least a hole in the theory that musicals (like rom-coms) can’t work anymore on the big screen. One trick: Paramount released the entire first Mean Girls movie in 10-minute segments for free on Tiktok.
Sony likewise leaned heavily into creating custom content for TikTok, including stunts between stars Sweeney and Powell. One piece of them whispering to each other got more views on TikTok than the official trailer, or 18 million versus 10 million (the on-set chemistry between the two rising stars was the subject of many tabloid headlines).
And the suggestion that viewers post their own re-creation of the credit sequence was initially planted by Sony as a sort of call-to-action. The studio encouraged people to record those reactions on their cellphones and then pushed those recordings out on company’s own channels. Sweeney, who has millions of followers, also reposted many of the re-creations on her various social channels.
As one marketing president at a rival studio says, “You have to know how to find people where they live. And the world needs some fun right now. This movie has hit a nerve because of TikTok.”
By the week of Jan. 16, the Anyone But You hashtag surpassed 1.2 billion views on TikTok, while the “Unwritten” hashtag boasted 289.9 million views and more than 24,500 posts. Additionally, the song “Unwritten” has made its first appearance on Spotify’s U.S. top 200 chart.
“People can sense when things feel artificially ‘eventized.’ It has to happen organically. I think this movie took off because the audience made it an event themselves,” Gluck says.
At a sold-out Sunday afternoon screening at L.A.’s AMC Grove Theatre on Jan. 14, two USC students told THR they were prompted to see the film because of all the TikTok attention. “We heard about it all from TikTok. All of our friends wanted to see it, ” says one of the young women, who didn’t want to reveal their names.
For them it was a throwback to the rom-coms of the early 2000s they watched as young girls on home entertainment (27 Dresses, 13 Going on 30, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days). “This is the first romance-comedy that has that same energy and we absolutely wanted to see it with other people. It’s what makes it 10 times better,” said one of the USC students. Added her friend, “and Sydney and Glen had very good chemistry on the TikTok promos they did.”
Gluck is coy when asked if there might be an Anyone But You sequel, but says he, Sweeney and Powell certainly want to work together again.
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