How Anyone But You Broke The Box Office Mold: A Cinephile’s Investigation

“Anyone But You” is making a killing at the box office and I am very confused (but also delighted).

The narrative surrounding the 2023 Christmas slate seemed all but certain, thanks in part to Warner Bros.’ satisfying, diverse offerings. From the crowd-pleasing “Wonka” (which solidifies Timothee Chalamet as a box office draw), to the mom-leaning “The Color Purple,” and the obligatory superhero offering “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” Warner Bros. had all their bases covered. There was a slew of indie darlings going wide like “The Iron Claw” and “Ferrari,” but all in all, this was Warner Bros.’ time to dominate.

How Anyone But You Broke The Box Office Mold:

But there’s one film that’s leaving me, box office junkies, and (likely) studio heads scratching: “Anyone But You.” In an era where so-called “mid-budget” films and theatrical rom-coms are disappearing, it seemed ridiculous for Sony Pictures to award the Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney starring movie a theatrical release. I, a literal professional cinephile, firmly believed that Sony was dumping the picture during the crowded Christmas season to cut their losses, estimating that the pic would barely make back its $25 million budget.

However, it’s the second week of January, and “Anyone But You” has made nearly $60 million, casually doubling its budget, and is on track to wrap up its global run with a cume north of $75 million. The film is holding exceptionally well — it even saw considerable growth in its third weekend at the multiplex, no small feat during the competitive holiday season. What is it about “Anyone But You” that’s defying box office expectations? Digging deeper, I realized that the film is an absolute behemoth on social media, particularly TikTok. And in a crowded season of Oscar-bait juggernauts, it’s the perfect counter-programming. Let me explain

The people want more rom-coms

“Anyone But You” was written on spec by Ilana Wolpert during the pandemic. Wolpert eventually crossed paths with “Euphoria” breakout star Sydney Sweeney, who hopped on board as a producer. From there, things fell into place, including Glen Powell’s casting. In the pic, Bea (Sweeney) and Ben (Powell) find themselves at a wedding in Australia. Despite despising each other, circumstances force the attractive pair to pretend to date. And from there, an instant classic rom-com was born.

Looper’s sister site /Film was mixed on the movie, giving it a 6/10 — a sentiment that most critics agree with as signaled by its 51% Rotten Tomatoes rating. But audiences are eating this one up with glee. It has a decent B+ CinemaScore, close enough to the A- score last year’s breakout rom-com hit “Ticket to Paradise” received. While reviews are mixed, this film is a box-office hit stateside, growing with each weekend. In its third weekend, the pic had a whopping 11% uptick.

So, what explains the success? For starters, “Anyone But You” is more than just counter-programming against safe blockbusters like “Aquaman 2” and “Wonka” — it’s a throwback to the good ‘ol days of 2000s romcoms, proving that audiences, at least domestically, want more than just the generic CGI sludge and franchise reboots we’ve been digesting over the last decade. And while we’ll dive into how “Anyone But You” is a phenomenon, receipts from pics like Jennifer Lawrence’s “No Hard Feelings” ($83 million worldwide) and “A Man Called Otto” ($108 million worldwide) prove that audiences aren’t done with the mid-budget, feel-good formula that dominated two decades ago.

Why Anyone But You has legs

A riff on Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” “Anyone But You” is a sensation, one that I can confidently say has the grassroots sort of fandom that Barbenheimer had earlier this year. There’s no scenario where “Anyone But You” cracks $1 billion, but its success appears to be social media-driven, signaling a shift in how studios market and cast their films. In investigating the film’s box office momentum, I kept coming across comments from people saying that “Anyone But You” is making waves on TikTok. Now, I don’t dabble in the world of TikToks, so I asked my perpetually swiping up friends if they’d seen anything about the film on the video social media site.

There are literally hundreds of videos like this featuring folks basking in the glow of how great the film made them feel. A shocking number of these videos have millions of views, likes, and comments, making “Anyone But You” a true viral sensation. Many people I know only saw the flick because of these videos. And while that anecdote doesn’t explain the entirety of the film’s box office performance, I think it does suggest that the virality of the film on social media is leading to walkups. How else can we explain the film growing day by day? On January 8, the movie shot up as the number 1 film stateside, grossing $1 million and overtaking “Wonka” and “Aquaman 2” for the spot. I think this upward trend is going to continue.

Star power is boosting Anyone But You

The numbers show that something wonderful is happening with “Anyone But You.” While several late-2023 movie releases have enjoyed social media hype and chatter, not all of them have seen that translate to movie ticket receipts. “Saltburn” has also been a hot topic on social media, but its $20 million box office doesn’t compare to “Anyone But You.”

So, why did TikTok pick “Anyone But You” to boost? Well, the simplest answer is the best answer: the lead actors. “Euphoria” star Sydney Sweeney is an icon for Gen Z, and it’s likely no coincidence that the film was tracking extremely well with those under 25. Then there’s Glen Powell, who already has a solid following with that demographic, thanks in part to his appearances on Ryan Murphy’s “Scream Queens” and the 2022 box office phenomenon “Top Gun: Maverick.”

This is a bold claim but I think it’s a fact now: Sweeney and Powell are bonafide movie stars. The biggest rom-coms of the last few years — “No Hard Feelings” (Jennifer Lawrence), “Ticket to Paradise” (George Clooney, Julia Roberts), and “The Lost City” (Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum) — all banked on the star power of their leads and made millions doing so. With “Anyone But You,” I think we can say that Sweeney and Powell are immense draws, whose popularity was bolstered thanks in part to free marketing by influencers on platforms like TikTok.

What can we learn from Anyone But You?

Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell’s clout and fandom play a key part in how “Anyone But You” could cross the $75 million barrier worldwide, a number that I think is an all-but given now. With such genuine momentum, I wouldn’t be surprised if the pic ended up grossing $100 million — it’s already over halfway there.

As a fan of rom-coms, this is a major win. But I don’t think the success of “Anyone But You” can be chalked up to just “rom-coms are back!” “Anyone But You” is performing phenomenally well, especially when one considers that this is an R-rated affair, which means tons of Sweeney’s younger fans have a barrier to entry. Most of the rom-coms that played well last year catered to older audiences by featuring stars who aren’t as relevant to Gen Z.

I have a feeling that we’re seeing something that’s genuinely tailor-made for the current crop of younger cinemagoers who haven’t really had the opportunity to see their era represented on the big screen. These days, younger audiences are introduced to original stories mostly through television, and it definitely helps that Sweeney became well known because of her small screen output. And the power of Sweeney and Powell is evident because of how well the film is performing on TikTok. It’s almost like if you haven’t seen “Anyone But You,” you’re missing out on relating to your friends — it’s cinematic FOMO.

I think this also proves that Gen Z and other younger demographics are open to embracing non-franchise fare, especially when it features their favorite heartthrobs. I don’t know how far “Anyone But You” will go at the box office, but its financial run is truly beautiful, and it couldn’t have happened to a better film.

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