“Even with glowing reviews, great Rotten Tomatoes scores, an A CinemaScore etc, straight people, especially in certain parts of the country, just didn’t show up for Bros. And that’s disappointing but it is what it is,” Eichner tweeted on Sunday. “That’s just the world we live in, unfortunately.”
But while homophobia likely did stop some moviegoers from trekking to the theater for what was repeatedly marketed as “the first gay romantic comedy to premiere by a major studio,” box office analysts tell The Daily Beast that the full picture is more complicated.
Citing factors like the film’s R rating, waning audience interest in rom-coms, and a lack of identifiable star power, experts say there was just too much stacked against Bros to begin with. The movie’s weekend box office numbers—even when compared to its relatively modest $22 million budget—are nonetheless unexpected.
“There were signs leading to the release that it would underperform at some level, but to that extent, not quite,” Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice Pro, says.
“It’s sort of a head-scratcher,” Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, agrees.
The reality is, romantic comedies have faced declining success in theaters since their heyday in the ’90s and early 2000s. Of the top 10 highest grossing rom-coms of all time, only one was released in the past decade: 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians. Even this year’s Marry Me, buoyed by one of the patron saints of rom-coms, Jennifer Lopez, made just $22.4 million at the box office and $8 million in its opening weekend.
Bros was produced by Judd Apatow, the comedy kingmaker who himself has had trouble recreating the success of some of his biggest mid-career movies.
“Rom-coms had their heyday and they couldn’t miss. If you had a comedy with a great concept, people would flock to the movie theater to see it. Over time, with an attempt to capitalize on the genre’s popularity, the quality suffered,” Dergarabedian says.
Bros’ R rating only compounds matters.
“If we look at rom-coms as a whole, it’s been a genre where it’s been really tough to find an R-rated example that works on a box office-wide level,” Daniel Loria of Boxoffice Pro says.
Recent examples of successful R-rated rom-coms aren’t very recent at all. Wedding Crashers, which is light on the romance and heavy on the gratuitous breasts, roped in over $200 million at the domestic box office back in 2005. That same year, Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin took home $109.5 million at the box office. Trainwreck, another R-rated Apatow expansion into protagonists that aren’t straight white men, pulled in $110.2 million in 2015.
“If together the only example we can come up with came out seven years ago… a lot of things have changed in that interim, and it’s a situation where the genre’s had struggles,” Loria says.
Also of note, rom-coms are usually targeted at women, and Bros, a movie about gay men with a handful of supporting female characters with few lines, may not have appealed enough to this key demographic.
There’s also the film’s noticeable lack of star power. Eichner, who plays the protagonist, is most known as a polarizing comedian, while his love interest, played by Luke Macfarlane, is a relatively unknown actor outside the Hallmark Christmas movie universe. Both Loria and Dergarabedian point to The Lost City, a PG-13 action-adventure comedy with a romantic element that relied on bankable A-list stars like Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum to draw audiences. It worked—the film proved to be a rare hit this spring when it raked in over $30 million in its opening weekend alone for a total domestic gross of $105.3 million.
Dergarabedian ultimately believes Bros would have benefited from a day-and-date release in theaters and on Universal’s streaming service Peacock, a tactic that proved successful for Marry Me. Anthony Allen Ramos, VP of communications and talent at LGBTQ media watchdog GLAAD, seems to agree.
“Bros will ultimately be accessible on a streaming service in the near future, and the people who decided not to go to the movie theaters will have an opportunity to see a film that is absolutely a breakthrough when it comes to LGBTQ representation in the romantic comedy genre,” Ramos told The Daily Beast in a statement.
All of the analysts contacted for this story agree that it’s hard to Monday morning quarterback a film based on its weekend box office. And the fact that people didn’t turn out for Bros doesn’t mean they won’t show up for other gay movies by major studios in the future.
“We really have to face the reality that homophobia is a factor with some audiences,” Robbins says. “To be completely fair, not all LGBTQ audiences showed up, either. It’s that low of an opening that it doesn’t represent one single element. There were several things that just misfired here.”