Following Prime Video’s big-money bid for the new Jennifer Lopez film Shotgun Wedding, we wonder where all the big-screen romcoms have gone.
“Die Hard at a destination wedding” is as good a pitch for an action-romcom hybrid as any, and in the case of Shotgun Wedding, it bears out nicely. You can read Lauren’s 4-star review here then go and watch the film right now on Prime Video, but the original plan was for a cinema release all the way back in July 2022.
It’s far from the first film that’s foregone a cinema release and been sold to a streamer, but in the new normal, any presumptions of the film’s quality are unfair – according to Deadline, Amazon put in a bid for the rights to the film that was “too good for Lionsgate to refuse”.
The film has duly featured in a lot of the streamer’s marketing for 2023 and flew up the movie charts when it was released last Friday, 27th January, but in most of the world, it’s been exclusive to streaming. Due to US regulations on theatrical releases, Lionsgate retained international screening rights and gave the film a pre-Christmas release in Singapore, Indonesia, and no other territories.
Of course, that same new normal cuts the other way – much has been written about changes in filmgoing habits since cinemas reopened, and romantic comedies have borne some of the brunt of that.
In the forefront of all this, Shotgun Wedding didn’t have as quick a journey through production as the pun-tastic title might suggest. So, let’s get into the story and how it’s played alongside the box-office fortunes of romcoms in general.
Save the date
Shotgun Wedding was first announced all the way back in January 2019. Pitch Perfect’s Jason Moore was set to direct Mark Hammer and Liz Meriweather’s script, but Ryan Reynolds was originally going to star and produce the film through his Maximum Effort Productions label. This would have been his first romantic comedy since either 2009’s The Proposal or 2016’s Deadpool, depending on how you count them.
Filming was slated for summer 2019, but the film bumped up by Reynolds’ busy schedule and then by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. When the film resurfaced with a fresh raft of casting in October that year. Reynolds was out of the picture, still producing but choosing to star in Netflix’s The Adam Project instead, while Jennifer Lopez joined the film, both starring as the female lead, Darcy, and also producing it.
Also at that point, Armie Hammer was cast as the male lead, Tom, replacing Reynolds. However, when abuse allegations against the actor arose in January 2021, Hammer (no relation to screenwriter Mark, as far as we know) withdrew from this project and several others. He denies all accusations.
In any case, Josh Duhamel was cast in his place by February, with Jennifer Coolidge, Sônia Braga, Cheech Marin, Lenny Kravitz, and D’Arcy Carden also joining the ensemble. Filming took place on location in the Dominican Republic (standing in for a private island in the Philippines) that month and wrapped in April 2021.
Had the original theatrical release gone ahead, the movie would have arrived in US cinemas on 29th June 2022, teeing it up for the extended Independence Day holiday window that usually means big box-office. It certainly wouldn’t have topped its main competition, families and dapper young men going to see Minions: Rise Of Gru, but it would have been good counter-programming and probably nabbed a decent slice of the four-day weekend pie.
But one factor in what followed probably came with Lopez’s other big movie of 2022 – Universal’s Marry Me, a graphic-novel adaptation in which the star plays a singer who gets married to Owen Wilson’s tagalong concertgoer on a whim.
This was one of several films that Universal gave a day-and-date release in cinemas and on their streaming service, Peacock. Franchise movies Halloween Kills and The Boss Baby: Family Business had preceded it, but it was this original romantic comedy that got the most eyes on it.
In the US, Marry Me did respectable business at the depleted post-COVID box office, opening second to the long-belated Death On The Nile (co-starring Armie Hammer!) but costing a lot less to make. It made $47 million worldwide, short of Lopez’s biggest hits and again, respectable for what it cost.
But according to Comcast CEO Brian Roberts at a Morgan Stanley media conference in March 2021, it was ‘the most streamed movie we’ve ever had’. As with most viewership claims, this isn’t corroborated by any official data, but in the current rush to shore up streaming platforms with new movies and TV shows, it probably didn’t escape Amazon’s attention.
In any case, less than a month after Roberts’ comments, Amazon acquired Shotgun Wedding for a streaming launch. They already had streaming rights, so we’d probably be seeing it on Prime Video now if it had stopped in cinemas first, but as mentioned, they made Lionsgate a bigger offer to release it themselves.
The sum they paid for it hasn’t been disclosed, but the theatrical release was off. Incidentally, that limited release in Singapore and Indonesia brings the film’s box-office total to a reported $4.5m worldwide, but you can bet that whatever Amazon paid for it left Lionsgate in the black.
Romantic comedies are still big hitters for streaming services, partly because they’re usually not that expensive to make and these platforms eat up – sorry to use the C word – new “content”. But romcoms didn’t exactly struggle at the box office in 2022 either.
While a mid-budgeted film like Ticket To Paradise might have done better a few years ago, it still had a good long run in cinema programmes in the back-end of last year, and strong enough legs to carry it to more than $172m in total at the worldwide box office.
And like Shotgun Wedding, it hits the beats for what a wide-release romcom has to be – big stars (George Clooney and Julia Roberts, together again) and exotic locations. Unlike Shotgun Wedding, it doesn’t have Jennifer Coolidge touting a machine gun in its third act, but then you can’t have everything.
But by far the biggest romcom draw of last year was The Lost City, another action-romcom hybrid starring Sandra Bullock as an abducted romance author and Channing Tatum as the himbo cover model who tries to rescue her. And between the success of Marry Me and this ($190m worldwide on a $68m budget) in March 2022, is it any surprise that a streamer took an interest in Shotgun Wedding?
It’s little wonder that selling up to streamers appeals to studios – as was apparently the case here, the offers are usually so big that you can take the money and run. Legally, they’ve fulfilled all obligations to screen the film in cinemas with that very select release before Christmas, and there’s no impetus like, say, James Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson felt in keeping No Time To Die back until cinemas reopened.
The received wisdom is that a 007 movie or a Marvel movie might save cinemas and romcoms might not. But a bit of variety certainly couldn’t hurt them, and the steady streaming away of movies like these aren’t ideal for the genre or for cinema itself.
Given an exclusive cinema release, The Lost City savvily updated familiar fare like Romancing The Stone to crowd-pleasing effect and it was a big hit. But the fact remains that we’re now more likely to see Paramount make The Lost City 2 than another original romantic comedy.
Sure, there are romantic-comedy franchises, ranging from Bridget Jones to the more laughable bits of Fifty Shades, but it’s not a genre whose storytelling is built on sequels and returnable characters. Perhaps the genre’s usual standalone stories and happy endings have fallen out of fashion mainly because endings aren’t trendy on a studio spreadsheet.
All franchise machinations aside, romantic comedy is a persistently undervalued genre, both by critics and, apparently, by studios. And when the big-to-medium-budgeted romcoms have gone to cinemas first, audiences are clearly coming out for them, so it’s no surprise that they might be hot properties for streamers looking to buoy their stodgier and more expensive slates.
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