Cannes: Why Buyers Have a Renewed Interest in Romantic Comedies

Sam Claflin, Olivia Munn, Matt Walsh and Isla Fisher-Getty-Split-H 2019
Getty Images

Netflix is driving a resurgence of the genre, but insiders also point to a need for escapism in a troubled and "heavy" world: "There is an appetite for something that’s light."

The Cannes market is best known for its dramas and action and sci-fi projects of late, but, on the heels of the success of Crazy Rich Asians ($238.5 million worldwide) and Netflix’s viral rom-coms, there’s a renewed interest in romantic comedies — and in a way, it hasn’t been seen before.

"It used to be that rom-coms had to have two A-level names," says Radiant Films’ Mimi Steinbauer, who is selling both Plus One, the wedding guest rom-com that recently played at the Tribeca Film Festival, and Unplugging, a package starring Matt Walsh and Isla Fisher as a couple who try to get off the grid to rekindle their romance. "If it wasn’t whoever the Julia Roberts of the day was, buyers were not interested," says Steinbauer of markets past. "But with the success of something like Crazy Rich Asians, as long as it’s a good rom-com, it can deliver even if it’s not two of the most well-known names on the planet. That opens up the genre."

Endeavor Content’s Alex Walton credits Netflix for helping to reshape and renew interest in the genre. The streaming giant’s recent hits like Set It Up and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before starred emerging talent, rather than A-list stars. "I think, in the same way Netflix has arguably fueled documentaries, they’ve given a lot of life to this space," says Walton, who’s selling rom-com The Broken Heart Gallery, starring Blockers breakout Geraldine Viswanathan and rising star Dacre Montgomery. "They’ve reassured the market that people love romantic comedies."

And Netflix doesn’t seem to be slowing down on its rom-com binge. The company scooped up Love. Wedding. Repeat. — a wedding-set rom-com currently in production and starring Sam Claflin and Olivia Munn — in the first major Cannes deal of the festival May 14. As the major studios focus most of their efforts on bigger sci-fi and superhero fare, rom-coms are an opportunity for independent productions to find success, and on a reasonable budget. "Romantic comedies are about chemistry. Chemistry can be established on a very small-budget film or a large film," says The Exchange’s Brian O’Shea. "I think romantic comedies are the great equalizer, more than ever, because anyone can get chemistry."

The flood of rom-coms at the 2019 market — high-profile projects include The Exchange’s The Stand-In, starring Drew Barrymore; Love & Other Disasters from Grown Ups helmer Dennis Dugan; Happy Life with Evangeline Lilly and Ike Barinholtz; and Never Too Late, led by Ellen Burstyn and James Caan — is likely also due to a growing need for a laugh. "The world is so heavy right now," Steinbauer says. "I think there is an appetite for something that’s light and fun and entertaining."

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's May 17 daily issue at the Cannes Film Festival.