'Crazy Rich Asians' Box Office: The Secret Behind the Massive Opening

Crazy Rich Asians Still 10 - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

The movie spiked in metropolitan areas with large Asian-American populations, including the San Francisco Bay Area, greater New York and Los Angeles.

Crazy Rich Asians succeeded in doing crazy great business in Asian markets across the country, led by greater Los Angeles, the Bay Area in Northern California and the New York City metropolitan area. All three are regions where more Asian-Americans live than in any other part of the country, according to U.S. Census data.

Warner Bros. and director Jon M. Chu's rom-com — the first Hollywood studio film to feature all-Westernized Asian cast since The Joy Luck Club 25 years ago — is a cultural milestone for Hollywood in serving a segment of the population that has been largely overlooked by the studio system for decades — like a recent handful of films, including Black Panther, that have targeted African-Americans.

Asian-Americans turned out in unprecedented numbers to see Crazy Rich Asians, which posted a better-than-expected weekend debut of $25.2-$26 million and a five-day launch of as much as $36 million, the best showing in three years for a rom-com and the best showing for any comedy in a year. A final tally will be released later on Monday morning.

Typically, the Asian-American portion of a movie's audience is between 8 percent and 10 percent. In this case, it was nearly 40 percent. The exact ethnic breakout for opening weekend was as follows: Caucasian (41 percent), Asian-American (38 percent), Hispanic (11 percent), African-American (6 percent) and other (4 percent), according to Warners and comScore. 

For Warners president of worldwide marketing Blair Rich, the first priority in selling Chu's movie, based on Kevin Kwan's bestselling novel, was to woo Asian-Americans. She and her team worked with an array of organizations, including the Asia Society and the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment.

"You have to give them ownership of their story, and then broaden it out from there. Representation of one culture is a win for all cultures," Rich says. "We had to market this into becoming what it was, and we had incredible partnerships with the director and cast."

It seems to have worked.

Theaters in the greater Los Angeles area — which boasts the most Asian-Americans of any area in the U.S. — over-indexed by 45 percent and contributed 21 percent of the total opening gross. The Bay Area over-indexed by a whopping 75 percent and contributed 10 percent of the bottom line. The New York metro area over-indexed by 36 percent and accounted for 9 percent of the $34 million.

Among other locales, Crazy Rich Asians also over-indexed in Hawaii, San Diego, the Washington D.C./Northern Virginia region, Austin, Boston, Houston, Washington state, Toronto and Vancouver, where there is likewise a significant Asian population.

"The top 50 theaters behaved as if this movie were a $70 million film in terms of how much they over-performed," says Warners distribution chief Jeff Goldstein.

In terms of the 15 top cinemas, Regal Union Square led the list, followed by Cinemark's Century Cinema in Mountain View, Calif.; Hollywood ArcLight; L.A.'s Pacific Theatres at the Grove; the Victoria Ward in Honolulu; AMC Century City 15; AMC Burbank 16; Century Downtown in Redwood City, California; Century at Tanforan in San Bruno, California; AMC Empire in New York City; AMC Metreon 16 in San Francisco; Pacific Glendale 18 near Pasadena; ArcLight Pasadena; and additional theaters in San Francisco and nearby Daly City.

There are no modern-day comps for Crazy Rich Asians. In 1993, Joy Luck Club opened in select theaters before expanding. At its widest, Joy Luck Club played in 600 theaters, grossing a strong $32.9 million by the end of its run. Adjusted for inflation, that equals $73.7 million today.

Crazy Rich Asians — buoyed by glowing reviews and an A CinemaScore —  follows American Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) as she accompanies her longtime boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. As Rachel visits Nick's hometown for the first time, she quickly learns that her boyfriend is from one of the richest families in Asia. Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina, Ken Jeong, Gemma Chan and Jimmy O. Yang also star.

A number of prominent Hollywood figures took to social media to support Crazy Rich Asians as a show of solidarity for more diversity behind of and in front of the camera. Those voices include Ava DuVernay, Lena Waithe, Barry Jenkins and Chris Pratt.

"I laughed a few weeks ago when I was told about how an executive at a studio asked, 'Where is our Crazy Rich Asians?'" recalls Nina Jacobson, who, together with her partner at Color Force, Brad Simpson, produced and developed the movie alongside John Penotti of Ivanhoe/SKGlobal after optioning Kwan's novel before shopping the project to studios.

Adds Simpson, "It was one of the studios that didn't bid on our movie."