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Why Didn't Gay Rom Com 'Bros' Do Well At The Box Office? It's Complicated

Two men walk down the beach with their arms around one another.
Bros is the first gay romantic comedy with a mostly LGBTQ cast to be given a wide release by a major studio. It played well in big cities, but had disappointing overall numbers in its first weekend. Above, Luke Macfarlane (left) and Billy Eichner.
(Courtesy Universal Pictures)
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Back in early 1994, well before he would sit atop Sony Pictures, Tom Rothman was running production at the independent distributor Samuel Goldwyn. We both had just seen the premiere of Go Fish at the Sundance Film Festival, where it sparked immediate attention: an original, well-made and clever romantic comedy…about lesbians.

Do the stories that Hollywood tells about itself really reflect what's going on?

And that was something you simply didn’t see nearly 30 years ago.

Rothman explained why he wanted to buy the film. "If every lesbian in America comes to see it", Rothman told me, "I’ve got a hit." Goldwyn promptly bought Go Fish for $450,000, and released it that summer.

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We’ll never know how many lesbians bought tickets, but the film was embraced by the LGBTQ community, collected a top prize from the advocacy group GLAAD and grossed more than $2.41 million in domestic theaters in 1994 (which translates to about $5 million today). Not exactly the hit that Rothman might have hoped for, but given its acquisition cost Go Fish likely turned a tidy profit.

This Was The First Major Studio LGBTQ Comedy

I recalled that story when Billy Eichner’s new gay romantic comedy Bros flopped at the box office last weekend. Universal Pictures had touted the film as a latter-day Go Fish: the first major studio LGBTQ comedy starring an openly LGBTQ cast.

The studio was hoping for opening weekend returns of as much as $10 million. Instead, Bros took in less than half that, with $4.85 million in receipts. Given its production cost of $22 million and multiples of that spent on its marketing, Bros stands little chance of making a penny.

The blame started immediately. “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,'” Eichner, who also co-wrote Bros, said on Twitter. “And that’s disappointing but it is what it is.”

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Eichner has (half) a point. Movies that draw solid reviews and solid word-of-mouth usually do solid business. Bros had both, but didn’t make a blip. But was homophobia really to blame? Fact is, even if a few more straight (or, equally critical, LGBTQ) ticket buyers had shown up, it wouldn’t have mattered: Bros didn’t connect.

3 Theories About Why It Flopped

There are nearly as many theories about Bros’ poor performance as there were ticket buyers for the movie. Among the most credible:

  • Eichner and co-star Luke Macfarlane aren’t box office draws. Proof? The poster for Bros doesn’t even use their faces. Instead, it’s a photo of two men in jeans grabbing each other’s butts. What’s more, Eichner’s persona, based on Billy on the Street, is the guy who yells at strangers on the sidewalk. Two hours of that?
  • It’s great that Universal was willing to make the first studio wide-release gay romantic comedy. But when that’s part of the marketing, does that make Bros more symbol than entertainment? And unlike when Go Fish debuted, there is no shortage of quality LGBTQ content on streaming services. 
  • It’s not as if romantic comedies have been killing it at the box office. The upcoming Ticket to Paradise (starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts) will be a true test of whether the genre’s decline can be reversed. In the case of Bros, the movie also was sold as “from the director of Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Yes, that movie that came out 14 years ago. 
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All (or some) of those theories might be true.
But there’s another — and I would argue more important — explanation. No matter its merits, Bros failed the critical test for any movie or moviegoer, whether gay or not: is it worth a trip to the multiplex?

As dramatized by the accelerating collapse in the exhibition business (the parent of Regal Cinemas just filed for bankruptcy), audiences increasingly find it easier to stay away.

Bros was simply swept aside by that veto.

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John Horn, entertainment reporter and host of our weekly podcast Retake, explores whether the stories that Hollywood tells about itself really reflect what's going on?