The romantic comedy is not dead. The romantic comedy, like second and third tier comic-book movies (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Kick-ass, Hellboy) simply have box-office ceilings. The horror movie industry understands this better than anyone: You don’t see a lot of expensively made horror flicks (the biggest budgeted horror movie I can recall off the top of my head was The Grudge at about $50 million, though most average around $20 million), and yet horror movies are almost always profitable.
Since 1978, the average gross for a romantic comedy released wide is $44 million. That means $30 - $40 million should be the most a studio should risk on this universe, and yet studios time and again overreach by overpaying top-shelf talent for what is essentially a niche audience — a large niche, perhaps, but there’s a ceiling. Nobody understands this better than the folks behind He’s Just Not That Into You and Valentine’s Day, two movies with modest $50 million budgets, a huge number of A and B-list stars, and a profit about double what the budget is, before DVD sales.
The lesson here, and one that How Do You Know paid dearly to learn, is that, in order for most romantic comedies to succeed, you have to scale back the costs and go in with modest expectations, because even if you do manage to be one of the most successful romantic comedies, the margins are slim when your budget is $80 million.
It’s not always the case, of course. But the risk/reward suggests that studios should keep making romantic comedies, they should just err on the conservative side. You don’t pay Reese Witherspoon $15 million when you can get Katherine Heigl for $5 million, and loathe as I am to admit it, Heigl’s terrible romantic comedies are always profitable (except The Killers, the $75 million movie that only made $43 million, but it’s not categorized as a rom-com; it’s action-comedy, a genre with a much higher ceiling).
Here are the 10 most expensive romantic comedies ever made, and their domestic grosses.
1. How Do You Know: Estimated $19 million gross (Budget: $120 million)
2. Sex and the City 2: $95 million gross (Budget: $100 million)
3. Fun with Dick and Jane $110 million gross (Budget: $100 million)
4. Bewitched: $63 million gross (Budget: $85 million)
5. It’s Complicated: $112 million (Budget: $85 million)
6. The Holiday: $63 million (Budget: $85 million)
7. Something’s Gotta Give: $124 million gross (Budget: $80 million)
8. 50 First Dates: $120 million gross (Budget: $75 million)
9. What Women Want: $182 million (Budget: $70 million)
10. Hitch: $179 million (Budget: $70 million)