HomeEntertainment NewsThe Highest-Grossing Rom-Com of All Time Was Also a Sleeper Hit

The Highest-Grossing Rom-Com of All Time Was Also a Sleeper Hit

Some box office records seem destined to always get dethroned. Eventually, some other movie will beat out the gargantuan domestic opening weekend record of Avengers: Endgame, just as Spider-Man’s hold on that record inevitably came to a close. Given how often months like July and November are dominated by the biggest movies of a given year, the opening weekend records of those months are always in danger of getting shattered. Thanks to the presence of inflation and constantly increasing pressure to see movies on opening weekend, many box office records, especially ones pertaining to a film’s first few days of release, are always on the cusp of getting dethroned.

However, there are a handful of box office records that don’t seem to be getting broken anytime soon. Most of these are records specific to a single genre of filmmaking that may not be as ubiquitous in the modern mainstream movie scene. Case in point: the record for the highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time, domestically. Hollywood isn’t very interested in producing any new entries in this genre for the big screen. Given that, it’s incredibly doubtful any new movies will be beating out My Big Fat Greek Wedding for the title of rom-com box-office champion any time soon.


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‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ Was an Unlikely Box-Office Smash

Ian and Tula smiling and posing for a photo in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
Image via Gold Circle Films

My Big Fat Greek Wedding opened in theaters in April 2002. An original romantic comedy produced by Tom Hanks, the feature was financed independently and released by specialty distributor IFC Films. Only a handful of films released by IFC Films have ever cracked the $5 million mark domestically, with the studio, even in the early 2000s, mostly being known for handling extremely obscure arthouse fare. This was not a company known for launching hits even by the generous standards of what constitutes a crossover arthouse box office success story. Before its release, expectations were low that this romantic comedy, which lacked movie stars or any major marketing, would make an impression financially.

On opening weekend, My Big Fat Greek Wedding grossed $597,362 at 108 theaters for a $5,531 per-theater average. That was a perfectly acceptable opening, but it didn’t immediately signify that a pop culture event had arrived. Then, in its second weekend, a funny thing happened. Wedding increased by 33 theaters and yet made more in both its total weekend gross and in its per-theater average haul. As limited releases expand to more locations, their per-theater average gross is supposed to go down. This sudden increase was the first sign that Wedding was not performing like a normal arthouse title. This thing was turning into a mainstream smash.

‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ Dominated the Box Office for Months

My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Image Via IFC Films

My Big Fat Greek Wedding kept on chugging and chugging in theaters before finally entering wide release for the very first time in its 16th weekend of release after grossing just north of $37 million domestically. This wasn’t the end of Wedding’s story, though, as it kept on playing steadily for months and months on end, including three consecutive weekends that each accumulated $10+ million in August and September 2002. By the time Christmas 2002 rolled around, My Big Fat Greek Wedding was still playing in over 950 theaters and had exceeded $200 million domestically.

By February 2003, My Big Fat Greek Wedding finally exited wide release and fell to 533 theaters, capping a staggering six-month run in nationwide release. Once the dust had settled and IFC had finally pulled this feature from theaters, Wedding had taken in $241.4 million in North America alone. Made for just $5 million, My Big Fat Greek Wedding was a mammoth success. Not only that, but it was handily the highest-grossing romantic comedy in history and the first entry in the genre to crack the $200 million mark in North America (without adjusting for inflation). This little indie had become a titan in the world of romantic comedies, and it’s remained in that position for 20 years.

The big wedding scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Image via Gold Circle Films

My Big Fat Greek Wedding benefited from something that no movie studio, big or small, can buy or control: word of mouth. This movie just resonated profoundly with people and became something they not only wanted to tell their friends about but that they wanted to experience multiple times themselves. When you strike a chord like that with audiences, magical things can happen at the box office. Plus, My Big Fat Greek Wedding was a non-sequel that wasn’t drawing on a massive pre-existing fanbase. That may have made the project seem risky to financiers and major studios, but it also ensured that the audience for this motion picture wouldn’t be confined to just its opening weekend. My Big Fat Greek Wedding could appeal to everybody, not just pre-existing fans.

However, what really helped My Big Fat Greek Wedding become the champion of romantic comedies at the box office was simply the greater flexibility afforded to how long a feature could run in theaters circa. 2002. In the modern world of movies getting shuffled to PVOD just 17 days after they hit theaters, it’s impossible to imagine a movie like My Big Fat Greek Wedding getting the necessary room to stick around in theaters for months on end. This feature never cracked the $12 million mark in a single weekend yet was able to build up a $240+ million North American haul through a lot of smaller yet deeply lucrative weekends of business.

It’s hard to imagine even an indie studio having the confidence to enact such a staggered approach in the modern world, as seen by outfits like Roadside Attractions or Focus Features sending all their arthouse titles (from Somewhere in Queens to A Thousand and One) into wide release immediately on opening weekend. How can word of mouth build up with such rushed releases? It takes time for titles like My Big Fat Greek Wedding to take root and thrive. That level of patience just isn’t around anymore in a theatrical landscape impacted by COVID-19.

The dire lack of any new romantic comedies also makes the very idea of another movie coming along to topple the domestic haul of My Big Fat Greek Wedding preposterous. Plus, decades after Wedding’s release, the opportunities for these kinds of tiny films to exist at all have shrunk rather than expanded. This 2002 sleeper hit showed the necessity of taking risks on smaller ideas as well as how audiences can gravitate towards something fresh. Unfortunately, Hollywood still won’t learn the lesson that big sleeper hits won’t come from tons of marketing research and stale rehashes of old ideas. A combination of flawed modern theatrical release strategies and a lack of interest in the theatrical romantic-comedy genre have ensured that My Big Fat Greek Wedding’s status as the highest-grossing romantic-comedy domestically won’t be challenged anytime soon. A sequel, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, was released in 2016 but failed to recreate the lightning-in-a-bottle success of the original film, earning $90 million at the global box office.

A second sequel, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3, will hit theaters on September 8.



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