"Ticket to Paradise," a romantic comedy that reunites long-time friends and co-stars Julia Roberts and George Clooney, could defy box office odds.
Admittedly, it seems strange to suggest a movie with megawatt talent like Roberts and Clooney could be anything other than a massive triumph. But even in pre-pandemic times, romantic comedies were challenged at the box office. It's been especially stark in the COVID era; although "The Lost City" with Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum beat expectations with $190 million globally, Billy Eichner's "Bros" has faced an uphill battle to reach $10.8 million worldwide.
But there's reason to believe that "Ticket to Paradise" — which lands in North America on Oct. 21 — could be another reminder that romantic comedies haven't entirely fallen out of favor at the movies. Based on early estimates, the film is expected to debut to roughly $15 million. That's a respectable start, one that falls somewhere in between "The Lost City" ($30 million) and "Bros" ($4.8 million), the most recent high-profile examples to play in theaters.
Already, the combined charm of Roberts and Clooney is working at the international box office, where "Ticket to Paradise" has generated an impressive $72 million to date. Universal reported that "Ticket to Paradise" is outpacing "The Lost City," which tapped out with $85 million overseas, as well as pre-pandemic meet-cute stories like "Last Christmas" ($88 million overseas) and "Crazy Rich Asians" ($64 million overseas) at the same point in their respective international rollouts.
"The stars still have big followings overseas, where audiences are more loyal to celebrities than they are in North America," says David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research. "Tastes change more quickly in the domestic market."
Those changing tastes, in which audiences have veered toward superheroes and little else, have resulted in Netflix commandeering the meet-cute market. In Variety's review, film critic Richard Kuipers even noted that "Ticket to Paradise" feels like "the kind of lightweight entertainment that nowadays would frequently bypass cinemas and go straight to streaming platforms." But there are two clear reasons that Universal opted to keep the movie on the big screen — Roberts and Clooney.
"Coming out of the pandemic, star-power is having a resurgence," says Shawn Robbins, the chief analyst at Box Office Pro. "'The Lost City' did fantastic business, and that was because of Sandra and Channing."
In the U.S. and Canada, "Ticket to Paradise" is hoping to operate as counter-programming against "Black Adam," a DC comic book adaptation starring Dwayne Johnson. The Warner Bros. film is projected to dominate with $50 million to $60 million in its big-screen debut. Yet analysts note that "Ticket to Paradise" has a clear runway until other adult-skewing movies, like the Weinstein investigation drama "She Said" (Nov. 18), Steven Spielberg's coming-of-age movie "The Fabelmans" (Nov. 23) and "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Story" (Nov. 23), open in theaters next month.
"I think it'll have strong legs," Robbins says of "Ticket to Paradise." "It could be the kind of movie that sticks around for a while."
That's been the case for several films aimed at older audiences, such as "Elvis" ($151 million domestically), "Where the Crawdads Sing" ($90 million) and "Bullet Train" ($103 million). Thanks to positive word-of-mouth, those films showed impressive endurance in theaters at a time when blockbusters like "Top Gun: Maverick," "Jurassic World Dominion" and "Thor: Love and Thunder" were dominating box office charts.
Universal is relying on that kind of staying power for "Ticket to Paradise." The movie cost $60 million to produce, which is fairly expensive for modern romantic comedies. After all, it's been two decades or more since "Pretty Woman," "Notting Hill" and "Runaway Bride" ruled at the box office, earning hundreds of millions with ease and justifying all kinds of production budgets. But luring Roberts and Clooney back to the big screen doesn't come cheap; they each command multi-million dollar paydays. And filming during COVID also caused price tags to rise by several millions of dollars.
Ol Parker, best known for "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again" and "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," directed "Ticket to Paradise," which follows hostile exes who fly to Bali to stop their lovestruck daughter (played by Kaitlyn Dever) from marrying a man she barely knows. Like "The Lost City," the escapist "Ticket to Paradise" seems like a return to the familiar, winning formula that helped the genre prevail in its heyday.
"Romantic comedies and romances have shown some strength recently, but it would be an overstatement to say we're back to the good old days," says Gross.
In other words, Roberts may be back in the genre that turned her into a movie star… but don't necessarily expect the same embrace at the box office.