Why Did 'Bros' Fail at the Box Office?

Monday October 3, 2022

Luke Macfarlane and Billy Eichner in "Bros"
Luke Macfarlane and Billy Eichner in "Bros"  (Source:IMDb)

Few films seemed poised for success as "Bros," the gay rom-com co-written by and starring Billy Eichner. The entire process — from conception to release — was covered lovingly by the mainstream press and the finished film was well-received at film festivals and with critics (91% Rotten Tomatoes rating; an 'A' audience response). Yet, in its opening weekend the New York Times reports it grossed $4.8 million on 3,350 screens. The film cost $22 million to make, and Universal spent $30 - $40 million marketing it.

"We'll see where we go from here," Jim Orr, Universal's president of domestic distribution, told the New York Times by phone on Sunday. "We're incredibly proud of the film, and I really believe there is going to be great word of mouth."

For his part, Variety writes that Eichner put the meagre box office performance on the fact that "straight people, especially in certain parts of the country, just didn't show up."

In a thread posted to his official Twitter, Eichner, who wrote, produced, and stars in "Bros," asserted that he is "very proud" of the movie, describing his experience covertly watching a sold-out screening in Los Angeles during the weekend.

"Last night I snuck in and sat in the back of a sold out theater playing 'Bros' in LA. The audience howled with laughter start to finish, burst into applause at the end and some were wiping away tears as they walked out," Eichner wrote. "It was truly magical. Really. I am VERY proud of this movie."

Luke Macfarlane and Billy Eichner in "Bros"
Luke Macfarlane and Billy Eichner in "Bros"  (Source: IMDb)

Variety adds that the star also divulged that a theater chain had mounted plans to pull the trailer for "Bros" from its programming due to "gay content," but Universal eventually convinced the company to maintain its placement in the pre-show rotation. "America, fuck yeah," Eichner wrote.

"That's just the world we live in, unfortunately," Eichner continued. "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. And that's disappointing but it is what it is."

Eichner concluded his thoughts by encouraging "everyone who isn't a homophobic weirdo" to see "Bros," writing that it remains "special and uniquely powerful to see this particular story on a big screen."

Luke Macfarlane and Billy Eichner in "Bros"
Luke Macfarlane and Billy Eichner in "Bros"  (Source: IMDb)

But what went wrong?

"In going after the widest audience possible, 'Bros' may have fallen into a marketplace nether world — too straight for gay audiences, and too gay for straight ones, some analysts posited," concludes the Times.

But it also could have been Eichner, either people not liking him for his sometimes abrasive comic persona (seen on "Billy on the Street" and "Difficult People"), or not knowing him at all. "And, of course, homophobia cannot be ruled out."

The Times offers some views of what audiences members think in the comment section to Amy Nicholson's review. While Nicholson has a following from her social media presence, why did the Times send a second-stringer to review a comedy that has so much cultural awareness? Her review was middling: " 'Bros,' a semisweet, sexually frank queer valentine," she writes, concluding that the film does what "every other rom-com, aims to do: charm audiences with a spirited, corny facsimile of life."

Not that Nicholson appears to be much of a Eichner fan, doubting his ability to write an empathetic romantic comedy. "The comedian Billy Eichner is not a person you'd approach for love advice." She goes on to write: "Bobby Leiber, is a strident variation on his persona," but never discusses how funny he (or the film) is, or if he has any chemistry with Luke MacFarlane.

But while her review didn't convey the same opinion as those shared by the majority of critics, it is in the comments section where the clues may be found as to why "Bros" failed so miserably. And could it be homophobia or just consumer taste?

Some took issue with its lack of representation. Roy writes: "As a gay black NYer I'd feel like this movie was made for me, except that: 1) the main couple are slim/muscular white guys (which, given the social hierarchy in the gay male community, is hardly surprising) and 2) it stars Billy Eichner, whom I've disliked in literally everything I've seen him in."

But one reader — James Mitchell from Everett, Washington — dismissed the film for trying to please too many. "This film is too mainstream to be supportive of those in these relationships, and too insulting to those who are not. Being permissive and open to gay relationships does not mean we have to celebrate them on the screen. I am tired of seeing the gay life presented as some kind of heroic achievement to which we should all aspire. Give us reality on the screen, not this pablum."

But another reader, simply called "B" from "here" expressed what might be a major reason why audiences stayed away: Discomfort with portrayals of gay sex.

"I think Billy Eichner is hilarious. I've watched him for years. But I can't see myself going to see a movie about gay romance. As a straight man, I feel a deep, primitive revulsion at the sight of men engaged with each other in a physical, romantic way. I suspect that is also internal brain programming that cannot be changed.

"I'm not sure how to explain it. I dearly love my parents, but the thought of them having sex makes me physically ill. I almost cannot endure it when my wife cries. Heck, I cry more than she does, but when she does, it makes me feel like I'm being turned inside out. For that matter, I have no hatred of fingernails, or of blackboards (remember those?), but combine the two, and I will have to leave the room. It's not really even that bad of a sound, when you force yourself to listen to it, so why does it curdle my blood?

"When will we be grown up enough to accept this truth? That we can't all deal with absolutely everything, and that not everything is about hatred."

James DJ from Arlington, Virginia offered a cogent response to "B": "I am a straight white man who used to be like you. When I was a kid I would wince and turn away when I saw two men kissing. I had very specific boundaries when it came to any depiction of sexual activity.

"Then an interesting thing happened to me. I grew up."

The concern now, the Times concludes, is "the possibility that studios, in their risk-averse way, will now point to the disappointing results for 'Bros' as justification for passing on other theatrical films with L.G.B.T.Q. relationships in the forefront."