How did Anyone But You go from middling reviews to romcom sleeper hit?

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Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell drove Anyone But You to box office sensation status. (Sony Pictures/Alamy)
Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell drove Anyone But You to box office sensation status. (Sony Pictures/Alamy) (Pictorial Press, Pictorial Press Ltd)

It's fair to say that releasing an original film into cinemas a few days before Christmas doesn't always give you the easiest ride. Certainly, very few people had Anyone But You on their list of "films to rock the box office" at the beginning of 2023. And yet, we sit here now looking at a movie that out-grossed the latest MCU adventure, The Marvels.

The writing wasn't on the wall from the start either. This was an original romcom — albeit very loosely based on Shakespeare play Much Ado Nothing — with two lead actors who, while certainly on the verge of superstardom, were not at the stage where they could open a movie by themselves.

It's not even as if the early signs pointed towards a box office gem. The movie premiered in early December and received a pretty middling set of critical reviews. It's still got a disappointing 53% approval score on Rotten Tomatoes, in contrast to its 87% audience approval rating on the site.

So what happened here? How did Glen Powell, Sydney Sweeney, and director Will Gluck capture lightning in a bottle? Or was it all really down to Natasha Bedingfield? We can't rule that one out.

Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell have an initially frosty connection in Anyone But You. (Sony Pictures/Alamy)
Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell have an initially frosty connection in Anyone But You. (Sony Pictures/Alamy) (Landmark Media, LANDMARK MEDIA)

Anyone But You is a typical enemies-to-lovers premise. Law student Bea (Sweeney) has a delightful meet-cute with banker Ben (Powell) at a coffee shop and they spend the night together, only for a misunderstanding the following morning to sour the whole thing. When they meet again six months later because Bea's sister is dating the sister of Ben's best friend, things are frosty.

This, of course, culminates at a dazzling destination wedding in Sydney, at which both Bea and Ben's exes are present. In order to meet both of their needs, they decide to pretend they're in a relationship. It doesn't take a scriptwriting genius to work out what happens next.

Read more: Notting Hill named as Britain's favourite rom-com (BANG Showbiz)

Is it formulaic? Yes. But director Gluck, who also co-wrote the script with Ilana Wolpert, knows there's genius in the foundations of this sort of romcom story. There's a reason this formula is as old as cinema itself.

Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney at the 2024 People's Choice Awards. (NBC/Getty)
Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney at the 2024 People's Choice Awards. (NBC/Getty) (Mark Von Holden/NBC via Getty Images)

Firstly, Anyone But You became a success thanks to a genius bit of casting. Powell and Sweeney have absolutely sizzling chemistry on-screen, in terms of their romance and their comedic banter. It's no surprise that certain corners of the media became obsessed with the idea that the couple might be dating in real life. They weren't, and they were messing with you.

The movie caught both stars on the absolute apex of their upward trajectory. Powell has been a standout character actor for a few years and is just making the leap to lead roles, with the recent Hit Man and upcoming Twisters sitting as prime examples of his new star power.

Read more: Who is Sydney Sweeney and what are her best roles? (Yahoo Entertainment)

Sweeney, meanwhile, has rode the Euphoria train to the very top of Hollywood and somehow managed to emerge from the wreckage of Madame Web even more famous and beloved. Her high-profile stint as the host of SNL — and the bizarre subsequent international discussion about her breasts — also helped cement her as the star of the moment.

Sydney Sweeney hosted Saturday Night Live just a few months after Anyone But You hit cinemas. (NBC/Getty)
Sydney Sweeney hosted Saturday Night Live just a few months after Anyone But You hit cinemas. (NBC/Getty) (NBC via Getty Images)

Most simply, though, Anyone But You provided audiences with exactly what they wanted at exactly the time they wanted it. The most obvious comparison is perhaps the success of The Greatest Showman in 2017. It's now a ubiquitous musical, but it started as a Christmas period release that earned a critical shrug and faded from its potential place in the Oscars chatter.

But then, people started going to see it. In that awkward period between Christmas and New Year, audiences want to see something light, frothy, and fun on the big screen. And if it's a bit sexy too, that's a bonus. Just ask Bridgerton, which dominated the Christmas of 2020 when it emerged as the binge-watch of the season.

Read more: The Theatrical Success of ‘Anyone but You’ Sends a Message: Has Streaming Become a Form of Stockholm Syndrome? (Variety)

All of these elements are present and correct in Anyone But You so, over that Christmas period, the tickets kept selling. By the time it got a special extended release over the Valentine's Day weekend in 2024, it was well on the way to its monster box office total of $220m (£174m).

Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney star in Anyone But You. (Sony)
Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney star in Anyone But You. (Sony) (Brook Rushton)

Of course, it also helped that Anyone But You had a perfect generational point of synergy at its heart in the form of the exquisite cheese of Natasha Bedingfield's 2004 hit Unwritten. Millennials loved the nostalgia, while Gen-Z took great pleasure in filming themselves belting the song out in the corridors of the multiplex post-screening for TikTok.

Read more: Why has Sydney Sweeney become a culture war flashpoint? (Yahoo Entertainment)

Just as Saltburn triggered a revival of Sophie Ellis-Bextor's Murder on the Dancefloor, Unwritten also charted again in dozens of countries. In the UK, it landed at number 12. So in short, we're putting the success of Anyone But You down to Glen Powell sheepishly mumbling along to a noughties pop banger.

Anyone But You will be available to stream on Sky Cinema and NOW from Friday, 5 July.

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