'Crazy Rich Asians' Filmmakers Turned Down "Gigantic" Netflix Payday For A Theatrical Release

It’s been a long time since so many eyes have been on a rom-com before its release. But in the case of the upcoming “Crazy Rich Asians,” everyone is curious how well the film will do at the box office when its released in a couple weeks. Largely, the anticipation comes from the fact that this is the first major studio film to feature an all-Asian cast, and like this year’s “Black Panther,” the folks involved in the production are hoping “Crazy Rich Asians” can prove once again that diversity in Hollywood can pay off.

However, there’s another wrinkle to this story and that comes down to a decision that was made well before filming began. According to a new profile from THR, filmmaker Jon M. Chu, author Kevin Kwan, and various producers, including Nina Jacobson, had to choose between a theatrical release with Warner Bros. or a Netflix streaming release. Now, while many people might assume that the choice is a no-brainer, considering every filmmaker hopes for a theatrical run, that wasn’t the case with “Crazy Rich Asians.” You see, Netflix made an offer that could have been life-changing for those involved.

THR says that Netflix offered the producers, director, and author seven-figure deals each, as well as guaranteeing a trilogy of films and the artistic freedom that comes with working with the streaming service. And that deal was an offer they didn’t take lightly.

“I could sense every lawyer on the call shaking their heads: ‘Ugh, these stupid idealists.’ Here, we have a chance for this gigantic payday instantaneously,” Kwan says. “But Jon and I both felt this sense of purpose. We needed this to be an old-fashioned cinematic experience, not for fans to sit in front of a TV and just press a button.”

Chu added, “We were gifted this position to make a decision no one else can make, which is turning down the big payday for rolling the dice [on the box office] — but being invited to the big party, which is people paying money to go see us.”

In discussing just what a “gigantic” payday means for Kwan, the author said, “I could have moved to an island and never worked another day.”

But as is obvious now, the stakeholders all chose to go to WB instead, and with it, a traditional theatrical release. The main driving force are a couple recent diverse films that have done incredibly well at the box office.

“You can look at ‘Get Out,’ you can look at ‘Black Panther’ — it changes the whole economics of the business when movies like that succeed,” says Jacobson. “It meant something to us to become a ‘comp’ for somebody else.”

At the end of the day, the main reason audiences will get to see “Crazy Rich Asians” on the big screen is because the theatrical release is a gamble that the filmmakers involved wanted. And they fully accept the pressure that comes along with being a potential success story or cautionary tale.

“We can sugarcoat it all we want, but the moment you bring up an Asian-led movie, there’s one example to point to, and that’ll be us,” says Chu. “To be on the biggest stage with the biggest stakes, that’s what we asked for.”