I have a confession to make: I watched “The Kissing Booth”, the 2018 Netflix original romantic comedy inspired by a work of Wattpad fanfiction. Yes, you read that correctly: Wattpad. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who watched the movie. Although Netflix will not reveal the exact number of people who watched the film, the movie was number four on IMDB’s ranking, behind Deadpool 2, Avengers: Infinity War and Solo, indicating its incredible popularity. According to Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos, the movie had a one-third rewatch rate.
The popularity of “The Kissing Booth” does not even begin to compare to the powerhouse that is “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before”. Again, Netflix has not released the data for the actual numbers of viewers the movie had, but it is likely to be just as, if not more, popular than “The Kissing Booth”. One indication of the popularity of the film comes from its impact on one of the star’s instagram following. Noah Centineo, who played protagonist Lara Jean’s main love interest, had his Instagram followers increase nearly seventeenfold; from less than one million to nearly fourteen million.
According to Variety, Netflix had over 80 million subscribers watch one of its many rom-coms released this summer. This intense viewership is reflected in its growth; Netflix had a revenue of more than four billion dollars and an addition of seven million new subscribers, which surpassed Wall Street expectations and industry expert predictions.
The romantic comedy had been on its way out for a while. In 2001, almost one in five films were romantic comedies, yet this number dropped to almost one in twenty by 2017. In the past few years, the number of romantic comedies made by big studio audiences has dropped. The last two wide-released big-studio romcoms that come to mind are “Trainwreck” (2015) and “Spy” (2015). Additionally many romantic movies have been shifting to incorporate more dramatic elements, such as La La Land (2016), or are created by indie filmmakers, such as “The Big Sick” (2017). Additionally, when major studios do make romcoms they tend to be played on the safe side, usually in the form of remakes or sequels.
Has Netflix identified a gap in the market? What has made Netflix so successful with its rom-coms in the past year? One thing to note is that “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before”, “Sierra Burgess is a Loser” and “The Kissing Booth” are adaptations of books with large following. “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” spent 40 weeks on the New York Times best sellers list and was translated into 30 languages. “Sierra Burgess is a Loser” is an adaptation of the nineteenth century story, “Cyrano de Bergerac”, which is read in many high school English classes. “The Kissing Booth” originated on Wattpad, where it won an award for “Most Popular Teen Fiction”, garnered almost twenty million reads and was eventually published by Penguin. It is clear that these stories had an audience even before the movies were announced.
This should not discount the fact that there were other romcoms this summer that were exceedingly popular and were completely original, the most notable being “Set it Up”. “Set it Up” is a romantic comedy but has a more mature audience, as it features two twenty-somethings in New York City, while all the other aforementioned films featured protagonists who were still college bound. This film features less petty high school drama with a more believable and relatable plotline. While the intended audience may not necessarily watch “The Kissing Booth”, many of its fans may gravitate towards this film, since it features many of the same romantic tropes but in a different setting and tone.
The most important point Netflix has gotten from this is a repeat audience. I imagine that many of the fans of these movies are young and old alike but if even half of those viewers are younger, these movies definitely left an impact on them. Netflix has influenced a new generation of media consumers to be interested in the romantic comedy drama. As these viewers get older and enter romantic relationships, they can always fall back on their old Netflix favorites when the relationship is not as perfect as the ones depicted. Netflix is fully aware of their influence and has two more romcoms coming out at the end of this month, with even more slated for next year.