Star power! Chemistry! Sex! Why 'the right ingredients' helped turn 'The Idea of You,' 'Anyone But You' and 'Challengers' into success stories

How these films turned buzz into butts in seats.

Press tour photos of Nicholas Galitzine and Anne Hathaway, stars of “The Idea of You,” Zendaya from “Challengers” and Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney from “Anyone But You.”
The Idea of You, Challengers and Anyone But You prove press tours really work. (Photo illustration: Alex Cochran for Yahoo News; photos: Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images for Amazon MGM Studios, Ethan Miller/Getty Images, Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for Warner Bros.)

Take attractive actors with sizzling chemistry, mix in some contemporary romance and voilà, you have a recipe for pop culture dominance.

It's been a fun few months at the box office — and on the couch at home — courtesy of The Idea of You, Challengers and Anyone But You. The three movies prove that tried-and-true promotional methods really work when done well.

It's felt like a return to the pre-streaming era, with good old-fashioned chemistry between actors and movie stars selling these moderate-budget films. Streaming has only fueled their success. Here are four reasons these films likely took over your social media feeds.

OK, press tours have never gone away. Practically every film has a junket and specific media rollout (magazine profile, late night show tour) prior to its release, but aside from superhero flicks and tentpoles (Furiosa, Dune: Part Two) it's been awhile since we've seen a worldwide promo push for "regular" movies.

Challengers went for it. Zendaya brought tenniscore chic to Milan, Monaco, London, Rome, Paris and Sydney, and it paid off, as the movie debuted at No. 1 its opening weekend.

"Press tours play a crucial role in promoting films and generating buzz, especially with the introduction of social media, which extends the reach of these moments and invites audience interaction," public relations guru Ronn Torossian, founder and chairman of PR agency 5WPR, tells Yahoo Entertainment.

A press tour allows the future audience to get a glimpse of the actors' offscreen relationship. For Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell, that was of particular interest given rumors that the two got together when cameras weren't rolling. Interest in how Anne Hathaway and Nicholas Galitzine would bring to life the characters from the bestselling book The Idea of You propelled the film to break the record for most-watched trailer for any original streaming movie.

Even before press tours of these three films kicked off, Torossian says, they were "primed for success."

"They had the right ingredients going into the press tour, such as star power and chemistry between the cast members, as well as unique selling points within the movies themselves," he explains.

Reese Witherspoon recently questioned if careers like hers and Jennifer Aniston's are possible in the streaming era. Zendaya, and her 184 million Instagram followers, prove that they are.

“The transition to streaming hasn't impeded the star power or the chance for talented individuals to emerge as stars. I would argue with the introduction of social media — today's stars like Zendaya are primed to surpass the careers of the superstars we think about from the '90s," Torossian says.

Hathaway's star is well established, but she really had somewhat of a Hathaissance promoting The Idea of You after an era of Hathahate. Plus, Sweeney and Powell showed they can get butts in seats the traditional way as they cemented their status as two of the most sought-after young stars in Hollywood. Anyone But You was the first romantic comedy in half a decade to cross $200 million at the box office. It also found success on streaming when the movie hit Netflix.

"Today's fans are more dedicated than ever and will support their favorites with a passion previously unseen, so having a star attached to your film is a guaranteed way to sell it to a built-in audience," Torossian says.

Anyone But You, Challengers and The Idea of You don't work without chemistry — whether it's real or (a little bit) fake.

Galitzine told Yahoo during the film's press tour "the chemistry was instantaneous" with Hathaway.

"Chemistry is an undeniable tool used to sell a movie — whether it’s the chemistry between two co-stars or the chemistry they convey to the audience. When that chemistry is good, it becomes magnetic, and we find we can’t look away," Torossian says.

Dating rumors plagued Powell and Sweeney ever since paparazzi photos of them looking flirty during filming surfaced. It's something they still talk about months later. The Top Gun: Maverick star actually admitted they played up those rumors to help promote the film. Fueling a showmance, whether it's real or fake, is a trick that's been around forever. These two were just really good at it.

Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell.
Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell in Anyone But You. (© Sony Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)

"Regardless of whether the relationship between the co-stars is real or fake, we are captivated," Torossian adds. "It’s human nature to be curious and to look for proof that it is real and to root for them to succeed."

Let's not forget that sex is still an efficient marketing tool.

"The pendulum is always swinging, but in today’s oversaturated streaming market, you need a shock factor to make audiences pay attention," Torossian explains. "Because Hollywood has shied away from sex in movies in recent years, its inclusion seems an obvious choice to get people to tune in and talk about a film — to say it’s a film like they've never seen before — because they can't remember the last time they did."

The New York Times put it best: "After Period of Chastity, Hollywood Movies Embrace Sex Again."

Challengers was declared the sexiest movie of the year with everyone buzzing about that three-way kiss. Hathaway and Galitzine locked lips so much in The Idea of You that the Oscar-winning actress commissioned "a painting of Listerine strips" that he now has hanging up in his apartment, he told British GQ. Powell and Sweeney did not shy away from nudity in the rom-com.

All three films were rated R.

"It absolutely feels like the pendulum has swung back toward filmmakers exploring adult relationships and sexuality in their projects," Challengers producer Amy Pascal told the New York Times. "I welcome that."