An aspiring singer, an astronaut, and a magical nanny walk into a movie theater — and with that, Oscar season is officially underway.
History proves that festival raves don’t necessarily translate into box office success, and massive ticket sales don’t always correlate with awards love. Still, Variety has started to take a look at this year’s crop of Oscar hopefuls and assess their profits, and in a few cases their losses, as October comes to a close.
There’s no official kickoff to awards season, though pundits usually consider the start around major film festivals including Venice, Telluride and Toronto. But every year, a few earlier movies manage to stay top of mind. “Get Out” premiered at Sundance and opened nationwide last February before scoring four Academy Award nominations the following March. That could happen again as Disney’s “Black Panther” has been part of the conversation since it dazzled audiences and critics alike at the beginning of the year. The Marvel blockbuster is easily be the biggest earner of all awards hopefuls, topping out with a massive $700 million in North America and $1.3 billion worldwide. Likewise, John Krasinski’s “A Quiet Place” crept in this April with a massive $338 million. “Black Panther” still looks likely to score a best picture nod, but both of those movies would have also been likely contenders if the Academy had moved forward with its controversial popular movies category.
Early festival favorite Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” drummed up $48 million in North America and $37 million overseas, while Bo Burnham’s coming-of-age drama “Eighth Grade” scored $13.5 million. Both films carry low production budgets, meaning they didn’t need to hit triple digits to be profitable.
October, November, and December are prime awards movie territory, so how are fall releases doing at theaters? Tapping into both box office and early awards attention, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s acclaimed remake of “A Star Is Born” has generated $148 million so far. It has shown staying power, remaining in the top three in North America since it launched, and picking up another $14 million in its fourth outing.
Meanwhile, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” and “Wildlife” are both enjoying successful releases at the specialty box office before expanding over the next few weeks. The former is a Fox Searchlight drama starring Melissa McCarthy as an ornery literary forger. It has made $610,139 from 25 theaters. This weekend, it boasted a solid per-screen-average of $14,693. The latter, Paul Dano’s directorial debut with Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal, has generated $249,000. Its widest release so far has been in 18 theaters.
Fox’s Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” earning Oscar buzz for Rami Malek’s portrayal of frontman Freddie Mercury, has yet to open in the States, but it’s off to a solid start overseas. It launched in the United Kingdom with $12.2 million this weekend and debuts Friday in North America.
Not all hopefuls have stuck the landing. “First Man,” Damien Chazelle’s space epic starring Ryan Gosling, failed to lift off, only pocketing $38 million to date. While not all awards contenders take off at multiplexes, it will have to work hard to remain in the conversation and make up for its $60 million price tag. Annapurna’s “The Sisters Brothers” struggled to find its footing as Jacques Audiard’s dark western with John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix has grossed just $2.7 million in North America and $6 million in France against its $38 million production budget. That’s a disaster for Annapurna and may have compounded the indie label’s financial difficulties. The company said it co-produced the show, which limited its exposure.
Of course, there’s still a number of buzzy films on the horizon. Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” will be one of the more interesting titles to watch as Netflix grapples with a still-undefined limited theatrical release window starting in mid-December before it rolls out on the streaming service. The quietly beautiful festival favorite can benefit from a big screen viewing, though voters might also appreciate the convenience of Netflix. The streaming service doesn’t measure success in ticket sales. It believes the attention that awards generate helps it attract subscribers.
Yorgos Lanthimos’ period drama “The Favourite” with Emma Stone and Olivia Colman, as well as Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk” are also getting their start with a platform release on Nov. 23 and Nov. 30, respectively, before slowly expanding nationwide.
There are also a few more contenders that hope to have viable commercial prospects. Disney’s hotly anticipated sequel “Mary Poppins Returns” looks to be a holiday hit in December, while Adam McKay could find himself in another Oscar race when “Vice,” the biographical comedy starring Christian Bale as former VP Dick Cheney and Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush, drops on Christmas Day.
In November, Steve McQueen’s heist drama “Widows” with Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, and Daniel Kaluuya is brimming with star power, and Universal’s “Green Book” looks like the type of feel-good story that entices audiences around Thanksgiving. Then there’s Jason Reitman’s “The Front Runner,” which has a genuine box office draw in its lead Hugh Jackman and could strike a chord in the current political climate. Or audiences could tune it out, preferring escapism from the 24/7 cable news cycle.
With four months to go until the main event, there’s plenty of time for new films to enter the discussion as they hit multiplexes. For now, these are domestic tallies (as of Oct. 29) for films that have already launched:
“Black Panther” — $700 million
“A Star Is Born” — $148.7 million
“BlacKkKlansman” — $48 million
“First Man” — $37.8 million
“The Hate U Give” — $18.3 million
“Eighth Grade” — $13.5 million
“The Wife” — $7.6 million
“The Old Man and the Gun” — $7.2 million
“Colette” — $4.6 million
“The Sisters Brothers” — $2.7 million
“Beautiful Boy” — $1.4 million”
“Can You Ever Forgive Me” — $610,139
“Wildlife” — $249,000