It’s a welcome development for the specialty market, which has stalled in recent months outside of sparse hits like A24’s “The Farewell” ($19.5 million) and Roadside Attractions’ “The Peanut Butter Falcon” ($20.1 million). Industry analysts predict the indie box office could continue to thrive as awards season nears and studios begin to unveil their front-runners to the masses.
“The world of awards season contenders is an interesting one this year and in spite of a softer overall indie box-office, boasts a really interesting, diverse and often edgy crop of films,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst with Comscore. “Strong box-office starts for potential contenders like ‘Jojo Rabbit’ and ‘Judy’ shows that audiences are in the mood for challenging and thought-provoking movies that push the envelope.”
Last year’s nine best picture nominees boasted the highest combined grosses in nearly a decade as “Black Panther,” “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “A Star Is Born” fought to take home cinema’s top prize. But history has proven that glitzy awards and box office receipts don’t always go hand-in-hand. As Oscar darlings become part of the cultural conversation, smaller studios look to score a bigger piece of the box office pie through the rest of 2019.
“The beauty of awards season is the films released during this part of the year can provide the spark to ignite renewed interest in and excitement for non-blockbuster style offerings,” Dergarabedian said.
Already, Oscar hopefuls from independent studios have begun to make inroads on box office charts. This weekend, A24’s “The Lighthouse” cracked the top 10 with $3 million, despite playing on just 586 screens. “Jojo Rabbit” secured the best screen average of the weekend after collecting $1 million from 55 theaters — $18,500 per venue. Meanwhile, “Parasite” has generated $4.1 million in North America in two weeks of limited release, an especially strong result for a foreign film. Director Bong Joon Ho’s dark social satire became a massive success overseas, particularly in South Korea, where the film has earned $70 million of its $104 million haul. In other specialty milestones, “Judy” crossed the $20 million mark this weekend.
Though distributors tend to release awards season bait in late September and beyond to keep movies fresh in voters minds, some potential contenders from major studios got off to an earlier start. Over the summer, Sony and Quentin Tarantino’s R-rated ode to showbiz, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” generated $368 million globally, while Paramount’s Elton John musical fantasy “Rocketman” neared $200 million worldwide. STX’s “Hustlers,” a crime drama that became a surprise hit, and Warner Bros.’ “Joker,” a gritty super-villain origin story, are still drawing moviegoers.
Netflix has a handful of newcomers that will soon be in the mix, which means despite limited theatrical windows for its awards season hopefuls, box office grosses for Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” and Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” will likely go unreported.
With two months left for awards hopefuls to premiere, several titles have potential to become Oscar favorites. Awards season sages are looking to titles including Focus Features’ “Harriet (Nov. 1), Disney-Fox’s “Ford v Ferrari (Nov. 15), A24’s “Waves” (Nov. 15), Sony’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (Nov. 22), A24’s “Uncut Gems” (Dec. 13), Lionsgate’s “Bombshell” (Dec. 20), and a trio of Christmas day releases: Sony’s “Little Women,” Warner Bros. “Just Mercy” and Universal’s “1917” to add some more heft to the awards conversation.
Here are the global tallies (as of Oct. 27) for this year’s potential Oscar contenders:
“Joker” ($849 million)
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” ($368 million)
“Rocketman” ($195 million)
“Hustlers” ($135 million)
“Parasite” ($104.5 million)
“Pain & Glory” ($31 million)
“Judy” ($29 million)
“The Farewell” ($19.5 million)
“Jojo Rabbit” ($1.5 million)
“The Lighthouse” ($3.6 million)