Not to step on the toes of Mr. Neil Turitz, whose awesome “Studio Series” is among the best analysis the Tracking Board has to offer – but he hasn’t addressed one of the more successful fledgling specialty distributors, A24, since July, and so much has happened since then, the company merits another look. After al, I’m not sure even Neil could have foreseen the success of Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird way back in July.
I’ve been noticing the growing success of A24 over the past couple years with a number of hits and awards contenders even before Moonlight – Brie Larson winning for Room, for instance – but so much of what I do is related to the box office to the point where I could no longer ignore what was becoming obvious.
The fact that I had to hold up this morning’s box office report because A24 hadn’t reported their Friday box office for The Disaster Artist or Lady Bird yet gives you some idea of the impact the studio is having not only on the box office but also on ALL of Hollywood.
James Franco’s new comedy, in which he cast himself as The Room director Tommy Wiseau, is looking to make around $7 million this weekend for fourth place, the second highest opening for A24, but that’s after a really impressive limited release where it made $1.2 million in just 19 theaters. Fox Searchlight’s The Shape of Water might make that amount this weekend but in three times as many theaters and with almost two decades more experience at the distribution/expansion game.
For comparison’s sake, A24’s Best Picture winner and to-date highest-grossing release Moonlight never made it into the top 10. The next-highest grosser, Alex Garner’s Ex Machina, had to settle for the bottom half of the top 10. Their third-highest grosser The Witch opened at #4, then dropped a couple notches then was out of the top 10 altogether. A few weeks back, A24 had three movies in the top 20, putting them among the likes of Warner Bros. and Lionsgate, bigger studios that can regularly juggle three or more high-profile films.
If you look at some of the other distributors that have launched in the past couple years – STX, Broad Green, Bleecker Street, etc. – few of them have been able to find the type of consistent success with every single movie. In some ways, A24 has created a path for themselves where moviegoers who enjoy one of the studio’s movies, likely can find something else in their roster to like. That’s whether it’s the sci-fi genre of films like Ex Machina, The Witch or It Comes at Night to straight-up character dramas like Room or Moonlight.
But it’s not that A24 is grabbing the low hanging fruit at film festivals that might have gone to one of the more established studios. No, they’ve picked up a lot of weird-ass films as well. Remember last year’s Swiss Army Man? They also doubled down with Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos after having success with The Lobster last year, by releasing his equally difficult The Killling of a Sacred Deer. They released the all-Hebrew drama Menashe from Joshua Z. Weinstein, which never seemed like a big moneymaker, but making $1.7 million with no stars and a shoestring budget? Not bad at all.
I almost forgot to mention Sean Baker’s The Florida Project and the critical attention it’s been getting. Baker was named Best Director by the New York Film Critics Circle, and the film could possibly earn Willem Dafoe a long-deserved Oscar, too.
That’s not to say everything has worked out as planned as David Lowery’s Sundance fave A Ghost Story didn’t find nearly the audience that was expected despite a focused marketing campaign that included a pop-up “ghost fitting” store in New York. The Safdie brothers’ Good Time also could potentially have done better than the $2 million it’s grossed so far, but it’s not due to lack of trying on A24’s part. (The Safdies hosted a number of related film series at local theaters and even released a 35mm print of the movie at New York’s Metrograph, helping to cater to the movie’s film snob audience.)
On a personal note, I have to say that working with the publicity team at A24 over the years has always been a joy, to the point where local journalists always want to support its releases. That’s definitely coming to a head this year with the success of Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird. A lot of better writers than me have bandied praise on Gerwig’s solo directorial debut, but really, is it that different a coming-of-age film from Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women, which co-starred Gerwig and was released by A24 last year, but didn’t find nearly as much love or support? Lady Bird has already tripled what Mills’ film made, and that’s before we’re fully into awards season.
The Disaster Artist and Lady Bird should end A24’s year on a high-note as they continue to receive awards nominations on the way to Oscar night. There’s a lot of strong competition this year but the fact that A24 could potentially match the ten Oscar nominations it received last year (winning three) is a good sign that A24 is going to be around to stay for a long time.
That is, as long as it doesn’t start making superhero movies… besides last year’s Swiss Army Man.
Edward Douglas | East Coast Editor