Why “She Said” bombed at the box office

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Universal’s journalistic drama “She Said” became one of the worst performing releases in box office history, grossing a miserable $2.25 million from 2,022 theaters. But the film’s failure is just one example of many prestige films that garner Oscar fanfare for their treatment of difficult, real-world subjects, but are largely shunned by audiences looking for escapism at the multiplex.

Here are the box office stats that would placate any studio executive with a ripe awards contender: “Terrifier 2,” a tearjerker indie thriller that grossed $10.5 million in October, currently has a higher gross than “She Said,” Focus features “Tár.” or United Artists’ “Even” or Searchlight Pictures’ “The Banshees of Inisherin,” all movies that award gurus predicted would make a big presence on the Oscars nominations list.

Although the number of screens and release strategies are different for all of these films, they all focus on exploring challenging issues in today’s society including cancel culture (“Tár”), racism, hate crimes (“Till”), depression (“Banshees”), and the #MeToo movement. (“She Said”); And all of them have found interest only among a small group of movie-goers.

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The pandemic has not only altered movie release patterns, but also audiences’ interests, making a film about The New York Times’ investigation into disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein a harder sell than it already would be. Besides showing plenty of traumatized and crying women being questioned about the worst moment of their lives, “She Said” opens with Times reporter Megan Twohy investigating allegations of sexual assault against Donald Trump just weeks before he won the 2016 election.

And now, “She Said” is popping up as Trump returns to the news with his 2024 presidential campaign and reinstatement on Twitter, adding to headlines about inflation, an impending recession, and war in Ukraine that have left films like “She Said” feeling like reminders of our harsh realities in A time when the general public wants to distract attention from him.

Escapism has always been a huge force at the box office, but the numbers show it’s being valued more than ever. As films that reflect and muddle through our faltering world, Top Gun: Maverick has rocketed to the top of the charts while the quirky, life-affirming “Everything Everywhere at Once” remains the gold standard for indie success in this article-lockdown era. Even “Terrifier 2,” as scary and appropriate as it gets, provides its own twisted form of escape for horror fans.

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“Terrifier 2, like any blockbuster horror movie, has appeal like the scariest roller coaster, and this drama just doesn’t have the same kind of theme park appeal,” said comScore analyst Paul Degarabedian. We should applaud studios like Universal for their continued commitment to making these kinds of films, but the accolades and praise they get from critics and the small audience that watches them has to be the currency that films like She Said cling to, because they don’t generate the box office revenue they’re supposed to. to achieve them.”

Even as Universal holds out hope that post-theatre revenues will mitigate its losses on “She Said,” an Annapurna and Plan B production with a pre-marketing budget of $32 million, the studio is enjoying success with older audiences across the board. “Ticket to Paradise.” The lighthearted romantic comedy starring Julia Roberts and George Clooney grossed $61 million domestically and $158.5 million worldwide, a modest but rare success for the rom-com genre.

Along with the escapism and comedic tone, it has two real movie stars who may have outgrown the box office hit “Ocean’s Eleven” but still hold sway with millions of moviegoers over the age of 45. Ironically, Clooney told Chris Wallace on CNN last month that He agreed to do Ticket to Heaven because he needed a break from the “dark things going on in the world”, explaining how Hollywood’s elite feel the need to escape from reality.

By contrast, “She Said” has no star power. Other A-list journalist Ricknet films include Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep in “The Post” and Michael Keaton and “Avengers” star Mark Ruffalo in Best Picture winning “Spotlight.” She Said is headlined by Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan has received praise for their work on films like Young Woman of Promise and Big Illness but are little known to the vast majority of casual moviegoers.

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Other upcoming awards contenders may be with lighter colors and a better box office theme. A case study will come with Steven Spielberg’s biopic “The Fabelmans,” which will expand to 600 theaters over Thanksgiving weekend after earning $314,000 on four screens in New York and Los Angeles in the last two weekends.

Meanwhile, Paramount is bullish about Damien Chazelle’s “Papillon,” a frantic three-hour trip through Hollywood in the Roaring Twenties starring Margot Robbie as the party-obsessed, cocaine-addicted starlet. The $78 million film is a big gamble that may not pay off if the film’s polarized word of mouth from early Academy screenings curdles into mixed reviews that drive away ticket buyers.

But at least “Babylon” is an attempt by a major studio to satisfy audiences’ demand for escapist fare in a non-franchise way. “She Said,” like so many of this fall’s prestige films, doesn’t quite meet the high bar many moviegoers are looking for a reason to pay tickets at physical theaters, certainly when compared to similar pre-pandemic Oscar contenders like Spotlight (45 million). $) domestic), “Selma” ($52 million), “BlacKkKlansman” ($49 million) or “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” ($54.5 million).

This year’s pool of serious contenders will make up a fraction of those totals, especially in a market with shorter windows between theatrical and streaming debuts. In fact, any Academy Award nominations announced in January will likely come after most of that film has left home theaters.

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