The Quorum

Big name directors fail to win back adults

Though, perhaps, we owe Jon M. Chu an apology.

As we’ve reported here, the pandemic-era box office has been driven mostly by men under 45. We know that female, and older audiences are less likely to be going to the theaters these days, and quite frankly, there have been few signs that they are interested in coming back. 

It’s not like the studios haven’t tried. They’ve rolled out several high-end directors. 

Edgar Wright hit a box office low with LAST NIGHT IN SOHO, Tom McCarthy’s STILLWATER barely moved. John M. Chu’s IN THE HEIGHTS was considered a flop, Clint Eastwood’s CRY MACHO barely hit $10M, and David Chase did even less with THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK. At least those three have the very legitimate gripe that HBO Max ate into their box office. 

THE FRENCH DISPATCH by Wes Anderson, the gold standard in the specialty space for over a decade, grossed a quarter of his last live-action original, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL. And Ridley Scott may have saved some face with HOUSE OF GUCCI, but THE LAST DUEL did not end well. 

After all these big-name misfires, Steven Spielberg was the industry’s last hope, our “safety school.” If other attempts failed, which they did, we could always rely on Spielberg to win this audience back. Put simply, he couldn’t. And now it’s hard to say what will. 

It’s also worth pointing out the obvious. When you look at this list of filmmakers, what do you see? Exactly. Maybe the way to get more women back into the multiplex is to have more elite women filmmakers. Yes, Chlo√© Zhao directed ETERNALS and Cate Shortland directed BLACK WIDOW, but having only two women among the ten highest grossing films proves there’s still lots of room for improvement.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s on the data side. We are beginning to understand the market for adult films. We now have a sizable sample set. Below are 12 recent examples. The bottom five were released by Warner Bros. in theaters and on HBO Max. 

A couple of things to notice. 

First, none of these films opened above $15M, and only three debuted above $10M.

Second, the numbers for IN THE HEIGHTS maybe don’t look so bad anymore. Add in the fact that it opened on HBO Max, and it’s not inconceivable that it would have had the largest opening of the group were it strictly theatrical.

More importantly, we’re beginning to understand what to expect from a drama. With A JOURNAL FOR JORDAN arriving this Christmas, CYRANO in January, and MARRY ME in February, there will be more opportunities to reach that $15M marker. Still, until then, this helps us understand the expectations.

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