The Quorum

Is Kenneth Branagh about to have a NORBIT moment?

 No, of course not. And some might argue that it’s a faulty question to pose. 

In 2006, Eddie Murphy was riding a wave of accolades for this career-redefining role in DREAMGIRLS. Murphy was coming off a string of box office stinkers (THE ADVENTURES OF PLUTO NASH, I SPY), and the ones that made some money certainly didn’t impress the critics (DADDY DARE CARE, THE HAUNTED MANSION).

Murphy tackling a musical drama was a revelation. It was a performance that not only earned him his only Oscar nomination but placed him as the front-runner to win the prize. 

Unfortunately, Murphy’s follow-up was NORBIT, which was released two weeks before the Academy Awards. It may have been a box office hit grossing nearly $100M, but it was so reviled by critics that many felt it hurt his chances with the Academy. Murphy ended up losing to Alan Arkin for LITTE MISS SUNSHINE.

Was NORBIT to blame? There’s no way to know. But it has become part of Oscar lore for better or worse. 

As for Kenneth Branagh, he finds himself the front-runner to win Best Director for BELFAST. Branagh has been to this rodeo before. He has been nominated for five Oscars as an actor (MY WEEK WITH MARILYN), a writer (HAMLET), and as a director (Henry V). Could this be the year he takes home the prize?

Like few other filmmakers, Branagh traverses back and forth between high art (look no further than his takes on Shakespeare), and big-budget popcorn flicks for the masses. Some, like CINDERELLA and THOR, work beautifully. Others, like JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT and ARTEMIS FOWL, never take flight. 

His 2017 film MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS made just enough money to earn a follow-up. So, here we are with DEATH ON THE NILE, a film that was supposed to hit theaters more than two years age. It’s one of the last remaining pre-pandemic films yet to hit theaters. It is so dusty that Armie Hammer is the co-lead. 

What remains unclear is if NILE, which is opening in theaters three days after the Oscar nominations are announced, will be Branagh’s NORBIT. 

At three weeks out, NILE has struggled to build awareness. For more than a year, awareness has remained in the mid-’20s. A trailer released exactly a month ago did little lift the numbers. It currently ranks 32nd among all films currently being tracked by The Quorum

The situation is even worse on the interest side, where NILE ranks 41st among upcoming releases with a score of 5.0. 

So, will NILE hurt Branagh’s chances for Oscar glory? It all depends on whether you think the NORBIT-effect is a real thing. It also depends on NILE. EXPRESS earned decent reviews and made a respectable amount of money. 

While the tracking suggests the film will have a modest impact at the box office, perhaps critics will like it. If that’s the case, it may have no impact at all on Branagh’s Oscar odds. If the film doesn’t resonate with critics, that could be an unwanted distraction for the Branagh camp. 

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