Stop the presses. We don’t need the full weekend results to report big news.
Two non-franchise films kicked off their massive releases Thursday with half-day performances, buoyed by stellar reviews and top-notch directors, in a summer that fell more than five percent behind last year. The result: a total gross of $32.8 million.
“Barbie” (Warner Bros. Discovery), with a 3 p.m. start and shorter running time, grossed $22.3 million. “Oppenheimer” (Universal), which began at 17:00, runs for three hours; benefit from more expensive premium tickets while being limited by lower total capacity. It grossed $10.5 million.
Achievements like these require hyperbole and deserve it. However, focusing on the jaw-dropping numbers risks missing an even more important point: audiences are stating, in no uncertain terms, that IP and connected universes and sequels aren’t going to save theaters. The secret lies in investing in risky projects based on compelling ideas that challenge filmmakers and their audiences.
Lest this sound too much like a “Eureka!” moment, this conclusion should make the studies reflect. They love the idea of franchise, repeatability, security. It is all too possible to make expensive original films that fail or alienate. They often require visionary filmmakers, which are in short supply and offer no guarantees.
Again: look at those numbers. There are untapped masses ready, willing and willing to see movies in theaters.
That two risky projects, each costing at least $100 million, could simultaneously outstrip the more conventional “Fast X,” “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Fate,” “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One,” and “Guardians of the Galaxy vol.3” will shake up the fundamental precepts of how Hollywood operates.
It also comes when writers and actors are on strike. Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling are key to “Barbie”; Cillian Murphy and a phalanx of fantastic actors are the key to “Oppenheimer.” Directors Greta Gerwig and Christopher Nolan are co-writers of their films.
With “Barbie,” Gerwig is poised to become the most successful female director in history. And she does it with comedy, a genre that has withered and almost died in recent years.
And miracle of miracles – this is a movie without premium screens. Maybe some movies can do without IMAX.
“Oppenheimer” couldn’t have a more serious subject and, like “Barbie,” could be a major award contender. Both came out in July and debuted in thousands of theaters. Game changer.
And the critics? Last year, no major study publication scores above 80 (meaning universal acclaim) on Metacritic. (“The Fabelmans”, initially on platform, scored an 84). This summer, five films have already succeeded. Aside from the two new releases, ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ (the biggest hit so far), ‘Mission’ and ‘Joyride’ have also been at this level, with only ‘Joyride’ not being getting strong or best initial response. Who says critics don’t count?
Fans of “Sound of Freedom,” the indie story about child trafficking that grossed over $100 million in just over two weeks, might disagree. (Metascore: 43.) This is also original and while it has little in common with “Barbie” or “Oppenheimer”, it shares one key to success: don’t remix past hits.
“Sound” may even achieve the unthinkable: It could beat “Mission: Impossible” for third place this weekend.