While Disney/Marvel’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is expected to dominate the box office in its second weekend, it will face off against a pair of mature original films, Universal’s “She Said” and Searchlight’s “The Menu.” For “She Said” in particular, the box office forecast shows how difficult it is for films tackling difficult real-life subjects to find a foothold among audiences.
Currently, “The Menu” has the edge with independent projections currently sitting at $8-10 million from 3,100 theaters, a result that at the low end would match the opening of Searchlight’s August 2019 thriller “Ready or Not.” Searchlight is banking that the twists and dark class satire of Mark Mylod’s film will attract the 18- to 34-year-old moviegoers who have supported the small handful of 2022 indie hits like A24’s “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Starring Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult, “The Menu” has a 91% Rotten Tomatoes score.
“She Said,” on the other hand, has a considerably lower screen count at approximately 2,000 theaters, with projections for its opening weekend topping out at $5 million. The film, about the New York Times investigation into Harvey Weinstein that sparked the #MeToo movement, has been praised by critics with an 86% Rotten Tomatoes score and has been tipped as a potential Best Picture Oscar nominee. But like other fall Oscar contenders such as “Till” and “Tár,” it’s likely to only get turnout from the most devoted of cinephiles.
According to analysts, “She Said” is only seeing substantial interest from moviegoers in Los Angeles and New York, the two cities where Weinstein set up home base for his producing career and where he has faced multiple criminal charges of sexual misconduct. In 2020, Weinstein was found guilty of third degree rape and criminal sexual acts in New York and sentenced to 23 years in prison; he is currently on trial in L.A. for seven charges of sexual assault.
The obvious comparison for “She Said” would be the 2015 Best Picture Oscar winner “Spotlight,” also a hard-boiled true-story journalism thriller about investigative reporters exposing rampant sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in Boston and the system that enabled it. But a closer look at that film’s box office run shows just how much moviegoing has changed in just seven years.
“Spotlight,” released by Open Road prior to its 2018 bankruptcy and 2020 revival, had a months-long run in art-houses that started with an extended $5.6 million five-day opening on Thanksgiving weekend in just 897 theaters. The film would go on to earn around $1 million almost every weekend all the way through the first weekend of March following its Oscar victories for Best Picture and Original Screenplay, finishing with a respectable $45 million domestic total despite a theater count that never exceeded 1,200.
“She Said” won’t get anywhere near that amount of screens, nor does Universal probably need it to play more widely. The film has a $32 million budget with Plan B and Megan Ellison’s Annapurna as producers. After the usually sluggish post-Thanksgiving weekend, it would not be surprising to see “She Said” get released on digital on-demand platforms as part of Universal’s 17-day theatrical window deal with AMC Theatres and Cinemark.
And if “She Said” does pick up nominations for Best Picture, whatever interest that nod stokes among audiences to see the film will likely be funneled toward its availability on NBCUniversal’s streamer Peacock and other home platforms, as changing audience habits and the imperative by most major studios to make their streaming services profitable has eaten away at the theatrical revenue that awards contenders historically contribute in January and February.
This is the reality that “She Said” is facing. Though it may be a well-reviewed retelling of an incredible feat of modern journalism, the box office numbers of the past two years show that’s not what most moviegoers are primed to head to theaters to see.
Correction: A previous version of the story erroneously attributed the film’s $32 million budget to Annapurna and Plan B. The film’s budget was paid by Universal with Annapurna and Plan B as producers