‘Woman King,’ ‘Moonage Daydream’ Try to Turn Festival Acclaim Into Box Office Success

·4-min read

Sony/eOne’s “The Woman King” and Neon’s “Moonage Daydream” won’t be able to end the monthlong box office drought theaters are trudging through, but there’s a chance that the strong critical acclaim that they have received on the festival circuit could at least bring some measure of relief if those reviews translate into widespread audience buzz.

Starring Viola Davis as the leader of an all-female African military unit called the Agojie, “The Woman King” will get a wide release in 3,700-plus theaters, with independent projections currently estimating a $13-$16 million opening weekend total. Sony is putting its projections just below that at $12 million, a figure earned by “Widows,” a heist thriller also starring Davis, in 2018.

But if “The Woman King” ends up taking the same box office path as “Widows” with poorer holdover totals, then its outlook isn’t very bright. “Widows” barely passed the break-even point, grossing $76 million worldwide against a $42 million production budget despite strong reviews.

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The good news is that “The Woman King” is heading into theaters with even stronger reviews than “Widows,” currently holding a 98% Rotten Tomatoes score with 47 reviews logged. Also, while “Widows” was squeezed out of a crowded November release slate with “Bohemian Rhapsody” and sequels to “Wreck-It Ralph” and “Fantastic Beasts” getting more attention, the biggest wide release competition that “The Woman King” will face is the 18th weekend of “Top Gun: Maverick.”

Next weekend, the competition shouldn’t get much tougher for “Woman King” as it goes against the poorly reviewed “Don’t Worry Darling” and a re-release of “Avatar.” With few other films in theaters, “The Woman King” could draw more casual moviegoers outside of key demographics off the fence over a longer period of time, especially if it builds buzz among general audiences as an exciting action film.

But aside from the acclaim and its spot on the release slate, “The Woman King” doesn’t have many attributes of a box office hit… at least on paper. While its African setting and focus on an army of formidable female Black warriors makes it another example of Hollywood’s ongoing push for diversity, it is at its roots a historical epic. That genre, once one of the most successful in cinema, ceded its power in the mid-2000s after films like “Master and Commander” and “Troy” failed to become big hits, giving way to today’s franchise-fueled market.

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Davis, while one of the most decorated and critically lauded actors working today, doesn’t have a particularly strong box office record. She certainly earns her action film bona fides in this film, with plenty of intense battle scenes to go with an emotional arc developed alongside co-stars Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch and John Boyega.

But the question is whether enough moviegoers outside of major cities and the core Black demographic will give this film a chance, and given how much this film’s fate hinges on opening weekend audience reception, we won’t know for a couple of weeks whether it will turn a profit against its $50 million production budget.

Meanwhile, Neon is releasing “Moonage Daydream” as an exclusive one-week engagement on 170 Imax screens before expanding it to standard format theaters next week. Directed by Brett Morgen and screening at Cannes and TIFF, “Moonage Daydream” has received critical acclaim as a psychedelic yet deeply thoughtful retrospective on the life of David Bowie, using the artist’s own words and music to paint his views on life, art, fame and existence itself.

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Aside from “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” the specialty market has been starving for success this year, waiting for festival season to finish so that awards contenders can finally arrive. With TIFF almost complete, “Moonage Daydream” signals the start of a vital awards season that will determine just how much interest remains in seeing prestigious Oscar contenders and other mature, artistic films in theaters after the pandemic.

Finally, A24 will also release “Pearl,” the surprise prequel to Ti West’s cult slasher film “X,” which opened this past spring. Filmed on a budget of just $1 million, “X” was a microbudget success for A24, opening to $4.2 million from 2,865 screens and finishing with an $11.4 million total.

“Pearl,” which was secretly filmed alongside “X,” is set decades before its predecessor and tells the origin story of Pearl, the murderous villain who would go on to kill the cast and crew of a low-budget adult film that holds a shoot on her farm in the 1980s. A third “X” film, “MaXXXine,” was already announced at TIFF, and “Pearl” is expected to match the opening of “X” with a $4 million launch.

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