In what’s become an annual ritual, last weekend a buzzy horror title from A24 debuted in theaters to solid box office and divided audiences. It’s a pattern that began with The Witch in February 2016, which was praised by critics in early reviews, received a “C-” CinemaScore from audiences, and yet still scored a record-breaking opening for its then-nascent distributor. That pattern repeated with last summer’s It Comes At Night (88 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, “D” CinemaScore, recouped its production budget in its first weekend) and now Hereditary, which set a new box-office record for A24 with a No. 4, $13 million opening weekend.
Like its predecessors, Hereditary was met with puzzlement by general audiences, splitting the difference between The Witch and It Comes At Night with a “D+” CinemaScore. So what accounts for these wildly divergent differences of opinion between the critics who have overwhelmingly praised the film and Jo and John Multiplex? One could argue that critics—who watch tons of movies for their job, and thus tend to welcome challenging diversions from the daily grind—and audiences—who sometimes just want cinema comfort food at the end of a long day—have different perspectives on what they want from a genre movie.
One could also argue that the hyperbole heaped upon films like Hereditary by critics is counterproductive, setting unrealistically high expectations. (I loved Hereditary, but how many “scariest movies ever” can there be, you know?) But as long as that same hype is effective in getting people out to the theater—and it has been so far—there’s no reason to believe that A24 will change its strategy any time soon. That being said, Slice, an upcoming “pizza-themed slasher movie” co-starring Chance The Rapper, has the potential to be a crowd-pleasing change of pace for A24. We just don’t know yet, as the distributor is keeping details on the film tightly under wraps. Let’s meet back up here in a year and discuss.
A different sort of mixed reception met this week’s No. 1 movie in America, Ocean’s 8, which has received middling reviews but scored an “A” CinemaScore from its largely young, female audience. With a $10,012 per-screen average spread out among 4,145 screens—excellent for a wide release—the Sandra Bullock-led heist movie made a healthy $41.5 million in its first weekend. That’s more than double its closest competitor: Poor, just-good-enough Solo: A Star Wars Story, which came in at No. 2 with $15 million. For those keeping score at home, the film has made $312 million worldwide so far, covering its $250 million production budget; but with Variety estimating $150 million spent on promoting the spin-off, that still puts it in the “loss” column for Disney.
It was a disappointing weekend for highly unofficial John Wick and The Purge spin-off Hotel Artemis as well: The film lost quite a bit of blood in its opening weekend, debuting in wide release at No. 8 with a soft $3.1 million. (It also scored the second-worst per-screen average in this week’s Top 10 with $1,309 per screen, just ahead of five-week-old Life Of The Party’s $1,143 per screen.) As always, however, success at the box office is a matter of scale: Hearts Beat Loud and Won’t You Be My Neighbor? both did very well for themselves on a tiny number of screens ($74,053 on four screens and $470,000 on 29 screens, respectively), raising the question of whether what the world is truly craving now is modest men in cardigan sweaters.