Gone Girl far surpassed expectations to earn $38 million this past weekend, (early tracking had it at $20 million), landing between last year’s Gravity which opened to $55 million in October and Captain Phillips, which opened at $25 million.
For the past three years, opening in October was the sweet spot for Best Picture. 12 Years a Slave was also an October opener in limited release. The year prior, Argo opened in October, earning $19 million opening weekend. November is also a magic month, with The King’s Speech opening in very limited release, making just $355K. The same thing happened the following year with The Artist making roughly $200K. Slumdog Millionaire opened in November in 2008 ($360K) and also No Country for Old Men ($2.1mil).
Beyond that, you can see how the date change really impacted Best Picture as we have Million Dollar Baby opening in December in 2004 ($179K), Return of the King in 2003 ($72 million), Chicago in 2002 ($2 million), A Beautiful Mind in 2001 ($360K) and finally the December breaks with Gladiator, which opened in May of 2000 ($34 million).
So you can see that nowadays, an October or a November opener is your best bet, outside the anomalies, like Gladiator. Boyhood winning would be one such anomaly.
The Social Network was an October opener with $22 million, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo opened in December ($12 mil), Benjamin Button was another December opener ($26 mil), Zodiac had a March opening with $13 million, and Panic Room earned $30 million its opening March weekend. Fight Club, an October release, had $11 million, and Se7en had a September release with $13.
But Gone Girl had three key elements heading into the weekend – massive amounts of buzz (capturing the zeitgeist, after all), fans of the bestselling book – which is, as of today, the number one book and audiobook on iTunes. Lots of publicity by Ben Affleck, who is a draw on his own and fans of David Fincher who know that when they go to see one of his movies, whether more art house or blockbuster, is going to be exceptional.
This American director has yet to be lauded by the Academy, but the success of Gone Girl seems to bode well for a nomination, at least. Though the subject matter either thrills men or it makes them cup their balls in fear. No one can deny the mastery behind that camera, however. All are uniformly in agreement about that.
I don’t know what the term “Oscar buzz” even means anymore. To me it’s a muggle word, said by people on TV or in the mainstream press to mean “stuff people who write about the Oscars are talking about.” Being in the eye of the storm it doesn’t mean much to me – everyone has their own idea of what Oscar buzz means and honestly, what it literally means — as Mark Harris solidifies – is a few months off yet. What it literally means is voters walking around talking about movies they love. We in the industry (as such) define it as movies with good reviews and well respected filmmakers. A movie like Whiplash has Oscar buzz because people like Anne Thompson and AO Scott are talking about it.
What we know about the Academy — and the consensus vote overall — is that divisive films do not win Best Picture. You need as low a Rotten Tomatoes negative number as possible. The conflict in this, and the reason Oscar best picture winners do not last is this: the best films in history divide audiences. Great art IS, by nature, divisive. Even Boyhood is divisive — sharply. And that’s one of the most powerful things about it. It just so happens that it will likely be less divisive than some other films this year, which could result in a win.
If you put Gone Girl on one hand and Boyhood on the other you see wildly different films, as different as Raging Bull and Ordinary People, Goodfellas and Dances with Wolves, and yes, the Social Network and the King’s Speech.
I find Gone Girl to be a thrilling piece of cinema and if it is rewarded with Oscar nominations, all the better for the legacy of the Academy in rewarding such good work. But if it isn’t, that doesn’t change what it is. The 90+ audience rating at Rotten Tomatoes and the box office really says it all.
Other October openers soon to come:
Kill the Messenger