As awards season rounds the bend, with the Golden Globes premiering this Sunday and the Oscars looming, it’s time for a heartfelt biopic to shine. The genre usually snags at least one seat at the Academy Award for Best Picture table, from 2014’s The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything to 2013’s Captain Phillips and Dallas Buyers Club. Though Jackie, a biographical account of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s life following her husband’s assassination, has won critical acclaim and several award nominations for star Natalie Portman, the film only saw a limited release. After yesterday, though, it seems like one historic film is ready for its Academy close-up.
Hidden Figures, which tells the story of mathematician Katherine Johnson, is ready for liftoff, as the film prepares to win over audiences nationwide. Hidden Figures follows Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) as she calculates flight trajectories integral to NASA’s attempts to put an astronaut into orbit around the Earth. Along with colleagues Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), Johnson must fight to be taken seriously despite segregation. Reviews so far say the film is just as heartfelt as it looks, and America has taken notice.
This Friday, Hidden Figures topped the box office, according to a report from Variety. The film beat out Sing and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, earning $7.6 million to the competing films’ $6.1 million (Rogue One) and $5.1 million (Sing). Hidden Figures is projected to gross $21 million by the weekend’s end.
Meanwhile, Rogue One used its Friday $6.1 million gross to earn a spot in the top ten highest-grossing domestic films of all time. The film beat out Marvel sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron to snag its ranking.
It’s encouraging to see Hidden Figures gain this kind of recognition, both financially and in terms of viewership. The film offers Empire actress Taraji P. Henson a shining lead, and an opportunity to finally have her decades-long career recognized by the wider public. Though Henson has been a film star since the late ’90s, she was first recognized by the (notoriously white male) Academy in 2010 for her supporting role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Rogue One‘s success, meanwhile, is less of a pleasant surprise and more just pleasant. As the Star Wars franchise and proprietor Disney prime for their global takeover, the film has been doing spectacularly well at the box office. This means good things for the company’s future prequel prospects.
All in all, the success of Hidden Figures is both earned and long overdo. The critical success of films like Selma and The Butler in the past few years have shown that audiences are hungering for untold stories in American history, particularly ones that showcase the oft-ignored accomplishments of black individuals. Hidden Figures does just that, but with a hearty dose of girl power tossed in for good measure. Between smashing the Bechdel Test to pieces and shedding a light on the racial and gender disparities in STEM work, Hidden Figures tells a historical story that resonates nearly fifty years later.
It’s already looking like 2017 is going to be a great year for film, as original narratives win big at the box office. As we head into awards season, it will be interesting to see whether Hollywood recognizes those same films that have seen widespread financial success.