Universal weighs in on the underwhelming box office performance for First Man. The latest film from Oscar winning director Damien Chazelle opened in theaters last week, following a series of successful festival screenings earlier in the year. As has become par for the course with Chazelle's filmography, First Man emerged as one of this year's strongest Oscar contenders, with critics praising the technical mastery on display, as well as compelling performances from Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy. By all accounts, awards season belongs to A Star is Born right now, but First Man is in line for several nominations.
First Man may be a critical darling, but it struggled to make much of an impact commercially in its debut. During its first three days domestically, the film brought in $16 million, a figure well below expectations. Since this was one of Universal's big fall releases and an Academy Awards hopeful, it would have been understandable if the studio was disappointed by these results. However, they remain encouraged First Man will find a wide audience.
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Deadline's recap of last weekend's box office results included a quote from Universal President of Domestic Theatrical Distribution Jim Orr, where he briefly addressed First Man's commercial figures:
“Audiences, critics and award pundits will be talking about First Man for months, well into the New Year. We anticipate First Man to have a very long, successful run at the domestic box office which it certainly deserves.”
Unfortunately for Orr, the second part of this statement may be nothing more than a pipe dream. After a soft opening, First Man should see a noticeable decline in business during its second weekend. Halloween is poised to take the weekend by storm, potentially rivaling Venom's October record. And with returning holdovers Venom and A Star is Born continuing to do well, First Man will have difficulties attracting sizable crowds over the next few weeks. Word-of-mouth from general moviegoers is positive, but not overly enthusiastic, indicating the drama will continue to fade once the calendar flips to November and films like Bohemian Rhapsody and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald premiere. Odds are, First Man might have been more successful had it not opened in such a competitive time, but now all Universal can do is hope its legs are strong.
If there's a bright side to this, it's that First Man was never positioned as a massive tentpole for Universal, where the hopes and dreams of a franchise or shared universe rode on it becoming a hit. It was mainly envisioned as an Oscar contender, and that very much remains in play. As most cinephiles know, box office prowess is not a prerequisite for a Best Picture nomination, so First Man's awards chances haven't been dashed. While it would have been nice if it earned more money, the film can still go down as a success, from a certain point of view.
- First Man (2018) release date: Oct 12, 2018