Winner – A24’s Hereditary and Eighth Grade
Indie giant A24 has climbed the ranks of independent and small-scale film distribution at a meteoric pace, thanks to successes like Moonlight, The Witch and Good Time. By now, their name has become a byword for a certain kind of indie movie experience, and critics and casual filmgoers alike are likely to see their interest in a project piqued by the distributor’s name alone. Dare we say it, A24 are now on the same level of indie movie prestige and celebration that Miramax achieved in the mid-1990s.
This summer, the distributor released a slew of hits big and small. Paul Schrader made a barnstorming return to form with the brilliant thriller First Reformed, and Andrew Haigh’s touching drama Lean On Pete picked up an array of glowing reviews. Yet their biggest players this year came in the form of two films that couldn't be more different from one another: The terrifying horror Hereditary, and the teen dramedy Eighth Grade.
Each film was a directorial debut with premises that could have been hard sells to general audiences. However, hanks to a savvy combination of well-made marketing, adoring critical praise and good timing, both have seen major box office results this summer. Hereditary may have proven divisive to audiences, but that didn't stop it from grossing just under $44m domestically - a new record for A24. Eighth Grade, the first film by comedian Bo Burnham, opened in 4 theaters with a staggering $263,797 weekend. It has since expanded to over 1000 theaters and has a cool $7.5m in the bank. A24 are kings of building hype and then creating an exhibiting schedule to match. Another indie studio, Annapurna, found success this season with Sorry To Bother You - proving that summer doesn't have to be just about blockbusters.
Loser – Skyscraper
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has, by and large, been an unstoppable force of box office might. From the Fast and Furious series to Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, the former wrestler has carved out a spot among Hollywood’s A-List and become one of the most profitable names in film. Johnson even managed to make Rampage - a video game adaptation involving a giant mutated gorilla - into a hit. Aside from a minor blip with the big-screen Baywatch movie, Johnson has become one of the rare actors in Hollywood who can open a movie based on his name alone.
Alas, that magic didn’t carry over to Skyscraper, a dour, wannabe-Die Hard action thriller that disappointed critics and audiences alike. The film opened at number 3, behind Hotel Transylvania 3 and Ant-Man and the Wasp, with around $25.4m - well below early estimates. Since then, the film has managed to do better business overseas, but nowhere near Johnson's best. Audiences weren't as excited for a Johnson action movie without his usual cheeky charm. However, this domestic downturn won't dent Johnson's box office might too much, as he remains a favorite with audiences in China (Skyscraper was primarily made to appeal to that audience).