Damien Chazelle’s latest feature, First Man, may have won rave reviews from critics, but audiences have been less impressed.
After scoring a “B+” Cinemascore – a metric that measures the reactions of regular cinemagoers on a scale of A+ to F – the Neil Armstrong biopic faltered at the box office, making $16.6m over the first weekend in the United States. It was expected to make upwards of $20m.
The film, which has been heavily touted as a possible Oscars contender, faced stiff competition from two films that debuted last weekend: Tom Hardy’s supervillain smash Venom and the Lady Gaga-starring A Star is Born. Both films managed to retain large audience numbers, taking $35.7m and $28m respectively.
Venom has shrugged off widely negative reviews to take $142m over 10 days in the US, while A Star Is Born – a firm awards favourite – has taken $94m over the same duration of time. For a directorial debut with a budget of $40m, the latter film’s success has been lauded by analysts.
A Star is Born likely stole audiences attention away from First Man thanks to its higher profile cast (Gaga and Bradley Cooper compared to Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy) and ever-so-slightly better word-of-mouth, landing an “A” Cinemascore. There was also Chazelle’s controversial decision to omit showing the American flag being planted into the moon, which caused a backlash from certain commentators, including Republican senator Marco Rubio.
The controversy began after Gosling said, during a press conference at the Venice Film Festival, that he believed the astronaut’s moonwalk “was widely regarded not as an American, but as a human achievement”.
“He was reminding everyone that he was just the tip of the iceberg—and that’s not just to be humble, that’s also true,” he said. ”So I don’t think that Neil viewed himself as an American hero. From my interviews with his family and people that knew him, it was quite the opposite. And we wanted the film to reflect Neil.”
The statement has been widely discussed online, and although the American flag does appear on the moon in the movie, the damage seems to have been done. A spokesperson for the studio behind the $70m-costing First Man, Universal, has said the box office results are not disappointing and pointed out that well-reviewed awards films often have long legs in cinemas.
“This weekend’s results are just a starting point,” Universal’s distribution president Jim Orr told Variety. ”Quality adult dramas released in this time period produce very healthy multiples. This is very much a marathon, not a sprint.”
Other new releases over the weekend in the States include Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween and Bad Times at the El Royale, which made $16.2m and $7.2m, respectively. Next weekend looks to be another bumper box office bonanza as Halloween opens; analysts are expecting the horror to make as much as $60m.
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