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  • Writer's pictureKaveh Jalinous

Dissecting Booksmart's Box Office Troubles

An editorial.

Last Friday, the best film of the year (so far, in my opinion) was released into 2,505 theaters. Previous to the release, the film had done it all - premiered at a film festival, received rave reviews, and pioneered itself to become known as "the Superbad" of 2019. The film was destined for greatness, both critically and money-wise, but the latter of the two was absolutely destroyed on Sunday when the box office estimates came back, signaling that the film had only made 6,993,620 dollars on its opening weekend, an absolute bomb for a movie of this magnitude. The film had it all, a famous director attached, and up and coming cast, and rave reviews all around (97 on Rotten Tomatoes, 85 on Metacritic). So why exactly did Olivia Wilde's directorial debut, entitled Booksmart, suffer so much this weekend at the box office? Thanks to a variety of different factors, the answer lies in one major ideal: marketing messes. THE TROUBLED BOX OFFICE RESULT OF BOOKSMART. First off, the most major fault of Booksmart's less than stellar cash intake lies in Annapurna Pictures and United Artists Releasing's marketing path of the movie. In the past, Annapurna Pictures has been known to botch movie release patterns, especially for independent films. The most obvious example lies in 2018's stellar critical hit (and my favourite movie of the year) If Beale Street Could Talk, which absolutely bombed when it went for a wide release on January 11 of 2019. The film suffered from a lack of marketing in every sense of the word, not being able to find an audience outside of the indie moviegoer sphere. Now, at this point, you may be pondering the fact that the movie itself was so independent that it could only truly attract an indie audience, which rival film studio A24 has debunked over and over again. Even crazier, Barry Jenkins, the very director of If Beale Street Could Talk, released his last movie (2017 Best Picture winner Moonlight) with A24, and the film was a box office hit in every sense of the word! So why exactly does A24, a film studio barely bigger than Annapurna, generate so many more box office hits, even though both studios operate as small film studios that showcase independent pictures. It all comes down to a simple term: word of mouth. When it comes to the spreading of a movie through countless people talking about it, A24 knows exactly what they are doing, The path of most A24 films start with a premiere at a film festival, where the film usually opens to fantastic critical reception. From there, the word of mouth begins, as more and more people begin to talk about this new film that is taking the film industry by storm. By time the film enters the period before a limited release, usually beginning in only New York or Los Angeles, the film has generated a lot of interest - due to public infatuation and well received trailers. When the film releases in NY/LA, it usually makes a significant amount of money, with a dangerously high per-theater-average. Then, over the next few weeks, it slowly expands into more urban markets - cities such as Toronto, San Fransisco, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and a few more get to screen the film in its first expansion, while more and more secondary markets are added as the weeks go on. Eventually, the film sees a wide release a few weeks after the theater process begins, maximizing profit due to strong word of mouth and a rising interest as critic and audience reviews come in. This is the path Annapurna really should have taken with Booksmart, instead of a sloppy wide release from the very start of the film's career. Another problem, one less prevalent then the wide release issue, is the fact that the film was released on Netflix in some regions of the world the same day it was released in theatres. Now, a film being released in theatres in some parts of the world and on Netflix in others is not common, and has increased with the amount of films coming out these days. The reasoning behind this move is that the film studios know that the film tested as a box office dud with certain international markets, and by using Netflix as a medium to release their movie, everyone wins: the fans, the studio, and Netflix. The first major movie to pull this stunt was Alex Garland's Annihilation, which was released on February 23, 2018 in United States/Canada and then later followed in many other countries on March 12, 2018, when it was released on Netflix. This proved as a pivotal move for Paramount Pictures because if they had not done this, the film would have been a worldwide flop, simple as that. Similarly, Rebel Wilson's Isn't It Romantic? followed the same path as Annihilation did a few months ago, but once again, it waited two weeks before making its initial appearance on Netflix. Now, in the case of Booksmart, there was no hiatus in putting the film out everywhere on one day. So, instead of waiting a few weeks, the film was available both in theaters and on Netflix, depending on location. This arose two problems - pirating sites could have an absolute field day uploading the film to their site, and anyone with a VPN could easily watch the film without having to leave the comfort of their homes. So, yet another reason arises about why exactly Booksmart is failing so hard at the box office stage. The film literally had all the signs pointing for a limited release that slowly expanded over the next few weeks, which begs the question: why exactly did the film studios choose to release Booksmart in this illegitimate way? Firstly, the green-band trailer, the one that most people will end up watching, is released with such little time left before the movie comes out, making it hard for movie theaters to show the trailer before movies, since each preview has to be the same genre as the film at hand. Secondly, the studios announce that the film will reach its maximum theater count upon the very first weekend it opens, where the only people who have seen it were the small crowd at the SXSW premiere, as well as a few college students here and there who had the film screen at their university. To help combat this issue, the studio then decides to host advance screenings in a bunch of cities a week before the release. But instead of marketing the hell out of these screenings, appealing to all audiences around the country, the studios in charge decide to exclusively market these screenings through Instagram advertisements. This move makes no sense, as the film can now only market itself to a limited demographic of people, most of whom aren't even going to look at the ad since by this time, most people hadn't even seen the trailer. Then, the studio puts the first six minutes of the film on their YouTube channel, looking to gain more interest for the film's looming wide release. As said by Robert Downey Jr. in The Avengers: "not a great plan." The film is still only targeted to the indie demographic due to the studios obvious negligence of the film, so releasing the first six minutes a week before the wide release won't add that many newcomers to the amount of people who want to see the movie. Although all of these things pinned the movie up for box office failure, there is one more thing that needs to be said about why exactly the film flopped so hard: Aladdin and Evil Superman. There were so many times that Annapurna and United Artists could have released Booksmart - so many weekends in the first half of 2019 where there was nothing to sway audiences, particularly in the comedic genre. So, why in the hell would the studio choose to release the movie on Memorial Day Weekend, aside a popular Disney live action remake and a horror movie, a movie with such a low budget that it is guaranteed to make a significant profit? At this point it almost feels deliberate, as if the studio executives want the movie to fail, because they managed to ruin everything the film had going for it, which is a damn shame, since it really is a fantastic film that deserves much more recognition than it is getting at the moment. Just look at how many films are battling for cash right now - Aladdin, BrightBurn, Detective Pikachu, John Wick 3, Endgame, and countless others. On top of that, there is an independent movie with a wide release straight out of the gate that had minimal marketing, no clear famous star leading the cast, and no previous fan-base. None of this makes sense. This film would have performed much better in July, like when A24's Eighth Grade was released - slowly making the trek from a New York/Los Angeles opener to an eventual wide release in August. Memorial Day Weekend on top of all of these movies, including a remake that was known to attract many nostalgic adults, was a horrible tactical placement for a movie like Booksmart, and may be one of the most important factors in determining it's initial box office failure. Writing this editorial is so disappointing for me because I absolutely adore Booksmart. I think the movie is absolutely fantastic, and as of right now, I have seen the movie three times. Firstly, I went to the advance screening in my city, which had about fifteen people in it maximum. I knew it had been marketed horribly, and the only reason that I even knew about the screening was due to my prior interest in the film (when I saw the ad on Instagram, I was already super excited to see the film in general, as the red-band trailer captured my attention a few months prior). Once I saw a crowd that shallow in a theater that big, I knew that the movie was destined to flop in a wide release pool. But the second and third time I went to see the movie, on back to back days (a Sunday and a Monday), I was in a much different environment than where I saw the advance screening. I was in an urban environment compared to a rural area, and that made all the difference. Both of these showings (one was at 2:35, the other at 7:30) were absolutely packed, and seating was extremely limited. The crowd laughed throughout the whole movie, and everyone seemed to enjoy it thoroughly. This difference in crowd numbers just goes to further back up the point that if this film had started in limited cities and slowly expanded, the numbers on Box Office Mojo would read very differently then they do now. Go see Booksmart, because it deserves to be enjoyed in its entirety. Olivia Wilde and the screenwriters have created a modern classic, and it is a damn shame to see it being thrown down like this due to a studio's stupid marketing idea. Although I completely believe that this film will age extremely well, and eventually become a defining ideal for the coming of age films of the future, this initial failure is disappointing. But let this be a learning lesson for all indie movies everywhere: marketing is key, and that is all.



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