School’s Out Forever? Exploring Why Booksmart Flopped At The Box Office

Olivia Wilde‘s “Booksmart” currently has an approval rating of 97% over at Rotten Tomatoes, the film received many raving reviews, and Film Twitter became obsessed with the film. However, despite all the love and praise, it seemed that nothing coul save “Booksmart” from becoming a Box Office Bomb. The film made just $8.7 million over the weekend despite a wide release on 2,500 screens. “Booksmart”‘s budget was $6 million, and would go on to make $24 million worldwide, but it went to underperform and essentially ‘flopped’.

The decision to have the film be released nationwide left many critics and industry professionals scratching their heads, especially when we consider the competitions that “Booksmart” faced in the form of “Aladdin”, which took $90 million on its opening weekend, and “John Wick 3”, which made $40 million. Of course, the film’s distributor United Artists Releasing decision to release the film during that period is a questionable one: pitting a small indie teen comedy against the likes of a live-action remake of Disney classic, and a sequel to a macho-action flick, and expecting people to go watch “Booksmart” over these two juggernauts?

The failure of “Booksmart” is a worrying one,as it leaves film-lovers and critics alike wondering about the future of small-budget indie films. If something like “Booksmart”, a film which garnered such critical praise, cannot set the Box Office alight, then what can?

booksmart 1
Molly (played by Beanie Feldstein): We haven’t done anything. We haven’t broken any rules.

Even the likes of J.J. Abrams expressed his concerns of “Booksmart”‘s lacklustre performance at the Box Office, stating the following: “When you have a movie that’s as entertaining, well-made, and well-received as ‘Booksmart’ not doing the business it should have, it really makes you realize that the typical Darwinian fight to survive is completely lopsided now. Everyone’s trying to figure out how we protect the smaller films that aren’t four-quadrant mega-releases. Can they exist in the cinemas?”

“Despite all the love and praise, it seemed that nothing coul save “Booksmart” from becoming a Box Office Bomb. The film made just $8.7 million over the weekend despite a wide release on 2,500 screens.”

Wilde took to Twitter to try and encourage people to flock to the theatre to see her directional debut, and in one tweet she stated the following: “Don’t give studios an excuse not to green-light movies made by and about women.” And, what Wilde is stating is grounded in reality. There seems to be immense pressure on female directors to have “hit” films and the media seem to relish in delight when a film flops.

A prime example, is Ava DuVernay‘s “A Wrinkle in Time” which was a Box Office Bomb perhaps partly down to the critical response, with reviews stating the following: “The film has the feel of an iPad video pawned off on a toddler so Dad can make comforting mac and cheese – here’s a bite-sized lesson about loving yourself and a jumble of pretty colors.” (Amy Nicholson, The Guardian). And Peter Deburge from Variety stating, “A Wrinkle in Time is wildly uneven, weirdly suspenseless and tonally all over the place.”

Billie Lourd as Gigi

According to The ‘Booksmart’ Conundrum: Are Women Not Allowed to Fail?)“The reality is the number of women directing the top movies is still low. Until that number is higher, I think individual women are judged more harshly.”

“Booksmart” had other hurdles it had to overcome. Not only was it a debut film from an actress that isn’t that well-known (although Wilde has been a darling on the indie film scene for many years now and more people NEED to see her in “Drinking Buddies), the film also focused on female characters and told a female-centric story.

“Booksmart is a teen sex romp well suited for the summer of 2019: feminist but not preachy, raunchy but not nasty, emotionally intelligent but not sentimental.” Dana Stevens for Slate.

Despite big-blockbuster films with female leads coming out in recent years, (Patty Jenkins‘ “Wonder Woman”, the Star Wars films featuring Daisy Ridley as Rey, and Global Box Office hit “Beauty and the Beast” featuring Emma Watson), a 2017 study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, found that just 24% of protagonists in the 100 highest-grossing films were women. This was a drop from 29% in 2016. I let you decide whether or not there’s a sexist bias going on in the Hollywood film industry, but these are some interesting figures to ponder over.

The film had been labeled rather unfairly as the female “Superbad”, and therefore people were expecting the film to perform just as well as “Superbad”, which made over $169 million at the Box Office. This is an issue that female filmmakers constantly come up against, their work being compared to male directors, and being dismissed as the “female equivalent”. There are many factors to consider here. Firstly, “Superbad” was released in August 2007, at a time where the cinematic landscape was vastly different. Although Netflix was around at this time, it hadn’t launched its online streaming service. If “Superbad” was released today, would it do as well? Or would, it fared better being released via a streaming platform?

“Despite big-blockbuster films with female leads coming out in recent years…just 24% of protagonists in the 100 highest-grossing films were women. This was a drop from 29% in 2016.”

“Booksmart” isn’t the only female-led comedy to flop this year, “Late Night” also underperformed at the Box Offfice earning just $15 million at the Box Office (Amazon brought the distribution rights for the film for $12 Million), Zara Haye‘s “Poms” also flopped (no, I haven’t heard of this one either), even “Long Shot” which stars Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen (who popped up in “Superbad”) also failed to make it’s budget, earning just over $30 million on a budget of $40 milion.

2019 has been the year dominated by comic-book film events such as “Avengers End Game”, “Captain Marvel”, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” and the like of live-action remakes of Disney animated classics such as “The Lion King” and “Aladdin” both of which earned over $1 billion at the global Box Office. It’s depressing to see smaller films especially ones that are from a female filmmaker and focus on telling female stories, be overshadowed by the likes of dead-eyed CGI lions, but that the film business for you, baby.

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Olivia Wilde, Beanie Feldstein, and Kaitlyn Dever at an event for Booksmart (2019)

It’s hard to say whether the failure of “Booksmart” will have any lasting effect on the greenlighting of smaller indie films (especially those directed by a woman), but if the sitution is to change then we all need to do our part. Word-of-mouth can generate bums on seats, and if fillms make money for the studio then they’ll be willing to take more risks. It shouldn’t be this way, but that’s a sad fact of how the film industry works. Films need to make their money back, and ideally they need to make more money then their actual budgets.

Despite “Booksmart” failing at the Box Office, it was announced back in July that Olivia Wilde will direct and produce an untitled holiday comedy project for Universal Pictures with her “Booksmart” partner Katie Silberman. This is encouraging to female filmmakers everywhere, who have often been taken off projects ad sequels due to being labeled as “difficult” and points to a shift in the attitudes felt by the film industry, just because a film didn’t make massive amounts of money, it doesn’t mean that a female filmmaker isn’t capable and is worth of a second chance. And, with Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman 1984”, Cate Shortland‘s “Black Widow”, Cathy Yan‘s “Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)”, Greta Gerwig‘s “Barbie” and Niki Caro‘s “Mulan” all set to be released in 2020, then I’m sure female filmmakers are going to be dominating the Box Office next year.




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