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Anime vs. A24; or, The Box Office of Vibes
Plus: A furious assignment!
The indie movie studio/distributor A24 turns 10 this year, so there have been a whole bunch of retrospectives and lists and think pieces about what it all means. (One of my favorite sites, Vulture, has published at least four such pieces in recent weeks.) I shan’t be taking issue with the fact that all of these lists radically underrate A24’s best picture, Under the Silver Lake, but I do kind of want to highlight one thing: for all the talk of A24’s success, they aren’t really that successful—at least in the narrow, monetary sense.
This isn’t to say that A24 isn’t making interesting movies or good movies. Hell, my two favorite flicks of the year so far—Everything Everywhere All at Once and Bodies Bodies Bodies—are A24 movies. At least two A24 movies—Under the Silver Lake and The Witch—would’ve made my Best of the Decade list had I made one for the 2010s. Even when their pictures don’t entirely work, as movies like Lamb and The Green Knight didn’t entirely work, the distributor’s releases typically get points with your humble narrator for, at the least, being interesting.
But A24 has had some trouble expanding their brand beyond cool kids on the coasts and into mainstream audiences. I think about this chart of A24’s highest-grossing domestic pictures a lot, which is a weird-but-true thing to type. But here’s one recent piece of news that kind of crystalized the ways in which A24 outkicks its coverage: Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero’s opening weekend gross would make it the 10th-highest-grossing A24 film of all time.
Indeed, the folks at Funimation and Crunchyroll have created their own little bustling subculture of anime fans and, this is important, figured out how to activate them and get them to turn up at theaters. Jujutsu Kaisen 0: The Movie opened to $14.8 million and grossed nearly $30 million; Demon Slayer shocked box office wags by opening to $21 million and grossing nearly $50 million in 2021. Dragon Ball Super: Broly did nearly $30 million total in 2019, which would place it just ahead of the best-picture-winning Moonlight for fifth-place on that A24 list.
My point isn’t necessarily that Crunchyroll should be getting similarly fawning coverage, though I think it’s one of the most interesting and upbeat box office stories in an era replete with interesting and downbeat box office stories. My point is more that for all the interesting work that A24 is doing and all the press they receive, they still punch under their weight class in terms of actually attracting audiences. They’ve yet to experience success along the lines of, say, Miramax—the last indie distributor with widespread name recognition and awards aspirations—and I’m not entirely sure why.
The vibes are great. Why aren’t the ticket sales as good?
This week I reviewed Three Thousand Years of Longing, a story about stories that reminds us of the importance of stories as a way of ordering our existence. There’s a thread in the movie I didn’t really tease out—maybe I’ll do so elsewhere and elsewhen—that has to do with the shift from stories to science as a way of understanding life, and how science can’treally explain the world to us. Or, at least, can’t give us the meaning we crave.
On ATMA this week we looked at House of the Dragon and She-Hulk and tried to figure out which is worth your time. And on the members-only bonus episode, we chattered some more about Game of Thrones, and whether it can the culturally unifying sort of event we sorely lack these days.
Speaking of House of the Dragon, HBO has already renewed it for a second season following news that 20 million people watched the premiere between linear, streaming, and OnDemand viewings. That’s a very big number!
Farran Smith Nehme’s deep dive into the urban legend that has sprung up around John Wayne’s reaction to Sacheen Littlefeather’s speech at the 1973 Oscars is very much worth your time. Did Duke need to be restrained by six security guards from doing violence to Littlefeather while she delivered her speech? All signs point to, “Uh, no, almost certainly not.”
I am kind of fascinated by the all the drama surrounding Don’t Worry Darling, from the supposed tension between director Olivia Wilde and Florence Pugh to Shia LaBeouf’s receipts proving he wasn’t “fired” from the movie for upsetting the vibes on set, as Wilde has claimed.
It’s been a rough few months for free expression in America and abroad, so I hope you’ll give a listen to my podcast with Summer Lopez of PEN America about the assaults on free speech, both literal and legal, currently underway.
MoviePass is back! What a dumb idea.
Assigned Viewing: Mad Max: Fury Road (HBO Max)
I threw this on for 30 minutes after writing my Three Thousand Years of Longing review last night and it really is a remarkably vibrant piece of filmmaking. Just crackling with energy. That George Miller knows how to make a movie!