Taking in $63 million domestically so far, A24’s biggest hit ever rode its gonzo premise to become the first big indie success of the COVID era
After three months of blowing the minds of moviegoers drawn in by its slow-burning buzz, A24/AGBO’s “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is winding down its theatrical run, heading to digital platforms as the first big indie hit of the COVID era even as specialty cinemas are still struggling.
With $63 million in domestic box office — the film has also earned another $22 million overseas, with A24 selling rights to local distributors — the wild sci-fi adventure from the directing duo Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (collectively known as the Daniels) is now A24’s highest grossing film ever, topping the $50 million domestic total from Adam Sandler’s 2019 dramedy “Uncut Gems.” After the film’s wide expansion on April 8, when it took in $6 million, weekend totals didn’t drop below $3 million until the first weekend of June. Even now, the film’s current theater count of 1,474 locations is higher than its initial wide release of just 1,250.
This remarkable run comes at a time when so many specialty films have seen diminished box office returns compared to their pre-pandemic counterparts. While MGM’s Oscar-nominated “Licorice Pizza” did a decent job attracting moviegoers in limited release during a COVID-filled winter, the Paul Thomas Anderson film’s $17.3 million domestic run is considerably lower than what other limited-release Oscar contenders that opened before the pandemic.
The loss of key Los Angeles art-house locations like the Arclight Hollywood and Landmark Pico has further compounded the problem, as indie distributors lost two of the most popular locations for moviegoers to see lesser-known films. And senior moviegoers who are often the target market for art-house fare have been slower to return to ehaters. Aside from “Licorice Pizza” and “Everything Everywhere,” no indie film since theaters reopened has earned a per-theater weekend average of over $40,000.
But “Everything Everywhere All at Once” was able to buck that trend largely because it’s unlike any other indie film that has come out during the pandemic era. “Avengers: Endgame” director Anthony Russo, who co-produced “Everything Everywhere” with his brother Joe through AGBO, credited the Daniels for creating a gonzo narrative filled with imaginative imagery and humor that audiences would want to see on the big screen combined with a positive, anti-nihilistic message about life and family.
“Joe and I have long been fans of the Daniels’ work and we’ve always wanted to work on a film with them,” Russo told TheWrap. “Where we came in as producers is that the Daniels wanted to get our input on how to combine their ideas with a structure and focus that a wider audience could grasp and allow the film’s life-affirming message to really shine through even with all the weirdness going on.”
From there, A24 steered the film through a marketing campaign that quickly caught the eyes of younger cinephiles nationwide, starting with the film’s premiere at South by Southwest on March 11 and a limited release two weeks later. At a time when Warner Bros.’ “The Batman” was the only film getting any sort of pop culture traction, “Everything Everywhere” had clear room to catch the attention of the 18- to 35-year-old audiences in major cities that had turned out for quirky indie films like “Licorice Pizza” and “The French Dispatch” in 2021.
From there, the movie followed the path of many pre-pandemic indie darlings: A buzzy premiere leads to critical acclaim, which leads to strong early audience word-of-mouth in limited release, which then leads to a strong nationwide rollout. But even by pre-pandemic standards, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” just kept going, seeing no weekend drops even as Disney/Marvel’s “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” arrived a month after A24 had expanded the film wide.
Perhaps the film’s long-lasting buzz got some help from art-houses and specialty theaters, which prominently promoted “Everything Everywhere” to help curious moviegoers find a place to see it. The most successful example of this is the Texas-based Alamo Drafthouse chain, which aggressively promoted the movie on its website, social media channels and customer loyalty program through “Drafthouse Recommends,” a promotion that the chain uses to highlight films that win over the chain’s leadership.
Drafthouse co-founder/executive chairman Tim League told TheWrap that “Everything Everywhere” was the first film to receive the “Drafthouse Recommends” seal of approval since the pandemic began. The promotional bump is not one that the chain sells to studios but rather one that League and his inner circle bestow on films they believe deserve to be championed and which their clientele of hardcore film buffs would love. In fact, one of the first films that got the “Drafthouse Recommends” label was the last Daniels film to hit theaters: “Swiss Army Man,” a 2016 Sundance selection starring Daniel Radcliffe as a talking corpse.
“I remember that ‘Swiss Army Man’ was a very divisive film at Sundance but we all knew we wanted to get behind that film, and about a third of the way through ‘Everything’ we felt the exact same way,” League said. “When we pick a film for ‘Drafthouse Recommends,’ we go guns blazing, and it comes from us sharing our passion for a film that leaves us with goosebumps on our arms.” The PR push paid off for Drafthouse, as the chain reports that the chain’s market share for “Everything Everywhere” is 341% above its average for a wide release film. Indeed, the film is on track to become one of the three highest grossing titles ever at Drafthouse’s Brooklyn and San Francisco locations.
It’s always difficult to extrapolate an indie film’s success into potential lessons for the movie industry at large. No two indie titles are the same, and each one requires a tailor-made campaign to get the word out. But “Everything Everywhere All at Once” does indicate that specialty films with the spectacle and uniqueness to grab the attention of younger moviegoers may have a chance at success.
Such has been the case with the Indian blockbuster “RRR,” which has found crossover success in the U.S. as a cult film and was brought back to select specialty locations for limited engagement screenings after earning an $8.5 million opening as an event offering in April. “RRR” has topped over $14 million domestically, making it the second-highest grossing Indian import in U.S. box office history.
Looking at the upcoming slate, one film that might have a chance at winning over the sort of moviegoers that turned out for “Everything Everywhere” is George Miller’s dark fantasy “Three Thousand Years of Longing,” which premiered at Cannes and stars Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba as a bookish scholar and immortal genie, respectively, who have an unexpected encounter.
The film is Miller’s first since his 2015 Oscar winner “Mad Max: Fury Road,” and its trailer teases the filmmaker’s signature blend of surreal, colorful imagery and offbeat humor. But the film will have to win over audiences during the historically slow end-of-summer period as MGM has set an August 31 release.
Box Office Reporter • firstname.lastname@example.org • Twitter: @jeremyfuster