After months of hype, A24 finally unleashed Ari Aster‘s indie Hereditary in theaters everywhere. Box office estimates are reporting that the dramatic horror film “overperformed” at the box office by grossing an estimated $13M, which they’re saying is A24’s largest opening ever! It should end its domestic run somewhere between $25-30M. These numbers are great, but I still suspect A24 had higher hopes for the film’s word of mouth among general audiences, which is not good – despite the 93% critical score on Rotten Tomatoes. In fact, we told you this past weekend that it scored a brutal D+ CinemaScore. This is bad. Word of mouth isn’t going to propel Hereditary to box office mega-stardom and could even force a massive drop in its forthcoming second weekend. We’re going to have to wait and see.
Hereditary once again leads us to ask, was it overhyped? Did the hype hurt the release? What does this mean? I shared some thoughts in my previous piece, but let’s look at this from a business perspective. A24 spent a lot of money putting this in theaters with the belief that it would connect with the right kind of fans and get strong buzz from the community. They believed it could penetrate into pop culture the same kind of way as Human Centipede or The Witch. The end goal is money, which means getting asses into theater seats. Without the hype, nobody is going to theaters, but maybe it actually builds word of mouth? With the hype, they packed theaters, but it left most with a bad taste in their mouth. It’s a catch 22 and a lose-lose situation. From where I’m sitting here in Chicago, the buzz is that Hereditary was overhyped, disappointing, not scary (additionally, not as scary as The Exorcist) and confusing. The latter is the most interesting aspect of the expressed frustration because, let’s be honest here, Hereditary goes against the grain. The final moments of this film are fucking weird and don’t land the kind of punch you’d get from a Hollywood blockbuster. I love this from a comparative standpoint because it really showcases why major studio releases end up so numbingly generic.
Box office aside, the widespread reception to Hereditary represents a frustrating moment to be a horror fan, as it may be sending the wrong message to Hollywood. The CinemaScore, word of mouth, and potential drop at the box office in the weeks to come are going to allow studio executives to say to creatives, “See, people don’t want movies like Hereditary,” and that’s fucked up. They’re all reactive, which is why the success of New Line Cinema’s IT has ignited a new wave of big-budget genre films. We can only hope – no, pray that A24 doesn’t get deterred and continues to support and take chances on special films like Hereditary, The Witch, Green Room, among many others. And we can also only hope that other studios don’t either.
Either way, a $13 million opening weekend for a low budget, daringly original horror film is nothing if not a victory for us all.
What do you think? Did Hereditary live up to the hype for you?