After taking the fall festival circuit by storm, whipping up a frenzy when it premiered at Venice (although the mad critical response has quietened somewhat into something more divisive than first indicated, but that’s hardly relevant if the film does well enough at the box office and with the Academy), as films with this much hype tend to do, hot Best Picture contender Birdman (out January 15 in Australia) opened in limited release in the US over the weekend. From only 4 cinemas, it took a whopping $415 000, resulting in a $103 750 average, beginning a promising crossover to mainstream audiences. From a financial standpoint, this flying start places the meta Michael Keaton starring drama in a very, very good position when it comes to awards. If it lands at around $30 million total in the US, which is definitely within the realm of possibility if Fox Searchlight is able to sustain healthy interest through a long rollout, it will be a gross that puts it in conversation to be nominated (plenty of films that grossed less than $10 mil in the US have been nominated) but perhaps not over the line. Despite the arty, offbeat look, it’s gaining substantial interest outside cinephiles from Keaton’s involvement and the star power involved.
It’s foolish to currently peg anything as the Best Picture winner, especially this year, where the strongest film (Boyhood) bucks just about every trend post 2009/10, where The Hurt Locker, a film which had no box office draws and opened in summer from a non-awards distributor won. In recent years, lower-grossing releases have become an increasing commonality in Best Picture (of the top ten lowest grossing winners, the top 3 are from 2009 onwards), which does give films like Birdman and Boyhood, arthouse properties that are brains over brawn, a healthy advantage. It’s the classic effects vs. no effects debate. It’s why things like Life of Pi and Gravity winning don’t happen – Academy members like awarding what is ‘actually there’, which is sometimes the underdog – real actors, not voices; set pieces that are not later filled in on a computer; you name it, cold hard realism always triumphs.
It’s for this reason that Birdman is bound to do well – the largest group in the Academy is actors, and if a film involves a lot of actors, they’re going to be latching onto it, because they will feel as though they’re ‘supporting each other’. In Birdman‘s case, it’s even about actors and acting. It may be about failure, but the whole film is being marketed around Keaton’s comeback. It’s the opposite to failure, he’s triumphing, and that’s something actors will love to hear and support about Birdman.