babylonthe new film by Damien Chazelle (La La Land, whiplash), has just been released in France, but nothing can save it from a huge flop at the box office.
Our critique of the controversial babylon.
In just a few years, Damien Chazelle has established himself as one of the most important young directors in American cinema. From the independent graduation microfilm (Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench) to the studio film produced by Universal (First Man – The first man on the Moon), the small success at the Sundance festival (whiplash) to the Oscar-winning phenom (La La Land), it has become unavoidable.
In 2022, it’s kicked into high gear: a bigger budget ($80 million, not including marketing), a top-notch cast (Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie), and a three-plus-hour origin story. of Hollywood.
Whether babylon has just landed in our French cinemas, the film was released in the United States at the end of 2022, an essential condition for competing for the 2023 Oscars. Unfortunately, it was masterfully broken there: autopsy report on this impressive US box office crash.
Reminder of the facts: released during the long Christmas weekend 2022, babylon immediately began to worry the Paramount pundits by not accumulating during its start-up only 4.8 million dollars in revenue. A sum below the forecasts which revolved around 5 million dollars, up to 12 or even 15 million for the most optimistic sources.
Without taking inflation into account, this is one of the worst starts of Brad Pitt’s career, especially since the early 2000s when only Full-frontal ($739,000 in 2002), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford ($147,000 in 2007) and The Tree of Life (372,000 in 2011) did worse (but starting with limited releases, which is not the case with babylon with its 3343 launch screens).
During its third weekend of operation (January 6-8), babylon just raised 1.4 million in revenue. So the movie has only recently exceeded whiplash and its 13 million dollars collected on American soil (without taking inflation into account), while a difference in budget of more than 75 million dollars separates the scale and the financial stakes of the two films. At the same stage of its operation, La La Land was also at 13 million in revenue, but it was only released in just over 700 theaters, unlike babylon and its more than 3,300 cinemas.
same for me first-man, which without having been a monster success, had exceeded 16 million dollars by its opening weekend. Thereby, babylon is already shaping up to be the huge disaster in Damien Chazelle’s career. As a reminder, in 2014 and for a budget of 3.3 million dollars, whiplash had pulled in almost $50 million at the worldwide box office.
La La Land, in 2016/2017, had raised more than $447 million worldwide, having cost in the $30 million. Finally, even the budget of 59 million first-man had been exceeded in 2018/2019 by the 105 million cumulative receipts by the film on the entire globe. According to Deadline, babylon would be lucky if he exceeds the $20 million at the domestic box office by the end of its run.
“I don’t care, I was in No Way Home”
I have to say that babylon suffered froma number of (rather very) aggravating factors. While the upsurge in Covid-19 and flu cases is a big part of it, a terrible storm also hit much of the United States over the Christmas long weekend. Elliott, the “blizzard of the century”as New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul called it, froze movie theaters and drastically cut movie-show revenue (in the $58 million haul less than the previous weekend for whole industry).
Moreover, if babylon didn’t really suffer from strong competition in the mid-budget auteur film segment during this period, the film directed by Damien Chazelle had to weather the other storm at the end of 2022, that ofAvatar 2. Indeed, released a week before babylon, The Way of the Water and its more than 63 million collected that week must have probably, a little bit, shade the movie with Brad Pitt and Margot Robbieeven though this factor is difficult to measure
“No, but Avatar 2 will never work…”
Another unstable variable is that of the American press. Since its first screenings in mid-November 2022, babylon received mixed reviews from English critics. The baby directed by Damien Chazelle received a score of 55% on the site Rotten Tomatoes (based on 271 critics) and a score of 61/100 on Metacritic (based on 59 critics). From there to say that a very average word of mouth stifled the success of the film, there is only one step.
In addition, remember that films on the history of cinema are legion and that if some have been great successes in dark rooms (The Artist and its 133 million dollars worldwide against 15 million budget, In Mary’s Shadow and its 117 million worldwide receipts against 35 million budget), it is very far from being the majority (Hitchcock and its 27 million dollars in revenue against 15 million budget, Airman and its 213 million in revenue, saved by 111 million internationally, against 110 million budget).
So if tens upon tens of millions of viewers are able to stay three hours away exploring the planet Pandora, the same amount of time devoted to a Hollywood origin drama is a real gamble. A very daring bet, accentuated by a budget which would have increased slightly following the various problems related to the Covid-19 pandemic and its usual stoppages and resumptions of filming. A budget increase which will not fail to reinforce the deficit of the film.
Hollywood does not/no longer dream?
La La The international?
The success of babylon on US territory is therefore completely out of reach. But what about the international box office? According to Deadlinethe profit threshold of babylon would be around 250 million dollars worldwide, taking into account the approximately 80 million marketing budget spent on the film. So, if Damien Chazelle’s new baby manages to rack up $20 million in domestic box office receipts, he’d have to about $230 million internationally to start making money.
Impossible mission ? always according to Deadline, Paramount intends to reduce its marketing costs following the crash of the film in the United States. Too bad, the films directed by Damien Chazelle are generally well received outside the United States. Evidenced by the figures of whiplash, which are around 49 million dollars in revenue worldwide, 73% of which is earned internationally. The film even collected in the 11 million dollars in South Korea, not far from the 13 million recovered in the United States.
A new hope (internationally)?
same for me La La Land who achieved more than 66% of its 447 million revenue internationallyincluding almost 20 million in France (2.7 million admissions), 35 million in China, 37 million in the United Kingdom, 38 million in Japan and 50 million (!) in South Korea. first-manmeanwhile, had raked in 57% of its 105 million takings internationally, including 10 million in the UK.
To be seen, therefore, if the release of babylon in France, in the United Kingdom (at the end of the month) and in South Korea (February 2023) will save the buttocks of this good Damien Chazelle. To note that his visit to the Oscars may be able to bring him a form of prestige significant for the rest of his career in dark rooms. And for good reason, babylon is likely to walk away with one or two statuettes (especially in the technical categories), as evidenced by its five nominations at the last Golden Globes, including one which led to the award for best film music for composer Justin Hurwitz.
The end of a certain Hollywood?
There remains the eternal observation that there is a whole part of Hollywood cinema, that of auteur films with an intermediate budget (between 50 and 100 million dollars approximately), which seems to be dying. Three thousand years waiting for you (60 million), House of Gucci (75 million), Nightmare Alley (60 million), West Side Story (100 million), amsterdam (80 million) and now babylon…times are tough for big-budget arthouse films.
In front, 14 of the 20 biggest hits of 2022 in the United States are from franchises and the rest are mainstream entertainment or horror films (exceptElvis, but which is a biopic about one of the most popular musical artists of all time). What about the next big films from great filmmakers? What about the great return of Michael Mann (Ferrari) and that of Francis Ford Coppola (Megalopolis)?
Waiting for, some renowned directors continue to flee cinemas to end up on streaming platformsfor example David Fincher (The Killeron Netflix), Martin Scorsese (Killers of the Flower Moonon Apple TV+) and Ridley Scott (Napoleon also on Apple TV+).