January 30, 2023

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How Tom Hanks’ ‘Auto Called Auto’ beat the box office odds

4 min read

Who says adults are not going to the movies?

Well, the numbers don’t exactly lie: movies aimed at older audiences have struggled majorly at the box office during COVID. For the most part, they are is not Go to the movies. But Sony’s “A Man Called Auto,” a heartfelt drama starring Tom Hanks as a cranky widower, seemingly defied the odds with a $12.6 million debut from 3,802 theaters in North America. It’s expected to reach $15 million by the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday frame, bringing its domestic tally to $21.2 million after two weeks of limited release. This is a better-than-expected result, at least in the pandemic era.

Will the $50 million-budget “Auto” remain a dramatic draw throughout the rest of the winter? This is far from a wrong conclusion. But already, box office audiences are feeling optimistic about Hanks’ latest big-screen adventure.

David A. Gross, who runs movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research, classified the opening weekend as “above average” for the genre. “It’s a very good opening for a character-driven comedy drama, with a nice turnout from older moviegoers,” he says. “When these kinds of films are connected, they can run — and that’s starting to happen.”

“Where the Crawdads Sing” ($17 million), “Elvis” ($31 million), “The Woman King” ($19 million) and “Dont Worry Darling” ($19.3 million), just to name a few, as of March 2020 Connected to the box office.

That reality has created a lower bar for success than Hanks is used to reaching at the box office. In another era, the actor’s name — from war stories like “Saving Private Ryan” and “Bridge of Spies” to touching dramas like “Forrest Gump” and “Philadelphia” to romantics including “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You” in comedy. ‘ve Got Mail,” the animated “Toy Story” franchise and dozens of other memorable films in between—mean millions of returns at the worldwide box office. Today, imagining a studio green-lighting a whimsical adventure like “Forrest Gump” Solid, which grossed $678 million worldwide in ticket sales. Indeed, times and tastes have changed dramatically.

So, given the limitations facing a film like “Auto,” exhibitor relations analyst Jeff Bock believes it “won the adult-skewing lottery.”

“In retrospect, Sony probably left money on the table. With ‘Babylon’ bombing, there was definitely room for an adult-shrinking dramedy in the holiday frame,” Buck said, referring to Paramount’s big-budget Hollywood epic that sprung spectacularly at Christmastime, grossing just $14 million to date. “That said, audiences will generally show up when a well-received film — especially in a genre that’s been overlooked for too long — opens in a sluggish marketplace.”

Sony originally planned to release “A Man Called Auto” nationwide around Christmas, traditionally a prime slot for blockbuster films. But the studio changed its mind a few times, moving its debut to December 14 before canceling the nationwide debut altogether. Instead, “Auto” opened in select theaters in New York and Los Angeles on Dec. 30 before expanding its footprint across the country on Jan. 13.

With its platform release, “Auto” became one of the rare pandemic-era films aimed at effectively keeping pace with mature audiences. Despite positive reviews and potential Oscar glory, Steven Spielberg’s coming-of-age story “The Fablemans,” Cate Blanchett-led “Tar” and Sarah Polley’s timely parable “Woman Talking” — none of which grossed more than $15 million domestically — are some of the more recent movies at the box office. which failed to bring older audiences (or any) to theaters.

Sony took an unconventional approach to the crowd-pleasing “Auto,” a more mainstream and less prestigious arthouse drama than the others. The studio still launched the film in the traditional four venues of New York City and Los Angeles, which are traditional for platform releases. But in its second weekend, Sony focused heavily on Hridayabhoomi as it brought the film to 637 venues, believing that the heartwarming story will resonate deeply across the country, not just on the coast. By that Sunday, “Auto” had grossed $3.76 million and was fourth on the domestic box office charts despite playing in significantly fewer theaters than its competitors. Ticket sales were particularly strong in Dallas, Chicago, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, as well as Columbus, Minneapolis, Nashville and Milwaukee.

“It’s playing across the country, a reflection of how universally appealing Tom Hanks is as a star,” said ComScore analyst Paul Dargarbedian. “And the tone of the movie has great appeal to audiences across the board.”

The movie was loved by audiences over critics, resulting in an “A” CinemaScore from ticket buyers and a 68% average from critics on Rotten Tomatoes.

“A Man Called Otto”, directed by Marc Forster, is the second adaptation of Friedrich Backman’s 2012 novel “A Man Called Ove”, following the 2015 Swedish film of the same name. Hanks plays Otto Anderson, a scoundrel who falls into depression after his wife dies. But his attitude begins to turn around when he develops an unlikely and life-changing friendship with a young family next door. SF Studios and TSG co-financed the film.

of diversity Major film critic Wayne Glaberman was not sold on the film, although he praised Hanks’ casting. “We’ve seen this kind of get-off-my-lawn curmudgeon many times before,” he wrote. “But with the right actors and the right script it’s a formula […] That audiences never tire of — and Hanks, make no mistake, is the right actor for the role.”

Now, movie owners hope that he is still the right actor to fill the seat.

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