A24’s drama “The Whale” has crossed $10 million at the domestic box office, a significant milestone for an indie movie in the pandemic era.
In pre-COVID times, those ticket sales wouldn’t be particularly impressive. But the arthouse sector has struggled to rebound as adult audiences remain as selective as ever about their film choices.
Turnout for prestige dramas like “His” ($5.7 million), “She Said” ($5.8 million), “Triangle” ($4.1 million), and “Women Talking” ($393,985) ranged from disappointing to downright disappointing. Steven Spielberg’s latest “The Fablemans” isn’t far outpacing “The Whale” with $13 million, while director Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy “The Banshees of Inishreen” has hauled in $9.1 million so far. But when it comes to 2022 releases, only one indie, A24’s timeline-bending “Everything Everywhere All at One,” became an undisputed commercial hit, grossing $100 million worldwide.
“The Whale,” starring Brendan Fraser as an obese man who tries to reconnect with his daughter, opened in limited release in early December. It grossed $360,000 from six theaters (translated to $60,000 per screen), ranking as the highest theater average of 2022, as well as the second largest for a limited release since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Whale” had a staggered rollout in the following weeks, remaining on six screens in its second weekend, 600 screens in the third, 625 in the fourth, expanding to 800 screens in the fifth weekend. In six weeks, it has cracked 1,500 venues and with awards nominations pending, it will continue to add to its theater count in the new year.
Unlike “Her,” “Triangle of Sorrow” and other acclaimed indies, “The Whale” has been able to maintain momentum while expanding its theater numbers. In terms of ticket buyers, according to insiders, “The Whale” appeals beyond traditional arthouse films. As expected, the top-grossing theaters are arthouses in New York City and Los Angeles, but sources say it is successfully selling tickets to commercial chains in markets such as Albuquerque, San Antonio, El Paso, Winnipeg and Farrer, Texas.
A24 hopes the Oscars will provide “The Whale,” which was produced for less than $10 million, with a boost at the box office. Fraser is widely expected to receive a lead actor nomination, but his chances beyond that remain a question. Led by an Academy Award nomination, “The Whale” earned a PGA nod alongside blockbusters like “Avatar: The Way of Water,” “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and “Top Gun: Maverick.” At the SAG Awards, Fraser was nominated in the lead actor category and her co-star Hong Chow was recognized in the supporting actress category.
Darren Aronofsky directed “The Whale,” which received polarizing reviews and averaged 65% Rotten Tomatoes. The movie has impressively managed to stay in the conversation since its raucous debut at the Venice Film Festival, where an emotional Fraser received a six-minute-long standing ovation from the audience.