Whether you enjoyed Darren Aronofsky’s new mother! film or hated the religious symbolism, you have to admit it is a movie that will have people talking for years to come. Unfortunately, this one performed below expectations in its first weekend by taking in $7.6 million dollars. There is a lot of speculation rumbling in film circles about what went right, and wrong. After seeing mother! and observing the fallout, I did some research, asked some questions and came up with a few reasons for its unsuccessful opening weekend.

Paramount convinced themselves the film would have mass appeal due to Jennifer Lawrence top billing.

mother!, mother, jennifer lawrence, darren aronofsky
Paramount Pictures

Not every film starring Jennifer Lawrence has to open in 3000 theaters. We get it. She’s a movie star. She‘s allowed to be a part of small-scale cinema, people. That’s where she got her start remember? ‘Actor clout’ can only take a project so far, so for studios to (unintentionally) throw the weight of every project on her shoulders seems unfair.

Opening in wide release

mother!, mother, jennifer lawrence, darren aronofsky
Paramount Pictures

Aronofsky is one of Hollywood’s leading auteur directors. He has a core set of fans who are loyal to his work. He is not, nor has he ever been, a director whose films connect to the general audience. So why did Paramount Pictures release this in so many theaters on opening weekend?! mother! has a strong indie vibe to me, and should have been marketed that way. Some might say 2300 theaters isn’t a wide release, but when you look at independent movies like Ex Machina, which opened in 2004 theaters over the course of its release, or a more recent film like the Glass Castle which opened in 1400 theaters over the course of its release, mother! over-extended itself and lost its exclusivity.

Odd marketing campaign

mother!, mother, jennifer lawrence, darren aronofsky
Paramount Pictures

“Was that supposed to be scary?!” Said an audience member at the afternoon showing of mother!. This comment got me thinking about the marketing for the film. The super-secretive plot left movie fans in the dark from the very beginning. From the pre-release buzz, many classified it as a horror film, likening it to films such as Rosemary’s Baby and Black Swan. However, after viewing, it struck most audiences as neither a horror film, or worth watching.

Word of mouth

mother!, mother, jennifer lawrence, darren aronofsky
Paramount Pictures

Coming off the high of IT‘s rave reviews and positive fan reception, maybe moviegoers went into mother! with the same expectations without realizing they are watching a Darren Aronofsky movie. Critics came swinging right out the gate, either loving the film’s daring subject matter or despising its pretentious nature. There’s been little to no middle ground. While this discourse is expected between critics, it’s the general audience who seem to collectively hate the movie. Just check the big F-sized Cinemascore.

Don’t take what I say as absolute, as the opinions on why the film garnered less than $10 million dollars in its opening weekend will differ from person to person. However, I will say the blame should not be placed on Jennifer Lawrence; a great deal of emphasis is placed on her involvement and her performance, with many trying to single her out as the reason for the film’s failure. No Bueno.

There is still a chance for the film to turn itself around and break even on its $30 million budget. That is, if people choose to get over the glaringly bad reviews.

 

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  • jessA

    I would have liked to have seen you cover the movie’s bloated budget. Because I think you’re right when you say it should have been rolled out as an arthouse movie; slowly and in less theaters all at once, but with its $32 million+ budget, I don’t feel like it ever would have recouped it’s costs no matter how they did it.

    It really seems to me like the studio was putting all its eggs in the Lawrence basket in terms of box office, which is probably why it was marketed like it was, along with the idea of more Oscar buzz for her. Which is why I think it probably is partially Lawrence’s ‘fault’ that the movie did so badly, or rather, it’s the fault of Aronofsky for attaching Lawrence and the studio for agreeing to it when her fee ran into multi-millions (around $15 million some are saying) to star!
    It’s the same reason that Joy flopped despite making over $100 million at the box office. Lawrence’s large pay check bloated the budget for this little biopic to $60! That’s double what Baby Driver cost to make.

    The Witch (another arthouse horror movie critically lauded while it divided audiences) was made on a budget of barely $5 million and it introduced us to incredible newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy, who gave an incredible performance and would have done it for a fraction of Lawrence’s fee.
    The Witch made over $40 million at the box office. The Witch made an amazing profit.
    If mother! even makes it to $40 it still won’t have broken even.

    So I guess my TL:DR summary is: Don’t make surreal arthouse movies with movie stars that aren’t working for scale. Make it on the cheap with talented unknowns and it will do well if it’s great – see Get Out, The Witch, and It Follows.

    • Valerie Complex

      This is such a spot on comment. Wish we could have talked before I wrote this because this is something I hadn’t noticed.