Movies

Pandemic Killed Adult Dramas, Leaving Us With Superheroes and Not Much Else

Image credit: Legion-Media

Potential Oscar contenders underperforming at the box office are a sign of a larger and much more troubling issue.

Maria Schrader's Harvey Weinstein investigation drama She Said just had one of the worst debuts in history – and certainly the worst this year – for a major studio release.

Despite critical acclaim and even positive reviews from audiences on review aggregation sites, the film grossed only about $2.2 million from over 2,000 theaters. Given its $32 million budget, this can only be considered a major flop.

Now, it is possible that this particular movie just wasn't good. You have to ask yourself, how exactly did Universal's She Said end up costing $32 million?

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There are hardly any stars in it. There are no special effects. And the locations are mostly in and around New York City. It should have been cheap to make, but it wasn't, and that in itself raises questions about the filmmakers.

But it may also be a symptom of a larger problem. Almost every Oscar contender this fall has underperformed at the box office. That may say something about the kind of movies that are considered Oscar material these days – it's not as if commercial failures of highly acclaimed films are anything new or surprising in our day – but still.

All those adult dramas and critically beloved films are just not making money at the box office anymore, not even enough to recoup their budgets. The studios must be taking note of this post-pandemic phenomenon.

In a movie market increasingly divided between blockbusters – mostly superhero blockbusters – and "adult" art films, often seemingly made for the director's prestige, they are less likely to greenlight more of the latter. At least not for the big screen.

But all is not lost for such films. They can still be produced for streaming. Netflix, Amazon and Apple are likely to lead the way within the next decade. But between the pandemic and streaming, theatrically released adult dramas may have completely lost whatever commercial viability they had left. What impact that might have on them, as well as on studios' willingness to finance stories that don't fit the blockbuster mold, remains to be seen.

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