Paramount hasn’t exactly been having a year to brag about. Nearly every release from the studio has bombed at the box office, starting with “Monster Trucks” in January and continuing through “Ghost in the Shell,” “Baywatch,” and the franchise-low totals for “Transformers: The Last Knight.” We can now add Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!” to the list after it grossed only $7.5 million in over 2,000 theaters, making it the lowest nationwide opening ever for star Jennifer Lawrence. To make matters worse, the film became only the 12th title in history to earn an “F” CinemaScore from audiences, which doesn’t bode well for its total gross.
But while “mother!” may represent a financial disappointment for Paramount, it certainly marks a creative victory. No movie this year is earning as much of a response from critics and audiences as this one. Anyone who sees it comes out with a such a vigorous opinion about it that “mother!” has led to the kind of discussions, hot takes, theorizing, and debates that cinema rarely ever sees in the age of blockbusters and studio tentpoles. A major studio like Paramount deserves credit for taking a chance on something as polarizing on “mother!,” especially because all major studios refuse to do just that.
“This movie is very audacious and brave,” Paramount worldwide president of marketing and distribution Megan Colligan told The Hollywood Reporter, defending the film against audience backlash and the muted box office. “You are talking about a director at the top of his game, and an actress at the top her game. They made a movie that was intended to be bold. Everyone wants original filmmaking, and everyone celebrates Netflix when they tell a story no one else wants to tell. This is our version. We don’t want all movies to be safe. And it’s okay if some people don’t like it.”
The key takeaway from Colligan’s defense is when she states, “Everyone wants original filmmaking.” Audiences are constantly begging for original stories, and yet they refuse to show up or take a chance on something as utterly singular like “mother!” when it debuts in theaters. The bad box office for “mother!” doesn’t bode well for the future of studios taking a chance on singular original ideas. We need these movies to do well at the box office if we expect studios to release more than just blockbuster tentpoles. “Dunkirk” performed strongly over the summer, but movies like it and “mother!” should be more of a norm than a once-in-a-blue-moon release.
“mother!” is now playing in theaters nationwide.