Damien Chazelle’s “First Man” opened in theaters nationwide October 12 with strong reviews (the film boasts an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes from over 250 reviews) and even stronger Oscar buzz, but the Neil Armstrong space drama didn’t exactly set the box office on fire. The film, starring Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy, earned $16.5 million over its first three days, below projections the title would hit or surpass the $20 million mark. Despite the slow start, Universal is remaining optimistic about the film’s financial future.
“As we’ve seen in this release corridor, quality films like ‘First Man’ — Certified Fresh at 88% on Rotten Tomatoes — have strong playability and will have tremendous legs at the box office,” Universal distribution president Jim Orr told Variety in reaction to the film’s debut. “This weekend’s results are a just a starting point. Quality adult dramas released in this time period produce very healthy multiples. This is very much a marathon, not a sprint.”
Speaking to Deadline, Orr reiterated that Universal isn’t viewing the film’s $16.5 million start as a disappointment in any way. “Audiences, critics and award pundits will be talking about ‘First Man’ for months, well into the New Year,” he said. “We anticipate ‘First Man’ to have a very long, successful run at the domestic box office, which it certainly deserves.”
IndieWire’s box office analyst Tom Brueggemann noted in his weekend report that the “First Man” opening was not remotely a disaster for Universal, but it was clearly underwhelming given the buzz around the movie since its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival. Brueggemann also flagged the film’s B+ CinemaScore, which “could be a sign of some resistance” that indicates “viewers lack passion for this one.”
“With a production and domestic marketing cost that likely approaches $100 million (or more, with awards promotions ahead), this is far short of what seemed necessary to propel this into profit, or at least maintain its assumed position as an awards frontrunner,” Brueggemann summarized.
“First Man” is one of three Universal films opening this month along with “Halloween” (opening October 19) and “Johnny English Strikes Again” (opening October 26). The