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‘Booksmart’ Box Office Has J.J. Abrams Worried About Indies: ‘Can They Exist in the Cinemas?’

The "Star Wars" director says the "entertaining and well-made" coming-of-age comedy should have been a no-brainer for box office success.

J.J. Abrams'Westworld' TV show premiere, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 16 Apr 2018

J.J. Abrams

John Salangsang/REX/Shutterstock

Booksmart,” Olivia Wilde’s sensational directorial debut that IndieWire recently named one of the 10 best movies of 2019 so far, has underperformed at the box office since opening nationwide May 24. The coming-of-age comedy has managed to hit the $20 million mark in the U.S., which makes it better than the box office bomb some feared after its low opening but hardly the breakout hit a crowdpleaser comedy with rave reviews should be. In an industry poll published by The New York Times, none other than blockbuster director J.J. Abrams laments the underperformance of “Booksmart” with moviegoers.

“When you have a movie that’s as entertaining, well-made, and well-received as ‘Booksmart’ not doing the business it should have, it really makes you realize that the typical Darwinian fight to survive is completely lopsided now,” Abrams said. “Everyone’s trying to figure out how we protect the smaller films that aren’t four-quadrant mega-releases. Can they exist in the cinemas?”

Abrams’ fears are echoed by the likes of actress Jessica Chastain, former Sony chairman Amy Pascal, Fox Searchlight co-chairman Nancy Utley, and many more of the industry’s biggest names in The Times’ survey. The rise of streaming giants like Netflix has led to widespread fears about the future of movie theaters and traditional exhibitionism. “Bridesmaids” director Paul Feig openly admits that he fights regrets over doing a theatrical release for “A Simple Favor,” his Anna Kendrick-Blake Lively thriller that underperformed at the box office, give how much the industry has changed.

As Feig explained, “I’ll be honest: There are times when I go, ‘God, we should have done ‘A Simple Favor’ for streaming’ because that’s the kind of movie you want to watch when you’re ready to have fun, but is it necessarily the kind of movie where you rush out to the theater, park your car and pull out your wallet just to see it?”

As for “Booksmart,” it’s hard to tell how profitable the film is with its $20 million gross because Annapurna has not made the film’s production budget public information. Many people in the industry believe it was a bad idea to release “Booksmart” nationwide and argue the film could have performed better if it built up word of mouth through a more traditional platform indie release. The film is still playing in theaters nationwide.

Abrams is currently in post-production on “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” which represents the kind of big-budget studio tentpole that can still survive in the current exhibition era. Disney is opening the blockbuster December 20.

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