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James Gray Thinks Box Office-Obsessed Movie Fans Are Capitalist ‘Lemmings’

The director knows that a great movie can be discussed for decades, and box office numbers are the first thing that people forget.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 28: James Gray attends The 2022 Gotham Awards at Cipriani Wall Street at Cipriani Wall Street on November 28, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for The Gotham Film & Media Institute)

James Gray

Getty Images for The Gotham Film

James Gray’s autobiographical coming-of-age drama “Armageddon Time” earned the filmmaker some of the strongest reviews of his career. But while the Cannes and New York Film Festival crowds loved the movie, it brought in a meager $5.5 million at the box office.

It’s an experience that Gray must be familiar with, as his career has been full of critical successes that never translated to mainstream popularity. But that hasn’t stopped him yet. In a new interview with GQ, Gray opened up about his latest film’s disappointing box office numbers and why it doesn’t deter him as an artist.

“Commercially the movie was a failure,” Gray said. “But so is everything. I mean, I know that’s not true. ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ is not. But you’re now in a situation where literally every single one of these movies is not doing well, and in some ways that’s the great equalizer.”

You might think that the prospect of non-franchise films being incapable of making money would depress an arthouse filmmaker like Gray, but he isn’t too worried about it. As a cinephile, Gray points out that box office numbers are a tiny part of any film’s cultural legacy.

“But you also know as a film person that has absolutely no bearing on the long-term reaction to a film,” he said. “I’m a film person and I have no idea what the box office receipts were of, you know, ‘A Clockwork Orange’ or something. So I try to divorce myself from that as well. Because I can’t do anything about it.”

While Gray doesn’t spend too much time thinking about his films’ grosses, he can’t help but wonder why so many other people do. Sure, studio executives and shareholders need to worry about a film’s profitability, but Gray says he’s not sure why so many casual fans need to track box office numbers.

“It tells you something of how indoctrinated we are with capitalism that somebody will say, like, ‘His movies haven’t made a dime!’” he said. “It’s like, well, do you own stock in Comcast? Or are you just such a lemming that you think that actually has value to anybody?”

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