There is much debate over how to interpret the box office results for Martin Scorsese’s latest movie KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON. The Western epic earned $23.3M domestic in its opening weekend, which was on the lower end of pre-release estimates.
On the positive side, this amount is higher than most adult-oriented dramas, a style of movie that has struggled to attract moviegoers since the pandemic. However, with a production budget estimated at $200M or more, it is unlikely to earn enough from ticket sales to be profitable from its theatrical run.
By comparison, Pixar’s ELEMENTAL had a similar budget of $200M and earned $29.6M in its opening weekend, which was widely considered to have been a disaster for Disney. In the end, ELEMENTAL was able to break even after sustained box office revenues for many weeks over the summer.
With the holiday season upon us and a strong slate of new releases on the schedule, it seems unlikely that FLOWER MOON will be able to sustain large audiences over the coming weeks. Its R rating and 3 ½ hour runtime will also contribute to holding down the box office.
Still, many trade publications are positioning FLOWER MOON as a success for its studio sponsors at Apple, because their primary objective is not to be profitable in the theatrical window. Instead, Apple is trying to build its profile as a creator of important films and to build up value in its streaming library. FLOWER MOON has received a very positive reception from both critics and audiences and will be a strong contender for major awards at this year’s Oscars.
A “win” for Apple comes from the prestige of being responsible for a Scorsese film and having the exclusive rights to stream it on Apple TV+. Since the company has $111 billion in cash on hand and a market cap of $2.7 trillion, a loss of $100 million after the theatrical run of FLOWER MOON is inconsequential.
Moving forward, Apple Studios may establish itself as a destination for auteurs where they can make big-budget art house films, motivated to earn a positive reception from critics and discerning audiences and unencumbered by the need to make a profit in the theatrical window.