The surprise Golden Globe awards for historical battlefield drama “1917" couldn’t have been better timed for Universal Pictures.
Sam Mendes’ harrowing World War I picture is going into wide release Friday, in more than 3,300 theaters in the U.S. and Canada, after earning a pair of key honors from the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.
The movie won for best picture, drama, on Sunday at the Beverly Hilton, beating prestigious titles including Netflix’s “The Irishman,” “Marriage Story” and “The Two Popes,” as well as Warner Bros.'s “Joker.” “1917" also won best director for Mendes.
The upset wins are seen as a boost for “1917’s” chances at the Oscars, for which nominations will be announced Monday. Its victories could also propel the movie, produced by Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks Pictures, to greater heights at the box office.
As of Monday, Universal is anticipating an opening of $20 million, domestically, from Friday through Sunday, which would be a solid start as the film heads into the thick of awards season. Some analysts think the honors could propel “1917" to a debut of more than $25 million. Multiple Oscar nominations would help continue the momentum until the Academy Awards are doled out Feb. 9.
“This is the blueprint for how to strategically chart a course for this movie,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at data firm Comscore. “It’s going to ride a wave of awards season buzz that could sustain it all the way through the Oscar telecast.”
There’s already been an uptick in online presales, according to ticketseller Fandango. As of Monday, the R-rated “1917" is selling five times as many tickets as it was a week ago, before the awards, said Fandango, which is majority-owned by Universal Pictures parent company Comcast Corp.
A successful run at the box office would be a welcome relief for Universal, which just suffered the embarrassing theatrical flop of “Cats.” The widely panned adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical cost about $100 million to make and has grossed $57 million worldwide. Universal is bracing for at least a $70 million loss on the film, a person close to the project who was not authorized to comment told The Times last week.
War movies can be a tough sell for a general audience, and the list of blockbusters about World War I is short. And no, we’re not going to count 2017’s “Wonder Woman,” the Warner Bros. superhero hit. But “1917,” which cost $90 million to make before marketing, has multiple factors working in its favor.
The filmmakers used innovative techniques to make the movie look as if it were filmed in a single, unbroken take. It was shot by Roger Deakins, who won the cinematography Oscar for “Blade Runner 2049" two years ago and is expected to be nominated this year. Critics have been overwhelmingly positive about the picture, evidenced by a 90% “fresh” score on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes.
In terms of star power, the film features a couple of big names in Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch. But at the center of the story are less-known actors George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman, who play a pair of British soldiers tasked with delivering a message to save 1,600 of their comrades from an enemy trap.
Mendes, onstage accepting the best picture Globe, acknowledged the challenges inherent in getting his ambitious movie seen.
“It’s difficult to make movies without big movie stars in the leads and get people to come see it in a cinema,” Mendes said. “I really hope this means people will turn up and see it on a big screen, as it was intended.”
It’s difficult to calculate how much awards actually affect grosses. Many industry insiders believe the value of awards such as the Oscars has declined in recent years as TV ratings erode.
However, awards chatter was clearly a boon for last year’s victor “Green Book,” which won the Golden Globe for best musical or comedy, followed by the big best picture win at the Oscars. That crowd-pleasing movie, produced by Participant Media and distributed by Universal, ended up grossing $85 million in the U.S. and Canada and an additional $237 million overseas.
It remains to be seen if “1917" can reach that level of business. But “1917" has started its run with strong sales in limited release, generating about $2.3 million from 11 theaters since Christmas.
Also hitting nationwide theaters this weekend is “Just Mercy,” the book adaptation starring Michael B. Jordan as civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson. The Warner Bros. Oscar hopeful is expected to open with less than $10 million, according to analysts.
Awards season may boost other releases. “Parasite,” the South Korean thriller distributed by New York-based indie company Neon, could benefit from its Golden Globes win for foreign language film and a possible best picture Oscar nomination. It has grossed nearly $24 million domestically so far, an excellent performance for a foreign film.
Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women,” from Sony Pictures, has generated a strong $60 million since its Christmas debut. A24’s release of the Safdie brothers’ “Uncut Gems,” starring Adam Sandler as a jeweler with a gambling problem, has grossed a promising $36.6 million since its December release. Though neither won any Globes, Oscar nominations could lift ticket sales.
A handful of other awards contenders have done well at the box office, but they have already been in theaters for weeks, if not months. For example, “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood,” which won the Golden Globe for best picture, comedy or musical, was released in the summer, collecting $141 million from North American theaters. “Joker,” released in October, has passed $1 billion worldwide, including $333 million in the U.S. and Canada, according to Comscore. “Ford v. Ferrari,” from the Walt Disney Co.-owned 20th Century Fox, has taken in $110 million domestically, while Lionsgate and MRC’s whodunit “Knives Out” has amassed $130 million.