If you looked at the box office less than a decade ago, some acts felt like surefire hits. Fresh off Oscar wins, and landmark character works, Damien Chazelle and Margot Robbie felt like the new bonafide stars. But, the love affair between fans and these filmmakers is winding down.
In the latest awards contender box-office bomb, Babylon failed to make an impression. The film hit theaters during the holiday weekend and brought in a shockingly low $5.3 million across the Friday to Monday period. Damien Chazelle’s latest cost a reported $80 million plus to make and has a break-even point of around $250 million.
For the award-winning director, it seems like Chazelle can’t recapture the La La Land magic. The 2016 film grossed $448 million worldwide and fourteen nominations at the 89th Academy Awards, winning six categories. The movie infamously lost out on Best Picture to Moonlight in one of the most shocking moments at any award show.
Since that moment, his follow-up First Man was considered a box office disappointment, grossing $105 million worldwide, and his 2020 Netflix series The Eddy came and went with little fanfare. Babylon is looking to be another disappointment with its low opening and tepid chances at any award-season win.
On the Margot Robbie side of things, the actress is looking at her second bomb of the year. Babylon follows David O. Russell’s Amsterdam, which was Robbie’s last effort at the box office and failed to connect with audiences. Amsterdam would make a total of $31.2 million on its $80 million production budget, losing around $100 million for its studio. The films are oddly similar as they see Robbie paired with Hollywood veterans (Christian Bale and Brad Pitt) and see her playing something different than her fan-favorite roles like Harley Quinn.
Though, if you look at her last two efforts as the iconic DC baddie – Birds of Prey and The Suicide Squad – the box office for those films wasn’t insanely stellar either. At least Margot Robbie has another massive project lined up with Barbie, another blockbuster from a prestige awards-friendly director in Greta Gerwig.
If you look at these two filmmakers, it seems like a far cry from what many thought we’d see from them. Damien Chazelle was poised as the next Hollywood golden boy, and Robbie seemed like a throwback to real movie stars. But a bomb like this could be a bit outside of their control. It’s safe to say Babylon wasn’t the easiest sell in the world.
The period comedy-drama walked out of its opening weekend with a C+ CinemaScore and extremely mixed reactions from audiences and critics alike. Many online have cited the weak marketing as a reason, going as far as saying they’ve seen no trailers for the film. It’s also a film not focusing on any current trends, with no direct social messages or real target demographic. In an era with so much film and television to consume, many filmmakers must give audiences a reason to get into the cinemas.
This is also another example of a potential awards contender failing to live up to the hype with audiences. Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans, Todd Field’s Tár, and Maria Schrader’s She Said all made little money after coming with much promise.
Suppose you look at James Cameron with yet another global smash in Avatar: The Way of Water. In that case, we see a filmmaker using current trends in blockbuster entertainment to deliver his social commentary and offering mass-appeal storytelling. Not that Chazelle needs to copy any formula of Cameron, but it’s safe to say that one filmmaker knows how to use the current cinematic landscape in their favor.
With an insane budget, it’s unlikely that Babylon will become a box-office smash. But there’s still a real chance that Babylon pulls out a respectable showing during award season…unless that Avatar sequel also comes to dominate there.
From Damien Chazelle, BABYLON is an original epic set in 1920s Los Angeles led by Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie and Diego Calva, with an ensemble cast including Jovan Adepo, Li Jun Li and Jean Smart. A tale of outsized ambition and outrageous excess, it traces the rise and fall of multiple characters during an era of unbridled decadence and depravity in early Hollywood. Featuring the song “Voodoo Mama” from Academy Award winning composer Justin Hurwitz.
Babylon stars Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Diego Calva, Jean Smart, Jovan Adepo, Li Jun Li, P.J. Byrne, Lukas Haas, Olivia Hamilton, Tobey Maguire, Max Minghella, Rory Scovel, Katherine Waterston, Flea, Jeff Garlin, Eric Roberts, Ethan Suplee, Samara Weaving, and Olivia Wilde.
Babylon is out in US cinemas now and opens in the UK on January 20th.