Universal responds to First Man’s less-than-stellar box office start

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

FIRST MAN had a tough time launching into theaters this week, nabbing about $16 million and coming in at third place behind repeat winners VENOM ($32 million) and A STAR IS BORN ($29 million). That total was a bit under the $20-25 million projections heading into the weekend, especially with names like Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy and Oscar winner Damien Chazelle attached. But Universal isn’t deterred, and the studio commented on the performance saying this (space)ship’s journey is just getting started.


Universal’s distribution president Jim Orr said that a slow out-of-the-gate performance isn’t uncommon for a movie like this and that they expect the flick to play better as the weeks progress into awards season – where it is no doubt a contender.

“As we’ve seen in this release corridor, quality films like ‘First Man’ — Certified Fresh at 88% on Rotten Tomatoes — have strong playability and will have tremendous legs at the box office,” he said. “This weekend’s results are a just a starting point. Quality adult dramas released in this time period produce very healthy multiples. This is very much a marathon, not a sprint.”

The strong reviews and Oscar buzz will be key to giving the movie some legs, and Orr, speaking to Deadline, is very confident those legs will give the movie a lengthy run.

“Audiences, critics and award pundits will be talking about ‘First Man’ for months, well into the New Year,” he said. “We anticipate ‘First Man’ to have a very long, successful run at the domestic box office, which it certainly deserves.”

The critics may be loving the movie, praising Chazelle’s direction as well as the work from the cast, but audiences aren’t soaring quite as high. The movie has a disappointing audience score of 60% on Rotten Tomatoes, and the B+ Cinemascore isn’t quite as high as the studios would probably like. Though some of the dislikes can possibly be attributed the “flag controversy” – wherein some people (many of whom probably haven’t seen the movie) are upset the movie didn’t show the American flag on the moon (it does) – a bigger reason for the audience dislike is probably the lengthy runtime (141 minutes) and heavily dramatic content. In essence, the movie isn’t as exciting to watch as other space dramas of the past few years like GRAVITY, THE MARTIAN and INTERSTELLAR.

You also have to mix in the positive response towards VENOM and STAR, two movies audiences are loving and seem to be opting for over a slower biopic. Those movies are doing incredibly well still, so of course, they’re going to bite into the box office of MAN. Also, a lower BO total for MAN isn’t exactly a SOLO or JUSTICE LEAGUE-level misfire, as the movie’s $60-70 million budget would be easier to make back, even with a modest global total.


Orr has a point in saying these movies tend to start out slow. As a drama, it will have to rely on positive word of mouth to get going, and though the movie does have it’s share of detractors there should be enough curiosity generated by that award season buzz to keep it going.

FIRST MAN is in theaters now.

Source: Variety, Deadline

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