‘Civil War’ Is A24’s Biggest Test: Reasons to Believe Brand Loyalty Can Support Its Most Expensive Film

When audiences seek movies based on brands, that usually means the likes of Marvel, DC Comics, and Pixar — not studios or distributors.

The exception is A24. It’s something acknowledged by its peers (however grudgingly) and among a growing section of younger cinephiles, for whom “an A24 movie” means something a little weird and potentially cool, maybe great — and reason to take a chance on going to a theater.

Alex Garland‘s “Civil War,” the company’s most expensive film (a reported $50 million) opens this week with tracking that suggests it could open to $20 million or more. That would top any previous A24 opening; its best is “Hereditary,” which opened to $13.5 million in 2018.

Garland’s film checks many of the boxes that have translated into A24’s success. Its director has a strong following, including prior A24 films “Ex Machina” and “Men.” “Civil War” also had a widely publicized festival premiere at SXSW last month.

Though not without some dissent (which, for A24, sometimes increases interest), it’s received very good reviews. It’s original. It features actors, led by Kirsten Dunst and Nick Offerman, who are familiar but still fresh. None of these elements are unique to A24.

So what sets the studio apart — especially at a time when specialized film nears a multi-decade low in total ticket sales? The older audience that once was its mainstay has sharply dropped, but A24 has managed to cultivate and grow a younger one. That comes from a consistent effort to make the kinds of films, and marketing, its audience expects, which continues to build credibility.

A24 isn’t the only successful specialized distributor, of course. In the last eight years (excepting Covid years of 2020-2021) Focus grossed over $100 million, peaking with $219 million in 2019 (A24’s best year, 2023, saw $138 million).

Searchlight also has a strong history, including five Best Picture Oscar winners since 2008. (It’s been more uneven since Disney’s acquisition.) The newer Neon had niche success along similar lines, including “Parasite.” Sony Pictures Classics, IFC, and others have had major past successes with potential for more.

Still, in just over a decade from A24’s formation, it’s arguable that its achievement ranks among the best within specialized distribution. It’s an achievement that compares with pre-Disney Miramax, which significantly altered the presence of specialized film and became a familiar brand.

Miramax was already regarded as a success in terms of box-office performance, quality films, and awards when the studio bought it in 1993, but A24 has equaled or exceeded that performance across several metrics.

‘The Crying Game’

Miramax surged at the box office just before the Disney purchase in 1991, then its best year to date. At current ticket prices, it grossed around $180 million from 30 films. In 2023, A24 released 18 titles for its $138 million total.

Miramax’s then-biggest hit as an independent was “The Crying Game,” which grossed the equivalent of around $165 million. A24’s best has been “Everything Everywhere All at Once” with $77 million.

But dig deeper into the numbers, and A24 stands out. Their next five biggest-grossing domestic hits — “Uncut Gems,” “Lady Bird,” “Talk to Me,” and “Hereditary” — all sold more tickets than any other early Miramax success, including standout titles like “My Left Foot,” “The Grifters,” and “Sex, Lies, and Videotape.”

A24’s success came at a more challenging time for specialized films, including Covid and, unlike early Miramax, A24 produces most of its releases. At the same time, A24’s ability to compete at this level comes as part of the legacy Miramax established in elevating outsider companies as competitive with major studios.

‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ Courtesy Everett Collection

A24 has also nurtured relationships with a range of directors who have their own followings among younger viewers. In addition to Garland, there’sTi West, Sofia Coppola, Joanna Hogg, Kelly Reichardt, Ari Aster, and originally “Everything Everywhere” directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert and Robert Eggers. Miramax had less success in holding on to directors, with Quentin Tarantino the primary exception.

While these and other filmmakers have made a diverse group of films, they all aim for younger audiences with a sense of contemporary relevance as well as a willingness to defy convention. That seeming corporate mantra has succeeded in making A24 stand for something — and to elevate interest in their films.

That makes the initial level of anticipation for “Civil War” rational. It has all these elements, plus the promise of military action (war films often reach an audience irrespective of their particular slants). But at its level of expense (marketing additional) and uncertain foreign interest, it will need to rank with the very biggest A24 films to be a success.

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