For what is unabashedly an art house film, Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” has done very well at the box office. With a domestic gross to date of just under $21.4 million it is the third highest grossing film in upstart distributor A24’s growing library. Both the sci-fi film “Ex Machina” with $25.4 million, and the horror film “The Witch” with $25.1 come, first and second respectively. However, keep in mind that both films played in nearly twice as many theaters as “Moonlight” has. “Ex Machina” opened on just 4 screens, and eventually expanded to 2004 screens. Meanwhile “The Witch” was released wide from its first weekend, on 2046 screens.
In comparison, “Moonlight”, which first opened in a limited release on 4 screens, eventually expanded to as many as 1,104 screens at its widest reach, meaning the film had a higher per screen average than either “Machina” or “Witch”. However, it must be said that one can only wonder what the film could have done if it had played on more screens. Did A24 hurt the box office potential of “Moonlight” or did they play it smart knowing that the film, unlike a sci-fi movie (“Ex Machina”) or a horror film (“The Witch) – albeit both relatively low budget compared to the average Hollywood studio film – didn’t have easily marketable attributes to entice a more mainstream market, and had to rely on a provocative ad campaign and solid word of mouth to keep the keep going?
But a nagging question from the start was how the film would play in foreign markets – that is if it would even open overseas at all. Well the good news is that, since last week, “Moonlight” has opened in countries in Europe, South America and Asia, as well as in Australia and New Zealand; and in the 19 international markets it’s been released so far, the film has drawn some impressive numbers, earning a total overseas box office gross of $5.2 million.
So far, France ($1.3 million) and The Netherlands (with just over a million) are the two highest grossing foreign markets, with the UK coming in third with $772K; but that’s on only 85 screens giving the film an excellent per screen average of just over $9000, as it expands to 177 screens this Friday.
As for why the film took so long to reach the UK until now, especially when other American films typically open around the same time, or in some cases, even before they open in the States, it’s because, according to The Guardian, the price to acquire the film for UK distribution was unusually high for what they deemed a risky pick-up although, as the report adds, “that risk now looks to be paying off” for distributor Altitude, who eventually landed the film.
And considering that both “Ex Machina” and “The Witch” grossed about $36-40 million worldwide, it’s a good bet that “Moonlight” will do about the same; it could even come out ahead of “Machina” which had a $15 million budget, while “The Witch” cost around $3 million, which is the same as “Moonlight”.