'The Farewell' is becoming one of 2019's top box-office success stories

A24‘The Farewell’
  • A24’s “The Farewell” has made $US4 million in the US, already earning back its production budget ahead of an expansion to 409 theatres this weekend.
  • It originally opened in just four theatres last month and beat “Avengers: Endgame’s” per-theatre average at the box office.
  • “A24 is aiming to build word of mouth from that initial platform audience in hopes of expanding to the broader, general audience without incurring the kind of major marketing budget needed to push an original movie nationwide from the outset,” the Boxoffice.com chief analyst Shawn Robbins told Business Insider.
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A24’s indie dramedy, “The Farewell,” is one of the biggest success stories of the year. Since its initial release last month – when it beat “Endgame’s” per-theatre average at the box office – it has expanded to more theatres, and crossed another milestone.

Ahead of another theatrical expansion this weekend – from 135 theatres to 409 – “The Farewell” has grossed $US4 million in the US and already earned back its production budget.

A24 bought “The Farewell” from this year’s Sundance Film Festival for between $US6 million and $US7 million, double what it cost to make the movie, according to Vulture. That means it was made for around $US3 million to $US3.5 million. A person with direct knowledge of the movie’s budget confirmed this range was accurate to Business Insider.

“A24 has built a reputation for delivering high pedigree content, often at the arthouse level, which has endeared them among both cinephiles and talent within the industry,” the Boxoffice.com chief analyst Shawn Robbins told Business Insider.

READ MORE: ‘The Farewell’ has a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes, and the indie movie beat an ‘Avengers: Endgame’ box-office milestone

“The Farewell” initially opened in just four theatres in New York and Los Angeles in July. It topped “Endgame” for the best per-theatre average at the box office this year with $US355,662 total and $US88,916 per theatre. “Endgame” opened in April with $US357 million in 4,662 theatres in the US, with a per-theatre average of $US76,601.

A24’s slow theatrical rollout is a strategy that has benefited the movie, which is directed by Lulu Wang and stars Awkwafina. It follows a Chinese family that refuses to tell its matriarch that she is dying from cancer, and has a 99% Rotten Tomatoes critic score.

“A24 is aiming to build word of mouth from that initial platform audience in hopes of expanding to the broader, general audience without incurring the kind of major marketing budget needed to push an original movie nationwide from the outset – which is an increasingly large challenge in today’s landscape,” Robbins said.

Some similarly sized movies this year have underwhelmed at the box office despite strong reviews.

Unlike “The Farewell,” the teenage comedy “Booksmart” was given a wide release in over 2,000 theatres in its first weekend. It made $US22 million total, a disappointing result considering the movie’s rave reviews (it has a 97% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes).

Amazon’s “Late Night,” another Sundance acquisition, was quickly rolled out into over 2,000 theatres in its second weekend after debuting in four. It made a total of $US17 million. Amazon paid $US13 million for it out of Sundance.

“Booksmart” and “Late Night” could potentially have benefited from a slower theatrical rollout or even a straight-to-streaming release, as suggested by the success of Netflix comedies like “Always Be My Maybe” and “Murder Mystery.” But A24’s strategy for “The Farewell” proves that there’s still hunger for acclaimed indie movies in theatres.

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