'Hereditary' Breaks a Momentous Box Office Record

A24 hit a new milestone with its latest arthouse horror sensation. 

Hereditary

A24 hit a new milestone with its latest arthouse horror sensation.

Coming in at number one on the box office chart over the weekend, Ocean’s 8 had a satisfactory opening for its franchise. The Ocean’s Eleven spinoff sold about 4.5 million tickets, which is pretty much exactly what was being forecast.

On the surface, looking at non-inflated dollar amounts, the female-led installment posted the best debut for the series. In terms of actual attendance, though, the franchise has continued to have diminishing returns: Eleven opened to 6.7 million, Twelve opened to 6.3 million, and Thirteen opened to just 5.3 million.

Ocean’s 8 received so-so reviews, though they were much better than Twelve‘s and close to as good as Thirteen‘s, and its CinemaScore grade of ‘B+’ is on par with the first and third installments of the rebooted franchise. That means word of mouth could bring this one to a decent place financially and result in further sequels.

Steven Soderbergh, who produced but did not direct the latest Ocean’s installment, should be happy with the numbers (as should Warner Bros.), especially after the disappointment of Logan Lucky last summer. That movie, which he helmed and distributed independently, was kind of an Ocean’s spinoff, just not in name, and it bombed.

The bigger story from the weekend’s box office, though, pertains to the new release placing fourth. Ari Aster’s Hereditary overshot expectations with an estimated attendance of 1.4 million. That’s the best debut for young distributor A24 by significant amount. The previous record holder was The Witch with about 1 million.

Of course, most of A24’s movies open in limited release. Hereditary was only the fourth to hit more than a thousand theaters from the start and only the third to go above two-thousand. The movie did have the distributor’s highest screen count yet, with 2,964. The per-screen average was 500 tickets, same as The Witch.

A24’s best opening weekend per-screen average attendance to date, however, was from Moonlight, which brought in more than 11,000 people to four different locations in its debut. For wide expansions, even, The Disaster Artist is tops with 800 tickets sold at each of its 840 theaters in its second weekend of release last December.

Now that A24 has hit such a milestone with Hereditary, the question being asked is whether the movie can continue pulling the distributor to further heights. The current peak domestic total attendance for one of A24’s films is 5.3 million, achieved with the recent Best Picture nominee Lady Bird. More than Moonlight, which won the top Oscar last year, and is in second place for the company with just 3.2 million.

Will Hereditary at least top A24’s horror record? The Witch finished out with 2.9 tickets sold in 2016. That movie had slightly better potential for word of mouth success, however. At least as can be determined by CinemaScore polling. The Witch was graded ‘C-‘ while Hereditary received a ‘D+.’ Both movies have similarly weak audience scores on Rotten Tomatoes and Fandango.

The Witch also satisfies more people’s definition of a horror movie, just as a creepy period piece. Hereditary is being criticized by moviegoers for not being the sort of horror movie being sold to them in trailers. Even Aster has tried describing his own movie as a disturbing drama more than a scary movie, despite how it’s being marketed.

The distributor has been called out before on this matter, too, since they have a fondness for arthouse horror and thriller material that’s not an easy genre fit but is often sold as something with more mainstream appeal. Last year’s It Comes at Night fooled audiences, which resulted in a ‘D’ CinemaScore and quickly decreased attendance.

One of the company’s immediate wide releases, It Comes at Night barely sold more tickets in its entire run than Hereditary did this past weekend. And more than 40% of its attendance came from its opening weekend, meaning word of mouth definitely hurt the movie, which had a decent critical reception for what it actually was.

Other A24 movies are difficult to gauge in terms of word of mouth since limited releases don’t tend to get polled for CinemaScore grades. Only the three wide releases sold as horror movies — a genre marketable enough to make the wide release strategy work for those movies in the first place — have been graded. Hereditary‘s falls in the middle.

I caught the movie on Saturday night in a sold-out multiplex auditorium in the Atlanta suburbs, and the reception at the end did not seem too positive. In fact, some of the response during the movie weren’t too favorable. That’s not the fault of the film, which is a hit with critics. I don’t love the movie myself, but I think it’s worth seeing for how crazy a lot of it is.

But can disturbing imagery be marketed, and does it appeal to anyone? Trailers that are the equivalent of lying clickbait is a problem for a least some of the ticket buyers out there, but there’s also the possibility that A24 won over many moviegoers who wouldn’t have seen Hereditary any other way. The only issue is losing the trust of the rest.

A good opening weekend business-wise that’s maybe not a good opening weekend appreciation-wise is also tricky for the consideration of sequel potential. Aster told Fandango that he has a “very weird and crazy” idea for Hereditary 2 that would be “extremely orthodox.” He also said, “We’ll see if this movie makes the kind of money to justify something like that.”

But should the money be the factor? In this case, it’d be fine. Maybe not in terms of A24 making as much money the second time around, but as far as possibly pleasing those people who do wind up fans (or least, in cases like mine, respectful appreciators) of Hereditary the allowance for Aster to do a sequel his way would presumably be favorable.

My guess is that with this particular movie, A24 will want to see how it does in the second weekend. There was no chance of a sequel to The Witch, at least as far as its writer/director, Robert Eggers, was concerned, so whether there was even demand or a business decision to be had there, we have nothing to compare Hereditary‘s odds to.

We will definitely be looking at the future attendance of Hereditary also in our curiosity about its continued success as a record breaker for A24 as well as its sequel and awards season potential. For now, congrats to Aster on surely eventually selling more tickets than one of its biggest, craziest inspirationsThe Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, ever did.

Here are the weekend’s top 10 titles by number of tickets sold with new titles in bold and totals in parentheses:

1. Ocean’s 8 – 4.5 million (4.5 million)
2. Solo: A Star Wars Story – 1.7 million (19.2 million)
3. Deadpool 2 – 1.5 million (30.4 million)
4. Hereditary – 1.4 million (1.4 million)
5. Avengers: Infinity War – 0.7 million (71.5 million)
6. Adrift – 0.6 million (2.4 million)
7. The Book Club – 0.5 million (6.2 million)
8. Hotel Artemis – 0.3 million (0.3 million)
9. Upgrade – 0.24 million (1 million)
10. Life of the Party – 0.23 million (5.5 million)

All non-forecast box office data via Box Office Mojo.

Christopher began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called 'Read,' back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials.