Disappointing start for Mother!

Jennifer Lawrence and Darren Aronofsky attend the New York premiere of Mother! at Radio City Music Hall on Sept 13, 2017 in New York City.
Jennifer Lawrence and Darren Aronofsky attend the New York premiere of Mother! at Radio City Music Hall on Sept 13, 2017 in New York City. PHOTO: FILMMAGIC

LOS ANGELES • Horror has printed money for Hollywood this year.

Get Out, Annabelle: Creation, and Split took in a combined US$850 million (S$1.14 billion).

It collected US$120.3 million worldwide over the weekend, for an astounding two-week global total of about US$371 million.

But how much horror - and of what kind - do moviegoers want?

Darren Aronofsky's cerebral Mother! was marketed as a psychological horror film in the vein of Rosemary's Baby (1968), but the masses did not embrace it. Mother! sold about US$7.5 million in tickets in North America, about 30 per cent less than analysts had expected. That was a disappointing start for a film that received solid reviews, played in 2,368 cinemas and stars one of Hollywood's most popular actresses, Jennifer Lawrence. Mother! took in US$6 million more in limited release overseas.

"We're really proud of this film, and we're going to stick with it," said Ms Megan Colligan, Paramount's president of worldwide distribution and marketing. "It's big, bold and audacious. We always knew it wouldn't be for everybody."

Paramount spent at least US$30 million to make the movie. The studio had hoped it would perform like Aronofsky's Black Swan, which took in about US$9 million in its first weekend of wide release in 2010 and rode rave reviews and Oscar attention to about US$100 million in ticket sales in the United States and Canada.

But ticket buyers gave Mother! an F grade in CinemaScore exit polls. Vitriol also poured onto Twitter and movie message boards, with people complaining in particular about the film's test-the-limits climax.

If nothing else, Paramount will get credit in Hollywood for backing an auteur director at a time when most studios are keeping film-makers on extra-short leashes.

Mother! may have suffered from competition from It, No. 1 again over the weekend. Paramount moved up Mother!'s release by a month to capitalise on buzz generated by film festival premieres. But It, based on Stephen King's novel and starring Bill Skarsgard as an evil clown named Pennywise who terrorises children, became a smash hit.

To a degree, Paramount had no good option. Mother! would have faced competition next month from Happy Death Day, the next horror film from Blumhouse and Universal, the forces behind Split and Get Out.

Between September and December, studios are scheduled to release at least seven films with horror elements, up from four in the same period last year.

Sony will roll out a remake of Flatliners (1990), which mixes science fiction and horror, on Sept 29. Lionsgate will use Jigsaw on Oct 27 to try to resuscitate its torture-themed Saw franchise. Other entries include Friend Request, about a demon who kills college students, and Polaroid, a high school horror mystery.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2017, with the headline 'Disappointing start for Mother!'. Subscribe