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The middling box office showing for ‘Booksmart’ isn’t Netflix’s fault

The film didn’t have a good opening weekend. That doesn’t mean it’s a failure.


Audra Schroeder


Booksmart, the feature directorial debut from Olivia Wilde, had a modest opening at the box office Memorial Day weekend. But is its appearance on Netflix really responsible for a slump in ticket sales?

The coming-of-age film, featuring Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein as overachieving besties on the eve of high school graduation, earned $8.7 million its opening weekend. But it was no match for Aladdin, which clocked over $112 million in the U.S. Wilde tweeted about the film’s performance at the box office and the importance of going to see it on the big screen, saying: “We are getting creamed by the big dogs out there and need your support. Don’t give studios an excuse not to green-light movies made by and about women.”

The same day it was released, however, it was also released internationally on Netflix, in France.

We’ve reached out to Netflix for details, but as noted on Twitter, that meant interested parties could get immediate access and leak it, or use a VPN to watch it. According to TorrentFreak, Booksmart was the No. 10 most pirated film of the week, behind Us, Aquaman, and Avengers: Endgame. That’s notable, since those films have already been in theaters for some time.

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Others noted that Booksmart doesn’t feature diverse leads and that it’s the kind of film people would wait to watch on Netflix.

But you can’t blame a Netflix France release for a middling showing stateside. Fast Color, a film directed by a woman and featuring Black leads, also received positive critical reviews but floundered at the box office. Director Julia Hart called out the film’s distributor for not knowing how to market the film: “At the end of the day, when it got to the white male gatekeeper—time and time again—they said, ‘I don’t know who this movie is for. I don’t know how to market it.’ We need to keep buying tickets to these movies. We need to keep making these movies, and we need to prove them wrong because they’re wrong and they’re dinosaurs.”

Targeted ads for Booksmart made the rounds on Twitter and Instagram the week before its release (I saw several). It was a critic fave that didn’t immediately translate to sales, even with Annapurna and Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s sister production company Gloria Sanchez behind it. Still, Hart and Jinn director Nijla Mumin pointed out that they would have loved the same kind of marketing push for their films. (Hart is directing Disney’s adaptation of Stargirl next, and it will be interesting to see how that’s marketed.) 

But Booksmart will likely find a bigger audience, maybe next week or years from now—maybe even with a wider Netflix release. Maybe even because of this debate-igniting word of mouth. After getting some criticism for downplaying an inclusive film like Aladdin, Wilde tweeted on Monday that a “wide release for a small film is def a major gamble. I’m lucky my first movie is in any theater at all!” 


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The Daily Dot