If you'd talked to the film community at large after Nate Parker's debut of The Birth of a Nation at January's Sundance Film Festival, they would have told you that the incendiary, record-setting film was on its way to assured box office glory. Fast forward to today, with Parker's film scheduled to open in a wide swath of theaters on Friday, and the outlook is a very mixed one, depending on how you look at it. No matter what lens you use, it looks like the historically based drama will bring in a gross anywhere between $7 - $10 million.
These estimates come from a report out of The Hollywood Reporter, which was also keen to point out the range of results that The Birth of a Nation could encounter during its first weekend of release. Those playing it safe with their numbers narrowed down the $7 - $8 million range as the more likely result, with $10 million coming into play when taking into account the results measured by some tracking services. This estimate also takes into account the fact that Nate Parker's directorial debut will be opening on 2,100 screens, a figure that outpaces the original plan distributor Fox Searchlight had in mind by about 300 - 600 screens. Keeping these facts in mind, let's look at how The Birth of a Nation could be a success.
With a budget that only clocked in at $10 million, The Birth of a Nation could look profitable with a $7 - $10 million range of grosses for the weekend ahead. Unfortunately, it's not that simple, as Fox Searchlight acquired the film at Sundance for the historic sum of $17.5 million. That's not even the end of the expenses, as advertising to sell the film's initial release, not to mention the inevitable awards season campaign and any sort of backend deals Nate Parker may have negotiated for himself, would all be added on top of that $17.5 million. Depending on who you talk to, a film like The Birth of a Nation would have to make between $25 and $50 million to truly break even.
The typical "Budget X 1.5" figure would put The Birth of a Nation on the lower end of the spectrum, with a $25 million benchmark to hit. With a first weekend of $7 - $10 million in the air, the film would have to make $15 - $18 million, at the very least, to even look like it's making money. Considering how stacked the next couple of weeks and months are, we're not so sure that's going to happen, but if we're completely honest, everyone knows that The Birth of a Nation is the type of movie a studio like Fox Searchlight acquires for prestige season glory, and not blockbuster grosses. Still, if both can be had, it's a good day!
The Birth of a Nation opens in theaters this Friday. Are you planning on seeing it?
CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.
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