Box Office: 'Darkest Hour' Conquers U.S., Pulls Ahead of 'Lady Bird'

Courtesy of Telluride Film Festival
'Darkest Hour'

The Winston Churchill biopic is on the verge of passing 'The Big Sick' to become the most successful specialty release of the past year after galvanizing older moviegoers across the U.S. — including President Trump.

On Dec. 18, President Donald Trump hosted an impromptu, bipartisan screening of Darkest Hour at the White House for members of Congress after watching the movie several days before at Camp David.

Trump, 71, is hardly the only older moviegoer enamored with the film's subject matter, Winston Churchill.

Sometime on Tuesday or Wednesday, Darkest Hour will pass 2017 summer indie hit The Big Sick ($42.9 million) to become the most successful specialty release of the past year after galvanizing older moviegoers across the U.S. — whether Democratic or Republican. (Never mind that British director Joe Wright has said his film raises the question as to whether Trump is an adequate leader.)

From Working Title and Focus Features, Darkest Hour has continued to impress since first opening in select theaters in late November. The film, which expanded nationwide over the year-end holidays, has earned $40.8 million through Sunday, putting it ahead of fellow indie darling Lady Bird ($39.1 million), which has likewise expanded nationwide. 

Both films are contenders in this year's awards race, which will reach a crescendo Tuesday morning when Oscar nominations are announced. Darkest Hour star Gary Oldman has already earned a number of top honors for his portrayal of Churchill, including Golden Globe and SAG awards for best actor. Darkest Hour and Lady Bird (which is playing to younger crowds) could enjoy a box-office bump should they nab top Oscar noms, although the halo effect isn't as strong for titles that have already played across the country.

Nearly 85 percent of those buying tickets to see Darkest Hour when it rolled out nationwide were over the age of 25, with consumers 50 and older accounting for roughly 30 percent of the audience, according to exit polls conducted by comScore's PostTrak service over the course of two weekends. Older consumers wield enormous buying power, and Hollywood is all too happy to tap into this demo.

"The movie is playing everywhere," says Focus president of distribution Lisa Bunnell. "Our grosses in the middle of the country are as good as they are in New York and Los Angeles. The list of the top 10 grossing theaters this past week includes cinemas in New Yew York; Los Angeles; Fort Myers, Florida; Orlando, Florida; and Plano, Texas. It's rare that you see that."

In the weeks leading up to Darkest Hour's opening, some naysayers questioned Focus' decision to back yet another Churchill film or TV project. The late British prime minister has been depicted numerous times on the big and small screens, including on Netflix's hit original series, The Crown, now in its second season.

Bunnell says Darkest Hour stands on its own. "It is about a leader who has real emotions. People want to be inspired right now," she says.

Neither Focus nor Wright knew of the White House screening until after the fact, insiders say. But Trump's fascination with Churchill is hardly a surprise; not long after he took office, the president ordered that a bust of Churchill be moved back into the Oval Office.

Overseas, Darkest Hour has earned north of $37 million so far, including more than $7 million in the U.K. and $5 million in China, for a global tally of roughly $77 million. The film didn't launch offshore until it established a foothold in the U.S.