Olivia Wilde on 'Booksmart' Box Office Battle, Directing Female Friendship

Booksmart-Publicity Still 2-H 2019
Annapurna Pictures

"I was really overwhelmed with gratitude for all the people who stood up and started ringing the bell on their own, saying this movie's great," Wilde said of social media campaigns for the pic amidst its underperforming opening weekend.

Olivia Wilde's directorial debut Booksmart was one of the most discussed films of the summer — for both its impressive critical reception (97 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and its underperforming opening weekend ($8.7 million). 

Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the film's Blu-ray and DVD release, Wilde opened up on lessons learned from Booksmart's opening, the impactful narrative that followed about theatrical versus platform release and why she's still immensely proud of her helming debut.

"It was my first rodeo as a director in terms of that entire experience with the release. And any director will say the release is probably the most dreadful part of the process because filmgoers today are inundated with so many options," says Wilde. "In order to get through to them … so many things have to go right and there's no easy weekend anymore. There's always something that you're competing with."

The teen comedy's competition was Disney's live-action remake of Aladdin from Guy Ritchie.

Annapurna and distributor United Artist Releasing opted for a digital-heavy marketing campaign, hoping to target younger viewers. Booksmart — which follows best friends Amy and Molly (played by Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein, respectively) on a wild night to redeem their nerdy high school personas — opened over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, nationwide, across 2,505 theaters.

The actor, director and producer explained that while there was consideration over "whether we should have gone wide," Wilde wanted to ensure national access to Booksmart: "I wanted a filmgoer in Kansas or in Florida or in Georgia to have the same access as someone in New York or L.A. I think that the system is flawed in that there's a sense that a certain type of movie is only for a certain part of the country."

Wilde took to social media to raise awareness as the film struggled through its opening, writing on Twitter, "We are getting creamed by the big dogs out there and need your support. Don't give studios an excuse to not green-light movies made by and about women."

Despite feeling "disheartened" in learning "so many people across the country didn't even know about this movie," Wilde notes that she had found a way to set aside any stress surrounding her film's release and initial box office results. "I have no control over this. I really feel lucky since my first film was even on a movie screen because so many directors never have that chance," she says.

As for the social battle cries for Booksmart, Wilde shares, "I was really overwhelmed with gratitude for all the people who stood up and started ringing the bell on their own, saying this movie's great. There was a real grassroots campaign that was started entirely by fans."

The film has earned $24.2 million since its May 24 release, which Wilde says is a number she's "very proud of … particularly at our budget level." However, Booksmart's success may be best measured by its impact on its cast and crew.

Wilde was delighted to learn that during production, both actors and crew experienced a set environment that "they want to work on for the rest of their life."

As for the film's leading women, Dever is set to star in Unbelievable as a teenager who is charged with lying about being raped, and Feldstein is set to play Monica Lewinsky in Impeachment: American Crime Story.

"They have each taken on roles that are about celebrating and believing women, about respecting women. I think they are two powerful examples of the young actresses, the kind of incredible talent that is out there today amongst young actresses," says Wilde.

As for Booksmart's message and what it offers to young women, the Time's Up advocate had this to share: "I'm deeply proud of making a movie that celebrates female friendship and that is all about the support and love between women and celebrating that."

Adds Wilde, "Gloria Steinem said, 'We are linked, not ranked.' I think about that in terms of Booksmart. We made a movie that really celebrates that linking and really encourages people to prioritize and value their platonic friendships that are supportive, particularly for young women."

Booksmart is now available on digital and on Blu-ray and DVD from Fox Home Entertainment.