Oscars: Specialty Contenders Show Mixed Results at the Box Office

Courtesy of Neon; Kimberley French/Fox Searchlight Pictures; Casi Moss/A24; Nigel Bluck/Roadside Attractions

Bong Joon Ho’s 'Parasite' has defied expectations thanks to critical praise and accolades, but awards buzz doesn’t always guarantee success.

Before landing top honors from critics' groups and Golden Globe nominations, Bong Joon Ho's Parasite was expected to earn no more than $20 million at the U.S. box office, despite picking up the prestigious Palme d'Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. Now, the Neon film could earn $25 million to $30 million — proving that the fabled awards box office bump still exists. Since opening Oct. 11 in the U.S., the genre-bending drama-thriller slipped less than 10 percent on the weekend after Globe noms were announced, compared with 30 percent the previous weekend.

With Oscar nominations yet to come Jan. 13, signs that an awards boost is a real thing couldn't be better news for the struggling specialty marketplace, which faces fierce competition from streamers, particularly the Oscar-hungry Netflix.

Parasite has passed Shia LaBeouf's sleeper indie hit The Peanut Butter Falcon to become the top-grossing specialty release of 2019, earning $22.6 million domestically through Dec. 25. Additionally, Bong's pic, centering on a poor family who infiltrate a wealthy clan's life, is already one of the top-grossing foreign-language films of all time, besting 1994's Il Postino ($21.8 million) and 1992's Like Water for Chocolate ($21.7 million), not adjusted for inflation.

And while Parasite is unlikely to catch Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth in the U.S., it has earned more globally: $127.1 million. In 2006, Pan's Labyrinth grossed $37.6 million domestically and $83.3 million worldwide.

Fox Searchlight's Jojo Rabbit, directed by Taika Waititi, is another awards contender that's been aided by accolades and Globe noms. Jojo, starring newcomer Roman Griffin Davis, Waititi and Scarlett Johansson, has passed Roadside Attractions' Peanut Butter Falcon ($20.5 million) to finish Dec. 31 with a U.S. total of $21.1 million.

But the awards-can-help-you theory didn't apply to Lulu Wang's indie The Farewell; A24 opened the Awkwafina dramedy in early July, and it ended its theatrical run in November with $17.7 million domestically. Another A24 release, Robert Eggers' The Lighthouse, starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, popped initially after its mid-October bow but fell off (earning $10.8 million domestically) after failing to secure Globe noms or other major accolades.

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The Red Carpet Star Award 
Timothée Chalamet earns high praise from fellow contenders

By Chris Gardner 

Lorene Scafaria
Hustlers director

"I'm trying to rock Timothée Chalamet as often as possible, that's who I've decided to channel [during award season]." 

Asante Blackk
When They See Us and This Is Us actor 

"He's not afraid to take risks. Even as an actor, I look up to him. In terms of style, he's amazing." 

Noah Jupe
Ford v Ferrari actor 

"He's phenomenal. I love the silver suit he wore to Venice. And then to the Golden Globes, he wore that black sparkly harness vest [by Virgil Abloh for Louis Vuitton]." 

Olivia Wilde
Booksmart director

"I like when people [like Chalamet] take risks and are true to themselves. The Globes, for me, have always been a chance to wear something spectacular." 

This story first appeared in a January stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.