The internet, in the most optimistic view, was built to help us connect and learn together as a human race.
Peace. Harmony. All that.
Then, as we always do with technological advancements, we quickly just wanted to know how we could use this thing to watch other people doing it.
Then, we started using it to argue at each other over nothing because humanity trends toward tribalism.
So it is that prior to this weekend, the big story in Hollywood was the conspiracy theory over whether Venom’s poor word-of-mouth was just fake news. Lady Gaga fans flooded social media with fake reviews of Venom to intentionally depress word-of-mouth and funnel more people to see A Star is Born instead. Or so the theory went. Why would they do such a thing, you might ask? Because we all care way too damn much about opening weekend box office totals!
I made more than you. I set some random record. I win! There can be no alternative.
The plan, if there ever really was one, didn’t work. Venom conquered especially harsh reviews (I, for the record, kind of liked it) and enjoyed the biggest domestic opening ($80m) and global debut ($205m, which is double the film’s production budget) of any October release in history. And it’s not even close, really. There’s now previous record holders The Martian and Gravity way down there ($54m and $55m domestic openings respectively), and Venom way up here ($80m). Heck, Venom even had a bigger opening than 2018’s most recent superhero movie, Ant-Man and the Wasp, which had the benefit of being both a summer movie and the first post-Infinity War MCU title but still only managed $75m.
A Star is Born, meanwhile, received some of the best reviews of the year (here’s mine) and pulled in $42m, nearly 30% more than pre-release tracking expected a near-record a rom-com or live-action musical. That puts the film on the quick road to profitability since it only carries a $40m production budget. Still, if this were truly a zero-sum game, Venom clearly won. So, suck it, A Star is Born! You keep swimming over there in the shallow end. Sony’s too busy counting all of its money to hear your screams should you start drowning.
But this was never really an either/or situation. To paraphrase Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, you can see them both, and if you don’t, it’s not exactly like they’re going for the same audience.
For Venom, according to THR’s weekend box office breakdown, “nearly half the audience was under the age of 25, while nearly 70 percent was male.” So, basically, a bunch of young dudes went to see Venom, which is the cliched expectation for most comic book movies.
A Star is Born, meanwhile, skewed entirely differently. “More than 85 percent of the audience was over the age of 25, while femmes made up 66 percent of ticket buyers. A large swath of the aud was between the ages of 25 and 34, a possible sign that Lady Gaga fans, dubbed ‘Little Monsters,’ made an impact.” Women, especially older women, showed up in force to a support a movie that was largely targeted at them anyway.
It’s a win-win:
- Sony desperately needed a franchise of its own, and now it has one.
- Comic book fans got their latest kick until Aquaman hits over Christmas.
- Warner Bros. already had an awards front-runner on its hands with A Star is Born. Now it has a box office smash which is riding such a word-of-mouth high that it will likely carry through into November.
- Young dudes got to see a movie they wanted.
- Ditto for older women.
Really, this past weekend was the Hollywood dream, especially when you add in Black Live Matters-drama The Hate U Give performing well in ultra-limited release. Coming up with counterprogramming to the relentless march of comic book/tentpole/blockbuster titles is an ongoing challenge. This weekend it worked and both sides prospered.
So, let’s stop all this Gaga vs. Venom talk. That was always a false argument anyway. In the end, both camps won.