Amid the bang boom of Furious 7 dominating the box office again in its fourth frame with a $320.5M domestic gross, a cult film was percolating on the charts: A24’s sci-fi drama Ex Machina. The film posted the distrib’s best weekend ever with $5.44M at 1,255 playdates, beating the wide weekend expansion of its 2013 release Spring Breakers ($4.9M). Fans around the web are already heralding the movie as Blade Runner meets Social Network.
Ex Machina follows programmer Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) who is invited to his reclusive billionaire CEO’s (Oscar Isaac) remote, high-tech estate for the week. Caleb has been chosen to evaluate and test Ava, an alluring robot artificial intelligence who proves to be more sophisticated and deceptive than either guy imagines.
On the surface, Ex Machina is apt to draw some comparisons to RADiUS teen horror film It Follows (which is still going strong at 401 venues with a running cume in its seventh weekend of $14M–not bad for a pic that was acquired for $550K) in regards to its indie hipness factor, enormous critical acclaim (each title has better than a 90% Rotten Tomato score) and the fact that they’re arthouse crossover successes.
However, the two films couldn’t be more different. While It Follows drew the typical under-25 horror crowd, Ex Machina is skewing older, attracting 25-34ers and charting as the No. 1 film in a number of arthouses. One Deadline editor caught the film last night at the ArcLight Sherman Oaks (where tickets cost $15 each), where one of the venue’s biggest theaters was 75% full for the 8:25pm show, the third screening in three hours.
The mindset of those behind the Scott Rudin-produced Ex Machina is to take the film as far as it can go. Where most genre fare is front-loaded for a big first Friday, Ex Machina saw a 32% spike, moving from $1.7M to $2.25M per industry estimates.
“The film played incredibly everywhere – from expected major-market expansions like San Francisco and Washington D.C. – to rarefied territories for an indie sci-fi like Duluth and Fargo,” A24 said in a release. Exit poll responses are reported to be strong.
A24 acquired U.S. on the title in the off market back in late October. A day after the announcement, the distrib dropped the trailer, which ultimately accumulated more than 1 million views. Immediately, A24 knew they had something special. Sources there tell me that a plethora of factors are contributing to Ex Machina‘s breakout success.
In addition to being smart entertainment, Ex Machina raises the salient issue of artificial intelligence. Today, Maureen Dowd penned a column in the New York Times entitled “Beware Our Mind Children,” examining how critics are divided over whether Ex Machina is a feminist fable or misogynistic nightmare. Evidence that Ex Machina‘s word of mouth is strong: It was the No. 4 most-searched Google item on Friday.
What also doesn’t hurt, especially when luring fanboys into the theaters: Ex Machina stars two actors, Isaac and Gleeson, who are leads in Star Wars: The Forces Awakens. Also, Swedish actress Alicia Vikander is watching her profile spike thanks to glossy coverage in People, not to mention she landed the March W cover. Ex Machina helmer Alex Garland also carries clout with cinephiles thanks to screenwriter credits on such Danny Boyle faves as The Beach (he penned the novel), zombie pic 28 Days Later and Sunshine.
Given the intersection of film and tech crowds at SXSW, A24 debuted Ex Machina at the fest, and earned great buzz. The distrib launched an online campaign on Tinder where the film’s robotic protag Ava tries to hook up with guys. Many are convinced that she is a real – until they’re redirected to her Instagram, an obvious promo platform for the film.
From here, A24 built a viral campaign in social media that it called #AvaSessions. When you log into ava-sessions.com, you can talk to the character, who makes a sketch of your face (similar to a plot point in the movie). Users can then share on social media, further boosting the film’s social reach.
Check out what she did to actor/director Zach Braff:
In addition to its clever social-media push, A24 has made a decent amount of TV ad buys, including a spot during the prime Friday time slot around 20/20’s Bruce Jenner interview, a TV mega event that drew 16.9M viewers. A24 also engaged tech and gaming companies and their tastemaker fans with advance screenings.
In three short years, A24 Films has defined itself as a home for truly riveting, auteur fare. Spring Breakers ($14M domestic B.O.) wasn’t just a film about good girls gone bad, i.e. headliner actresses Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez, but a biting social commentary on excess. Scott Foundas, then writing for The Village Voice, titled his review “Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers Are Girls Gone Godard.”
A24’s release last year of Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin ($2.6M) showed a freaky, sensual side of superhero actress Scarlett Johansson as an alien who attracts men, only to kill and feast off of them. Last winter, J.C. Chandor‘s A Most Violent Year ($5.7M domestic B.O.) about the 1980s oil-truck wars in Gotham, won honors from the National Board of Review for best film, actor (Isaac) and supporting actress (Jessica Chastain).
Currently, A24 plans to further expand Ex Machina on May 8 once Avengers: Age of Ultron calms down during its second weekend. Universal financed the film with Film4/DNA. Universal also is the film’s foreign distributor, and it’s already grossed more than $6 million overseas.