On the way to some Thursday appointments, I thought I’d catch up with The Greatest Showman at the Landmark Theaters here; but it was not to be found at the Westside’s showcase cinema. Never mind that Hugh Jackman’s P.T. Barnum musical, released by Fox on December 20, was No. 3 at the Wednesday box office, going strong after just having crossed the $100 million mark in domestic ticket sales. That put it comfortably ahead of the combined take for any three of the eight Oscar contenders at the Landmark. Darkest Hour, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and Fox’s own The Post, for instance, had about $98.7 million in sales among them. But The Greatest Showman already had breached $101.3 million.
It is a phenomenal showing for a movie that opened with a thud — first-weekend ticket sales were just $8.8 million — and still doesn’t excite the film-savvy Westside. Folks here, especially Oscar voters, aren’t the sort to attend movie sing-alongs. But those have worked just fine in the heartland, since Fox launched them a week ago in 300 theaters. Hokey, but effective. The film has a family-friendly PG rating; the soundtrack album hit No. 1; its lead song, “This Is Me,” is a hit; and, all things considered, The Greatest Showman stands a fair chance of beating out Steven Spielberg’s high-profile The Post to become the fourth-best grossing film released by 20th Century Fox in 2017, behind Logan, The Boss Baby and War for the Planet of the Apes.
Much will depend on how The Post — which trades heavily on feminine pride in the strength of the former Washington Post owner Katharine Graham and on anti-Trump backing for the mainstream media — fares in the still-churning cultural cross-currents. After a month in theaters, and a week in wide release, the movie has taken in about $31.3 million at the domestic box office. But to keep going, The Post will have to grab an armload of Oscar nominations on Tuesday morning, while avoiding any heartland backlash to its progressive leanings. With luck, the movie could match Fox’s prior Oscar contender from last year, Hidden Figures, which took in about $169.6 million after an unusually long 45-week release. But Hidden Figures had three black leading ladies — Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, and Taraji P. Henson — to help draw African-American viewers, while The Post is, well, so white.
Hidden Figures was inclusive, while The Post is a bit divisive. The Greatest Showman, meanwhile, has music, a friendly rating and every reason to expect ticket sales matching the $129.3 million taken in by the year’s other surprise hit, Wonder, from Lionsgate.
So even as overall movie attendance drops, the heartland clearly has a pulse — if only those savvy Westside film folks can still find it.