Who says adults aren’t going to the movies?
Well, the numbers don’t exactly lie: Movies aimed at older audiences have majorly struggled at the box office in COVID times. For the most part, they aren’t going to the movies. But Sony’s “A Man Called Otto,” a heartfelt drama starring Tom Hanks as a cranky widower, has seemingly defied the odds with its $12.6 million debut from 3,802 North American theaters. It’s expected to reach $15 million through the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday frame, bringing its domestic tally to $21.2 million after playing in limited release for two weeks. That’s a better-than-expected result, at least in the pandemic era.
Will the $50 million-budgeted “Otto” remain a theatrical draw throughout the rest of winter? That’s far from a forgone conclusion. But already, box office watchers are feeling optimistic about the latest big-screen adventure from Hanks.
David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research, categorized the opening weekend as “above average” for the genre. “This is a very good opening for a character-driven comedy drama, with an excellent turnout by older moviegoers,” he says. “When these kinds of movies connect, they can go on a run — and that’s starting to happen.”
Only a handful of adult-driven films, such as “Where the Crawdads Sing” ($17 million in its debut), “Elvis” ($31 million in its debut), “The Woman King” ($19 million in its debut) and “Don’t Worry Darling” ($19.3 million in its debut), have connected at the box office since March 2020.
That reality has resulted in a lower bar for success than Hanks is used to reaching at the box office. In another era, the actor’s name — in movies ranging from wars stories like “Saving Private Ryan” and “Bridge of Spies,” touching dramas like “Forrest Gump” and “Philadelphia,” romantic comedies including “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail,” the animated “Toy Story” franchise and dozens of other memorable films in between — meant hundreds of millions in global box office returns. Today, it’s hard to imagine a studio greenlighting a quirkier adventure like “Forrest Gump,” much less watching its ticket sales climb to $678 million globally. Indeed, times and tastes have changed dramatically.
So, given the constraints facing a movie like “Otto,” Exhibitor Relations analyst Jeff Bock believes it “won the adult-skewing lotto.”
“Looking back, Sony probably left money on the table. With ‘Babylon’ bombing, there was certainly room for an adult-skewing dramedy over the holiday frame,” says Bock, referring to Paramount’s big-budget Hollywood epic that flailed spectacularly at Christmastime, earning just $14 million to date. “That said, audiences will usually show up when a well received film — especially in a genre that has been overlooked for far too long — opens in a sluggish marketplace.”
Sony initially planned to release “A Man Called Otto” nationwide around Christmas, which is traditionally a prime slot for feel-good films. But the studio changed its mind a few times, moving its debut up to Dec. 14 before scrapping the nationwide start entirely. Instead, “Otto” opened in select theaters on Dec. 30 before expanding its footprint across the country on Jan. 13. By waiting until January, a slower time at the box office, the movie avoided getting lost in the crush of holiday releases.
With its platform release, “Otto” became one of the rare pandemic-era films aimed at adult audiences to effectively sustain momentum. Despite positive reviews and potential Oscar glory, Steven Spielberg’s coming-of-age story “The Fabelmans,” the Cate Blanchett-led psychodrama “Tár” and Sarah Polley’s timely parable “Women Talking” — none of which grossed more than $15 million at the domestic box office — were some recent movies that failed to bring older audiences (or any at all) to theaters.
Sony took a non-traditional approach to the crowd-pleasing “Otto,” which is more mainstream and less of a prestige arthouse play. The studio still opened the film in the traditional four venues in New York City and Los Angeles, which is customary for platform releases. But in its second weekend, Sony heavily concentrated on cinemas in the heartland as it brought the film to 637 venues, believing the heartfelt story would resonate deeply across the country, not just on the coasts. By that Sunday, “Otto” had earned $3.76 million and placed fourth on domestic box office charts despite playing in significantly fewer theaters than its competitors. Ticket sales were especially strong in Dallas, Chicago, Phoenix, Salt Like City, as well as Columbus, Minneapolis, Nashville and Milwaukee.
“It played throughout the country, a reflection of how universally appealing Tom Hanks is as a star,” says Comscore analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “And the tone of the movie has great appeal for audiences across the board.”
Audiences were fonder of the movie compared to reviewers, resulting in an “A” CinemaScore from ticket buyers and a 68% average from critics on Rotten Tomatoes.
Marc Forster directed “A Man Called Otto,” the second adaptation of Fredrik Backman’s 2012 novel “A Man Called Ove” following the 2015 Swedish film of the same name. Hanks plays Otto Anderson, a grump who falls into a depression after his wife dies. But his attitude begins to turn around after he strikes up an unlikely and life-changing friendship with a young family that moves in next door. SF Studios and TSG co-financed the film.
Film critic Owen Gleiberman wasn’t sold on “A Man Called Otto,” though he praised the casting of Hanks. “We’ve seen this sort of get-off-my-lawn curmudgeon many times before,” he wrote. “But with the right actor and the right script, it’s a formula that audiences never get tired of — and Hanks, make no mistake, is the right actor for this role.”
Now, cinema owners hope he’s still the right actor to fill seats.