A24 Expands Strategy From Arthouse Gems to More Commercial Films | Exclusive

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For the past decade, A24 has cultivated an almost cultlike devotion from its fans, thanks to its excellent taste in projects and idiosyncratic, meme-able movies like “The Witch,” “Uncut Gems” and “Midsommar.” Their films inspire such interest that their features usually come with a curated, highly sought-after merchandise drop that fans can purchase via their official website.

But a new strategy — which includes chasing the rights to the “Halloween” franchise — could land them in a place that, for all their big swings, they’ve never been before: the mainstream.

According to a top agent with knowledge of the company, over the summer A24 acquisition executive Noah Sacco made the talent agency rounds in search of “action and big IP projects.” The studio, the agent told TheWrap, is “deemphasizing the traditional character/auteur driven dramas.”

“Everyone in the independent film space is aware that A24 needs to pivot to more commercial films alongside its arthouse slate,” a distribution executive told TheWrap. “With a $2.5 billion valuation, it’s pretty obvious that they need to expand into more commercial films.”

An individual close to A24 said that the studio is not leaning away from auteur driven dramas but rather is “doing more,” which includes looking at wide releases and “widening the aperture.” The source added that A24 “is always trying to find new ways to reinvent themselves from the documentary space,” such as Steph Curry’s documentary on AppleTV+, adaptations like Paris Hilton’s new scripted TV series, taking on IP like “Crystal Lake” with Peacock or ambitious new action epics like Alex Garland’s upcoming “Civil War.”

The strategy shift is important because an “A24 movie” carries brand recognition, with the added cache of being a tastemaker for auteur directors and provocative storylines. They cultivate relationships with up-and-coming filmmakers and, last year, had their second Best Picture Oscar winner (after “Moonlight”) with the Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert-directed “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”

Why the pivot to action and IP? According to one production executive, A24 “took a beating on dramas, especially the ones they made,” losing tens of millions of dollars in the last few years with 2019’s “Waves,” 2021’s “The Green Knight” and most recently, “Beau Is Afraid,” which lost $35 million, the top agent said. The production exec added that A24 would still acquire dramas, but would move away from making as many of them.

A24 films box office
Domestic and global box office totals for A24 films

“The auteur business is a lousy, high-risk business that does not attract potential buyers,” the top agent said. “That’s a big problem if you’re looking to sell or seek additional investment.”

This year, “You Hurt My Feelings,” the latest film from writer/director Nicole Holofcener, who is arguably one of American cinema’s most important voices, grossed less than $6 million theatrically. Jesse Eisenberg’s directorial debut “When You Finish Saving the World,” released at the beginning of 2023, made less than $200,000 theatrically.

A24 wouldn’t be the first indie-driven/auteur studio to pivot to more commercial fare. Miramax, The Weinstein Company, Annapurna and Paramount Vantage all attempted to shift their focus after successful runs of auteur fare. Although Paramount Vantage achieved critical acclaim, the studio consistently fell short of the financial expectations set by parent company Paramount Pictures. Only “No Country for Old Men,” a co-production between Paramount Vantage and Miramax, managed to turn a profit. Several other films, which many believed had the potential for substantial returns, failed to do so due to ineffective or excessive marketing strategies, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Back then, a notable disappointment was Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2007 film “There Will Be Blood,” a Miramax co-production that epitomized the excessive spending of specialty divisions. Its production cost exceeded $45 million, and Vantage spent nearly as much on marketing as it grappled with the challenge of attracting an audience and securing Oscar recognition for the somber period drama. The film, however, still sits high on many critics’ lists of the best films of that decade.

In 2014, following the release of Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska,” Paramount Vantage shuttered its operations.

“Auteur film labels never last unless they stay small, like Sony Pictures Classics,” the top agent said. “Whenever, they go big, they fail.” And why do they fail? “Because no one watches those movies,” the top agent said. “A24 will obviously win awards, but there’s only so long you can lose money.”

How Did We Get Here?

A24 was formed in the summer of 2012, the brainchild of three New York film veterans: Daniel Katz, David Fenkel and John Hodges.

Katz led the film finance department at Guggenheim Partners, which helped fund “The Social Network” and the “Twilight” series. Fenkel was formerly president and partner of Oscilloscope Laboratories, known for indie fare like “We Need to Talk About Kevin” (Fenkel co-founded the company with Beastie Boys member Adam Yauch). Hodges was head of production and development at Big Beach Films. (He has producer credits on movies like “Safety Not Guaranteed” and “The Kings of Summer.”) They announced plans to release eight to 10 titles annually that they would acquire and produce themselves

In 2013, A24 released its first films: Roman Coppola’s “A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III,” followed by “Ginger & Rosa.” But it was their third film, “Spring Breakers,” which opened in March 2013, that quickly defined what an A24 film was: edgy, exciting, extremely meme-able, and with a canny marketing campaign that made the movie feel like an event.


The following year, A24’s release schedule was more ambitious, partially because of an output deal with DirecTV that saw them putting out some lower quality titles like “Revenge of the Green Dragons.” By the end of the year they had released films by Sofia Coppola, Denis Villeneuve, Jonathan Glazer, Kevin Smith, David Michôd and J.C. Chandor. This established the other building block of A24: backing films, sometimes difficult, by filmmakers with a point of view.

The studio nurtured brilliant new talent like Robert Eggers — who made “The Witch” and “The Lighthouse” for A24 — and Trey Edward Shults, who has made four films with A24. Sometimes they provided a haven for an established artist like Glazer, whose shattering new film “The Zone of Interest” is being released this fall by the studio. They formed an agreement with Apple TV+, which gave audiences movies like Sofia Coppola’s “On the Rocks” and Joel Coen’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth.” They co-produced movies like “White Noise” with Netflix, another example of A24 delivering movies directly to their audiences.

A24 created an online shop to sell film-related merchandise, which helped fuel their marketing machine. (A $110 “Talk to Me” foam hand and a “Past Lives” vinyl soundtrack are on the site right now). It made their movies seem cooler than anybody else’s. Last year they started AAA24, a kind of A24 fan club, complete with a $50 membership fee and a dedicated app.

The online store also went a long way to cementing A24 as a recognizable brand. When audiences hear a movie is an A24 movie, or if they see their instantly identifiable logo pop up before a trailer, they know what they are going to get. There’s a curatorial aspect to the mystique of A24, a sensation that some smart people are making the decisions. An algorithm never would have greenlit “Red Rocket.”

An A24 World

Six years after A24’s “Moonlight” won Best Picture, upsetting “La La Land,” the studio reached its peak last year when it swept the Academy Awards. “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” its oddball ode to the immigrant experience and the power of the multiverse, took home five prizes, for Best Picture, Best Director (for the team of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), Best Actress (Michelle Yeoh), Best Supporting Actor (Ke Huy Quan) and Best Supporting Actress (Jamie Lee Curtis).

Best Actor went to Brendan Fraser for “The Whale,” another A24 project. It was the first time in the 95-year history of the Oscars that a single studio swept all six major categories.

True to form, none of the executives gave interviews. (Hodges had since left the company.)

In 2022, A24 also secured a $225 million equity investment to support its strategic expansion efforts. The studio planned to use the capital to expand its production and distribution of global, original stories, as well as develop projects beyond the screen.

By September 2023, “Everything Everywhere All At Once” stood as A24’s most successful film, raking in $111.6 million at the box office and becoming the sole A24 movie to cross the coveted $100 million revenue milestone. Close behind was the horror sensation “Hereditary,” amassing over $81 million domestically, marginally outperforming the previous year’s hit, “Lady Bird.”

While A24 is best known for its esoteric fare, it has has made forays into more nakedly commercial movies, like Ti West’s horror movie “X,” released last spring, the beginning of a chameleonic franchise that continues with “Pearl” (a prequel filmed almost concurrently with “X”) released last Halloween and the upcoming “MaXXXine” next year. The studio has also ordered a sequel to this summer’s horror hit “Talk to Me” (with a worldwide gross of nearly $90 million), from YouTubers-turned-filmmakers Danny and Michael Philippou.

Michelle Yeoh as Evelyn Wang in “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (Photo credit: A24)
Michelle Yeoh as Evelyn Wang in “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (Photo credit: A24)

The Fracture

But clearly cracks are beginning to show. A24 has already released 15 movies this year across theatrical and streaming.

“On one hand, a large number of films being released means a larger library, which is obviously more attractive to prospective buyers,” the agent said. “On the other hand, too many films crowds the marketplace. But the bottom line is that auteur films don’t make any money and are super risky. It’s just not a good long term strategy. They have to have a good balance of both.”

When looking at the top 10 grossing A24 movies, a pattern emerges, one that points to this new, more commercially viable approach. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is the highest grosser, with the rest of the top 10 filled out with genre home runs (“Hereditary” at #2, “Talk to Me” at #4, “Midsommar” at #7, “The Witch” at #9, “Ex Machina” at #10) and more thoughtful but still off-beat dramas (“Lady Bird” at #3, “Moonlight” at #5, “Uncut Gems” at #6, “The Whale” at #8).

This will at least partially inform A24 going forward: a mixture of heady, high-concept genre fare and buzzy, left-of-center dramas, perhaps with even bigger stars.

There is, for better or worse, a sense that A24 is a stepping stone. It’s where some filmmakers begin but never return — Greta Gerwig made “Lady Bird” there before moving to Sony for “Little Women” and Warner Bros. for “Barbie.” Eggers, too, has decamped for Universal, where he made “The Northman” and his upcoming “Nosferatu” remake.

What will be key, in this next era of A24, is to retain more of the cutting-edge filmmakers, give them bigger budgets and support them in a way that encourages a more commercial approach. Just because A24 is making a play for the multiplexes doesn’t mean that they have to lose what made them so special in the first place.

The post A24 Expands Strategy From Arthouse Gems to More Commercial Films | Exclusive appeared first on TheWrap.