Thanks to Oscar, 'Moonlight' Has Its Biggest Weekend Yet at the Box Office

Trevante Rhodes in ‘Moonlight’ (Photo: Everett)
Trevante Rhodes in ‘Moonlight’ (Photo: Everett)

By Pamela McClintock, The Hollywood Reporter

Moonlight may be the second-lowest grossing Oscar best picture winner in modern history — behind The Hurt Locker — but it is now doing impressive business at the U.S. box office for a film of its kind, having already beaten the odds as it’s achieved several unique distinctions all its own.

Directed by Barry Jenkins, the drama about a young, gay black man’s difficult coming-of-age is the first film featuring an all-black cast to walk away with the top Oscar prize, and it’s additionally the first movie dealing with LGBT issues to score best picture. It has also done more business at the box office than many comparable titles.

In a never-to-be-forgotten Academy Awards ceremony Feb. 26, La La Land was mistakenly named best-picture winner before Moonlight was declared the rightful victor. (The blunder was immediately dubbed “envelopegate” on social media.) Earlier in the evening, Moonlight star Mahershala Ali won best supporting actor, and Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney were awarded the prize for best adapted screenplay.

Following the Oscars, Moonlight got a boost at the box office, grossing $2.3 million over the March 3-5 weekend, its biggest weekend to date despite already being available on home entertainment. That’s a better showing than last year’s best picture winner, Spotlight, which grossed $1.8 million immediately following its Academy Award glory.

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True, Spotlight had already earned more than Moonlight, or $38.1 million, before the Oscars on its way to a domestic total of $45.1 million. But Spotlight also had the advantage of a very topical subject, crusading white protagonists and named stars.

Released by the five-year-old A24, which has quickly become an indie powerhouse, Moonlight has made its mark while being an African-American art house film, a very specialized genre that hasn’t always demonstrated big box-office potential. Nevertheless, Moonlight, which cost a scant $1.5 million to make, has now grossed just north of $25 million in the U.S. and north of $10 million internationally. That’s a strong showing for the genre, ahead of other recent indie African-American movies like Dope ($17.5 million), Fruitvale Station ($16.1 million) or Dear White People ($4.4 million). Using striking poster art and evocative trailers, A24, patiently built awareness for the film, building momentum off of the film’s ecstatic festival bows in Telluride and Toronto and strong critical reception, raising the profiles of castmembers like Ali in the process.

Moonlight is a huge win for A24 and has become a watershed film in the history of the daring and innovative distributor,” says Paul Dergarabedian of comScore. “Moonlight, after 20 consecutive weekends at the multiplex, is deservedly reaping the rewards of its undeniable quality both on the big screen and on the small screen as well.”

Jenkins’ critically acclaimed film has been a slow burn at the box office since first debuting in select theaters Oct. 21, and has never played in more than 1,104 locations until the weekend following the Oscars, when it got a berth in 1,564 locations.

“The afterglow of the Oscars has been pretty kind to Moonlight and will continue to shine for some time on the real winner here, A24, which has consistently been the touchstone of indie distribution, releasing thought-provoking and inspiring cinema since its inception,” says Jeff Bock, another box-office analyst. “For filmmakers with a singular, unwavering vision, A24 has become a cinematic shelter. For that, we should all be thankful.”

The film is on the brink of becoming A24’s top-grossing film to date behind Ex Machina ($25.4 million). The distributor’s other top-grossing titles include The Witch ($25.1 million), Room ($14.7 million), Spring Breakers ($14.1 million) and The Lobster ($8.7 million).

Moonlight isn’t likely to cross $30 million domestically, however. While it achieved a first-place showing at the Oscars, it will, at the end of the day, settle for the second-lowest showing for a best-picture title, just ahead of Hurt Locker, which earned $17 million in North America.

Watch the cast of ‘Moonlight’ at the Oscars:

Related: ‘Moonlight’s’ Barry Jenkins: Here’s the Oscar Speech I Would Have Given