Jennifer Lawrence and Darren Aronofsky’s performance piece of a film, mother!, opened to a dismal box office this weekend. It received an “F” CinemaScore, a shocking barometer of low public opinion. The movie reportedly cost $30 million to make (although some suspect the production costs to be higher due to the actors’ salaries, per Deadline), and reaped a paltry $7.5 million over the weekend, according to The Hollywood Reporter. It’s reportedly “the worst wide launch of Lawrence’s career.” Mother! still has a 69% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, although even a somewhat positive score couldn’t get derrières in seats. And you know what, dammit, Paramount, the studio behind Aronofsky’s latest oeuvre, just doesn’t care. In fact, it doesn’t have the patience for any complaints about there being no room for original storytelling at the box office anymore.
In a statement to IndieWire, Paramount worldwide president of marketing and distribution Megan Colligan said, “This movie is very audacious and brave. You are talking about a director at the top of his game, and an actress at the top of her game. They made a movie that was intended to be bold.”
Very true! mother! was, if nothing else, extremely polarizing. How else do you explain a CinemaScore of F (which basically equates to an exit poll of people who went to see the film all giving two it thumbs down), and a Rotten Tomatoes score that, while the equivalent of a D+, still qualifies as “fresh” given that it’s above 50%? The film got people talking, and that’s what Colligan/Paramount wants the takeaway to be. In the process; however, the studio threw a bit of shade at another now-famous original content creator, Netflix. Why doesn’t Netflix content get this kind of negative reception when it strives for originality and shock value?
“Everyone wants original filmmaking, and everyone celebrates Netflix when they tell a story no one wants to tell,” she continued. “This is our version. We don’t want all movies to be safe. And it’s okay if people don’t like it.”
It’s true that Netflix has been placed on a pedestal when it comes to original programming. Everything from Okja to Ava DuVernay’s 13th were lauded this past year for the strides they made in unique storytelling with a distinct perspective. Last summer, Stranger Things, with its nostalgia for the “kids banding together to fight supernatural forces” genre, was a runaway hit. This is why the streaming service is increasingly the place for storytellers to take their creative visions. Netflix head honcho Ted Sarandos is committed to original programming, doubling down on the streaming giant’s investment in visionaries like Shonda Rhimes and the Coen brothers with an anticipated $7 billion expenditure on content next year, according to Variety. This includes a massive tentpole film, Bright, starring Will Smith and directed by David Ayer.
Paramount, on the other hand, has had a rough go of it lately. This summer’s Ghost in the Shell was a domestic box office bomb. Not even The Rock and Zac Efron’s washboard abs could keep Baywatch afloat. Monster Trucks was considered 2017’s first big flop.
All of the aforementioned titles were based on pre-existing material, though. Paramount’s statement about mother! demonstrates that it’s doubling down on a commitment to original stories during a time when, if Netflix is anything to base desire off of, viewers are thirsty for them. And, with the streaming giant’s sub-par performance at Sunday night’s Emmy awards (Hulu and HBO were the big winners of the night), larger studios could be looking to swoop in and take up Netflix’s original programming mantle. Watch out, Ted Sarandos, Paramount isn’t letting that “F” stand for “failure.”