A24’s Mainstream Embrace Must Play on Core Strengths

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Illustration: Variety VIP+

After “Everything Everywhere All at Once” swept the Oscars in March, A24 hit a new peak of recognition that followed its best year yet at the box office in 2022.

But a report last week highlighted how the indie distributor wants to broaden its slate to offer more mainstream fare alongside the kind of arthouse efforts for which A24 is known.

The reasons for doing so are clear.

“Beau Is Afraid,” A24’s most expensive film to date, hit theaters a month after the Oscars and bombed, exposing how the studio’s ambition exceeded its instincts for which genres work at the box office. The $35 million-budgeted “Beau” was later outgrossed by the quiet and economical Asian-American drama “Past Lives.”

Sundance acquisition “Talk to Me” significantly softened the “Beau” blow over the summer, earning nearly $50 million domestically. That gives A24 a chance to match 2022’s haul should films coming out this winter, such as “Priscilla,” “Dream Scenario” and “The Zone of Interest,” prove enough of a draw at a time when the theatrical calendar lacks more studio tentpoles due to the strikes.

It isn’t surprising that a horror film like “Talk to Me” lifted A24’s gross back up, as several horror and thriller films, including “X,” “Bodies Bodies Bodies” and “Pearl,” helped pad out A24’s record total last year. Two of those films — “X” and “Pearl” — are part of a trilogy that will conclude with “MaXXXine,” and A24 has since ordered a “Talk to Me” sequel, making horror the first genre from which the studio is generating franchises.

A24 was valued at $2.5 billion in 2022 after raising $225 million in equity before the release of “Everything Everywhere,” so it’s crucial the company generates more box-office hits to sustain that valuation as it builds upon its TV success via HBO’s “Euphoria,” “Ramy” on Hulu and Netflix’s “Beef.” Showtime series “The Curse,” starring Emma Stone and Nathan Fielder, is due in November.

But as lauded as A24’s film catalog is, it could miss the boat for a sale if it isn’t able to demonstrate ownership of sequel-friendly IP. In 2021, Variety reported the company was seeking a buyer to the tune of $3 billion, as industry insiders balked at the prospect, with one questioning, “What’s the asset?” 

Apple was reportedly interested after it partnered with A24 on a streaming slate that led to films such as Sofia Coppola’s “On the Rocks” and Joel Coen’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth.” Launched in November 2019, Apple TV+ had to contend with a programming library far smaller than other streaming entrants, further complicated by production shutdowns instigated by COVID, which in turn led to a drought in new programming. If there was ever a time for A24 to become an Apple subsidiary, it would have been when Apple TV+ desperately needed more content.

Now, Apple is an aggressive competitor on the festival circuit, snatching up Oscar-friendly films including best picture winner “CODA” for steep prices A24 can’t match.

To its credit, A24 was one of several bidders for the TV rights to “Halloween,” following Universal and Blumhouse’s successful sequel trilogy that boosted Jamie Lee Curtis’ profile again before her supporting Oscar win for “Everything Everywhere.” Unfortunately for A24, Miramax won the rights to “Halloween,” but it is currently producing a “Friday the 13th” series in partnership with Peacock.

A24 needs to stay vigilant and pursue film rights as well, though that’s easier said than done. 

Universal snatched up film rights to “The Exorcist” for a head-spinning $400 million and tapped “Halloween” dream team Blumhouse and director David Gordon Green to make a new sequel trilogy to the original. But “Exorcist: Believer,” the first installment, opened earlier in October to $27 million, about a third of the killer opening nabbed by 2018’s “Halloween.” 

If the studio approach to classic horror IP is getting stale, A24 is the exact kind of company that can put a fresh spin on such tired formulas. Ari Aster may have flown too close to the sun with “Beau Is Afraid,” but “Hereditary” and “Midsommar” in 2018 and 2019, respectively, were still pivotal commercial films for the distributor, making him someone to keep in mind if A24 pushes into established properties. 

Warner Bros. is already preoccupied with the “Conjuring” franchise and renewed interest in “Evil Dead,” not to mention the inevitable sequels to “Barbie.” There’s an opportunity to take a property like “A Nightmare on Elm Street” off New Line Cinema’s hands, as Robert Englund is done playing Freddy Krueger and a 2010 remake failed to revive the franchise. The fantasy-horror elements of “Elm Street” could pair well with favored A24 director David Lowery, who helmed “The Green Knight” and is no stranger to franchise work after making “Peter Pan & Wendy” for Disney+. 

A24 has to start its mainstream push somewhere. Even if it finishes 2023 with the same amount of gross earned as last year, it will pale in comparison to the surprise success of Angel Studios, which has already made nearly $200 million domestically in its first year at the cinemas, thanks to “Sound of Freedom.” Surely there is a bigger audience A24 can reach.