What Is Good Taste Worth? About $2.5 Billion, Apparently.
It’s relatively hard for a movie studio to attain something like a cult following—very few people care about logos—but the New York-based indie outfit A24 has done just that: their label is an instant signifier of quality to the discerning cineaste; their merch frequently sells out; their films are festival circuit mainstays.
None of their movies has been a huge hit.
This isn’t to say that no A24 movies have made money. The studio make movies cheaply and when one pops it does okay. But their biggest success is Uncut Gems, which grossed $50 million domestically. Box office data site The Numbers reports that 105 movies have been released by A24 since 2012 with an average production budget of just over $6 million. Those films have grossed nearly $851 million worldwide, combined. Which means that they’ve grossed about $8 million per movie while spending $6 million on each production.
There are more costs (publicity and advertising) as well as more revenue (I have to imagine that virtually every A24 movie makes more money on home video and streaming rights than it does theatrically), but the box office math is, I think, fairly representative of the studio’s basic economic standing. As Matthew Belloni put it in his excellent newsletter, A24 has lots of singles but no home runs.
Belloni notes that the cultural cachet and all those singles have paid off for A24 in a big way: “this week A24 dropped the news, not via its irreverent Twitter feed but in a heavily lawyered press release, that it had raised $225 million in equity … The new money, offered in exchange for less than 10 percent of the company, gave A24 a suddenly skyrocketed valuation. Somehow, the cool kids are now worth $2.5 billion!?”
The A24 back catalog undoubtedly has some real value; movies like Lady Bird and Ex Machina and Hereditary and Minari attract a diverse, if small, cross-section of moviegoers. But rumors that Apple or Amazon were going to snap up A24 never really made much sense to me, especially when the numbers being thrown around were in the $3 to $4 billion range. Streamers are all trying to scale up, to grab huge audiences. To continue the baseball analogy, they need a Mark McGwire: audiences dig the longball and the ethics of acquiring them are of minimal interest to said audience. The value of A24 is grounded entirely in the fact that the guys who greenlight productions and acquisitions have a Tony Gwynn batting average.
Tony Gwynn, as great as he was, doesn’t win you a World Series. And it’s not clear to me that A24’s fandom, as discerning as it is, is the sort of audience that helps you win the streaming wars. Good taste is a valuable commodity, for sure. (Indeed, it seems to be worth about $2.5 billion.) I like studios run by dudes with good taste! Most of A24’s output appeals to me. But there’s no reason to believe it will help you attract a wide audience because audiences these days have terrible taste.
On this week’s bonus episode of Across the Movie Aisle, we talked about Volodomyr Zelensky’s experience as an actor and how it’s helping Ukraine win the propaganda war. It’s only available to Bulwark+ members, so sign up now if you haven’t already!
Speaking of cultural war, ATMA’s own Alyssa Rosenberg is back from maternity leave at her full-time job. She reminds us to take a minute and think before wading into the discourse about Russia and its cultural products.
While we’re on the topic, I discussed the making of Mr. Jones with screenwriter Andrea Chalupa on The Bulwark Goes to Hollywood. If you want to understand why Ukraine is resisting so strongly you need to understand the history of Russian atrocities against the Ukrainian people and rise of neo-Stalinism in Putin’s Russia.
This week I reviewed the best-picture-nominated Drive My Car and the new-to-Showtime After Yang. I have rarely felt as out of step with my fellow critics as I did while watching Drive My Car; it just did nothing for me. But After Yang is quite good! (What else would you expect from those tastemakers at A24?)
A24 is also the studio behind Everything Everywhere All at Once, a madcap multiverse adventure I am very much looking forward to seeing next week. Bilge Ebiri’s profile of star Ke Huy Quan—who you might remember from The Goonies and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom—will help get you as excited for the movie as I am.
Assigned Viewing: Mr. Jones (Hulu)
My critical philosophy is this: What’s the point of being a critic if you can’t hop on a hobbyhorse and relentlessly and remorselessly demand your loyal readers partake of something you enjoy?
All of which is to say: Look, I know I’ve been suggesting you watch Mr. Jones a lot this week. But that’s because you should watch it! It’s not only a good movie from a brilliant director, Agnieszka Holland really important to understand what Ukrainians fear from a revanchist Russian empire.