Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” will open in 50 theaters on Oct. 22 before expanding nationwide one week later on the 29th. Anderson’s first release during my time as a film critic was 2007’s “The Darjeeling Limited”. I remember seeing the trailers for it before several films, but I didn’t actually go see “Darjeeling”. Not a lot of people did either, as it only made $11.9 million.
My first Anderson feature was also my No. 1 Movie of 2009, “Fantastic Mr. Fox”. I saw it twice in theaters and then for a third time at home right when it came out on DVD. It took that third time for me to officially declare it one of the best animated films of all-time. However, even with rave reviews, two Oscar nominations and the voice acting star power of George Clooney and Meryl Streep, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” only earned $21 million at the box office.
20th Century Fox marketed the film as commercially as possible. *Some* families probably went, but stop-motion animation doesn’t guarantee gigantic box office. And word of mouth might’ve been to the effect of “this is different” and “this isn’t for kids”. Even though it’s PG and based on a Roald Dahl book kids probably read in school, Anderson definitely targeted adults.
2012’s “Moonrise Kingdom” was released by Focus Features. It earned more than double of what “Fox” made, $45.5 million. Anderson followed that up less than two years later with “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, a Fox Searchlight release. That grossed $59.3 million domestically and ended-up winning four Academy Awards. (Prior to “Budapest”, Anderson hadn’t made a movie that took home Oscar gold.) I saw “Moonrise” and “Budapest” early on in their runs at packed showings in New York City.
Anderson stuck with Fox Searchlight for his second stop-motion animated feature, 2018’s “Isle of Dogs”. The MPAA appropriately gave it a PG-13 rating. “Dogs” made more than “Fox” (though not a whole lot when you consider inflation): $32 million. I saw it on opening day at a cinema in New Jersey, one of just 27 showing it in the entire country. That weekend, “Dogs” set a record for earning the most money in the highest number of theaters EVER: a $60,000 average for each of its 27 locations. (Interestingly, my showing was far from sold out, but it was during the day in a large auditorium.) “Dogs”’ record was broken by “Avengers: Endgame” in 2019, though “Dogs” is still the runner-up in that category.
Now comes “The French Dispatch”, a Searchlight Pictures release (now that Disney eliminated the Fox). Anderson has assembled his biggest ensemble cast yet. Will that translate to it being his most successful film at the box office to date? Well, this will really test the supposed (but not entirely true) theory that older people aren’t going to the movies right now. What IS in Searchlight’s favor, Anderson fanatics of all ages (who have been with him since the days of “Bottle Rocket” and “Rushmore”, or have watched his movies over and over again on DVD) have likely already convinced themselves that they *need* to experience this on the big screen.