ByElise Jost, writer at
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Elise Jost

This new year's box office is all about Disney's Rogue One, which has become both a critical and commercial hit, and the enlightening Hidden Figures, the true story of three black female NASA employees who helped the United States get a step ahead in the space race. But the month after the Christmas frenzy doesn't seem to bode well for all new releases, with 's and 's passion projects taking a serious hit over the weekend.

While the former has more experience behind the camera than the latter, both are still acclaimed directors with successful movies under their belt — so how could there be such a cold reception for projects that are very clearly close to their heart? took Scorsese decades to make, and represents Affleck's biggest budget production to date. Is there no space in theaters for passion projects, or is this simply a case of bad box office luck and awkward timing?

'Silence' And 'Live by Night' Get Disastrous Results At The Box Office

With an extra day off, the Martin Luther King weekend should have increased the chances of this month's new releases. But Live by Night made an estimated $6.1 million over the four-day weekend, barely a tenth of its $65 million budget. Meanwhile, Silence brought in $2.3 million with a $50 million budget, so you could consider it an insult to cinema that Paramount's Monster Trucks made $15 million during that same time.

In order to understand such low results, the first thing to look at is obviously the reviews. In Affleck's case, they might even provide the full explanation for the movie's unfortunate opening: Live by Night currently sits at 33% on Rotten Tomatoes, with the New York Times calling it "a messy, unfocused movie about ambition, lost ideals, corrupt men and a thief whose idea of life on his own terms means pulling the trigger," and Variety deploring that the ingredients for success were there, but didn't mix:

It's like seeing the ghost of a terrific movie: All the pieces are in place, yet as you're watching it (or thinking back on it afterwards), there doesn't seem to be quite enough there.

'Live by Night' [Credit: Warner Bros.]
'Live by Night' [Credit: Warner Bros.]

However bad Live by Night may be, though, it doesn't mean that it indicates any lack of skill on Affleck's part. As box office analyst Jeff Bock puts it:

Ben Affleck has earned his stripes as a director in this town. Look, every director, no matter how talented they are, from Spielberg to Kubrick, have all had horrendous flops and minor misfires. That's just part of the machinations of Tinseltown, one that often mixes the combustible business of art and commerce. The fact that Affleck's latest may fail financially and critically likely won't have much effect on the future of his directing career, provided he gets back up, dusts himself off and throws a couple solid punches with his next efforts. Three out of four ain't bad.

Take a deep breath, Affleck.

Is 'Silence' Too Difficult To Watch?

'Silence' [Credit: Paramount Pictures]
'Silence' [Credit: Paramount Pictures]

Even if we attribute the failure of Live by Night to a series of ill-advised creative choices combined with good intentions, however, the question still remains as to why Scorsese's movie of a lifetime was met with so little enthusiasm by audiences. Does that mean that artsy passion projects will be forever scraping the bottom of the box office barrel because they're deemed too intellectual by the masses? Has Scorsese's name lost the appeal it once had?

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It's true that the star power of directors such as Steven Spielberg or Clint Eastwood doesn't amount to as many box office bucks as it once did, but Scorsese is still a well-known name in the industry — so you'd expect that the press's highlighting of the time it took him to make Silence would spark more interest than that. On top of that, the movie is still very much present in Oscar talks despite having been snubbed at the Golden Globes.

'Silence' [Credit: Paramount Pictures]
'Silence' [Credit: Paramount Pictures]

With the buzz around recent releases such as La La Land, which is truly a cinematic UFO, the indie Manchester by the Sea and Fences, which was adapted from a play, we can rest assured there's still room at the box office for non-blockbusters. In fact, the issue might be just there: The fact that there are so many movies considered "serious," or at the very least movies that aren't just pure entertainment, currently showing in theaters, had to result in at least one of them getting drowned in the noise.

Add to that that Silence has a tough runtime of 2 hours and 41 minutes and centers around the excruciating religious experience of its protagonists, and it makes sense that it struggled for exposure among all the compelling movies available. The trickier question is, is there even a week left on the calendar when more difficult films like this one would have the time to thrive?

Do you feel like there are too many movies fighting for box office domination?

(Sources: The Hollywood Reporter, The New York Times, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter)


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