ASTEROID CITY, from left: Jason Schwartzman, Jake Ryan, 2023. © Focus Features / Courtesy Everett Collection
ManOfTheCenturyMovie Film The impact of “Asteroid City” isn’t just Oscar potential — it’s the future of specialty film itself

The impact of “Asteroid City” isn’t just Oscar potential — it’s the future of specialty film itself

ASTEROID CITY, from left: Jason Schwartzman, Jake Ryan, 2023. © Focus Features / Courtesy Everett Collection

Parisian author Wes Anderson shot his sci-fi comedy ‘Asteroid City’ in Spain during the 2021 pandemic, but embraced a 1955 American setting. The well-reviewed film offers Anderson’s usual sprawling ensemble – Scarlett Johansson, Jason Schwartzman, Bryan Cranston, Tom Hanks, Steve Carell, Margot Robbie, Tilda Swinton, Ed Norton, Adrien Brody and others – but they are not the actors who will appear with Oscar nominations. No one gets enough individual screen time.

Like Anderson’s more acclaimed ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ (2014, Metascore: 88), ‘Asteroid City’ will likely get clean with boats, and possibly, like ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ (2012, Metascore: 84), also get a nod to the original script.

Written by Anderson and longtime writing partner Roman Coppola, “Asteroid City” stars Schwartzman as avuncular novelist Augie Steenbeck, typewriter and pipe in tow. She’s taking her scientist prodigy son Woodrow (8th grade extraordinaire Jake Ryan) and three daughters (Ella, Gracie, and Willan Faris) to the Junior Stargazer/Space Cadet convention in the New Mexico desert, where mushroom clouds periodically erupt on the horizon. Along with his children’s disapproving grandfather (Tom Hanks), the beleaguered widower finally tells his children that their mother died three weeks ago.

Meanwhile, the grieving father cheers up by flirting with the handsome Hollywood star in the next cabin (Johansson). Soon the group experiences a creepy alien encounter. And that doesn’t begin to explore the twists within a frame of this hilarious and visually delightful narrative whirlwind. With ‘Asteroid City,’ Anderson delivers his most accessible and funniest comedy since ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ and ‘Grand Budapest Hotel.’

But today it is not enough to make a film an Oscar candidate. It has to hit the box office, an accomplishment which, to be generous, is challenging. With its signature name and stellar cast, ‘Asteroid City’ serves as a litmus test for not only Oscar glory, but whether audiences for older movie specials will still show up in theaters.

“City of Asteroids”Focus functions

“In the ongoing dialogue between the specialty market and the public, we are all fascinated to see how ‘Asteroid City’ fares,” said Roadside Attractions Co-President Howard Cohen. “It’s the first-rate film for this audience. If they come back for that, will they start coming back? They haven’t returned with any consistency so far, in part because there haven’t been many movies for them.

While some films don’t need the box office to become Oscar nominees (“TAR,” “Triangle of Sadness,” “The Fabelmans”), a June release like “Asteroid City” needs a lot of attention to last. “This big comedy with a huge ensemble needs to be a commercial success for its landing to feel hugely relevant several months from now,” said an awards campaign veteran.

And will the actors campaign? “Everything they do helps other categories.”

Last time, Searchlight launched the anthology film ‘The French Dispatch’, starring Timothée Chalamet, Frances McDormand, Benicio del Toro, Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton, at Cannes 2021 (one year later than expected, due to the pandemic). Despite upbeat reviews (Metascore: 74; “Asteroid City” is at 73), the film underwhelmed at the domestic October box office ($16 million), outperformed overseas ($29 million), and earned zero Oscar nominations.

This was a far cry from the stellar Oscar-winning performance of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (Metascore: 88), which Searchlight opened in March 2014. It lasted through awards season, grossing $59 million domestic and $104 million foreign. Those totals were augmented by nine Oscar nominations, including director, original screenplay and film, as well as four craft wins (costumes, score, production design, makeup and hairstyling).

Photo by: John Rasimus/STAR MAX/IPx 7/13/21 Wes Anderson at the photocall for 'The French Dispatch' during the 74th Cannes Film Festival held at the Palais des Festivals in Cannes, France.
Wes Anderson in Cannes in 2021 for Searchlight’s “The French Dispatch”.John Rasimus/STAR MAX/IPx

Two years earlier, Focus launched the American summer camp comedy “Moonrise Kingdom” (Metascore: 84) at Cannes, followed by a May North American release that grossed $45 million plus $23 million overseas and earned an Academy Award nomination for Original Screenplay for Anderson and Coppola.

As for where “Asteroid City” will fall on that spectrum, only art house audiences know for sure.

A Focus Features release, “Asteroid City,” will hit select theaters on Friday, June 16, with the expansion following on Friday, June 23.

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