Why Killers Of The Flower Moon’s $44 Million Box Office Is A Success (Despite Its $200M Budget)

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Summary

  • Despite a $44 million opening weekend gross on a $200 million budget, “Killers of the Flower Moon” can still be considered a hit due to its primary goal of attracting new subscribers to Apple TV+ and drawing awards attention.
  • The movie’s box office returns are not the main measure of success, as it was produced for a streaming service and the wide theatrical release is aimed at building credibility and attracting A-list talent.
  • With graphic violence, historical atrocities, and a runtime of over three and a half hours, the fact that audiences are showing up to theaters to watch “Killers of the Flower Moon” before its streaming release is remarkable and exceeds the box office performance of other Martin Scorsese films starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro.


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An opening weekend gross of $44 million on a whopping budget of $200 million might sound like a box office flop, but thanks to several other factors, Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon can still be considered a hit. Killers of the Flower Moon is an epic revisionist western recounting the true story of the Osage murders. When the Native Americans living on Osage land struck oil, the white vultures swooped in and started killing them for their fortune. Such a bleak story was never going to light up the box office, but it still made a respectable figure on its opening weekend.

Killers of the Flower Moon grossed a total of $44,253,655 on the opening weekend of its wide theatrical release (via Box Office Mojo). That figure is a fraction of Killers of the Flower Moon’s reported $200 million budget (a heftier price-tag than some Marvel movies), but that doesn’t mean the film is a box office bomb. Since the film was produced for a streaming service and only got a theatrical release to get the attention of awards voters (and potential streaming subscribers), its box office receipts don’t have to follow the same rules for success as a typical theatrical movie release.

RELATED: 10 Biggest Takeaways From Killers Of The Flower Moon’s Glowing Reviews


Killers Of The Flower Moon’s Box Office Isn’t What Really Matters

Mollie lays her head on Ernest's chest in The Killers of the Flower Moon.

The box office returns of Killers of the Flower Moon don’t matter that much to the film’s success, because it was produced for Apple TV+. Apple gave the movie a wide release in theaters, in partnership with Paramount Pictures, but it didn’t make this movie to be a box office success. The primary goal of this film was to draw new subscribers to Apple TV+. The theatrical release is just to give the film some awards clout and to show how serious the streamer is about making its own original movies. Award voters are often skeptical about streaming movies that only get the bare minimum theatrical run to qualify.

Since it’s Apple, the company selling millions of iPhones, iPads, and iMacs every day, it can certainly afford the marketing and exhibition fees of a wide theatrical release. Apple is playing the long game. If it gives Killers of the Flower Moon a wide release now, and the movie goes on to net a bunch of Oscars next year, then it can use that post-Oscar hype to attract new customers to its streaming service. The theatrical release is also an act of goodwill to attract more A-list talent on the level of Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro for their future productions.

Killers Of The Flower Moon’s Box Office Is Impressive (For What It Is)

Robert De Niro in Killers of the Flower Moon

On paper, a $44 million opening weekend might not look very impressive for a movie that cost $200 million to make. But for a heavy three-and-a-half-hour western with no franchise ties and a gruesome, uncompromising portrayal of historical atrocities, $44 million worldwide is pretty remarkable, and is being taken as a win. The western genre’s heyday ended over half a century ago. This is a movie full of graphic depictions of killings and the corpses left behind, told through the eyes of amoral, murderous characters, that runs longer than Avatar: The Way of Water. The fact that anyone has gone to a theater for this movie is a pleasant surprise.

It’s tough enough to get moviegoers to come out to a theater at all these days. With constantly increasing ticket prices and the easy availability of new movies on streaming services shortly after their release, a lot of casual audiences don’t bother to go to theaters anymore. Some 2023 films that seemed to be sure-fire hits, from The Flash to Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny to Disney’s live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, have underperformed at the box office. The fact that audiences are showing up to theaters to watch three-plus hours of murders that will shortly arrive on a streaming service is quite astounding.

Killers Of The Flower Moon’s Box Office Is Better Than A Lot Of Martin Scorsese Movies With DiCaprio Or De Niro

Jordan with a 100 dollar bill in The Wolf of Wall Street

Killers of the Flower Moon marks the first time that Scorsese has cast both DiCaprio and De Niro. The two actors previously co-starred in This Boy’s Life and Marvin’s Room in the 1990s, but this is the first time that they’ve shared the screen under Scorsese’s direction. This pairing might have been a bigger box office draw than expected, because Killers of the Flower Moon is doing very well at the box office compared to Scorsese’s other collaborations with DiCaprio and De Niro (when the actors starred individually). Its opening weekend has grossed more money than most of Scorsese’s other DiCaprio and De Niro-starring vehicles.

The Wolf of Wall Street grossed a domestic opening of $18.3 million (via Box Office Mojo). It went on to gross a total of $116 million in the U.S. and almost $400 million at the global box office. This made it the highest-grossing movie of Scorsese’s career by far, and it even surpassed that figure on re-release. Scorsese’s highest-grossing movie starring De Niro – their terrifying remake of Cape Fear – made just $10.5 million in its opening weekend. Compared to these figures, Killers of the Flower Moon is actually doing pretty well at the box office. Now, it just needs the legs to keep that success going.

How Much Will Killers Of The Flower Moon End Up With At The Box Office?

Leonardo DiCaprio looking up in Killers of the Flower Moon

Over the next few weeks, Killers of the Flower Moon would have to gross five times its opening weekend to make back its enormous production budget. The general rule of thumb with box office numbers is that, for a film to be profitable, it has to gross 2.5 times its budget, which means that Killers of the Flower Moon would have to gross more than $500 million to turn a profit. But that rule of thumb doesn’t take streaming profits into account. Killers of the Flower Moon doesn’t need to make a profit in theaters, because it was a streaming investment.

The impressive A- CinemaScore suggests that Killers of the Flower Moon could get a boost from positive word of mouth. Anyone who’s wary of the film’s three-and-a-half-hour runtime might give it a chance if their friends tell them it’s a great movie whose epic narrative justifies its epic runtime. If this word of mouth gives it good legs at the box office, Killers of the Flower Moon could end up topping $100 million worldwide, which would be a huge win for a lengthy prestige drama that’ll soon be available to watch at home.

Source: Box Office Mojo