James Gray remains proud of Armageddon Time but admits that the film was not a box office success.
During a recent interview with GQ, the filmmaker, known for such projects as Ad Astra and We Own the Night, reflected on the commercial run for the Focus Features drama. Armageddon Time, which opened in October after its Cannes premiere, stars Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong in a story loosely inspired by Gray’s upbringing. The film has grossed $5.6 million worldwide to date.
“Commercially the movie was a failure,” Gray told the publication. “But so is everything. I mean, I know that’s not true. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is not. But you’re now in a situation where literally every single one of these [non-franchise] movies is not doing well, and in some ways, that’s the great equalizer.”
He continued, “But you also know as a film person that has absolutely no bearing on the long-term reaction to a film. I’m a film person, and I have no idea what the box office receipts were of, you know, A Clockwork Orange or something. So I try to divorce myself from that as well. Because I can’t do anything about it.”
During the conversation, Gray said he felt good about Armageddon Time and cited a number of reasons why a movie like his would have underperformed theatrically, including older audiences still feeling hesitant about returning to crowded theaters in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. He also mentioned that smaller arthouse theaters that could have supported the film have had to close in recent years.
Additionally, Gray took aim at Rotten Tomatoes, where his movie holds a 76 percent approval rating: “It’s taken all the nuance, and actually encourages a three-star review that everybody gives you as opposed to that wonderful kind of divisive debate discourse that we used to love, right?”
The director went on to say that distributors may now see a theatrical run as a loss leader, in that even if a film doesn’t thrive at the box office, it will likely do better on PVOD and streaming than a movie that wasn’t in theaters. But ultimately, Gray doesn’t feel that box office returns should be a key focal point in discussing a project.
“It tells you something of how indoctrinated we are with capitalism that somebody will say, like, ‘His movies haven’t made a dime!’” he said. “It’s like, well, do you own stock in Comcast? Or are you just such a lemming that you think that actually has value to anybody?”
In his review, The Hollywood Reporter‘s chief film critic David Rooney praised the personal nature of Armageddon Time: “An unvarnished family snapshot that traces the seeds from which the artist evolved and the tough lessons about life’s unfairness that helped shape his character, this is a refreshingly understated drama whose gentleness makes it all the more bittersweet.”