Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza” has secured the best pandemic-era debut at the independent box office.
With speciality offerings like “Licorice Pizza,” the key metric is per-theater-average rather than overall box office tally since its playing in very few locations. From only four theaters in the country — two in New York and two in Los Angeles — “Licorice Pizza” brought in $335,000 in total and $83,852 per location, more than any other specialty film in nearly two years. In other words, PTA has landed the best PTA among arthouse titles since the onset of COVID-19.
In its first three days of release, “Licorice Pizza” surpassed A24’s black-and-white drama “C’mon C’mon,” which previously held the record for best platform launch after generating $135,447 on five screens — averaging to $26,889 per location. Prior to that, indie darling Wes Anderson set the pandemic-era arthouse benchmark with “The French Dispatch,” which grossed $1.3 million from 52 theaters — averaging $25,000 per location.
While not indie releases, other 2021 movies that secured robust theater averages include Sony’s comic book adventure “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” (averaging $21,300 per theater) and Disney’s superhero adaptation “Black Widow” (averaging $19,400 per theater).
“Licorice Pizza” was surprisingly popular with younger audiences. Among opening weekend ticket buyers, 72% were between the ages of 18 and 34, while 66% were male. MGM and United Artists Releasing, which backed the $40 million-budgeted “Licorice Pizza,” plans to expand the movie nationwide on Christmas Day.
Anderson is one of today’s rare marquee directors, meaning his name alone can sell tickets, and “Licorice Pizza” is the filmmaker’s first movie in four years. His most recent feature was 2017’s “Phantom Thread,” an Oscar favorite that generated $21 million at the domestic box office and $47 million worldwide.
Anderson, whose greatest hits include “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia” and “The Master,” may find himself back in the awards conversation with “Licorice Pizza,” a comedic drama set in the 1970s San Fernando Valley. The film stars Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, and Benny Safdie.
Variety’s chief film critic Peter Debruge praised acting newcomers Haim, one-third of the band Haim, and Hoffman, the son of Philip Seymour Hoffman, in what he refers to as “a pair of terrific first-time performances.”
“‘Licorice Pizza’ delivers a piping-hot, jumbo slice-of-life look at how it felt to grow up on the fringes of the film industry circa 1973, as seen through the eyes of an ambitious former child actor plotting how to follow up his early screen career,” Debruge wrote.
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