With the age of the movie star in decline, it’s become increasingly rare for the lead actor to be the biggest draw at the box office. The stars of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have struggled to land hits outside of the superhero franchise, and the current box office champion is “Avatar: The Way of Water,” whose star Sam Worthington is best known for appearing in … the last “Avatar” movie. A few actors, like Tom Cruise and Dwayne Johnson, still command a built-in box office draw, but they’re in an ever-narrowing category.
But between his long absence from the spotlight, the contrast between “The Whale” and movies like “The Mummy” and “George of the Jungle,” and the general public goodwill towards him after finding out the reasons why he withdrew from acting, Brendan Fraser and the “Brenaissance” are probably responsible for a significant portion of ticket sales so far. With a modest budget of less than $10 million and a pretty restrained marketing campaign, “The Whale” has a lower bar than other Oscar hopefuls. But it has also been criticized as “fat-exploitation,” and the praise in reviews has predominantly been handed to Fraser rather than the script or directing.
All of which makes the upcoming Oscar nominations announcement on January 24 (and Fraser’s inclusion among the Best Actor contenders) crucial to the future of “The Whale” at the box office. The movie has had a slow rollout in theaters, starting on just six screens for two weeks before expanding to 600, then 625, then 800, and now 1,500 screens this weekend. It will finally start expanding to international markets like the UK and Australia in February, at which point it may prove that the decision to rush other hopefuls like “The Fabelmans” and “Tár” to VOD after just a few weeks was a little too hasty.