Paramount always knew that Darren Aronofsky's mother!, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, would provoke strong responses, but the studio surely never imagined the elevated psychological horror-thriller would receive an F CinemaScore from U.S. moviegoers.
Only a dozen or so movies have been slapped with the failing grade in modern times. In most cases, those films, hobbled by poor word of mouth, were never able to bust out of detention and clear more than $15 million, if that, at the domestic box office. The most notable exception is fellow Paramount horror pic The Devil Inside (2012), which opened to $33.7 million on its way to topping out at $53.3 million in North America and $101.8 million globally.
mother! received the grade on Friday as it opened in theaters across North America after making high-profile stops at the Venice and Toronto film festivals. It opened to a dismal $7.5 million from 2,368 theaters, the worst wide launch of Lawrence's career.
While mother! has divided critics, there were enough good reviews to garner the $30 million movie a 68 percent "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Over the weekend, some in Hollywood questioned the disparity between the pic's Rotten Tomatoes ranking and the CinemaScore.
"This is an interesting case of what appears to be a total disconnect between the critics, who have been fairly receptive, and audiences who are collectively giving mother! their unanimous seal of disapproval with some of the lowest audience scores seen for a wide release film," said comScore's Paul Dergarabedian, whose firm also conducts exit polling. "The trailer paints a very strange and purposely equivocal portrait of the film and audiences who may have been expecting one type of movie-going experience got something quite different and have chosen to scold the film with a stunningly low approval rating."
A number of the releases garnering an F grade have made up some ground offshore, and mother! hopes to to do the same. Killing Them Softly (2012), starring Brad Pitt, opened to $6.8 million before topping out at a forgettable $15 million domestically. The crime-thriller did more business overseas, grossing $22.9 million abroad for a global total of $37.9 million. The Box (2009), starring Cameron Diaz and James Marsden, earned $15.1 million domestically and $33.3 million worldwide.
Aronofsky isn't the first acclaimed director to see one of his films sent to the back of the class. William Friedkin's horror pic Bug (2007); Steven Soderbergh's Solaris (2002), starring George Clooney; and Robert Altman's romantic ensemble comedy Dr. T and the Women (2000) also garnered an F.
Like mother!, The Box and Bug, most movies targeted for the F CinemaScore club are horror titles. Horror tends to score lower grades than other genres yet still succeed (almost all of Paramount's Paranormal Activity films received some variation of a C CinemaScore). Exceptions to this rule include Jordan Peele's 2017 hit Get Out and both Conjuring films, all of which scared up an A-.
Then there's It. The film adaptation of Stephen King's novel has become a box-office sensation, boasting the biggest opening of all time for a horror film with $123.4 million. By Sunday, the pic's 10-day domestic cume will approach $220 million, already making it the most successful September release of all time. Usually, a film doing this sort of business would carry an A grade. It's CinemaScore is a B+.
Other films in the F CinemaScore club include Silent House (2012), Disaster Movie (2005), Wolf Creek (2005) and Darkness (2004).
Sept. 17, 9:30 a.m.: Updated with weekend grosses and revised Rotten Tomatoes score.