Ari Asters Beau Is Afraid Scores Biggest Indie Box Office Opening of 2023

Ari Aster’s latest anxiety-inducer “Beau Is Afraid” is taking the indie box office by storm.

The A24 film, which stars Joaquin Phoenix as an apprehensive man who endures a lot over the course of three hours, grossed $320,396 on four screens in New York and Los Angeles. Those ticket sales translate to a sizable $80,099 per location, the biggest screen average of the year. It’s also the second-best per-screen-average for A24 after Adam Sandler’s “Uncut Gems.”

Now, “Beau Is Afraid” needs to sustain its momentum as it expands nationwide next weekend. That’s been a struggle for plenty of indies in post-pandemic times, although A24 has managed to propel films like “Everything Everywhere All at Once” and “The Whale” to box office success. But “Tár,” “Triangle of Sadness” and other acclaimed arthouse films weren’t as successful in parlaying their huge screen averages — which is the key metric for platform releases — to robust theatrical runs. Those films fizzled after struggling to connect with mainstream audiences.

“Beau Is Afraid” looks to benefit because Aster, the director of “Midsommar” and “Hereditary,” and A24 have cult-like followings at the box office. However, the filmmaker’s latest theatrical mind-bender is also his most expensive project to date. “Beau” cost $35 million, so it’ll need to perform more like 2018’s “Hereditary” (which grossed $82 million) than 2019’s “Midsommar” (which generated $48 million) to be deemed a theatrical winner. By comparison, his first two movies cost $10 million and $9 million, respectively.

Described by one outlet as a “three-hour-long panic attack,” “Beau Is Afraid” follows an anxious man’s bizarre odyssey to his hometown for his mother’s funeral. Nathan Lane, Amy Ryan, Parker Posey and Patti LuPone co-star in the film.

As Aster likely intended, even critics have struggled to entirely make sense of “Beau Is Afraid.” Rolling Stone’s critic David Fear says, “It’s either the most terrifying comedy or the funniest horror film of 2023.”

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