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The Stealth Success of ‘Wonder’ and What That Should Mean

Could positive word of mouth and box office glory translate to awards favor?
By  · Published on December 4th, 2017

Could positive word of mouth and box office glory translate to awards favor?

Box office and awards don’t always go hand in hand, but typically being a flop can hurt a movie’s chances and being a hit can help. That’s why one particular contender with almost no buzz ought to be in the conversation. While the latest box office chart looks very similar to the previous weekend’s, with Coco in the lead and Justice League in second place, it’s Wonder in third that is worth talking about.

A few weeks ago, I highlighted the movies that are going the distance this yearWonder opened just days later without much fanfare. The adaptation of the bestselling children’s book of the same name received mostly favorable reviews 85% on Rotten Tomatoes) and wound up with an ‘A+’ grade from moviegoers polled by CinemaScore. But it debuted behind the bigger deal of Justice League and hasn’t been discussed much since.

At least not in the media. But in the real world, people must be talking about Wonder. In its second weekend, while most of the press focused on Coco‘s opening and Justice League‘s fall, Wonder dropped only 17.7%, proving itself almost on par with Get Out as far as its immediate staying power was concerned. Wonder‘s third weekend drop (46.4%) is much greater, but it’s still not bad.

The movie isn’t seeing the same sort of chatter as Get Out — it’s not as monumental a work as Jordan Peele’s genre-bending directorial breakout — but there’s a reason Wonder has now accumulated $87.7M domestically ($101M worldwide) under the radar. It’s an overly cute crowdpleaser and has its precious and sappy and tearjerking moments, yet it’s also a fresh enough drama in its multi-focalization narrative that there’s no reason to dismiss its charms as being all fluff without form.

After three weeks, Wonder‘s box office has dropped only 55.9% from its opening figure, which means it has some of the best legs of the year for that amount of time, only bested by Get Out‘s fall of 37.8%, Wind River‘s 31.9%, and Murder on the Orient Express‘s 54% flat. Wonder also has one of the best user/audience ratings of the year on both IMDb (8.1) and Rotten Tomatoes (92%) — yes, regular folks love this movie.

It’s worth further comparison to Murder on the Orient Express, which is being talked about as a slow-burn hit despite grossing less domestically in a longer period of time against a higher budget. Part of the reason for the Agatha Christie adaptation’s notice is because it’s a rare studio-produced hit made specifically for grown ups. Well, Wonder is a rare success for a studio-produced live-action family film, especially in this year of lackluster PG-rated fare in general.

So, does Wonder‘s stealth gains mean anything for its awards chances? Currently, the best the Oscar pundits are giving the movie is a certain nomination for Best Makeup and Hairstyling, for the work done to Jacob Tremblay’s face to represent his character’s Treacher Collins syndrome deformities, and a slight possibility of a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, alongside Orient Express in a fairly light year for the category (Call Me By Your Name is the only sure thing).

What about Best Picture? Could Wonder‘s legs continue at a pace strong enough to influence Academy voters? This year has a ton of major candidates for cinema’s top prize. It’s not even hurting for populist hits, given the likelihood of Dunkirk not just being nominated but also winning. Does the category need something more mainstream and feel-good, though? Something with an ‘A+’ CinemaScore grade a la The Blind Side and The Help?

The only thing that might be keeping Wonder from taking that position or even being this year’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is its lack of any acting awards contenders. Tremblay can get another Critics’ Choice nod for juvenile performance, but he won’t be honored by the Oscars. Nor will the main adult supporting actors, Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts. If only the latter had at least one really strong emotional scene like Nicole Kidman in Lion.

It’s not rare for a movie to be nominated for Best Picture without also earning any acting nods — Arrival did it last year, Mad Max: Fury Road the year before, et al — even if it is uncommon for them to win (the last time was Slumdog Millionaire nine years ago). But movies like Wonder tend to need at least one. Besides, this year Dunkirk will have the honor despite a lack of acting nods. Maybe Mudbound will, too.

Perhaps Wonder will slip in elsewhere, like at the Golden Globes or Critics’ Choice Awards, but even if it doesn’t get any recognition of that nature, it deserves notice for its box office achievement. Awards aren’t really as important as the necessary long-run result of Wonder‘s success, which ought to be that Hollywood produces more quality live-action family fare that’s actually appealing to the entire family, young and old.

Here is the box office top 10 for the past weekend:

1. Coco – $27.5M
2. Justice League – $16.7M
3. Wonder – $12.1M
4. Thor: Ragnarok – $9.9M
5. Daddy’s Home 2 – $7.6M
6. Murder on the Orient Express – $6.8M
7. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – $4.4M
8. Lady Bird – $4.3M
9. The Star – $4.1M
10. A Bad Mom’s Christmas – $3.4M

All box office numbers via Box Office Mojo

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.