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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

The dystopian ‘Civil War’ reaches No. 1 at box office

Cailee Spaeny, left, and Kirsten Dunst in the movie “Civil War.” (A24/TNS)  (HO)
By Brooks Barnes New York Times

LOS ANGELES – Hollywood executives – not all, but most – have insisted for years that uncomfortable, thought-provoking, original movies can no longer attract big audiences at the box office.

Moviegoers continue to bust that myth.

Alex Garland’s dystopian “Civil War,” set in a near-immediate future when the United States is at war with itself, sold an estimated $25.7 million in tickets at North American theaters, enough to make the film a strong No. 1, surpassing the monsters sequel “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire.” Ticket sales for “Civil War” exceeded the pre-release expectations of some box office analysts by roughly 30%. IMAX screenings provided nearly 50% of the “Civil War” gross.

More than 70% of the total audience was male, according to exit-polling services. PostTrak, one of those firms, said that people with “liberal” or “moderate” political views attended most heavily.

“Civil War,” starring Kirsten Dunst as a journalist on a military embed, became the latest example of ticket buyers breaking with Hollywood’s conventional wisdom about what types of films are likely to pop at the box office. Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer,” a three-hour period drama about a physicist, took in $968 million, wildly surpassing studio expectations. “Poor Things” collected $117 million, a solid total for a surreal art film.

Garland (“Ex Machina”) wrote and directed “Civil War,” which gave A24, the specialty film company, its first No. 1 opening. The movie also cost more to make than any A24 movie to date: at least $50 million, not including tens of millions of dollars in marketing.

The R-rated film benefited from a savvy release date – a time when Americans, sharply divided, are paying attention to the coming presidential election but are not yet completely worn out by it – and a marketing campaign that positioned the story as more of an action thriller than a gritty exploration of the frightening but not unthinkable.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.