Moonlight: Best Picture Oscar–Huge Hit Vis a Vis Low Budget

Moonlight is the second-lowest grossing best picture winner in Oscar history, behind the 2009 winner, The Hurt Locker.

But it is now doing impressive business at the U.S. box office for a film of its kind, having already beaten the odds as it’s achieved several unique distinctions all its own.

Directed by Barry Jenkins, the drama about a young, gay black man’s difficult coming-of-age is the first film featuring an all-black cast to walk away with the top Oscar prize, and it’s additionally the first movie dealing with LGBT issues to score best picture. It has also done more business at the box office than many comparable titles.

At the Academy Awards ceremony, La La Land was mistakenly named best-picture winner before Moonlight was declared the rightful winner.

The blunder was immediately dubbed “envelopegate” on social media.

Moonlight star Mahershala Ali won best supporting actor, and Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney were awarded the prize for best adapted screenplay.

Following the Oscars, Moonlight got a boost at the box office, grossing $2.3 million over the March 3-5 weekend, its biggest weekend to date despite already being available on home entertainment.

That’s a better showing than last year’s best picture winner, Spotlight, which grossed $1.8 million immediately following its Academy Award glory.

Spotlight had already earned more than Moonlight, or $38.1 million, before the Oscars on its way to a domestic total of $45.1 million. But Spotlight also had the advantage of a very topical subject, crusading white protagonists and named stars.

Released by the five-year-old A24, which has quickly become an indie powerhouse, Moonlight has made its mark while being an African-American art house film, a very specialized genre that hasn’t always demonstrated big box-office potential.

Nevertheless, Moonlight, which cost a scant $1.5 million to make, has now grossed just north of $25 million in the U.S.

Overseas, Moonlight has earned more than $16 million to date.

Jenkins’ critically acclaimed film has been a slow burn at the U.S. box office since first debuting in select theaters Oct. 21, and has never played in more than 1,104 locations until the weekend following the Oscars, when it got a berth in 1,564 locations.

That’s a strong showing for the genre, ahead of other recent indie African-American movies like Dope ($17.5 million), Fruitvale Station ($16.1 million) or Dear White People ($4.4 million). Using striking poster art and evocative trailers, A24 patiently built awareness for Moonlight, building momentum off of the pic’s ecstatic festival bows in Telluride and Toronto and strong critical reception, raising the profiles of cast members like Ali in the process.

Moonlight is becoming A24’s top-grossing film ever, eclipsing Ex Machina ($25.4 million). The distributor’s other top-grossing titles include The Witch ($25.1 million), Room ($14.7 million), Spring Breakers ($14.1 million) and The Lobster ($8.7 million).

Moonlight isn’t likely to cross $30 million domestically, however.  It will, at the end of the day, settle for the second-lowest showing for a best-picture title, just ahead of Hurt Locker, which earned $17 million in North America.