Nightmare Alley: Del Toro’s Noir Gets Second Life in Black-and-White Version

Guillermo del Toro’s ‘Nightmare Alley’ Finds New (Second) Life in Black-and-White

The Oscar-winning filmmaker made a dramatic course change after the movie opened to nightmarish-like numbers amid the omicron surge and competition from ‘Spider-Man: No Home Way.’

When del Toro’s new film, Nightmare Alley, opened nationwide over the December 17-19 weekend to a dismal $2.8 million from 2,145 theaters, the Oscar-winning filmmaker didn’t panic. Instead, he reverse-engineered the movie’s release, this time with a black-and-white version.

On Jan. 28, Nightmare Alley will once again be showing nationwide, or in roughly 1,020 locations, The Hollywood Reporter has learned. The vast majority of those cinemas, or around 750, will be showing it in black and white. Some will play both versions, while a small number will feature color only.

Del Toro and Searchlight Pictures knew Nightmare Alley faced intense challenges, led by another surge in COVID-19 cases, which stymied the box office recovery.

The prestige movie needed older adults to launch successfully nationwide, yet consumers over 35 remain the most nervous about returning to cinemas. And while this demo had started to trickle back, omicron proved a major setback.

Spider-Man: No Way Home, which likewise opened Dec. 17, also didn’t help. Multiple films opening over the year-end holidays can prosper in normal times, but not during the pandemic.

As the Christmas-New Year’s corridor unfolded, Nightmare Alley still failed to gain traction at the box office even as it garnered awards attention.

“The biggest curve was omicron, and there was no way we could battle that. Audiences were fearful,” del Toro says.

Based on the 1947 film noir classic from 20h Century Fox, the film stars Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara and Willem Dafoe.

Del Toro had an idea: release a black-and-white version of the film. By mid-January, the film’s theater count had dropped dramatically to several hundred theaters as Searchlight and del Toro began showing the black-and-white cut in some of those cinemas to sold-out crowds. Del Toro hit the road and personally introduced some of the screenings.

Cinema operators, eager for product as January wore on, asked to book the black-and-white version.

“This second release grew organically from interacting with audiences. It was very encouraging,” del Toro says. “This will allow the movie to grow past the peak weeks of omicron.”

The campaign slogan to describe del Toro’s strategy, in his own words: “How I got away with getting it released in black and white.”

Based on the 1947 film noir classic from 20h Century Fox, the film stars Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara and Willem Dafoe.

To date, Nightmare Alley has grossed about $9.6 million domestically.