On March 25th, Everything Everywhere All at Once opened on 10 screens in a few major North American markets where it performed spectacularly well, grossing over a half-million dollars and earning a per-screen average of over $50,000. (As a point of comparison, that same week’s box office champ, The Lost City, earned a little over $7000 per screen.) This was not particularly surprising. A wildly inventive family drama in the form of a multiverse-spanning action film filled with bizarre ideas and thrillingly staged martial arts action sequences, Everything Everywhere All at Once had all the makings of an arthouse hit even before it arrived in theaters, earning strong reviews and benefitting from an intriguing marketing campaign from distributor A24, no stranger to making arthouse hits. Nor was it surprising that the film would continue to find more success as its run expanded.
What is surprising is just how much success it would find. The film will almost certainly cross the $50 million mark this weekend in a run that has yet to experience a dramatic drop-off or even a definitive tapering off. In fact, Everything Everywhere All at Once added theaters last week as it dropped a mere 6%. In short, it’s performed extraordinarily well—and it’s not done.
Just how well? Scott Mendelson, who covers film and box office results for Forbes, puts it in perspective by noting that “when it hits the $52 million mark it will outgross House of Gucci at the domestic box office. That means it will have made more than any of last year’s Oscar-season awards releases, except for Dune.” That means it’s blown past films directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, Guillermo del Toro and Steven Spielberg, big (if admittedly underperforming) studio releases with big studio marketing campaigns that arrived in theaters in the midst of the movie-friendly holiday season.
So what accounts for the success of Everything Everywhere All at Once? It’s tough to pin down and, despite the advantages of good reviews and a canny distributor, the film’s performance defies conventional wisdom. It’s not part of a franchise. Star Michelle Yeoh first found fame in the Hong Kong film industry in the ‘80s and ‘90s. She’s known and loved by many in the West thanks to films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Crazy Rich Asians, but her name isn’t a box office draw. Co-star Ke Huy Quan did appear in some huge hits, but as a child star back in the ’80s when he could be found in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies. Set across the personal parallel universes of Evelyn (Yeoh), a laundromat owner in a strained marriage who has trouble connecting with her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu), the plot resists easy description. The tone veers from darkly comedic to unabashedly sentimental (touching all points in between). The previous feature co-directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, a team collectively known as “Daniels,” Swiss Army Man, was warmly received but didn’t make them household names. And though Everything Everywhere All at Once is wildly entertaining it’s also demanding, maintaining a frenetic pace for much of its 139 minute running time. “It’s certainly not,” Mendelson says, “a film that’s intended to be watched while you are doing chores or playing on your phone.”
It’s also an extremely personal film, in spite of scenes with sentient rocks and wild martial arts sequences. Kwan has described the film as both an attempt to understand and forgive his parents and as a key to recognizing his previously undiagnosed ADHD. The gulf in understanding between first- and second-generation Asian-Americans is central to its narrative. The flitting from place to place, tone to tone, and dimension to dimension is a reflection of ADHD. “I’m hoping that this film could be part of that kind of awareness, the movement of awareness around that particular mental illness or handicap,” Kwan recently told The Verge.