From Distributor to Disruptor: How A24 Became the Biggest Winner in Hollywood
The weather is different in Hollywood now since A24 came to town. Once it started turning in one oddball critical and commercial hit after another, the indie studio darling just couldn't help itself. This year was no different. It bagged nine more Oscars at the 2023 Academy Awards, winning Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director and all four acting categories. That marks the first time a distributor has swept all major categories in Oscars history. We are witnessing some unprecedented stuff happening right here. This is something we may argue is the precursor for a new era of mainstream Hollywood cinema.
This is the first time we've seen this kind of dominance from a studio since the 1930s. Columbia had been the first studio to get the Oscars sweep for It Happened One Night back in 1934. However, the Best Supporting Actor and Actress awards were yet to be submitted for consideration at the time. Hence, the distinction. This just makes A24's feat all the more impressive, especially for an independent production company.
Everything Everywhere All At Once was quite literally everything everywhere all at once tonight, with Michelle Yeoh, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ke Huy Quan, and Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (the same Daniels who brought us Swiss Army Man a while back) taking home honors. When it bagged Best Picture, it cemented its place in Hollywood lore. "You saw our weirdness and supported us," claimed movie's producer, Jonathan Wang. Oh yeah, Brendan Fraser won Best Actor for The Whale, as well, lest we forget.
The night also marks the six-year anniversary of Moonlight's stunning upset over Manchester by the Sea, La La Land, and Arrival, among others in 2017. That win would mark the studio's entrance into the mainstream, mainstream. It had been the studio's first in-house production and it already feels like ages ago (it has gotten to a point where we just expect them to make great films). A year prior, it was Brie Larson’s Best Actress win for Room that put A24 on the Academy's map. Two years ago, on the other hand, Yuh-jung Youn would go on to win Best Supporting Actress for Minari. A24 has hacked the commercial appeal, too. Before Everything Everywhere All At Once became A24's highest-grossing movie (earning $110 million worldwide against a $20-million budget), it was Lady Bird. Their approach to marketing and decision to go with lower-cost digital platforms have obviously worked (Christ, how can we forget Ava on Tinder?). The fact that Everything Everywhere All At Once still had momentum even after almost a year since its release should, in fact, be studied by future Oscar campaigners.
The studio is an anomaly in the era of streaming platforms and mega-Hollywood greed. Armed with a penchant for peculiar out-there conflicts, gritty art-house narratives, weirdo characters, and distinct visual language, the indie New York-based studio went from being a distributor to being a disruptor in just a decade. The studio is pure box office and has gone on to produce cult classics. Its garnered the respect of critics and would-be collaborators such as actors and filmmakers; and now, even the Academy. Other studios have been put on notice. They've even managed to adapt and partner with HBO for Euphoria and with Hulu for Ramy, too.
As of 2023, it already has 49 Oscar nominations in total, 18 of which have come this year, with films like Everything Everywhere All At Once, The Whale, Aftersun, Marcel The Shell With Shoes On, Close, and Causeway all being released within a span of 12 months. Nine of the studio's 15 Oscar ttherophies came this year, as well. That's quite the level of productivity, considering budget, timeline, and waning influence of theatrical distribution. We can credit the reputation its built over time as the main reason why it's become such a (thoughtful and humble) player in the game, really.
"Why the fuck would you show me something if I couldn't have it then?" asked movie star Kevin Garnett.
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A24's reputation precedes it (in a good way). Since its inception in 2012 by Daniel Katz, David Fenkel and John Hodges, it has consistently come up with a vision for a new brand of storytelling, pushing back on the age of Superhero evangelization, worn-out Hollywood blockbuster carbon copies, and cheesy big-budget all-star ensembles. Its first film came out in 2013 in A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III and then Spring Breakers, which garnered some success but not on the level of its next outputs. These would eventually lead the studio to creating more meaningful low-budget productions with help from up-and-coming (now hotshit) auteurs like Alex Garland, who would go on to give A24 its first Oscar for Ex Machina, mad scientist Ari Arister, or the Salfie brothers. Hell, the studio even rode the "Greek Weird Wave" when it produced The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer with Yorgos Lanthimos at the helm. They've, of course, also taken care of the geniuses of Robert Eggers and the Daniels.
The performances in the studio's films have occupied spaces among kinophiles, casual observers, and meme page runners, too. Adam Sandler, Mahershala Ali, Colin Farrell, Tom Hardy, and Robert Pattinson, to name a few, have each thrown their hat into the A24 acting ring. So have Alicia Vikander, Toni Collette, Saoirse Ronan, Larson, and Florence Pugh, who went on to give some memorable outings. They killed it. Their work, along with the directors, writers, and editors (shoutout to editor Paul Rogers for winning the Academy Award for Everything Everywhere, as well) is the backbone of A24's enduring magnetism. You're almost expected to give the next seminal cult-y, moody, wacky performance when you've been cast in an A24 film. Oscar winner Joaquin Phoenix is the latest name to collaborate with A24 and Aster, for Beau Is Afraid. Actors have, in one way or another, honored the studio's, and its audience's, collective new vision for filmmaking.
Everything Everywhere All At Once and The Whale are just typical A24 for you. And if we watch the trailer for Beau Is Afraid, we can expect another provocative film that basks in its glorious strangeness, much like its predecessors. Before all this, we would never have imagined an obscure indie studio taking on these titans of industry with just a modest budget, limited releases, and a stellar explosive yet unified ensemble, on- and off-camera. We sense that the studio is keen on keeping its artistic freedom, if you will. A quality that, we may argue, is the studio's most admirable trait.
Pugh in Midsommar is canon now.
In post-modern Hollywood, a studio like A24, which toys and pivots and pushes boundaries, shouldn't have as big a place as it has. It has beat out the superhero and action or remake model in a sense. The distributor-producer-extraordinaire has found new ways to elevate this old-timey studio matrix and occupied a niche entirely its own. The studio is a reminder of what cinema could be in the hands of good, honest players who have escaped the clutches of Marvelization and monopolies. A24 is still the guerilla of sorts it was ten years ago. They are telling the stories of the times (like breaking the curse of generational trauma, ehem). They are telling the stories we could've never told in 1995 or 2005. They are telling the stories of the future.
These year's wins are the closest big Hollywood has ever gotten to institutionalizing and empowering little players with gigantic ideas on a mainstream level. We're in the middle of a filmmaking revolution in Tinsel Town right now, and there's A24, front and center.