It might seem strange that Warner Bros. decided to release Contagion, a film that chronicles the outbreak of a worldwide pandemic, on the same weekend as the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Understandably, as Americans have reflected on that awful day, a reverent, melancholy atmosphere has fallen upon the country this week. Typically, that wouldn’t bode well for a film like Contagion.
As we’ve seen over the last decade, war dramas have seriously struggled at the box office. Movies like Brothers ($28.5 million), The Hurt Locker ($15.7 million), and Stop-Loss ($10.9 million), all of which dealt with current wars in the Middle East, couldn’t inspire many moviegoers to make the trip to the theater. Last year, Contagion star Matt Damon’s big-budget war-themed feature Green Zone fizzled with a weak $35.1 million. Many analysts attribute this “war fatigue” trend to the lack of escapism that these movies offer.
Thus, one might imagine that Contagion would be a tough sell at the box office as well. The film, which follows a team attempting to fight a global outbreak of a deadly disease, is debuting the same weekend as the 10th anniversary of 9/11, a crisis closely linked to the Anthrax scare that swept across America shortly afterwards. A deadly disease killing people around the globe isn’t exactly the same thing as a war, but it’s hardly uplifting. Many analysts wondered whether that subject matter would turn off audiences.
But according to a representative from Fandango, those fears aren’t causing any downturn in ticket sales. A whopping 32 percent of the popular movie ticketing service’s Friday sales have been for Contagion. That figure is much higher than three-weeks-running box office champ The Help, which is currently responsible for 12 percent of Friday ticket sales, as well as fellow newcomer Warrior, which surprisingly accounts for just 5 percent.
Warner Bros. has wisely promoted the film as a straightforward thriller, not focusing too much on the potential political struggles that might accompany the disastrous storyline, and it seems that moviegoers perceive it as such. I asked my followers on Twitter if they thought Contagion would be negatively affected by 9/11. One tweeter said, “I think if it was a ‘terrorist’ thing then yes, but since it’s not and more of a horror movie, then no.” Makes sense to me.
We won’t know until Sunday whether Contagion will match EW’s $23 million box office prediction, but after the cinematic dreck that’s debuted on screens for the last few weeks, audiences may be ready for a well-reviewed drama with an impressive A-list cast, and unlikely as it may have seemed, Contagion may be the first film since The Help to really break out.