The overlap is considerable, the appeal similar. But Timothée Chalamet doesn’t have the same chance to dominate the box office.
Timothée Chalamet, the 26-year-old co-star of luca guadagnino‘s”bones and all” (United Artists), inspires slavish fans and critical acclaim, not unlike Leonardo Dicaprio 25 years ago when he made “Titanic”. The similarities in his trajectories are remarkable. Precociously talented; acclaimed portraits of sensitive adolescents; risky roles; early and passionate followers of adolescents; and acting Oscar nomination before the age of 27 (in the case of Chalamet).
Its significant difference is that Chalamet is on the threshold of a major career. At the same point in his own work, DiCaprio could have retired and been considered an iconic star. None of this diminishes Chalamet’s important achievements, but it does highlight the differences in his eras.
“Bones and All” is not “Titanic” (not that anything is). The best case scenario for this $16 million budget drama is a breakout, not a blockbuster. Guadagnino (“Call Me By Your Name,” “Suspiria”) has established a reputation for raunchy, R-rated movies with significant (and stylish) sex and violence. If the cannibalistic road trip romance set in the ’80s finds a wider audience, much credit will go to Chalamet.
“Bones and All” premiered at the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals to positive response. It opens in five New York/Los Angeles theaters this Friday before a run of more than 2,500 the following Wednesday, with Warner Bros. Discovery handling most of the overseas territories.
Chalamet makes his producing debut here, his second film with Guadagnino after his hit “Call Me By Your Name.” The curious thing is that here, as in most of his films, he is not the clear protagonist, a rare example of modesty as a protagonist. The story belongs to Taylor Russell’s Maren, a cannibal who embarks on a cross-country journey and encounters other carnivores, including Chalamet’s homeless man, Lee.
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In addition to co-starring with Armie Hammer in “Call Me by Your Name,” Chalamet also thrived in “Beautiful Boy” (second behind Steve Carell). In “Lady Bird” and “Little Women” (both for Greta Gerwig), his impact surpassed his screen time. “The French Dispatch” was a set and Woody Allen’s “A Rainy Day in New York” was just released in the US.
As “Dune” star Paul Atreides, Chalamet was the brash lead in a film that grossed $400 million worldwide. However, his significant contributions to the film’s success were matched by enormous interest in Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of a beloved science fiction novel. (The sequel is now in production.)
In all, there are four $100 million Chalamet movies, three of which star other actors. At this stage of his career, DiCaprio had three $100 million movies as the lead (two per adjustment). One, of course, was “Titanic,” the highest-grossing movie of the last 40 years ($1.2 billion adjusted). Before that, he made many smaller movies not unlike Chalamet’s, including “This Boys Life,” “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” “The Basketball Diaries,” and “Total Eclipse,” all with varying degrees of success.
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DiCaprio’s hit was Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet” in 1996 opposite Claire Danes, which heralded him as a big commercial draw. He followed “Titanic” with “The Man in the Iron Mask” released two weeks before “Titanic” swept the Oscars. “Mask” was vilified by critics, but DiCaprio’s attraction meant that he earned (adjusted) more than $400 million worldwide.
That’s what DiCaprio was like at 24, and it’s a phenomenon rarely seen before or since. It is much more difficult, perhaps impossible, to do that today. Neither actor has appeared in a comic book franchise or sequel (aside from DiCaprio’s direct-to-video debut “Critters 3” and Chalamet’s “Dune 2”), but that’s now what drives most blockbusters. . To put it another way: Adjusted for inflation, the budget for “Mask” was $65 million. When was the last time we saw a one-time gross of $65 million, almost seven times its budget?
Domestic expectations for “Bones and All” are $20 million on the high end (and considerably more abroad), followed by a healthy Chalamet-fuelled afterlife. The biggest tests for the actor, however, will come next year with “Wonka” from “Paddington” director Paul King next Christmas, as well as “Dune 2.” Chalamet’s career has been fueled by social media in a way that was impossible for DiCaprio, but in the 21st century, Chalamet’s 18 million Instagram followers don’t necessarily translate to box office dominance.
Not that becoming the world’s biggest movie star was easy, but 1997 offered fewer obstacles. Eight of the year’s top 10 movies were original, in a variety of genres including comedies (“Liar, Liar”), dramas (“Good Will Hunting,” which launched Matt Damon and Ben Affleck), high-profile action movies level (“Air Force One”, “Face/Off”) and hybrids (“Men in Black”).
“Good Will Hunting” earned more than $330 million on a budget of $19 million (all figures adjusted). Today, massive success means a franchise, full stop. The demands of bending to the formula make it difficult for idiosyncratic talents like Chalamet to succeed at DiCaprio’s level.
There are other ways to define success, of course. Can you stick with the idea of an actor as a “brand” while still making interesting and offbeat movies? With box office trends out of his control, that’s Chalamet’s real challenge.