In a crowded Thanksgiving week at the multiplex, spy drama Allied has a not-so-secret weapon working in its favor: the tabloids.
Ever since Angelina Jolie filed for divorce from Brad Pitt in September, speculation has swirled about who or what came between the once-inseparable Hollywood couple. Many eyes turned toward Pitt's Allied co-star, Oscar winner Marion Cotillard, who swiftly shot down conjecture that she was the other woman in a lengthy Instagram post, calling the unfounded claims "distressing."
But the hubbub could be a driving factor in getting moviegoers to go see Allied, in theaters Wednesday. Robert Zemeckis' World War II-era drama is gunning for awards consideration, although it has been met with mixed reviews (64% positive on aggregate site RottenTomatoes.com) and is predicted to open with $15 million to $20 million.
"The buildup that was created from the divorce probably helped interest a little bit," says Jeff Bock, senior box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations. "I don't think it'll hurt — that kind of tabloid fare usually helps a film."
Plenty of other movies with so-so reviews have benefited from celebrity gossip. Jennifer Aniston, just off her 2005 divorce from Pitt, co-starred with then-beau Vince Vaughn in 2006 comedy The Break-up, which scored an impressive $118.7 million. Vampire romance franchise Twilight bit off nearly $1.4 billion at the box office, fueled by the real-life relationship between Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, which "for fans, took on a life of its own," says Elaine Lui, founder of celebrity news site LaineyGossip.com.
The biggest benefactor of hearsay was 2005's Mr. & Mrs. Smith, a previous Pitt spy thriller with mediocre reviews (59% positive) that opened with $50.3 million on its way to $186.3 million. The action comedy was released after months of reports that Pitt and Jolie were engaged in an on-set affair.
"If you can start a good fire with the tabloid talk and then the film turns out to be something special, then you really do have something," Bock says. "Mr. & Mrs. Smith was the right film at the right time. It's fun, it's flashy, there was great chemistry between the leads and it was an action film, so it kind of broke demographics."
But Allied isn't packing nearly that kind of off-screen heat going into opening weekend. Pitt is focused on seeking joint custody of his six children with Jolie, and Cotillard is expecting a child with her longtime partner, French actor Guillaume Canet.
"I'm not sure that people believe that Marion Cotillard and Brad Pitt have been carrying on the way everybody believed (he) and Angelina Jolie were" during Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Lui says. Also, "I'm not sure most people know who Marion Cotillard is."
Allied will probably perform more like Miley Cyrus' The Last Song ($63 million), with her then-unknown sweetheart Liam Hemsworth, or this fall's The Light Between Oceans ($12.5 million), led by the notoriously private Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander. Despite chatter about their off-screen relationship, which blossomed on the set, the period tear-jerker bombed "partly because neither one of those two really sell their relationship or use it as a commodity" and aren't "household names," Lui says.
For gossip to really drive box office, there needs to be "intrigue there, like, what does it look like when they say, 'I love you?' " Lui adds. "When it doesn't work, it's because (the actors) aren't leaning into it."