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Atonement: James McAvoy & Keira Knightley Period Drama Is Remarkable Box Office Hit

Atonement James McAvoy Keira KnightleyAtonement with James McAvoy and Keira Knightley. Joe Wright’s Oscar-baiting drama features a British period setting, a serious-minded narrative (romance, deception, war), and a prestige cast (James McAvoy, Oscar nominees Keira Knightley and Brenda Blethyn, winner Vanessa Redgrave).
  • Atonement box office: Starring James McAvoy and Keira Knightley, Joe Wright’s generally well-received, awards-season-friendly British period drama has turned out to be an international success, especially in relation to its relatively modest budget.

Atonement box office: James McAvoy & Keira Knightley star in Joe Wright’s awards-season-friendly international success

As per studio figures found at boxofficemojo.com, Joe Wright’s romantic period drama Atonement has grossed (updated final cume:) $50.9 million at the North American (U.S. and Canada only) box office.

That’s a good figure for Focus Features’ “arthouse” release, but hardly good enough to make the mostly British-made (reportedly) $30 million production profitable. Leaving aside international distribution sales/pre-sales and assorted contractual credits and obligations, that’s where international moviegoers come rushing to the rescue. (See further below.)

Now, for comparison’s sake: Also directed by Joe Wright, starring eventual Best Actress Academy Award nominee Keira Knightley, and distributed in North America by Focus Features, the British-made and -set romantic period drama Pride & Prejudice earned $38.5 million in the U.S. and Canada in late 2005/06. In addition, this Jane Austen adaptation raked in $83.2 million overseas (of which $26.6 million in the United Kingdom/Ireland).

Atonement movie cast

Adapted by Oscar-winning screenwriter Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons, 1988) from Ian McEwan’s 2001 novel, Atonement shows the lingering consequences of a lie in the lives of three individuals: The well-educated but lower-class Robbie Turner; his lover, the well-bred Cecilia Tallis; and Cecilia’s jealous younger sister, Briony.

In the Atonement cast: James McAvoy as Robbie, Keira Knightley as Cecilia, Saoirse Ronan as the 13-year-old Briony, Romola Garai as the 18-year-old Briony, Oscar nominee Brenda Blethyn (Secrets & Lies, 1996; Little Voice, 1998) as Robbie’s housekeeper mother, and Oscar winner Vanessa Redgrave (Julia, 1977) as the older Briony.

Plus: Juno Temple, Benedict Cumberbatch, Patrick Kennedy, Harriet Walter, Peter Wight, Daniel Mays, Nonso Anozie, Gina McKee, and Prix César nominee Jérémie Renier (Work Hard, Play Hard, 2004), in addition to a cameo by Oscar-winning filmmaker Anthony Minghella (The English Patient, 1996).

Remarkable global success (in relation to its cost) & multiple Oscar nominee

Update: A frequent awards season contender in various categories, Joe Wright’s Atonement ultimately collected $80.1 million overseas. Worldwide total: $131 million – a notable figure for a modestly budgeted release.

Its top international markets were a couple of Anglophone territories, the United Kingdom/Ireland (the movie’s de facto domestic market, with $23.9 million) and Australia ($9.8 million), followed by Spain ($6.1 million).

Shortlisted for a total of seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Atonement ended up winning one statuette: Best Original Score for Dario Marianelli.

Of note, 71 years after 13-year-old Bonita Granville was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her performance as a destructive liar in William Wyler’s These Three (the 1936 movie version of Lillian Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour), 13-year-old Saoirse Ronan was shortlisted for an Oscar in that same category for her performance as another destructively untruthful character.


Atonement: Keira Knightley & James McAvoy” endnotes

Unless otherwise noted, “Atonement: James McAvoy & Keira Knightley Period Drama Is Remarkable Box Office Hit” box office information via Box Office Mojo. Budget info – which should be taken with a grain of salt – via BOM and/or other sources (e.g., the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Screen Daily, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Deadline.com, etc.).

Comments about Atonement and other titles being hits/profitable or flops/money-losers at the box office (see paragraph below) are based on the available data about their production budget, additional marketing and distribution expenses (as a general rule of thumb, around 50 percent of the production cost), and worldwide gross (as a general rule of thumb when it comes to the Hollywood studios, around 50–55 percent of the domestic gross and 40 percent of the international gross goes to the distributing/producing companies).

Bear in mind that data regarding rebates, domestic/international sales/pre-sales, and other credits and/or contractual details that help to alleviate/split production costs and apportion revenues are oftentimes unavailable, and that reported international grosses may be incomplete (i.e., not every territory is fully – or even partially – accounted for).

Also bear in mind that ancillary revenues (domestic/global television rights, home video sales, streaming, merchandising, etc.) can represent anywhere between 40–70 percent of a movie’s total take. However, these revenues and their apportionment are only infrequently made public.

Atonement opened the 2007 Venice Film Festival.

Keira Knightley and James McAvoy Atonement movie image: Universal Pictures.

Atonement: James McAvoy & Keira Knightley Period Drama Is Remarkable Box Office Hit” last updated in October 2022.

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