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Black Swan Box Office: Major Natalie Portman Sleeper Hit

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Black Swan movie Natalie PortmanBlack Swan movie with Natalie Portman: Darren Aronofsky’s female-centered ballet thriller has turned out to be a huge sleeper hit at the global box office.
  • Black Swan box office: After boasting 2010’s most remarkable limited-release debut in the domestic market, Darren Aronofsky’s ballet-world-set psychological thriller eventually became the year’s second biggest sleeper hit worldwide (including revenues from 2011). Awards season favorite Natalie Portman stars.

Black Swan box office: Starring Natalie Portman, Darren Aronofsky’s ballet thriller has the year’s most impressive limited release in the domestic market

Ramon Novarro Beyond Paradise

Dec. 3–5 weekend box office (cont.): Directed by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, and featuring the voices of Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi, the Walt Disney Studios’ computer-animated musical fantasy Tangled was the top title on the North American (U.S. and Canada only) box office chart.

Yet the weekend’s biggest success story was that of a far smaller movie that debuted at no. 13: Fox Searchlight’s Black Swan, an enthusiastically received psychological thriller directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring likely Best Actress Oscar contender Natalie Portman.

According to final studio figures found at, Black Swan earned $1.4 million from 18 locations, thus boasting the year’s second-highest per-theater average: A jaw-dropping $80,212 per venue.

But what about Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech, which averaged $88,862 last weekend? Why wasn’t that also jaw-dropping?

Well, because The King’s Speech opened at only four theaters. All things being equal, the higher the number of theaters, the lower the per-theater average should be. Black Swan debuted at 4.5 times more venues than Hooper’s real-life-inspired period drama; yet its per-venue average was only slightly (10 percent) smaller.

That is jaw-dropping.

Low-budget sleeper hit in the making

Black Swan was reportedly budgeted at a mere $13 million. Admittedly, marketing and distribution expenses have likely been (far?) heftier than what’s usual for a production with such a modest price tag. Even so, there’s no denying that this Darren Aronofsky-Natalie Portman collaboration is on its way to becoming one the year’s biggest sleeper hits.

Besides Portman as a mentally off-kilter ballerina dominated by her equally unbalanced mother, Black Swan features Mila Kunis as an increasingly intimate (or is she?) colleague, and Oscar nominees Barbara Hershey (The Portrait of a Lady, 1996) and Winona Ryder (The Age of Innocence, 1993; Little Women, 1994) as, respectively, the lead character’s abusive mom and an embittered, forcibly retired dancer.

Also in the cast: Vincent Cassel, Benjamin Millepied, Sebastian Stan, Toby Hemingway, Ksenia Solo, Janet Montgomery, Kristina Anapau, Sergio Torrado, Mark Margolis, Tina Sloan, Shaun O’Hagan, and Chris Gartin.

Lastly, in case Black Swan becomes 2010’s no. 2 sleeper hit, that’ll make it two years in a row with women almost on top, following last year‘s The Blind Side, starring “top box office draw” and eventual Best Actress Oscar winner Sandra Bullock.

Black Swan Natalie Portman ballerina Nina SayersBlack Swan with Natalie Portman as the mentally unbalanced dancer Nina Sayers: Darren Aronofsky’s female-centered ballet thriller is in some ways reminiscent of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1948 classic The Red Shoes.

Black Swan box office milestones

Update: On Feb. 16, Black Swan passed the $100 million mark in the U.S. and Canada after earning $174,000 from 1,069 locations. Domestic cume after 76 days: $100.02 million.

Now, the people at 20th Century Fox who handled Michael Apted’s fantasy adventure The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Oliver Stone’s socially conscious drama Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Tony Scott’s action-thriller Unstoppable, and Edward Zwick’s romantic comedy-drama Love & Other Drugs – all of which were domestic underperformers (or downright bombs) – could learn a lesson or two from the Fox Searchlight crowd on how to market movies.

Update II: On Feb. 23, Black Swan – by then surely of the biggest sleeper hits in film history – passed the $200 million milestone at the global box office. Worldwide cume after 83 days: $204.3 million (domestic: $102.6 million; international: $101.7 million).

Second biggest global sleeper hit among 2010 releases

Update III: Darren Aronofsky and Natalie Portman’s ballet thriller Black Swan ultimately collected $107 million domestically and an outstanding – for a non-3D, non-action-packed, non-special-effects-laden, adult-oriented effort – $222.4 million internationally. Worldwide total: $329.4 million.

That’s a hugely profitable figure, indisputably making Black Swan 2010’s second biggest sleeper hit (including 2011 revenues) at the global box office.

So, what was the no. 1 title?

Starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Hooper’s Oscar-winning The King’s Speech (cost: $15 million; worldwide gross: $424 million) was no. 1.

But what about Harald Zwart’s The Karate Kid, which earned $359.1 million worldwide? Shouldn’t that be no. 2?


After all, even though Black Swan’s global gross was 10 percent lower than The Karate Kid’s, its reported budget was less than 1/3 that of the martial arts drama starring Jackie Chan ($13 million vs. $40 million).

For the record, Black Swan’s top international markets were Japan ($27.4 million), the United Kingdom/Ireland ($26 million), France ($24 million), Germany ($22.3 million), Australia ($14.8 million), Spain ($14.5 million), South Korea ($11.4 million), Mexico ($9.6 million), Brazil ($8.8 million), and Italy ($8.1 million).

Black Swan Box Office: Major Natalie Portman Sleeper Hit” notes

Also this past weekend, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s gay crime comedy-drama I Love You Phillip Morris opened way down the domestic box office chart. Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor star.

Unless otherwise noted, “Black Swan Box Office: Major Natalie Portman Sleeper 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,, etc.).

Comments about Black Swan 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.

Natalie Portman Black Swan movie image: Niko Tavernise | Fox Searchlight.

Black Swan Box Office: Major Natalie Portman Sleeper Hit” last updated in October 2023.

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