Just because a movie is a hit with critics doesn’t always mean box office success is going to follow. The calculation around what certain moviegoers will enjoy and what will bring large numbers of folks to the theaters is sometimes a tricky one. And sometimes we will get a film that has a ton of star power, a bigger budget, and a lot of critical love that just bombs when it comes to the ticket booth. Bradley Cooper recently had one of these films in Nightmare Alley. And though it struggled at the box office, it’s now finding new life on streaming with the film sitting at #2 on HBO Max.
Nightmare Alley is a psychological thriller set in 1939 that stars Bradley Cooper as Stan Carlisle, a mysterious man with a troubled past who just happens to be really good at one thing: manipulating people. Though it’s unclear, at first, what secrets he’s hiding from a previous life, he joins a carnival and immediately begins to learn some of the “tricks” that make these traveling shows so successful in the eyes of the patrons.
There is a deep seediness to these ventures, and Bradley Cooper’s Stan quickly realizes and learns all of the different ways to take advantage of people, both patrons and the workers themselves. Check out the trailer for Nightmare Alley starring Bradley Cooper and a whole host of other stars. You can catch it streaming on HBO Max.
As Bradley Cooper begins to navigate this world, he starts to see that the skills others are using to trick the carnival-goers might be applicable to other parts of life. Namely, he gets really good at the “mind-reading” piece, learning all of the ins-and-outs of that “skill” and how he can use it to worm into others’ lives. Eventually, the movie becomes something of a game of cat and mouse with it unclear who is using who in different situations or relationships. And throughout there is an overwhelming dark sense of foreboding that’s almost crippling. This feeling is that almost no matter what, it’s all going to go wrong.
In addition to Bradley Cooper as Stan, there are a number of other notables featured in Nightmare Alley. There’s Willem Dafoe as Clem Hoately, the carnival owner who teaches Stan the abhorrent way he’s able to bring on new workers for the show. And there’s Rooney Mara as Molly, the woman Stan initially falls for.
We also meet Cate Blanchett as Lillith Ritter, a psychologist who might know Bradley Cooper’s Stan better than he knows himself. Others include Toni Collette, Ron Perlman, David Straithairn, Richard Jenkins, and Mary Steenburgen. The movie was directed by Guillermo del Toro who adapted the screenplay from a 1940s novel by the same name. It’s the second time Nightmare Alley has been made into a movie with the last one hitting screens all the way back in 1947.
Bradley Cooper and company had a critical hit in Nightmare Alley with the Rotten Tomatoes score sitting at 80% through almost 300 reviews. Critics generally agreed that the movie’s noir style and tended to live up to the nightmare in its name. They loved the star turns by the leads and the visual style as well. But man did it ever struggle at the box office. Releasing on December 17th, when theaters we almost back to full capacity, it took in only $30 million dollars worldwide on its roughly $60 million budget. From a monetary perspective, this is obviously a disaster of the highest order.
But now Nightmare Alley and Bradley Cooper have found a second life on streaming. This can sometimes be the case with a movie like this which has a particular niche. Though it struggled to find a wide audience, thanks maybe in part because of its themes while also being released during the holiday season, it’s definitely finding one now. If the trailer is intriguing to you then you are most likely to get into the film as a whole. From that perspective, what you see is basically what you get. But there are still plenty of mysteries to unravel here and the performances are top-notch. Go check out Bradley Cooper and company in Nightmare Alley streaming now on HBO Max.