On the Road vs. Walter Salles’ The Motorcycle Diaries, Central Station; David Cronenberg / Robert Pattinson’s Cosmopolis
[See previous article: "Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart On the Road Disappoints at Box Office."] Distributed by Focus Features, Walter Salles’ Spanish-language The Motorcycle Diaries, featuring Gael García Bernal, Rodrigo de la Serna, and Breaking Dawn Part 2’s Mia Maestro, debuted with $159,819 at three North American locations in late September 2004, averaging a remarkable $53,273 per site (approx. $68,100 adjusted for inflation). The Motorcycle Diaries went on to gross $16.78 million in the U.S. and Canada, in addition to $40.88 million internationally. (Photo: Garrett Hedlund as Sal Paradise, On the Road.)
And back in 1998, the Portuguese-language Central Station, starring eventual Best Actress Academy Award nominee Fernanda Montenegro, averaged $17,854 (approx. $30,200 adjusted) at two locations. Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, Central Station cumed at $5.59 million in North America.
Another comparison: like On the Road, an “automobile-set,” stream-of-consciousness 2012 Cannes Film Festival entry that received mixed reviews in the U.S., David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis debuted in the United States (via Entertainment One) last August. Starring Kristen Stewart’s fellow Twilight actor Robert Pattinson, on its first weekend out Cosmopolis raked in $70,339 at three locations, averaging a respectable $23,446 per venue. The film’s initial bow was likely helped by the Rupert Sanders / Kristen Stewart / Robert Pattinson to-do that in late summer kept the U.S. media in a state of frenzy for weeks.
However, after its solid start, Cosmopolis’ per-theater average plummeted to a meager $2,453 following a minor expansion on weekend no. 2. The Cronenberg / Pattinson collaboration ultimately cumed with a highly disappointing $763,556 in North America (including Canada, where the movie was released in the spring).
According to figures — probably incomplete — found at Box Office Mojo, On the Road has collected $8.37 million internationally. Its top markets are France with $2.7 million, Brazil with $1.53 million, Italy with $1.13 million, and the UK with $934k. Brazil’s relatively good showing can partly be explained by the fact that Walter Salles is a renowned filmmaker in his home country, while Kristen Stewart has a huge following there as well. On the Road’s budget was a reported $25m; IFC Films acquired it for an amount "in the low seven figures." [Addendum: On the Road opened in France at the time of the Cannes Film Festival.]
IFC Films at the domestic box office
Something else worth noting is that IFC-distributed movies haven’t been faring very well at all at the North American box office. The most successful IFC release in 2012 is Mike Birbiglia and Seth Barrish’s Sleepwalk with Me, which collected a grand total of $2.26 million, after opening with (an impressive) $68,801 at one New York City location in late August. In fact, IFC movies are generally prestigious entries that may find long lives in the home-video market, but at the box office their overall performance has ranged from the very modest to the downright disastrous.
And finally, surely not helping matters for On the Road were wildly mixed reviews. For instance, Walter Salles’ film has a mediocre 44 percent approval rating and 5.9/10 average among Rotten Tomatoes’ top critics.
On the Road will reportedly reach more theaters on January 18, eight days after the 2013 Academy Award nominations are announced. (The Oscar nods were to have been announced on January 15; the Academy later moved the date forward to Jan. 10.) However, despite Kristen Stewart’s visibility at various functions, at this stage it doesn’t seem very likely that the film will be found in many — or even any — Oscar categories. (See also: "On the Road to become another The Motorcycle Diaries?")
Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart topline On the Road cast
Besides the aforementioned Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty, Sam Riley as Jack Kerouac’s alter ego Sal Paradise, and Kristen Stewart as Mary Lou, On the Road features Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Kirsten Dunst, Elisabeth Moss, Tom Sturridge, Alice Braga, Danny Morgan, Steve Buscemi, and Terrence Howard.
Garrett Hedlund as Sal Paradise, On the Road photo: IFC Films.