Killing Them Softly: Brad Pitt has his worst opening weekend ever
Brad Pitt stars in Andrew Dominik's Killing Them Softly, an R-rated crime comedy-drama The Weinstein Company acquired for domestic distribution at this year's Cannes Film Festival. Prior to Cannes, where it generally received less than ecstatic reviews and failed to win a single Official Competition award, Killing Them Softly was considered a potential awards-season contender – after all, Pitt and Dominik's previous collaboration, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, had been a critical favorite in late 2007. (Image: Killing Them Softly Brad Pitt.)
Released at 2,424 North American locations on one of the year's weakest box office weekends, Killing Them Softly debuted with an anemic $2.51 million on Friday, and is expected to take in less than $8.5 million by Sunday evening. This latest Andrew Dominik / Brad Pitt collaboration has a so-so 68 percent approval rating and 6.7/10 average among Rotten Tomatoes' top critics, in addition to an embarrassing “F” CinemaScore among polled opening-weekend moviegoers.
Barring some unexpected critical support in the next couple of weeks, Killing Them Softly's awards season / Oscar chances are all but nil at this stage, at least in the top categories. And barring a miraculous Saturday / Sunday surge at the U.S. and Canada box office, Killing Them Softly is about to suffer the worst domestic opening weekend for a Brad Pitt movie in wide release – ever. [See also: “Cloud Atlas: One of Worst Opening Weekends Ever for Tom Hanks.”]
Brad Pitt: Star power
Brad Pitt's career has had its ups and downs in the last two decades, but Pitt – at times with the assistance of strong co-stars – has consistently helped his movies to open strongly in the domestic market. Examples include Neil Jordan's Interview with the Vampire, co-starring Tom Cruise, which debuted with $36.38 million in 1994; Gore Verbinski's The Mexican, co-starring Julia Roberts, with $20.1 million in 2001; Steven Soderbergh's all-star Ocean's Eleven, co-starring Roberts, George Clooney, and Matt Damon, with $38.1m; David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, co-starring Cate Blanchett, with $26.85m; and even Bennett Miller's baseball drama Moneyball, which opened with a solid – for a baseball movie – $19.6 million last year.
In fact, according to figures found at Box Office Mojo, no Brad Pitt movie – i.e., a movie with Pitt as its star or co-star – screening at more than 600 locations has debuted with less than $10m, even without adjusting for inflation.
True, back in summer 1992, Cool World opened with $5.55 million at 1,448 sites, but the real stars in that eventual box office misfire were Kim Basinger and Gabriel Byrne. And in The Favor, which opened with $1.48 million at 1,029 venues in April 1994, Pitt was a member of an ensemble cast. The Favor could never be labeled a “Brad Pitt movie.”
Since then, true Brad Pitt Movies have invariably had solid (or better) debuts even if their final tallies have fallen below expectations, e.g., Alan J. Pakula's $90 million-budgeted The Devil's Own, which debuted with $14.27 million in 1997 (approx. $25 million today), cuming at $42.86m; and Martin Brest's also $90 million-budgeted Meet Joe Black, which opened with $15.01 million in 1998 (also around $25 million today), cuming at $44.61 million.
Even if divine intervention helps Killing Them Softly open north of $10m, once inflation is factored in the Andrew Dominik thriller will undoubtedly trail Brad Pitt's two weakest wide-release domestic debuts to date. Those are Jean-Jacques Annaud's Seven Years in Tibet, which opened with $10.02 million at 2,103 sites in 1997 (approx. $17 million today), and David Fincher's Fight Club, co-starring Edward Norton, which had a $11.03 million debut at 1,963 locations in 1999 (also around $17 million today).
Now, looking on the bright side, chances are Killing Them Softly will not become Pitt's worst domestic performer overall. By the end of its run, the Dominik film should ultimately outgross two other Brad Pitt movies that opened in limited release in the U.S. and Canada: the aforementioned The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, which cumed at an abysmal $3.9 million, and Terrence Malick's Palme d'Or winner The Tree of Life, which ended its run with $13.3 million last year.
Killing Them Softly cast
Besides Brad Pitt, the Killing Them Softly cast includes Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini, Max Casella, Sam Shepard, Vincent Curatola, Trevor Long, and Garret Dillahunt.
Brad Pitt Killing Them Softly box office: Weak Friday
Brad Pitt, big guns and all, has failed to rescue Andrew Dominik's The Weinstein Company-distributed Killing Them Softly at the North American box office. The R-rated crime comedy-drama debuted with a dismal $2.51 million at 2,424 locations on Friday, Nov. 30, according to studio estimates found at Box Office Mojo. (Image: Brad Pitt Killing Them Softly.)
Reviews for the New Orleans-set movie based on George V. Higgins' novel have been mostly positive – or at least lukewarm – but hardly ecstatic: Killing Them Softly has a 68 percent approval rating and a 6.7/10 average among Rotten Tomatoes' top critics. But The Weinstein Company clearly didn't have high hopes for their acquisition, dumping it on the weekend after Thanksgiving, when no movie has grossed more than $10 million since the Charlize Theron action flick Aeon Flux (with $12.7m) back in 2005. (Well, adjusted for inflation, the Jake Gyllenhaal / Natalie Portman / Tobey Maguire 2009 release Brothers would have earned a tiny bit over $10m.) [See also: “Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart Beat Tough Guys Daniel Craig and Daniel Day-Lewis.”]
The Weinstein Company in the red?
Reportedly budgeted at $15 million – not including marketing and distribution expenses – Killing Them Softly will be lucky if its domestic cume matches its production costs. Its weekend total will probably be around $7.5-$8 million. One studio executive quoted at Deadline.com estimates (based on acquisition / distribution costs around $27m) that The Weinstein Company will lose more than $10 million on their investment.
International prospects haven't been all that promising either, despite Brad Pitt's presence: $14.97 million up to Nov. 25 from about a dozen territories, including Australia, Russia / CIS, Italy, Spain, and top market UK (with $4.41m).
Now, looking on the bright side, Killing Them Softly will surely far outgross the previous Andrew Dominik / Brad Pitt collaboration, the well-received 2007 Western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, which cumed at $3.9 million in North America and $11.09 million internationally. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, which also featured Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell, Jeremy Renner, and Sam Shepard, reportedly had a $30 million budget.
Brad Pitt leads Killing Them Softly cast
Besides Brad Pitt, the Killing Them Softly cast includes Ray Liotta, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, James Gandolfini, Sam Shepard, Richard Jenkins, Max Casella, Trevor Long, Vincent Curatola, and Garret Dillahunt.
Brad Pitt Killing Them Softly images: The Weinstein Company.