'On the Road' weekend box office figures below estimates
On the Road, toplining Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley, and Kristen Stewart, and directed by Walter Salles, opened to disappointing figures this past weekend in North America: an estimated $39,550 at four locations, according to (updated) figures found at Box Office Mojo. On the Road's per-theater average was a quite modest $9,888 per site. (Image: Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley On the Road.)
On the Road's opening-weekend box office take is particularly disappointing when one considers that the film was directed by the well-regarded Walter Salles, among whose credits are two key road movies of the last 15 years – Central Station (1998) and The Motorcycle Diaries (2004). And that it features TRON: Legacy actor Garrett Hedlund; in addition to Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, and Kirsten Dunst in supporting roles; and Twilight actress Kristen Stewart doing things that Bella Swan could only dream of doing with Edward and Jacob.
I haven't been able to find On the Road's box office estimates for the last three days. Though not guaranteed, chances are the film's figures improved on Christmas Day, as that has been a regular pattern. We'll only find out for sure once IFC Films makes those figures available.
On the Road box office post: Lots of angry comments
Now, my previous two-part post about On the Road became one of Alt Film Guide's most commented posts in months. Why? For two reasons:
a) Those with a strong sense of moralistic outrage but little-to-no sense of basic ethical principles sent a barrage of comments filled with ad hominem attacks against either Kristen Stewart or myself – or both. (These have been duly deleted and the commenters in question have been banned.)
b) I dared to compare the U.S. opening-weekend box office performances of On the Road and Cosmopolis. (Needless to say, my comparisons to Amour, The Impossible, Central Station, and The Motorcycle Diaries went unnoticed.) As a result, I became enmeshed in lengthy discussions with assorted Robert Pattinson fans who expressed outrage at the Cosmopolis / On the Road comparison and at my raising the issue that on its opening weekend Cosmopolis was helped by the Robert Pattinson-Kristen Stewart-Rupert Sanders-Liberty Ross Quadrangle Scandal.
The Attack of the Moralistic Brigade and bias accusations
Regarding “item a),” there isn't much I can say except that holier-than-thou moralists are some of the most venomous, most repulsive, and, really, most dangerous people on the planet. That's no exaggeration. Take a good look at history – up to the present day – and you'll see that I'm right.
Now, do Alt Film Guide and myself have a “pro-Kristen Stewart bias”? Well, as much as I have a pro-Norma Talmadge bias. Or a pro-Tyrone Power bias. Or a pro-Susan Sarandon, pro-Pierre Fresnay, pro-Anna Magnani bias. Or an anti-Clint Eastwood bias, for that matter. I love watching Anna Magnani; I don't love watching Clint Eastwood. If that's having a “bias,” then I'm biased. If that's merely having one's likes and dislikes, and expressing one's opinions about issues, then, horrors, I'm a human being with a functioning brain.
Check out my (very negative) review of Eastwood's Oscar-winning Million Dollar Baby. One trade-magazine critic sent me a note (I should have kept it…) calling my commentary “the most idiotic film review I've ever read in my 200 years as a film critic.” (Okay, I'm paraphrasing a bit here.)
Now, was I being biased? Had I expressed my dislike for Million Dollar Baby merely because I saw Clint Eastwood's name attached to it, that would unquestioningly have been a form of bias. But I disliked Million Dollar Baby for a variety of reasons, as explained in my review. And if you, like that trade-magazine critic, don't agree with me, that doesn't necessarily make you biased either. It could just mean we have different likes and dislikes. Nothing wrong with that.
As for accusations that Alt Film Guide gets “paid by Kristen Stewart and her people” because we dare not judge or attack her private life … Hell, I'd be thrilled if Kristen Stewart (or any of “her people”) has even heard of us – though I doubt very much that either she or they has/have.
The positive articles I've recently written about Kristen Stewart have been the result of two things: a) I enjoy watching her – in fact, she's one of the few current performers that I truly enjoy; b) I utterly despise moralists and judgmental morons with no lives.
Robert Pattinson fan comes out
Now, when it comes to “item b),” there's much I can and probably should say / clarify. I'll try to make this as brief as possible, so my “clarification” won't be nearly as long as the comments section in this On the Road post. (Image: Robert Pattinson Cosmopolis.)
First of all, I must grudgingly come out as a Robert Pattinson fan. Why grudgingly? Because my admission may come across as if I'm trying to either appease or make peace with the rabid segment among Pattinson's fans, to beg their forgiveness, compassion, and understanding. That's not the case at all. I want those demented, monstrous jerks away from this site (and from our Twitter account).
Now, before I proceed I want to make clear that I'm fully aware that every star has their share of rabid fans. We've been mercilessly badmouthed by some Kristen Stewart fans in the past – we still are. In fact, we've been called names by fans of just about everybody, from Steven Spielberg and Mel Gibson to John Cassavetes and Louise Brooks. We also get attacked by rabid haters whenever we say something positive about a performer or director or screenwriter they abhor. It's how it goes; the Internet offers a great – if more than a tad disturbing – glimpse into humankind's (safely anonymous) sociopathic tendencies.
On Christmas Eve, for instance, one individual sent us a lengthy comment bashing Tom Cruise and Jack Reacher. I looked into it and discovered that that same comment had been posted in dozens of other sites. In other words, someone spent the days before Christmas posting an online comment berating and ridiculing Tom Cruise. Why? Why indeed.
Back to Robert Pattinson: I find him a highly capable actor – I thought he was excellent in the widely panned Bel Ami and I even enjoy his moody, gloomy Edward. In interviews, Pattinson comes across as funny, witty, warm, unpretentious, unaffected. A rarity among movie stars (and human beings in general).
That's the reason I enjoy writing about both Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart. I actually like them – and that's not at all how I feel about the vast majority of early 21st century Hollywood movie stars, including lots of highly-regarded names, whom I find either uninteresting or downright unwatchable.
Cosmopolis and On the Road: Why the comparison?
Now, back to Cosmopolis and On the Road. Why the comparison? For those who've had trouble understanding what, in my view, should have been obvious, here's why:
a) Both Cosmopolis and On the Road debuted at the Cannes Film Festival.
b) Both Cosmopolis and On the Road were distributed in the United States by a relatively small indie company (Cosmopolis' eOne Films – whose parent company, eOne, is big in Canada and the UK [they distribute the Twilight movies] but not in the U.S.; On the Road's IFC Films).
c) Both Cosmopolis and On the Road are uncommercial, highly personal English-language projects, featuring a loose, episodic, stream-of-consciousness narrative – one in which automobiles serve as a major setting.
d) Both Cosmopolis and On the Road were directed by well-respected filmmakers (David Cronenberg / Walter Salles), and feature a “name” supporting cast (Juliette Binoche, Jay Baruchel, Mathieu Amalric and others in Cosmopolis / Amy Adams, Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, and others in On the Road).
e) Both Cosmopolis and On the Road had similar budgets (Cosmopolis $20m; On the Road $25m).
f) Both Cosmopolis and On the Road received mixed reviews in North America. Among Rotten Tomatoes' top critics, Cosmopolis has a 50 percent score and 5.7/10 average (28 reviews); On the Road has a 42 percent score and 5.9/10 average (19 reviews).
g) Both Cosmopolis and On the Road feature two major Hollywood celebrities in key roles, both of whom also starred in the highly popular Twilight movie franchise: Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart.
Of course there are many things that are radically different in Cosmopolis and On the Road. But, undeniably, there are enough similarities between the two movies for them to merit a comparison. Much like one could compare, say, the box office performance of Irene Dunne's Theodora Goes Wild and Carole Lombard's My Man Godfrey, even though the two 1936 screwball comedies were made at different studios, by different directors and screenwriters, and featured different stars, supporting players, and storylines.
Platform releases are those when a distributor “tests the box office waters” before spending extra cash opening the film in more markets / locations. In North America, Los Angeles and New York are the two urban centers – at times with the addition of Toronto – where micro-platform releases usually take place. (Image: Kristen Stewart On the Road, with Garrett Hedlund in the background.)
Movies distributed in that manner, such as Cosmopolis and On the Road, open at only a handful of theaters. If the per-theater averages are good – or great – the film expands; i.e., it opens in more theaters. But what's a “good” or “great” per-theater average? That depends on the exact number of venues; remember, all things being equal, the smaller the number of theaters the higher the per-theater average should be.
Different platform releases: On the Road vs. The Impossible
For comparison's sake: starring Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, Juan Antonio Bayona's The Impossible opened in North America (coincidentally via Twilight's Summit Entertainment) on the same weekend as On the Road. The Impossible grossed $143,818 at 15 venues, averaging $9,588 per site. That's $300 less than On the Road. So, does that mean On the Road is the more successful movie? Not at all. Remember: On the Road was screening at four locations; The Impossible at 15 – that's nearly four times as many. Hence, if the two movies had the same level of box office success On the Road's per-theater average should have been much higher than The Impossible's.
If a film in platform release opens with a modest per-theater average – say, below $20,000-$30,000 for a movie at 2-6 locations – there's a very good chance that movie will have a small expansion. Or no expansion at all. At times, the distributor will merely keep the movie at a handful of theaters, but in different locations – e.g., dropping two New York venues while adding one venue in San Francisco and another in Denver; the next week, dropping San Francisco and Denver, while adding Miami and Detroit, and so on, for a few weeks.
The Cosmopolis case
That's basically what happened to Cosmopolis after its solid first-weekend take ($23,446 average at three sites as per Box Office Mojo) plummeted following the film's expansion to 63 locations on weekend no. 2 (a meager $2,429 per-theater average). Two weeks later, only 45 theaters were showing Cosmopolis in the U.S. Two weeks after that, only nine.
In sum, if a movie in platform release doesn't find its audience on its first or second weekend out, almost invariably it will either have a very small expansion or none at all. “Oh, but fans can't drive ten hours to watch a movie.” No, not fans who live in Utah and want to catch a movie in Los Angeles. But those fans who live in the L.A. area wouldn't have to drive that long, not even during rush hour. They are the target audience of platform releases. If those fans buy tickets, then distributors feel secure that more fans elsewhere will do the same; if they don't, distributors may not want to increase their distribution / marketing expenses to release potentially unprofitable movies in smaller markets.
The Kristen Stewart-Rupert Sanders 'Scandal'
In my On the Road box office post this past weekend, several commenters took umbrage with my remark that the Kristen Stewart-Rupert Sanders to-do helped Cosmopolis on its first weekend out in North America. Now, do I have hard proof that it did? Of course not. One would need to interview those people who bought tickets.
But stop and think for a moment: eOne Films is releasing Cosmopolis in the United States in mid-August. Following the scandal in late July, Robert Pattinson remains “in hiding” for several weeks and then resurfaces for the New York Cosmopolis premiere, and later is interviewed on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show. The global media covers the event as if it's the Second Coming.
Kristen Stewart and Rupert Sanders 'Scandal' and the box office
Are we to believe that Cosmopolis didn't have its visibility dramatically increased at the time? That countless people who had never heard of the film and couldn't care less about Robert Pattinson's romantic life or Twilight role suddenly became aware of the existence of Cosmopolis because of the Kristen Stewart-Rupert Sanders to-do? That a potentially wider audience was reached that could theoretically feel inclined to check out David Cronenberg's movie, whether because of Pattinson, Cronenberg, author Don DeLillo, the storyline, any of the film's supporting players, or all of the above? What's so far-fetched about that? (Image: Kristen Stewart On the Road New York premiere.)
That, in fact, might also help to explain Cosmopolis' dramatic box office drop on its second weekend. The ten-fold expansion came too soon, especially considering that the novelty had worn off; after all, Robert Pattinson had already made his television appearances and had rung the bell at the New York Stock Exchange the week before. Then what, without strong word of mouth and/or eOne's publicity machine working full force to maintain Cosmopolis in the public consciousness?
Hollywood scandals and the box office – and as movie history
But how dare I mention The Scandal? That should become as unutterable as certain slurs, spelled out like the S— word or something. Shouldn't we only discuss what takes place on screen and that's it? Well, I'm not sure in which galaxy you live, but on Planet Earth, what happens off screen affects – oftentimes radically so – what we get to watch on screen (and how we get to watch it, too).
Imagine someone discussing Cleopatra without mentioning the Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton affair and the behind-the-scenes goings-on. Or discussing Douglas Sirk's mother-daughter melo Imitation of Life, one of Universal's biggest pre-1960 hits, without mentioning Lana Turner's daughter fatally stabbing Turner's hoodlum lover Johnny Stompanato and the highly publicized trial that ensued. Or discussing Husbands and Wives without talking about the nasty Woody Allen-Mia Farrow breakup. Or, back to Elizabeth Taylor, talking about Cat on a Hot Tin Roof's stupendous box office performance without mentioning that the film opened at the height of the Elizabeth Taylor-Eddie Fisher-Debbie Reynolds to-do. The list goes on.
'The Scandal' and On the Road
Now, unlike some ardent Pattinson / Cosmopolis “defenders” insist, I don't believe the scandal helped On the Road for the simple fact that Walter Salles' movie opened five months later. The scandal is now old news. Had On the Road opened back in August, I'm quite sure its opening-weekend box office results would have been more impressive.
Oh, but Kristen Stewart was recently featured in all those premieres and awards-season roundtables and photo-ops. Yes, mostly followed by her fans, spread out all over the world. What would have truly helped On the Road at this time of year, in Los Angeles and in New York City, would have been strong local reviews; tons of billboards, and TV, print, and online ads; plus a few awards here and there. None of that happened.
Box Office reports
But why discuss box office reports? Who cares about box office grosses? Cosmopolis is a great movie. On the Road is a wonderful movie. What does it matter if Cosmopolis bombed in the United States and failed to get even close to reaching its $20 million budget at the worldwide box office? What does it matter if On the Road opened with highly disappointing figures in North America and may have failed to even match half its budget at the global box office?
Well, I'm sure that those films' investors and distributors think it matters. That David Cronenberg and Robert Pattinson and Walter Salles and Garrett Hedlund and Sam Riley and Kristen Stewart probably think it matters as well.
As for those who don't care, well, they should simply avoid reading box office articles. That would take care of their problem – because we certainly don't have an issue with that subject matter. And remember: No box office (and/or ancillary revenues) = no movies. If you believe it's all about “art,” then I have a couple of bridges, half a dozen mountains, and one huge waterfall to sell you.
Oh, well … This turned out to be much longer than the comments section in my On the Road post published last weekend. But that's life.
Kristen Stewart On the Road New York premiere photo via the On the Road Facebook page / IFC Films.
Kristen Stewart and Garrett Hedlund On the Road photo: IFC Films.
Robert Pattinson Cosmopolis photo: eOne Films.
Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley On the Road photo: IFC Films.