Kristen Stewart, Garrett Hedlund 'On the Road' has disappointing North American box office debut
Directed by Walter Salles, and starring Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley, and Kristen Stewart, On the Road had a surprisingly soft bow at the North American box office this weekend, Dec. 21-23. The IFC Films-distributed drama based on Jack Kerouac's classic novel grossed $43,200 at four locations, averaging a modest $10,800 per site according to weekend estimates found at Deadline.com. (Image: Kristen Stewart as Marylou, On the Road.)
It remains to be seen whether or not On the Road will manage to gain some much-needed stamina throughout the Christmas / New Year's holiday season. At the North American box office, the weekend before Christmas tends to be quite low key; but even taking that into account, On the Road's debut was quite disappointing when one considers the presence of TRON: Legacy's Garrett Hedlund and Snow White and the Huntsman / Breaking Dawn - Part 2's Kristen Stewart – not to mention Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, and Kirsten Dunst in supporting roles. Plus the behind-the-scenes prestige of director Walter Salles, The Motorcycle Diaries screenwriter José Rivera, and executive producer Francis Ford Coppola.
On the Road vs. Amour, The Impossible
For comparison's sake: At three locations, Michael Haneke's widely acclaimed Palme d'Or winner Amour took in $70,700, averaging $23,567 per site according to studio estimates found at Box Office Mojo. And the French-language Amour is hardly an audience-friendly flick: veterans Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, neither of whom means anything to the vast majority of (ignorant) U.S. moviegoers, play an elderly couple facing illness and death.
Also, Juan Antonio Bayona's tsunami drama The Impossible, starring Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, debuted with an estimated $139,000 at 15 venues, averaging $9,267 per site. That's a lower per-theater average than On the Road's – but at nearly four times more theaters. All things being equal, the fewer the number of theaters, the higher the per-theater average should be. In other words: relatively speaking, The Impossible opened much more strongly than On the Road.
And of course, there's no comparison to Kathryn Bigelow's generally acclaimed and highly controversial Zero Dark Thirty, which has been getting lots of awards-season / Academy Award buzz, in addition to tons of free publicity from outraged CIA honchos and U.S. congressmen and women. Featuring Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, and Jennifer Ehle, Zero Dark Thirty scored an estimated $410,000 at five locations, or $82,000 per site – despite having blown off some steam following its Wednesday debut. (See also: “Tom Cruise Jack Reacher: WTF or Acceptable Second Spot?.”)
Even IFC Films' own The Central Park Five – Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon's documentary about a gross miscarriage of justice committed in New York City in the early '90s – collected $30,570 on its opening weekend at three locations in late November, averaging $10,190 per site. That's about the same level as the star-studded On the Road.
Now, had either Garrett Hedlund or Kristen Stewart – or both – earned early awards-season mentions from U.S.-based critics' groups, the Screen Actors Guild, or the Golden Globes, things would likely have been quite different for On the Road at the domestic box office. However, that didn't happen. In fact, On the Road has been all but ignored so far.
On the Road vs. Walter Salles' The Motorcycle Diaries, Central Station; David Cronenberg / Robert Pattinson's Cosmopolis
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. (Image: 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 $934,000. 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 Marylou, 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.
Photo: Kristen Stewart as Marylou, On the Road photo: IFC Films.