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How Do You Know Movie Box Office: James L. Brooks + Reese Witherspoon Romcom Is One of Century’s Biggest Bombs

How Do You Know movie Reese Witherspoon Owen WilsonHow Do You Know movie with Reese Witherspoon and Owen Wilson: James L. Brooks’ romantic comedy is a box office cataclysm in the making.
  • How Do You Know movie box office: Starring Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, and Jack Nicholson, James L. Brooks’ nine-figure romantic comedy is an unmitigated commercial disaster.
  • In other domestic box office news, John Cameron Mitchell’s Rabbit Hole and George Hickenlooper’s Casino Jack opened in limited release with less-than-impressive figures. Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart star in the former; Kevin Spacey and Kelly Preston in the latter.

How Do You Know movie box office: Starring Reese Witherspoon, James L. Brooks’ mega-budget romantic comedy is one of the century’s biggest duds

Dec. 17–19 weekend box office (cont.): Opening in eighth place, Sony Pictures’ critically panned romantic comedy How Do You Know can already be labeled one of the biggest box office disasters of the young century – or any other century.

Written, directed, and coproduced by multiple Academy Award winner James L. Brooks (as producer-writer-director for Terms of Endearment, 1983), and starring another Oscar winner, Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line, 2005) – alongside Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, and veteran (three-time) Oscar winner Jack Nicholson (see further below) – How Do You Know grossed a paltry $7.5 million from 2,483 North American (U.S. and Canada only) theaters according to final studio figures found at boxofficemojo.com.

That’s bad. But why is it “one of the biggest bombs of the century” bad?

Here’s the answer: How Do You Know cost a reported $120 million (as always, not including marketing and distribution expenses).

How Do You Know vs. previous James L. Brooks movies

Of course, it’s all but impossible to compare the box office performance of How Do You Know to those of James L. Brooks’ early hits Terms of Endearment and Broadcast News, as film distribution patterns in the 1980s were markedly different. In fact, back in those days movie theaters themselves were different – generally much bigger (i.e., more tickets could be sold per venue).

Having said that, we can compare How Do You Know to Brooks’ previous directorial effort, Spanglish.

Starring Adam Sandler, Paz Vega, and Téa Leoni, the $80 million romantic comedy opened with $8.8 million from 2,438 locations in mid-December 2004, ending its run with an underwhelming $42.7 million domestically and an abysmal $12.3 million (likely incomplete) internationally.

With no chance of any awards-season love, domestic prospects for How Do You Know are less than promising, while the lack of buzz-creating Oscar nominations should doom its international chances, especially considering that none of its four stars are notable overseas box office draws.

The story of a cute softball player (Reese Witherspoon) torn between a fun but immature baseball player (Owen Wilson) and a troubled business executive (Paul Rudd), How Do You Know also features Dean Norris, Kathryn Hahn, Andrew Wilson, Shelley Conn, Tony Shalhoub, and Mark-Linn Baker.

Reese Witherspoon needs a major hit

Now, besides being James L. Brooks’ second back-to-back flop this century – he has directed only two movies* since the 1997 hit As Good as It GetsHow Do You Know also happens to be Reese Witherspoon’s latest dud.

Earlier in the century, Witherspoon had her share of profitable hits (e.g., Legally Blonde, Sweet Home Alabama), but apart from James Mangold’s Walk the Line ($119.5 million domestically, $186.8 million worldwide on a $28 million budget) the Best Actress Oscar winner hasn’t had much box office luck in the last five years.†

Mark Waters’ 2005 romantic fantasy Just Like Heaven (budget: $58 million) underperformed ($48.3 million domestically; $102.9 million worldwide), while Gavin Hood’s 2007 political thriller Rendition ended its domestic run with a measly $9.7 million ($27.1 million worldwide). Even the $120.1 million domestic gross ($164.1 million worldwide) of Seth Gordon’s 2008 comedy Four Christmases looks less than remarkable next to its $80 million price tag.

Besides, Mark Palansky’s 2008 (shot in 2006) romantic comedy fantasy Penelope, which Witherspoon coproduced (she is also featured in a small but key role), pulled in only $10 million in the U.S. and Canada ($21.2 million worldwide).

It remains to be seen whether Reese Witherspoon will make a decisive box office comeback with Francis Lawrence’s Water for Elephants, costarring The Twilight Saga’s Robert Pattinson and Oscar winner Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds, 2009). The circus-set period romantic drama opens next April. (Update: Water for Elephants turned out to be a modest box office performer.)

* James L. Brooks was one of the many hands that wrote – and produced – 20th Century Fox’s animated blockbuster The Simpsons.

† DreamWorks Animation’s (costly) global hit Monsters vs. Aliens, which features Reese Witherspoon’s voice, was left out for obvious reasons.

Global box office catastrophe

Update: James L. Brooks’ How Do You Know ultimately collected $30.2 million domestically and $18.5 million (likely incomplete) internationally. Worldwide total: A disastrous $48.7 million.

Its top international markets were Germany ($3.1 million), Australia ($2.7 million), Spain ($1.6 million), Russia/CIS ($1.6 million), and the United Kingdom/Ireland ($1.2 million).

Rabbit Hole movie Nicole Kidman Miles TellerRabbit Hole movie with Nicole Kidman and Miles Teller. In John Cameron Mitchell’s psychological drama, Kidman and Aaron Eckhart play a couple grieving the death of their four-year-old child in a car accident. Also in the cast: Dianne Wiest, Tammy Blanchard, Giancarlo Esposito, and Sandra Oh.

Rabbit Hole opens modestly, Casino Jack is an outright flop

Lastly, also opening this weekend in limited release were John Cameron Mitchell’s psychological drama Rabbit Hole, starring Oscar winner Nicole Kidman (The Hours, 2002) and Aaron Eckhart, and George Hickenlooper’s political comedy-drama Casino Jack, starring two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey (The Usual Suspects, 1995; American Beauty, 1999) and Kelly Preston.

Set universes away from Mitchell’s previous two features, the rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch and the sexually explicit relationship comedy Shortbus, the Lionsgate-distributed Rabbit Hole brought in $54,000 from five theaters, averaging a no-more-than-passable $10,755 per venue. With a lot of awards-season luck, Rabbit Hole may end up matching – but not recovering – its $5 million budget in the domestic market.

An ATO Pictures release, Casino Jack had a more problematic debut, taking in only $34,500 from seven theaters, or $4,932 per venue. Chances are this $12.5 million portrayal of the wholesale corruption of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, working in tandem with officials and representatives of the United Sates’ Republican Party, will have trouble reaching as little as $500,000 at the end of its domestic run.

Update: John Cameron Mitchell’s Rabbit Hole ultimately collected $2.2 million domestically and $2.9 million (likely incomplete) internationally. Worldwide total: A far-less-than-profitable $5.1 million.

The Kevin Spacey star vehicle Casino Jack ultimately collected $1 million domestically and $167,000 (likely incomplete) internationally. Worldwide total: A dismal $1.2 million.


How Do You Know Movie Box Office: James L. Brooks” endnotes

For the record, Jack Nicholson’s three Academy Award wins: Best Actor for Milos Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and James L. Brooks’ As Good As It Gets (1997); Best Supporting Actor for Brooks’ Terms of Endearment (1983).

Unless otherwise noted, “How Do You Know Movie Box Office: James L. Brooks + Reese Witherspoon Romcom Is One of Century’s Biggest Bombs” box office information via Box Office Mojo. Budget info – which should be taken with a grain of salt – via BOM and/or other sources (e.g., the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Screen Daily, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Deadline.com, etc.).

Comments about How Do You Know, Rabbit Hole, Casino Jack, and other titles being hits/profitable or flops/money-losers at the box office (see paragraph below) are based on the available data about their production budget, additional marketing and distribution expenses (as a general rule of thumb, around 50 percent of the production cost), and worldwide gross (as a general rule of thumb when it comes to the Hollywood studios, around 50–55 percent of the domestic gross and 40 percent of the international gross goes to the distributing/producing companies).

Bear in mind that data regarding rebates, domestic/international sales/pre-sales, and other credits and/or contractual details that help to alleviate/split production costs and apportion revenues are oftentimes unavailable, and that reported international grosses may be incomplete (i.e., not every territory is fully – or even partially – accounted for).

Also bear in mind that ancillary revenues (domestic/global television rights, home video sales, streaming, merchandising, etc.) can represent anywhere between 40–70 percent of a movie’s total take. However, these revenues and their apportionment are only infrequently made public.

Owen Wilson and Reese Witherspoon How Do You Know movie image: David James | Columbia Pictures.

Miles Teller and Nicole Kidman Rabbit Hole movie image: Lionsgate.

How Do You Know Movie Box Office: James L. Brooks + Reese Witherspoon Romcom Is One of Century’s Biggest Bombs” last updated in February 2023.

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