Killing Them Softly: Brad Pitt has his worst opening weekend ever at domestic box office
Brad Pitt, big guns and all, stars in Andrew Dominik’s New Orleans-set Killing Them Softly, an R-rated noirish crime drama The Weinstein Company acquired for domestic distribution at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Prior to Cannes 2012, where it generally received less than ecstatic reviews in addition to failing to win a single Official Competition award, Killing Them Softly was seen as a potential awards season contender. After all, Pitt and Dominik’s previous collaboration, the Western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, had been a critical favorite in several categories in late 2007.
But The Weinstein Company clearly didn’t have high hopes for their acquisition, dumping Killing Them Softly on the weekend after Thanksgiving, when no movie has grossed more than $10 million since the Charlize Theron action flick Aeon Flux (with $12.7 million) back in 2005. (Adjusted for inflation, Jim Sheridan’s 2009 drama Brothers, starring Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Tobey Maguire, would have earned a tiny bit over $10 million in 2012 dollars.)
Released at 2,424 North American locations on the weekend of Nov. 30–Dec. 2, Killing Them Softly was initially expected to take in around $8.5 million. Instead, it raked in an even more disastrous $6.81 million. A definite box office nadir for Brad Pitt.
Embarrassing ‘F’ CinemaScore
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.
Unless Killing Them Softly garners some unexpected critical support in the next couple of weeks, its awards season & Oscar chances are all but nil, at least in the top categories.
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 eventual domestic cume matches its production costs.
What’s more, one studio executive quoted at Deadline.com estimates – based on acquisition and distribution costs hovering around $27 million – that The Weinstein Company will lose more than $10 million on their investment.
Outside the U.S. and Canada, prospects haven’t been all that promising either, despite Brad Pitt’s presence: only $15 million up to Nov. 25 from about a dozen territories, including Australia, Russia/CIS, Italy, Spain, and top market U.K. (with $4.4 million).
Spring 2013 update: As found at boxofficemojo.com, Killing Them Softly cumed at a dismal $22.9 million at the international box office, for a worldwide total of $37.93 million. (International figures may be incomplete.)
Brad Pitt: Long-lasting star power
Brad Pitt’s career has had its ups and downs since he seduced Geena Davis in Ridley Scott’s 1991 sleeper hit Thelma & Louise, but Pitt – at times with the assistance of strong co-stars – has consistently helped his movies open with a splash in the domestic market. Examples (not adjusted for inflation) include:
- Neil Jordan’s Interview with the Vampire (1994), co-starring Tom Cruise, which debuted with $36.4 million.
- Gore Verbinski’s The Mexican (2001), co-starring Julia Roberts, with $20.1 million.
- Steven Soderbergh’s all-star Ocean’s Eleven (2001), co-starring Roberts, George Clooney, and Matt Damon, with $38.1 million.
- David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), co-starring Cate Blanchett, with $26.9 million.
- Bennett Miller’s baseball drama Moneyball (2011), which opened with a solid – for a baseball movie – $19.6 million.
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 $10 million, even without taking the trouble of adjusting grosses for inflation.
True, back in summer 1992, Cool World opened with $5.6 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 $1.5 million at 1,029 venues in April 1994, Brad Pitt was a member of an ensemble cast. The Favor could never be labeled a “Brad Pitt movie.”
Divine box office intervention not enough
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-budget The Devil’s Own (1997), which opened with $14.3 million (approx. $25 million today), cuming at $42.9 million.
- Martin Brest’s also $90 million-budget Meet Joe Black (1998), which kicked off with $15 million (also around $25 million today), cuming at $44.6 million.
Even if divine intervention were to have helped Killing Them Softly open with more than $10 million, once inflation is factored in, the Andrew Dominik thriller would still have trailed Brad Pitt’s two weakest domestic wide openings to date. These are:
- Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Seven Years in Tibet (1997), which debuted with $10 million (approx. $17 million today) at 2,103 sites.
- David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999), co-starring Edward Norton, which had an $11 million weekend kickoff (also around $17 million today) at 1,963 locations.
Killing not as bad as Assassination
Looking on the bright side, chances are Killing Them Softly will not become Brad Pitt’s worst domestic performer overall.
By the end of its run, the Andrew Dominik thriller should ultimately outgross two other Pitt movies that were launched 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.
- Terrence Malick’s Palme d’Or winner The Tree of Life, which, despite Best Picture and Best Director Academy Award nominations, ended its run with a quite modest $13.3 million last year.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, which also features Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell, Jeremy Renner, and Killing Them Softly actor Sam Shepard, reportedly had a $30 million budget.
Killing Them Softly cast
Besides Brad Pitt, the Killing Them Softly cast includes the following:
Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini, Max Casella, Vincent Curatola, Trevor Long, Garret Dillahunt, and Oscar nominees Richard Jenkins (The Visitor, 2008) and Sam Shepard (The Right Stuff, 1983).
Andrew Dominik himself adapted George V. Higgins’ novel Cogan’s Trade.
Breaking Dawn – Part 2 passes $250 million domestic
While Killing Them Softly was dead on arrival, Bill Condon’s The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner, easily topped the domestic box office chart for the third weekend in a row, collecting $17.4 million after a dramatic 60 percent drop. Yet that amount was enough for it to remain ahead of its key competitor, the Sam Mendes-Daniel Craig James Bond collaboration Skyfall (with $16.6 million).
Breaking Dawn – Part 2 is only the second – and last – Twilight movie to stay three consecutive weekends atop the U.S. and Canada chart, following Breaking Dawn – Part 1 last year.
In fall 2008, Catherine Hardwicke’s Twilight (which stars only Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson) was no. 3 on its second weekend, behind the Vince Vaughn-Reese Witherspoon comedy Four Christmases and the animated flick Bolt. The following year, Chris Weitz’s New Moon trailed the Sandra Bullock melodrama The Blind Side on weekend no. 3.
And in early summer 2010, David Slade’s Eclipse – which opened on a Wednesday – fell behind the animated hit Despicable Me on its second weekend out.
Breaking Dawn – Part 2 vs. New Moon
In addition to its three-peat, Breaking Dawn – Part 2 reached a box office milestone this past weekend, having passed the $250 million mark at the domestic box office. Total to date: $254.6 million.
For comparison’s sake: according to figures found at Box Office Mojo, New Moon had grossed $255.4 million by the end of its third weekend.
In other words: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 is closing in on New Moon in North America, though it’s unlikely it’ll be able to surpass it, especially if higher ticket prices are taken into account. Adjusted for inflation, New Moon‘s three-weekend cume was $270 million.
Strong international box office
Dec. 24 update: Starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner, Bill Condon’s The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 has to date scored a remarkable – though, paradoxically, disappointing – $281.6 million in the domestic market.
Why disappointing? Well, the climactic final installment in the Twilight Saga franchise is still lagging behind two previous sequels: Eclipse and New Moon.
The Good news: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 (not taking into account currency fluctuations) is the Twilight Saga‘s indisputable champ internationally: even without China, it has reached $501.4 million outside the U.S. and Canada, for a worldwide total of $781.2 million. The $800 million global milestone is definitely within reach.
Breaking Dawn – Part 2‘s top international markets are the following:
- The United Kingdom with $55.7 million.
- Brazil with $47.1 million.
- Russia/CIS with $42.7 million.
- France with $36.2 million.
- Germany with $33.9 million.
- Australia with $28.9 million.
- Mexico with $28.4 million.
- Spain with $28 million.
- Italy with $24.1 million.
Spring 2013 update: As found at Box Office Mojo, Breaking Dawn – Part 2 reached $829.7 million worldwide. Its top three international markets were the U.K. with $57.9 million, Brazil with $54.2 million, and Russia/CIS with $42.8 million.
Breaking Dawn – Part 2 cast
In Breaking Dawn – Part 2, centenarian vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and newborn vampire Bella Swan-Cullen (Kristen Stewart) have a little hybrid daughter (Bella was still human when she became pregnant): that’s the weirdly named Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy), who is inadvertently mistaken for a child vampire. The consequences are dire: the little girl – and the family shielding her – must all be destroyed by the fearsome Vulturi.
Besides Stewart, Pattinson, Foy, and Lautner, the multispecies Breaking Dawn – Part 2 cast includes:
Maggie Grace, Elizabeth Reaser, Kellan Lutz, Rami Malek, Peter Facinelli, Ashley Greene, Nikki Reed, Dakota Fanning, Jackson Rathbone, Michael Sheen, Christian Camargo, Mia Maestro, Lee Pace, Casey LaBow, Amadou Ly, MyAnna Buring, Daniel Cudmore, Jamie Campbell Bower, Omar Metwally, Christopher Heyerdahl, Cameron Bright, Erik Odom, Marlane Barnes, Billy Burke, Julia Jones, and Bronson Pelletier.
Melissa Rosenberg adapted Stephenie Meyer’s fourth and final Twilight Saga novel, split into two parts for the big screen.
‘Lincoln’ film box office: Stronger than expected debut
Nov. 12: On the Nov. 9–11 weekend, Steven Spielberg’s eagerly awaited Lincoln film, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th U.S. president, opened with a remarkable $944,308 at 11 North American locations. Its per-theater average was $85,846, the 23rd highest ever – or rather, since 1982 and not factoring in inflation.
At Box Office Mojo, it’s found on the “highest per-theater average” chart (i.e., post-1982) sandwiched between Tom Hooper’s eventual Best Picture Oscar winner The King’s Speech ($88,863 in 2010), starring Colin Firth, and Rob Marshall’s Kyoto-set period drama Memoirs of a Geisha ($85,313 in 2005), starring Zhang Ziyi.
Spielberg’s period political drama is also quite a bit ahead of Stephen Gaghan’s current (2005) political drama Syriana ($74,900), featuring George Clooney and Matt Damon.
Adjusted for inflation, Lincoln enjoyed a still-remarkable – though somewhat less impressive – opening: it’s no. 56* on the all-time chart, sandwiched between Oliver Stone’s eventual Best Picture Oscar winner Platoon ($85,992 in 1986) and Davis Guggenheim’s eventual Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth ($85,257 in 2006).
Now, Platoon and An Inconvenient Truth opened at, respectively, six and four locations. Remember, all things being equal, the fewer the number of theaters, the higher the per-theater average should be. (It should be noted that the number of available seats per theater is unknown.)
In terms of inflation-adjusted box office performance in relation to the number of theaters, a more apt comparison would thus be Jason Reitman’s eventual Best Picture Oscar nominee Up in the Air, starring George Clooney, which averaged $82,178 at 15 venues in early December 2009.
* Curiously, Box Office Mojo’s inflation-adjusted per-theater averages don’t seem to reflect box office actuals, but the adjusted amount based on weekend estimates.
How far will Spielberg’s political drama go?
Up in the Air went on to gross a solid – though hardly blockbustery – $82.83 million domestically – or (approx.) an inflation-adjusted $85 million. But to expect Spielberg’s Lincoln film to follow a similar trajectory to that of Reitman’s modern-day, socially conscious comedy-drama would be foolish as the two efforts have radically different themes and star attractions.
Better comparisons would be a couple of Oscar-winning political dramas about historical leaders played by actors who were not box office draws:
- Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982), starring Ben Kingsley, cumed at an adjusted $133 million.
- Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (1987), starring John Lone, cumed at $85 million.
For the record, Daniel Day-Lewis’ most recent two movies failed to crack the $50 million mark in the domestic market:
- Rob Marshall’s big-budget, all-star musical Nine (2009) cumed at a paltry $19.67 million.
- Paul Thomas Anderson’s drama There Will Be Blood (2007), which earned Day-Lewis that year’s Best Actor Academy Award, took in $40.22 million.
And then there’s Rebecca Miller’s indie The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005), which topped at a measly $712,275.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire competitor
The mainstream appeal of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln film will be put to the test next weekend. Next Friday, it’ll expand to 1,500 U.S. and Canadian venues.
Competition from Bill Condon’s The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner, should not affect the box office performance of the adult-oriented political drama.
Whereas Twilight moviegoers tend to be very young and very female, according to reports Lincoln‘s first-weekend audience consisted mostly (67 percent) of those over 35, skewing male (55 percent).
Spring 2013 update: Largely thanks to enthusiastic reviews, plenty of awards season buzz, and a Best Actor Oscar for Daniel Day-Lewis, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln film far surpassed expectations in the domestic market, ultimately cuming at $182.2 million.
As expected, the political drama about a pivotal time in U.S. history had a much weaker pull internationally, collecting a respectable though hardly outstanding $93.08 million, as per figures found at Box Office Mojo.
‘Lincoln’ film cast
In addition to two-time Best Actor Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis (My Left Foot, 1989; There Will Be Blood, 2007), the prestigious, male-dominated cast of Spielberg’s Lincoln film includes the following:
Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive, 1993) as Thaddeus Stevens, U.S. House of Representatives member from Pennsylvania.
Best Actor Oscar nominee David Strathairn (Good Night and Good Luck., 2005).
Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee Hal Holbrook (Into the Wild, 2007).
Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone, 2010).
Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee Jackie Earle Haley (Little Children, 2006).
In addition to: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Lee Pace, Tim Blake Nelson, Jared Harris, Joseph Cross, Bruce McGill, and Michael Stuhlbarg.
Tony Kushner was credited for the screenplay based on several segments found in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 2005 book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.
Strong reviews and early Oscar buzz have surely helped the domestic box office performance of this historical drama about U.S. President Abraham Lincoln’s fight to put an end to slavery in the United States. The film currently boasts a 94 percent approval rating and 8.4/10 average among Rotten Tomatoes‘ top critics.
Mary Todd Lincoln actresses
- Kay Hammond† (Abraham Lincoln, 1930).
- Leila McIntyre (The Plainsman & The Prisoner of Shark Island, both 1936 releases).
- Marjorie Weaver (while still known as Mary Todd in Young Mr. Lincoln, 1939).
- Ruth Gordon (Abe Lincoln in Illinois, 1940).
- Sada Thompson (Lincoln, 1974–1976, TV).
- Julie Harris (The Last of Mrs. Lincoln, 1976, TV).
- Mary Tyler Moore (Lincoln, 1988, TV).
- Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, 2012).
† This American actress is not to be confused with the better-known British stage and film actress featured in Sleeping Car and Blithe Spirit.
Images of Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln and Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln: DreamWorks / Walt Disney Studios.
“Lincoln Film: Steven Spielberg Period Political Drama Far Surpasses Expectations” last updated in July 2018.
Denzel Washington aviation drama Flight has strong, but hardly sensational debut
Denzel Washington’s R-rated drama Flight, Robert Zemeckis’ first live-action feature since 2000, way overperformed as the no. 2 movie on the North American box office chart this weekend, Nov. 2–4. With an estimated $25.1 million at 1,884 locations, Flight trailed only Disney’s 3D animated feature Wreck-It Ralph‘s estimated $49.1 million at 3,752 venues according to studio figures found at Box Office Mojo.
Wreck-It Ralph, by the way, has been hailed as a – non-Pixar – Disney record. It could well be – weekend box office actuals come out on Monday – but only if you choose to ignore pesky details such as inflation, and the fact that Tangled collected $48.8 million on its “opening weekend” even though that film had a Wednesday debut. Talk about comparing apples and bananas.
Back to Denzel Washington and Flight: Budgeted at $31 million (as per the Los Angeles Times) or $45 million (as per Deadline), not including marketing and distribution (and upcoming awards-season) expenses, Flight averaged a strong – particularly for an R-rated movie – $13,275 per theater. That’s higher than Wreck-It Ralph‘s $13,086, but before claiming that the adult movie was more successful than the kiddie flick, bear in mind that you’re comparing apples and mangoes here: Wreck-It Ralph has the advantage of 3D surcharges; Flight has the relative advantage of being screened at fewer locations. All things being equal, the lower the number of theaters, the higher the per-theater average should be.
Now, is Flight a gigantic Denzel Washington success like some have been claiming? Hardly. Despite the film’s much better-than-expected opening, one must remember it wasn’t that long ago – like, last February – that Daniel Espinosa’s R-rated Safe House opened with $40.2 million at 3,119 theaters, averaging $12,880 per site. Back in 2010, The Book of Eli debuted with $32.78 million at 3,111 locations, averaging $10,540 per site. And even The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, considered a major box office disappointment, opened in June 2009 with $23.4 million ($25.12 million adjusted for inflation) at 3,074 locations, averaging $8,200.
Flight‘s only chance to reach $100 or whereabouts is if the movie – like Ben Affleck’s Argo – continues to get solid buzz this awards season. And remember, $100 million in 2012 ain’t what it used to be. Something called inflation.
Is Denzel Washington a top domestic box office draw?
Though considered a top box office draw in the United States (and to a lesser extent overseas), only three Denzel Washington movies have grossed more than $150 million at the domestic box office – and even then, only after factoring in inflation: The Pelican Brief, co-starring Julia Roberts, which scored an adjusted $194 million back in 1994; Crimson Tide, co-starring Gene Hackman, with $168 million in 1995; and Remember the Titans, with $171 million in 2000. Notice that two of those titles feature strong co-stars and that Washington’s last truly major box office hit was released twelve years ago.
Without taking inflation into account, so far this century only two Denzel Washington movies have grossed more than $100 million in the U.S. and Canada, both featuring another leading man besides Washington: the aforementioned Safe House, co-starring Ryan Reynolds, took in $126.2 million, while Ridley Scott’s American Gangster, co-starring Russell Crowe, pulled in $130.2 million in late 2007.
Once you factor in inflation, Washington has only three more over-$100 million hits since 2000: Antoine Fuqua’s Training Day, co-starring Ethan Hawke, with approximately $108 million in 2012 dollars; Tony Scott’s Man on Fire, with approx. $100 million; and Spike Lee’s 2006 thriller Inside Man, co-starring Clive Owen and Jodie Foster, with approx. $108 million.
Note that not one of those titles managed to surpass the inflation-adjusted $110 million mark. Really, it’s time for the $100 million box office bar to be raised to $110 million or $120 million or $130 million. Else, the way things are going in a few years just about every wide release will be reaching the magical $100 million milestone.
Robert Zemeckis’ previous two live-action movies
For the record, Robert Zemeckis’ two live-action 2000 releases were the Harrison Ford / Michelle Pfeiffer thriller What Lies Beneath and the Tom Hanks / Helen Hunt Robinson Crusoe-ish drama Cast Away. Both PG-13 movies, I should add, opened with much stronger inflation-adjusted box office figures than Flight: What Lies Beneath with approx. $44 million and $15,700 per site, and Cast Away with approx. $43 million and $15,500 per site.
Denzel Washington Flight image: Paramount Pictures.
Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph, a potential Best Animated Feature Academy Award nominee, will easily top the North American box office this weekend, Nov. 2–4. Wreck-It Ralph is expected to collect somewhere around $50 million at 3,752 locations after taking in an estimated (3D-boosted) $13.5 million on Friday according to early, rough estimates found at Deadline.com. (Image: Wreck-It Ralph voiced by John C. Reilly.)
Directed by Rich Moore, Wreck-It Ralph features the voices of Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch, John C. Reilly, Alan Tudyk, and Ed O’Neill.
Flight has solid opening
At no. 2 for the weekend, the Denzel Washington vehicle Flight is expected to collect $23 million at 1,900 locations, after bringing in an estimated $8 million on Friday. If so, that’ll be a solid opening for the R-rated Flight: approximately $12,000 per theater. The Robert Zemeckis-directed psychological drama reportedly cost $45 million. Also in the Flight cast: Melissa Leo, Bruce Greenwood, Brian Geraghty, Kelly Reilly, Don Cheadle, and John Goodman.
The Man with the Iron Fists bombs
Ben Affleck’s Argo is expected to be the no. 3 movie for the weekend, with around $9 million. Right behind it should be RZA’s The Man with the Iron Fists, featuring Cung Le, Rick Yune, Russell Crowe, and Lucy Liu, and the weekend’s box office bomb with $8.5 million at 1,868 runs. Though made for only $15 million, The Man with the Iron Fists will likely have trouble matching – let alone recovering – its quite modest budget at the domestic box office. International prospects look slim at best.
Remember, those are early, rough, unofficial figures. Official Friday box office estimates come out Saturday morning. The distributors’ weekend estimates will be made available on Sunday.
Brad Pitt Killing Them Softly images: The Weinstein Company.
The vampire Benjamin a.k.a. Rami Malek, Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Foy Breaking Dawn – Part 2 images: Summit Entertainment.
“Killing Them Softly: Brad Pitt Worst Wide Box Office Debut Ever + Another Twilight Landmark” last updated in July 2018.