Kristen Stewart flop 'On the Road' vs. Robert Pattinson flop 'Cosmopolis': Why the comparison?
(See previous post: “Box Office Comparisons: Kristen Stewart On the Road Movie Flops.”) Why the On the Road vs. Cosmopolis comparison found in the previous post? For those who've been having trouble understanding what should have been obvious, here's why:
a) Both On the Road and Cosmopolis are arthouse movies that were deemed “quality” enough to have been screened at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival's Official Competition for the Palme d'Or.
b) Both On the Road and Cosmopolis were distributed in the United States by a relatively small indie company. As mentioned in the previous post, IFC Films handled On the Road. Cosmopolis was handled by eOne Films, whose parent company, eOne, is big in Canada and the U.K. (where they distribute the Twilight movies) – but not in the U.S.
c) Both On the Road and Cosmopolis are uncommercial, highly personal English-language projects, featuring a loose, episodic, stream-of-consciousness narrative. Coincidentally, automobiles serve as a key setting in both films.
d) Both On the Road and Cosmopolis were directed by well-respected “arthouse filmmakers” (Walter Salles, David Cronenberg), and feature a “name” supporting cast (e.g., Amy Adams, Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst in On the Road; Juliette Binoche, Jay Baruchel, Paul Giamatti in Cosmopolis).
e) Both On the Road and Cosmopolis had similar (reported) budgets: On the Road, $25 million; Cosmopolis, $20 million.
f) Both On the Road and Cosmopolis received mixed reviews in North America. Among Rotten Tomatoes' top critics, On the Road has a 42 percent score and 5.9/10 average (19 reviews); Cosmopolis has a 50 percent score and 5.7/10 average (28 reviews).
g) Both On the Road and Cosmopolis feature at least one internationally known Hollywood celebrity in a lead or semi-lead role: Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, respectively. If that weren't all, both films feature a performer who also starred in the highly popular Twilight Saga movie franchise: once again, Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson.
h) Both On the Road and Cosmopolis came out as “micro-platform releases” in the U.S. See below.
Platform releases: 'On the Road' vs. 'Cosmopolis'
Platform releases – i.e., screenings at up to a few hundred theaters – are those through which a distributor tests the box office waters before spending extra cash opening their film in more markets. 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.
Movies distributed in that manner, such as On the Road and Cosmopolis, open at only a handful of theaters. If the per-theater averages are good – or great – the film expands; i.e., it opens at more theaters.
But what's a “good” or “great” per-theater average for a micro-platform release?
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. (See On the Road vs. The Impossible in the previous post.)
In general, if a film in a micro-platform release –2–6 locations or so – opens below $20,000–$30,000, chances are the movie in question will have a small expansion. Or no expansion at all.
One possibility is that the distributor will 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 until the film disappears from movie houses.
The 'Cosmopolis' case
Following its expansion from three to 63 locations on weekend no. 2, Cosmopolis' good – though hardly outstanding – $23,446 per-theater average plummeted to $2,429. Two weeks later, only 45 theaters were showing Cosmopolis in the U.S. Two weeks after that, only nine.
Why the decrease?
Once again, if a movie in platform release doesn't find an 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, chances are distributors will not want to increase their distribution/marketing expenses to release likely unprofitable movies in smaller markets.
Kristen Stewart-Rupert Sanders scandal box office influence?
Regarding our suggestion in the previous post that the Kristen Stewart-Rupert Sanders scandal helped Cosmopolis on its first weekend out in North America, do we have hard proof that it did?
Of course not. One would need to interview those people who bought tickets – and make sure they'd be telling the truth.
But stop and think for a moment: eOne Films has scheduled Cosmopolis' U.S. release for mid-August. Following the scandal in late July, Robert Pattinson disappears for several weeks only to resurface at his film's New York City premiere. He's later interviewed on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show. The entertainment and tabloid media passionately cover the event.
Are we then to believe that Cosmopolis didn't have its visibility dramatically increased at the time?
That, in fact, might help to explain the film's 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, the post-scandal 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 & the box office
But how dare we mention The Scandal? Shouldn't we only discuss what takes place on screen?
Well, we're 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).
Or discussing Douglas Sirk's mother-daughter melodrama Imitation of Life (1959), 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, back to Taylor, discussing Richard Brooks' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and its stupendous box office performance without mentioning that the film opened as the Elizabeth Taylor-Eddie Fisher-Debbie Reynolds scandal was about to explode.
The list goes on.
What about 'On the Road'?
The scandal likely didn't help On the Road for the simple fact that Walter Salles' movie opened in the U.S. five months later. What was found in supermarket, online, and television tabloids back in July is now old news. Had On the Road debuted in the U.S. back in August, its opening-weekend box office results would likely have been more impressive.
Oh, but Kristen Stewart has been recently seen at all those premieres and awards season roundtables and photo-ops. Yes, and those premieres and roundtables and photo-ops were mostly followed by her fans, spread out all over the world.
What would truly have helped On the Road at this time of year, in Los Angeles and 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, but, but … why discuss box office reports? Who cares about box office grosses?
According to some fans, Cosmopolis is a great movie. According to other fans, On the Road is a fantastic 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 ultimately fail to match even as little as half its budget at the global box office?
Well, we're sure that these 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 think it matters as well.
As for those who don't care, well, they should simply avoid reading box office reports. That would take care of their problem.
And remember: no box office (and/or ancillary revenues) = no movies. If you believe it's all about “art,” then we've got a couple of bridges, half a dozen mountain ranges, and one huge waterfall to sell you.
Photo of Kristen Stewart at New York City's On the Road premiere via the On the Road Facebook page / IFC Films.
Robert Pattinson Cosmopolis image: eOne Films.
Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Stewart, and Rupert Sanders Snow White and the Huntsman image: Universal Pictures.
“Kristen Stewart Sexy Flop vs. Robert Pattinson Cool Bomb Comparison Enrages Fans” last updated in July 2018.