'On the Road' has hugely disappointing U.S. box office debut
Dec. 24: Directed by Walter Salles, and starring Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley, and Kristen Stewart, On the Road had a surprisingly soft bow at the U.S. box office this past weekend, Dec. 21–23. Based on Jack Kerouac's classic 1957 novel, the IFC Films/Sundance Selects-distributed drama – which recently underwent a narrative restructuring to make it more palatable to American audiences – grossed an estimated $39,550 at four locations, averaging an anemic $9,888 per site.
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 extremely disappointing when one considers the presence of TRON: Legacy actor Garrett Hedlund, and Snow White and the Huntsman and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 actress Kristen Stewart – doing things that Bella could only dream of doing with Edward and Jacob.
Not to mention big names such as Best Actor Academy Award nominee Viggo Mortensen (Eastern Promises, 2007), three-time Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee Amy Adams (Junebug, 2005; Doubt, 2008; The Fighter, 2010), and Bring It On and Spider-Man actress 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 (Best Director Oscar winner for The Godfather: Part II, 1974).
It remains to be seen whether or not On the Road will gain some much-needed traction throughout the Christmas 2012/New Year's holiday season.
'On the Road': U.S. box office bomb
May 2013 update: Following its lackluster U.S. debut, On the Road went from anemic to comatose. Even so, possibly due to contractual obligations, in late March/early April 2013 IFC Films added, in a couple of installments, 68 locations.
The result was dismal: $1,005 per-theater average on weekend no. 9 (April 5–7). Three weeks later, Walter Salles' road movie was all but gone from U.S. screens.
On the Road ultimately cumed at an embarrassing $744,296 in “North America” (apparently only in the U.S.; i.e., not including Canada). That's far from being enough to cover IFC Films' reported low-seven-figure purchase of the American distribution rights.
Had any of the film's above-the-line talent been singled out by U.S.-based critics' groups, the Screen Actors Guild, the Golden Globes, and/or the Academy Awards, things would likely have been quite different at the American box office. But that didn't happen. In fact, On the Road was all but completely ignored this past awards season.
'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 $68,266, averaging $22,755 per site according to [updated box office actuals] found at Box Office Mojo.
Keep in mind that the French-language Amour is hardly an audience-friendly flick: veterans Jean-Louis Trintignant (Z, The Conformist) and Emmanuelle Riva (Hiroshima Mon Amour, Kapò), neither of whom means anything to the vast majority of (ignorant) U.S. moviegoers, play an elderly couple facing illness and death.
Here's another comparison: starring Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, Juan Antonio Bayona's tsunami drama The Impossible (coincidentally distributed by Twilight's Summit Entertainment), debuted with $143,818 at 15 venues, averaging $9,588 per site. That's a lower per-theater average than that of On the Road – but at nearly four times more locations.
Remember, all things being equal, the fewer the number of theaters the higher the per-site average should be. In other words: relatively speaking, The Impossible had an opening four times stronger than that of On the Road.
The Impossible, by the way, is the highest-grossing movie of the year at the Spanish box office: $52.99 million, far ahead of its runner-up, Breaking Dawn - Part 2, which has raked in $27.95 million.
The Impossible also happens to be Spain's second-biggest box office blockbuster of the last decade, trailing only the James Cameron-Sam Worthington collaboration Avatar, which pulled in a gigantic $109.99 million in late 2009/early 2010.
Also of note, Juan Antonio Bayona had a previous no. 1 hit at the Spanish box office: the atmospheric psychological/horror drama The Orphanage / El Orfanato, starring Belén Rueda, which scored $37.72 million in 2007.
Sergio G. Sánchez's The Impossible screenplay is based on the experiences of Spanish physician and motivational speaker María Belón and her family, obviously Anglicized so as to open up commercial possibilities in the subtitle-phobic U.S. market.
'On the Road' vs. 'Zero Dark Thirty' & 'The Central Park Five'
Of course, it would be unfair to compare On the Road to Kathryn Bigelow's generally well received and highly controversial Zero Dark Thirty, which has been getting lots of awards season buzz, in addition to tons of free publicity from outraged CIA honchos and U.S. congresspeople.
Featuring Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Ehle, and Chris Pratt, the $40 million political thriller about the hunt for Osama bin Laden scored $417,150 at five sites, or an outstanding $83,430 average – despite having blown off some steam following its Wednesday debut.
But how about comparing On the Road to IFC Films' own The Central Park Five? Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon's award-winning documentary about a racially tinged miscarriage of justice committed in New York City in the early 1990s collected $30,570 from three locations on its opening weekend a month ago. The Central Park Five averaged $10,190 per venue – or about $300 more than the star-studded On the Road.
'On the Road' vs. two previous Walter Salles movies: 'The Motorcycle Diaries' & 'Central Station'
Distributed by Focus Features, Walter Salles' Spanish-language The Motorcycle Diaries / Diarios de motocicleta, featuring Gael García Bernal, Rodrigo de la Serna, and Breaking Dawn - Part 2 actress Mia Maestro, debuted with $159,819 at three North American locations in late September 2004, averaging a remarkable $53,273 per site (approximately $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.
Back in 1998, the Portuguese-language Central Station / Central do Brasil, starring eventual Best Actress Academy Award nominee Fernanda Montenegro, averaged $17,854 (approx. $30,200 adjusted) at two locations on its opening weekend.
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, Central Station, which was also shortlisted for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, cumed at $5.59 million in North America.
'On the Road' vs. Robert Pattinson's 'Cosmopolis'
Starring Kristen Stewart's fellow Twilight Saga actor Robert Pattinson, Cosmopolis raked in $70,339 at three locations, averaging a respectable $23,446 per venue on its U.S. debut (via eOne Films) last August.
The film's initial bow was likely helped by the Kristen Stewart-Rupert Sanders to-do that in late summer kept the U.S. tabloid media in a state of frenzy for weeks. Yet, 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 reached a paltry $763,556 in North America (including Canada, where the movie had been released in the spring).
Like On the Road, Cosmopolis also boasts a name cast. Besides Robert Pattinson, featured in David Cronenberg's stream-of-consciousness white limo movie are:
Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Juliette Binoche (The English Patient, 1996).
Two-time Oscar nominee Samantha Morton (as Best Supporting Actress for Sweet and Lowdown, 1999; as Best Actress for In America, 2003).
Three-time Prix César winner Mathieu Amalric (as Most Promising Actor for My Sex Life… or How I Got Into an Argument, 1996; as Best Actor for Kings & Queen, 2004; The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, 2007).
Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee Paul Giamatti (Cinderella Man, 2005).
Sarah Gadon. Jay Baruchel. Kevin Durand. Emily Hampshire.
'On the Road' international box office & budget
According to figures – seemingly incomplete – found at Box Office Mojo, On the Road has collected $8.04 million internationally. Its top markets are France with $2.7 million, Brazil with $1.59 million, Italy with $1.13 million, and the U.K. 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 cost a reported $25 million. IFC Films acquired it for an amount “in the low seven figures.”
IFC Films' flops & 'On the Road' weak reviews
Something else worth noting is that IFC Films releases haven't been faring very well at all at the U.S. box office. The most successful 2012 IFC movie 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's generally prestigious entries 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.
Lastly, not helping matters for On the Road are its wildly mixed reviews. 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 Jan. 18, eight days after the 2013 Academy Award nominations are announced. Notwithstanding Kristen Stewart's visibility at various awards season functions, at this stage it doesn't seem likely that the film will be found in many – or any – Oscar categories.
'On the Road' cast
Besides the aforementioned Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart, Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, and Kirsten Dunst, the On the Road cast features:
Elisabeth Moss. Tom Sturridge. Alice Braga. Danny Morgan. Steve Buscemi.
'On the Road' box office post leads to numerous outraged comments
Update: This On the Road box office post has received dozens of comments. Below is a condensed version of a four-part, multi-author reply/clarification initially published in late December 2012.
Filled with a strong sense of moralistic outrage – but little sense of logical reasoning or factual information – a number of Robert Pattinson and/or Kristen Stewart fans/trolls have sent us a barrage of irate comments.
Some were infuriated by the fact that the article compares the U.S. opening-weekend box office performances of On the Road (Kristen Stewart) and Cosmopolis (Robert Pattinson). Worse yet, the post suggests that Cosmopolis was at first helped by the Robert Pattinson-Kristen Stewart-Rupert Sanders-Liberty Ross quadrangle scandal.
Of course, that sort of outrage comes with the territory. The Internet offers a great – and greatly disturbing – glimpse into humankind's (safely anonymous) sociopathic tendencies.
In all fairness, however, when it comes to the On the Road vs. Cosmopolis box office comparison, there are some things that could be made more clear.
“On the Road: Kristen Stewart Movie Flops + Fans Outraged Re: Robert Pattinson Indie Comparison” follow-up post: “Comparison Enrages Fans: Kristen Stewart Sexy Flop vs. Robert Pattinson Cool Bomb.”
Garrett Hedlund and Kristen Stewart On the Road images: IFC Films.
The Impossible trailer: Summit Entertainment.
Juliette Binoche Cosmopolis image: eOne Films.
“On the Road: Kristen Stewart Movie Flops + Fans Outraged Re: Robert Pattinson Indie Comparison” last updated in July 2018.