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The Way Back Movie Box Office: ‘Inspirational’ Survival Tale Is Hopeless Commercial Dud

The Way Back movie Ed HarrisThe Way Back movie with Ed Harris: An “inspirational” Survival of the Human Spirit tale, Peter Weir’s latest is a domestic box office disaster.
  • The Way Back movie box office: Based on a purportedly true story – Soviet gulag escapees find freedom after walking 6,500 km through deserts and snow-capped peaks – Peter Weir’s “inspirational” adventure tale has turned out to be a hopeless commercial fiasco. Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell, Ed Harris, and Saoirse Ronan star.

The Way Back movie box office: Peter Weir’s ‘inspirational’ (purportedly) real-life-based adventure drama is a disaster in the domestic market

Jan. 21–23 weekend box office (cont.): Following a brief, Oscar-qualifying run in Los Angeles in late 2010, Peter Weir’s (purportedly) real-life-based adventure drama The Way Back opened nationwide at 678 theaters, grossing a mere $1.2 million – no. 15 on the box office chart – according to final studio figures found at boxofficemojo.com.

Greeted by mixed-to-positive reviews, the Newmarket Films release averaged a dismal $1,797 per location – made even worse by the fact that The Way Back is screening at relatively few venues. (All things being equal, the fewer the number of venues, the higher the per-theater average should be.)

Budgeted at $30 million (as always, not including marketing and distribution expenses), The Way Back will be lucky if it reaches $5 million domestically. As a matter of fact, the adventure drama could become Weir’s lowest-grossing movie of the last three decades in the U.S. and Canada, earning even less than the Australian-made Gallipoli back in 1981 ($5.7 million, not adjusted for inflation).

Update: The Way Back did become Peter Weir’s weakest title at the domestic box office. See further below.

The Way Back movie cast

Inspired by The Long Walk, the 1956 memoir of former Polish prisoner of war Slawomir Rawicz, who claimed to have walked thousands of perilous kilometers after escaping from a Siberian gulag during World War II, The Way Back features English actor Jim Sturgess as the Polish Rawicz, and, as various Slavic characters, Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, 2007), Colin Farrell, Mark Strong, Gustaf Skarsgård (actually, as a Latvian), Dragos Bucur, Alexandru Potocean, and Sebastian Urzendowsky.

Also in the cast: Four-time Oscar nominee Ed Harris (Apollo 13, 1995; etc.) as an American gulag inmate.

Four-time Best Director Oscar nominee Peter Weir (Witness, 1985; etc.) cowrote the screenplay with Keith Clarke.

Worldwide flop

Update: An all-around box office bomb, Peter Weir’s The Way Back ultimately collected a measly $2.7 million domestically and $21.5 million (likely incomplete) internationally. Worldwide total: $24.2 million.

Its top international markets were France ($7.4 million), Spain ($4 million), and the United Kingdom/Ireland ($3.1 million). In Peter Weir’s native country, Australia, The Way Back took in a mere $785,500, as per Box Office Mojo.

Following its Oscar-qualifying Los Angeles run, The Way Back was shortlisted in only one category, Best Makeup. It lost the award to The Wolfman.

Top Five movies: Big-budget superhero flick is no. 2 on its second weekend

As discussed in our previous box office article (see link in the first paragraph), the Natalie Portman-Ashton Kutcher romantic comedy No Strings Attached was this past weekend’s top movie. Rounding out the Top Five titles on the chart were:


The Way Back Movie Box Office” endnotes

Unless otherwise noted, “The Way Back Movie Box Office: ‘Inspirational’ Survival Tale Is Hopeless Commercial Dud” 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 The Way Back 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.

Ed Harris The Way Back movie image: Newmarket Films.

The Way Back Movie Box Office: ‘Inspirational’ Survival Tale Is Hopeless Commercial Dud” last updated in November 2022.

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3 comments

Ian -

Film was completely mismarketed, i.e. not marketed at all. Oscar voters barely even knew it was one of the screeners they were sent. No one knew this was coming out, and based on the reviews, the film had a good shot at some accolades and box office - but advertising muscle needed to be put behind it. Such a shame.

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LJN -

This was a terrific film! I wish the world would give it time to gain its legs. Word of mouth, if it’s anything like the screening I saw, should carry it forward. I read Nat Geo relied on its Facebook and website for promotion. This film deserved a serious marketing campaign!

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ljm -

I suspect this film got pirated. If you do a search for it, there are lots of links to websites claiming to be able to watch the film for free. I saw it last Friday and thought it to be a very good film, although the ending seemed contrived. The actors all gave great performances, with the best by far being Sturgess and Ronan. Colin Farrell did great work as a down and dirty Russian street thug who is capable of murder whenver the mood strikes him. Ed Harris plays an almost Clint Eastwood, “Make my day,” sort of craggy Mr. Smith. The cinematography sweeps the viewer along in what would otherwise feel like a very long movie. My hunch is the numbers at the box office don’t tell the whole story.

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