THE DRAMATIC DEATH OF DRAMAS AT THE BOX OFFIC
April 21, 2015
Welcome to Going Bionic #263. I’d like to start today’s article with a moment of silence for Child 44. Released on 510 screens on April 17, 2015, this Russia-oriented $50,000,000 budgeted drama only earned $621,812 over its opening weekend. That’s an abysmal $1,219 per screen average, which guarantees its tax break will be more memorable than its release. Child 44’s performance echoes why studios are allergic to dramatic material, unless the material is riddled with top of the mountain A-list talent. Thus, today we’re taking a glimpse at the current state of cinematic dramas.
Dramatic Formulas that Work
Two recent examples of successful dramas are Sniper and Unbreakable. Both were war hero oriented stories released on Christmas Day 2014, and both were riddled with A-list talent. Clint Eastwood directed Bradley Cooper in American Sniper and Angelina Jolie directed Unbreakable. The budgets were eerily close as well, with American Sniper weighing in at $58,000,000 and Unbroken enjoying a $65,000,000 production budget. American Sniper dominated the battle by earning $532,000,064 worldwide, but Unbroken earned a more than respectable $161,916,233 globally. Thus, the recipe to making a hit drama is to attach globally recognizable talent to a reasonable budget. However, absent of the globally visible talent, studios will usually refuse to bankroll anything other than modest budgets.
The Steve Jobs Film and the New Age of Modest Budgets
Once upon a time (2011), in a land not so far away (Culver City), Sony Studios acquired Walter Isaacson’s book titled Steve Jobs. Aaron Sorkin adapted the screenplay and Scott Rudin and Mark Gordon were producing, with David Fincher directing and Christian Bale playing Jobs. The $33,000,000 budgeted picture seemed destined for multiple Oscars. Then, Fincher and Bale left the project, making way for Danny Boyle to direct Leonardo DiCaprio as Steve Jobs. Soon thereafter, DiCaprio left the project, prompting Boyle to cast Michael Fassbender. That’s when things went array. Sony wouldn’t approve a $33,000,000 budget with Fassbender in the lead, so they lowered the budget to $25,000,000. The producers had other ideas, so they moved the picture to Universal, where it’s in production set to be released on October 9, 2015. The final cast includes Fassbender, Kate Winslet and Seth Rogan.
Interestingly, ten years ago studios would find a $33,000,000 budget with three A-list stars to be a gift from the Gods, but these days’ studios will dump a drama that seems like its budget won’t justify its potential box office. The times are changing my friends, and big-budgeted dramas are quickly headed toward the fate of the dinosaurs.
The Television Effect
One factor in the recent decline of dramas at the box office is how well television and cable have mastered the drama genre. From Breaking Bad to House of Cards, to The Sopranos, and NCIS, the best dramas are clearly on the small screen. Thus, with such good drama on TV at OTT, moviegoers are choosing not to pay $12-$14+ per ticket to watch dramas in theaters. That trend itself will ensure studios won’t break their bank for any drama for the foreseeable future.
Okay friends, that concludes this edition of Going Bionic. As always, I thank you once again for lending me your eyes, and I’d be honored to borrow them again next week. Until then, I wish you a wildly productive week. I can be followed on Twitter @Lonelyseal.