Spike Lee’s OLDBOY barely made $1 million with a 5-day opening… what happened?

Spike Lee’s OLDBOY barely made $1 million with a 5-day opening… what happened?

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With a production budget of $30 million, a big name director like Spike Lee, and hot stars like Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson and Sharlto Copley, the American remake of OLDBOY may surprisingly be one of the biggest (if not the biggest of all) flops of 2013. Opening on November 27, giving the film what is called a “5-day opening”, it only grossed $850,000 over the weekend, and (according to Box Office Mojo) just $1.25 million as of Sunday – that’s the total take for the 5-day opening. OLDBOY played in 583 theaters across the country. For those unaware of how movie releases work, this is pretty damn horrible. So what went wrong? Filmdistrict has been promoting the movie rather heavily in theaters and on television, and the viral marketing has been rather aggressive as well. It should also be noted that Thanksgiving movie openings are typically strong for films with big stars, OLDBOY came in 17th place over the weekend (17th place on opening weekend!), behind other films that had already been out for a week or more. Only Disney’s FROZEN performed as expected with an impressive take of $66.7 million, but even it fell behind THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (in its second week of release). Here was the breakdown of which movies took the top spots over the weekend:

MOVIE TITLE ___________________ WEEKEND GROSS ____ TOTAL GROSS
1. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire —– $74,500,000 ——- $296,500,000
2. Frozen ————————————– $66,713,000 ——— $93,356,000
3. Thor: The Dark World ——————– $11,108,000 ——– $186,712,000
4. The Best Man Holiday ——————— $8,491,000 ———- $63,414,000
5. Homefront ———————————- $6,970,000 ———– $9,795,000
6. Delivery Man ——————————– $6,931,000 ——— $19,453,000
7. The Book Thief —————————– $4,850,000 ———– $7,856,000
8. Black Nativity —————————— $3,880,000 ———– $5,000,000
9. Philomena ———————————– $3,789,000 ———- $4,754,000
10. Last Vegas ——————————— $2,785,000 ——— $58,722,000
11. Gravity ————————————- $2,605,000 ——– $249,747,000
12. Dallas Buyers Club ———————— $2,599,000 ——— $10,295,000
13. 12 Years a Slave ————————– $2,300,000 ———- $33,143,000
14. Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa ——— $1,837,000 ———- $98,851,000
15. Free Birds ———————————– $1,815,000 ——— $53,245,000
16. Captain Phillips —————————- $1,175,000 ——– $102,756,000
17. Oldboy —————————————- $850,000 ———– $1,250,000

You’ll notice several of the films that earned more than OLDBOY over the weekend have been out (in some cases) for several weeks. This is bizarre. There have been other instances like this through the years of movies that seemed to have all the right ingredients (big name director, big name stars, big marketing) yet still way under-performed. But still, this is highly unusual for a movie to do this badly on a holiday weekend.

So let’s see if we can figure this out. First of all, to put things in perspective, OLDBOY opened on 583 screens, whereas a film like THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE opened on over 4000 screens. While that’s a considerably wide margin, the budgets on each movie are also considerably different. OLDBOY cost $30 million, where CATCHING FIRE cost $130 million… and the latter made more than its entire budget on opening weekend – it’s also a franchise film, so hard to compare in that regard. Typically a movie studio hopes for a film to make at least 1/3 to 1/2 of its budget back on the opening weekend, to make sure it’s not a flop. The mere idea of Spike Lee’s OLDBOY has met with harsh criticism from passionate fans of the 2003 Korean version by Park Chan-wook, which many consider a classic that should not have been remade. Granted, Hollywood is all about remakes and sequels these days, so the fact that Lee did a remake of a popular foreign production should not be enough reason for no one to go see it. Most recently photographer and freelance designer Juan Luis Garcia publicly asked (his post has since been removed it seems) Spike Lee for help claiming his poster designs for the film were stolen by the advertising agency that worked on the film’s campaign, to which Lee responded on Twitter with a rather uncaring post. This sparked intense hatred both from the filmmaker community and movie fans worldwide, saying the director (being a creative person) should have helped another creator get what they were owed, instead of publicly turning his back on them. There’s also been issues on websites like IMDB, where users can up vote or down vote a movie regardless of whether or not they’ve seen it, and several people are accusing users of purposely down voting the movie out of spite (because it’s an “unnecessary” remake) or because they just don’t like Spike Lee. Lastly, you could cite film reviews, which have been less than favorable, as reason for people to avoid checking the movie out… but seriously, how often do negative film reviews really hurt a movie in this day and age? Rotten Tomatoes currently has OLDBOY sitting with a 42% “rotten” rating, and an audience rating of 49%… which granted ain’t that great.

So what does this say to Hollywood? What message can be taken from OLDBOY‘s failure at the box office? Are audiences finally sick and tired of remakes of foreign films? Is negative news from social media playing a bigger factor in the decisions of moviegoers? And yeah, I’ll ask it – is Josh Brolin box office poison? GANGSTER SQUAD tanked, MEN IN BLACK 3 fell way below its production cost on box office returns, JONAH HEX flopped pretty bad too… even Oliver Stone’s W. barely made its budget back. In fact most of the Josh Brolin films that did well in recent years were movies where he was not the lead. Then there’s Spike Lee’s history to consider. His last “bigger budget” film was MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA in 2008, which only made about $8 million on a $45 million budget. In fact Spike’s most successful big budget film was INSIDE MAN in 2006, which made $88 million on a $45 million budget, but you could argue the star power in that movie is what sold the film more than Lee’s name. While the man has never been what most would consider a big budget director anyway, someone in Hollywood seems comfortable giving him a lot of money to make movies like OLDBOY every now and then.

And lastly, let’s talk about OLDBOY‘s budget of $30 million. Why exactly did this movie cost $30 million to make? Steven Soderbergh’s MAGIC MIKE cost just $7 million and grossed $113 million, and Harmony Korine’s SPRING BREAKERS cost $5 million and grossed $14 million. Where did that $30 million go in OLDBOY? You can’t guess star salaries, as Brolin isn’t that big of a name, and the next biggest name in the film is Samuel L. Jackson – who isn’t in it that much. And as for sets, a lot of the locations aren’t fancy or all that exotic… so where did the money go?

This may prove to be a bit of a head-scratcher this year, but it’s definitely worth discussion. Did you see the film, and if so did you like it? Sound off in the comments below. What do you think was the reason for this rather extraordinary failure?

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started Bigfanboy.com, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and Bigfanboy.com regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Con and Sci-Fi Expo conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.