Dithyrambic reviews of films, a formidable script and great actors, are unfortunately not always enough to ensure the success of certain works, painfully and unfairly punished at the Box Office. The proof by five.
There are battered fates of movies that hurt; very badly even. Even more when the works however largely collect the favors of the Critics, which is never late to leave the sulfateuse. We still have in mind the examples of Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, yet covered with positive reviews by the press, which is the biggest failure ever suffered by the filmmaker during his career.
Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley was also a crushing failure. And what about the colossal failure of Ridley Scott’s Last Duel? Barely 400,000 spectators in France. Only 10 million dollars collected in the United States, less than 20 million in the rest of the world. A dramatic failure in theaters, for a work that cost more than 100 million dollars to produce. “Why didn’t it work? It’s the fault of those millennials and their fucking cell phones!” Scott had angrily hammered.
The regular divorce between Critics and the taste of the (general) public is also not really a new phenomenon. In France, Luc Besson knows something about it… Still, the commercial failures of certain works are profoundly unfair, despite their many qualities. Fortunately, but not always, time does them justice. Here are five great, critically acclaimed films that were unfortunately torpedoed during their theatrical careers.
A little gem of a neo-noir film, populated by a gallery of trendy Redneck characters, each one more twisted than the other, bursting with humor (black and fierce, of course), Blood Simple (alias “Blood for blood” in VF) marked the Coen brothers’ first foray into directing.
The film sees Dan Hedaya as a jealous husband hire a Privé (great Emmet Walsh) to get rid of his wife (Frances McDormand) who is cheating on him. But a series of unfortunate complications mean that nothing goes according to plan…
Presented at numerous festivals, including that of Sundance, from where it will leave crowned with the Grand Jury Prize for the brothers directors, hailed by American critics for its staging and the quality of the interpretation, the film has nevertheless been widely shunned by the public, and collected just over $1.6 million in revenue on US soil.
Abroad, it did little better: $1.03 million. A total of 2.73 unfortunate and derisory million for a film that already cost 1.5 million. Fortunately, time has taken its toll, and audiences have since widely re-evaluated the Coens’ first film, elevating it to cult status.
blade runner 2049
It is an understatement to say that the announcement of the start of construction of a sequel to Blade Runner, seminal film of SF which marked the History of cinema, was greeted at first sight with forks by the fans. What is the point of following up on an already perfect work, of which we have not yet finished exhausting all the riches?
Denis Villeneuve has however been able to brew with confusing intelligence the legacy of his glorious elder released 35 years earlier. “While the original Blade Runner was (eventually) embraced for its unrealized potential, its sequel ranks among the greatest sci-fi films of all time” enthused the Variety review, Peter Debruge.
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What does it really matter if Ridley Scott found the movie “Fucking Too Long”or that the producer of the first film, Michael Deeley, tackles Villeneuve’s work by the throat by swinging a friendly “cIt’s self-indulgence at a minimum, arrogance probably, and it’s criminal.”
Hypnotic and sometimes contemplative, carried by a soundtrack that knows how to be elegiac, sublimated by a photograph signed by the great chief op’ Roger Deakins who will be Oscar winner for his fabulous work, this Blade Runner 2049 is great cinema. And there was the obvious pleasure of finding Harrison Ford in a role that also made him a legend, alongside that of Han Solo.
But it was a box office slap in the face, not even grossing $100 million in the US. And it’s not the almost $260 million at the worldwide soundtrack that will manage to absorb the $150 million that the film cost, excluding the marketing budget. He even lost $80 million to the film’s producing company that held the rights, Alcon Entertainment. The film’s two Oscars and generally very positive reviews did little to save a film conceived as a tentpole movie; that is to say, a franchise capable of generating enormous profits.
Villeneuve’s wish to make a sequel may well remain a pipe dream for a while… Even if the rights holders have since given their blessing for an animated series, Blade Runner – Black Lotus, as well as a series in the making real, Blade Runner 2099. Companies that are still cheaper than a big One Shot on the big screen anyway.
The Sons of Men
In 2013, Alfonso Cuaron propelled spectators amazed by his great tour de force that was Gravity. Crowned by seven Oscars including that of the best director, the film had collected more than 723 million $ at the worldwide Box Office.
Enough to erase the painful memory of the big failure of his previous film, The Sons of Man. Unanimously hailed as one of the greatest science fiction films of recent years, it nevertheless crashed on the doors of the American market, collecting only $35 million, out of the $76 million budget; same thing internationally.
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Set in 2027, the film featured Clive Owen, alias Theodore Faron, a former activist responsible for protecting a pregnant woman, representing the last hope of a humanity that has become sterile, in the grip of chaos and living its last moments.
The adoration of the film by the Critics had blown quite a bit in the sails of the work, which collected three quotes at the Oscar, including that of the best adapted screenplay. Unfortunately, nothing to save his indoor career. If the film now has many followers, it would still benefit from being more (re)known.
The Lost City of Z
Between the Box Office and James Gray, it is unfortunately always a thwarted honeymoon. “My generation, I look at it with disgust” did he let go bitterly in 2021giving his opinion on the current state of Hollywood cinema, and lamenting in particular the fact that many of his colleagues yielded too easily to the sirens of superhero films…
A great adventure film released in 2017, The Lost City of Z was unfortunately a very painful failure in theaters, with just over 391,000 spectators in France. At the worldwide box office, it didn’t even make $20 million. It is to say the violence of the slap, which had the force of an uppercut… A cruel injustice, so much the powerful work of Gray does not lack assets.
Starting with its very solid cast: Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, and of course Charlie Hunnam, in the title role of Colonel Percival Fawcett, the explorer behind the myth of the Amazon.
Fawcett’s eight expeditions to the heart of the Amazon constitute one of the most extraordinary adventures of the 20th century. Captain then Colonel in the British Army, prototype of the English explorer who was both visionary and phlegmatic, Fawcett had sworn to himself – on the basis of old Portuguese chronicles and indications from a seer – to find the ruins of an ancient city buried in the darkness of the Brazilian jungle.
Ironically, the one who had come to be seen as a whimsical adventurer may well have been right: huge ruins were discovered in 2018 in the area where it disappearedwhich could well be the city so dreamed of and sought after.
Gray’s film was enhanced by lavish photography by one of the greatest working cinematographers, Darius Khondji; also shot in very difficult conditions, as James Gray told us when we met him when he came to Paris, and sketched striking parallels with the work In the heart of darkness by Joseph Conrad, adapted for the cinema by Coppola with Apocalypse Now…
To tell the truth, a film that we carefully place next to another extraordinary adventure film in the same vein (a must see!!!), Aux Sources du Nil by Bob Rafelson. A work that has become rare, never released on DVD with us, or even on blu-ray. If by chance an editor could look into the question…
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
In 2000, New Zealand filmmaker Andrew Dominik unpinned a grenade thrown in the face of an audience dumbfounded by the violence of his very first film, Chopper. Carried by an incredible Eric Bana, the film evoked the bloody authentic story of Mark Read, one of the greatest Australian Serial Killers, nicknamed “Chopper” because of his propensity for mutilation, including on himself.
A rare filmmaker, Dominik only returned to the cinema seven years later, with a dazzling work: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Co-produced by Brad Pitt, who in it embodies the legendary figure of the American West opposite a formidable Casey Affleck, this river western, as contemplative as it is poetic and melancholy, in which time seemed to expand, was lulled by the prodigious winter photography of the ‘immense Roger Deakinshim again.
An aesthetic approach as sublime as it is inspiring: Dominik’s film figures prominently among the glorious influences of the Rockstar studio for its extraordinary video game western, Red Dead Redemption II.
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To say that this extraordinary film went unnoticed in theaters in 2007 is an understatement: barely $3.9 million in box office receipts on American soil, and $11 million internationally. Figures that hurt compared to the film’s budget, $30 million. In France, it did not even attract 300,000 spectators, despite the promise of its headliner.
“A dazzling fresco […] which draws its characters towards their tragic destinies with the implacable character of a Greek tragedy” wrote Variety. “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” is […] a magnificent throwback to a time when filmmakers found all sorts of ways to reshape one of Hollywood’s oldest and most enduring genres.” A finer tribute could not be written. You know what you have to do if you’ve never seen it.