A historical epic starring Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac, helmed by a critically respected director like Terry George (Hotel Rwanda), would seem like a decent bet with mainstream moviegoers. And yet this Friday’s debut of The Promise is shaping up to be a big loser on the balance sheet, at least according to this weekend’s box office preview at The Hollywood Reporter.
In her forecast, THR’s Pamela McClintock writes that things are looking exceedingly bleak for the Bale-Isaac romantic drama, which is set against the backdrop of Armenian genocide. Produced for $100 million by the late Kirk Kerkorian via his Survival Pictures, The Promise is predicted to net only about $4 million domestically, which — considering what that means for its prospects in subsequent weeks — is a doomsday scenario. While producers are downplaying such a situation, claiming that what’s really important is that all theatrical receipts go toward funding nonprofits (including Elton John’s AIDS foundation), there’s no way to truly sugarcoat its expected box-office crash and burn.
Eric Esrailian, now in charge at Survival, told THR where he places the blame: “It became clear that the government of Turkey was going to have an influence on this movie. One of the most insidious realities of our existence in the United States is that foreign governments can control art. I would say at the highest levels from different studios, we were just basically told that no matter how good the film would be, it was never going be released by certain companies. I think that that’s truly shameful, but it’s just a reality that we had to deal with.”
What’s left unsaid by Esrailian, however, is the more basic reality that, as large-scale film budgets soar, so too do the financial risks. Deadline recently reported that the Scarlett Johansson-led Ghost in the Shell remake stands to lose around $60 million (after costing close to $250 million to make/promote). And both Ghost in the Shell and The Promise come on the heels of a 2016 in which numerous tentpole spectaculars took a huge financial bath, including Alice Through the Looking Glass (estimated $70 million loss), Allied (somewhere in the $75M-$90M range), The BFG (close to $100 million), and Ben-Hur (as much as $120 million).
That studio filmmaking is a dicey financial proposition is nothing new; movie moguls have been producing epic flops for decades. But with costs only on the rise, films like The Promise may soon become gambles that make even the most spendthrift of financiers think twice.
‘The Promise’: Watch a trailer:
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