In a business where box office success is counted in millions, Kevin Spacey’s new film Billionaire Boys Club is going to find it tough to gain traction.
The film, which had a budget of US$15 million, earned just US$126 ($172) on its opening day.
Curiously, those stunningly thin numbers do not make it the worst opening in cinema history; that honour belongs to the Katherine Heigl film Zyzzyx Road which made US$30 when it opened in 2006.
Billionaire Boys Club was released in just eight cinemas nationally in the US, in cities such as Phoenix, New Orleans, Detroit and Sarasota; it is not playing in either New York or Los Angeles.
The film, which was directed by James Cox, opened Friday to just US$126 and made an additional US$162 on Saturday. It’s full opening weekend box office total was US$287.
Based on the real-life story of a 1980s brat pack in Los Angeles who embark on a disastrous get-rich-quick scheme, the film also stars Cary Elwes, Emma Roberts, Billie Lourd, Judd Nelson and Rosanna Arquette.
In the film Spacey plays a real-life Beverly Hills identity named Ron Levin.
The poor box office result will be little surprise to anyone; Billionaire Boys Club was filmed in 2015 and its distributor Vertical Entertainment has navigated a very public scandal to even get the film into eight cinemas.
It was released last month on video-on-demand and put in “limited release” in cinemas this month.
Earlier this year a spokesman for Vertical told US media the process was “neither… easy nor insensitive.”
“We hope audiences make up their own minds as to the reprehensible allegations of one person’s past, but not at the expense of the entire cast and crew present on this film,” the statement said.
Vertical described Spacey’s presence in the film as “a small, supporting role.”
The film’s two credited leads are actors Ansel Elgort and Taron Egerton.
In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment sandal last year, Spacey was one of a number of high-profile Hollywood stars to face a wave of sexual misconduct allegations.
Those allegations resulted in Netflix removing Spacey from the final season of its critically acclaimed political drama House of Cards and his performace in another film, Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World, being cut entirely and his scenes re-filmed with actor Christopher Plummer.
As strange as it sounds, and as rare as it might seem, cinema history is dotted with big-budget Hollywood movies delivering a breathtakingly small return.
The most famous example is the 2006 thriller Zyzzyx Road which grossed US$30 after a six day release on one screen.
Technically it made only US$20 as the film’s producer and star Leo Grillo refunded two tickets, totalling US$10 in value, to a member of the film’s crew who had paid for herself and a friend to see the film.
And it is unclear what portion of the US$30 was made on the film’s first day, so an exact comparison to Billionaire Boys Club is difficult.
Success and failure at the box office is an imprecise science, however a rough guide would be that to make a profit a film has to cover its budget twice, the logic being that a film costing approximately US$100 million, for example, will cost a major studio another US$100 million in marketing, distribution and exhibition costs.
For that reason, films such as 1983’s Krull, which only made US$16 million off a US$27 million budget or 1987’s Ishtar, which made only US$14 million off a US$55 million budget, often get wheeled out as examples of spectacular box office failure.
Another well-worn example: 1988’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, which took in only US$8 million but cost US$46 million to make and, likely, another US$46 million to market, distribute and exhibit.
Even films which are perceived, broadly, as successes often struggle to bring the balance sheet into balance.
A Wrinkle in Time, which was directed by Ava DuVernay and starred Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling, was perceived to be a hit but grossed only US$132 million on a US$130 million budget, meaning it covered its filming costs but fell well short of covering its marketing, distribution and exhibition costs.
On paper, that makes the film – despite its massive marketing campaign and high-profile stars – a box office loss.
Similarly the Star Wars standalone film Solo grossed US$392 million off a US$250 million budget, but would have needed to make at least US$500 million at the box office to cover all of its costs.