Monday, October 26, 2015

The New "Steve Jobs" Movie Bombs at the Box Office

Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs
Every year has their share of movie bombs. In recent months, the likes of Pan have opened to disastrous numbers. While most of the films that fall this fate usually have to do with bad reviews, some good films get sucked in due to less fortunate reasons. This past weekend marked arguably one of the worst box office returns of the year with no less than four new releases being appropriately called a "box office bomb." Of course, these films - Jem and the Holograms, The Last Witch Hunter, Rock the Kasbah - were met with generally bad reviews. However, there's one closely tied to this year's Oscar Buzz that is more surprising than all of these. Director Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs went wide released this week on 2,433 screens. The results weren't pretty.

Steve Jobs is actually a really good movie. While it has reviews that generally range from just okay to a new masterpiece (I fall towards the latter), it seems like it wasn't enough to convince people to see the film. The film reportedly took in $7.2 million on a $30 million budget (it has made $9.8 million to date) with expectations of its opening weekend looking closer to three times that at $20 million. It earned $2,900 on average per screen. To put it in terms that will bring the point home a lot clearer: less than a million people saw Steve Jobs this past weekend. It can be debated that there were more extras in the film's three lecture hall scenes than in theaters across America watching the film.

It's an odd situation, especially with the amount of talent attached. Yet, is it really the talent who should be blamed for the film? Sony famously passed on the film and the final product looks far different than the initial concept. However, the film still got made and features some of the best writing and acting of the year. In fact, there's been serious consideration that this will be a big player at the Oscars for reasons that are obvious. But the question now is if this backlash will at all impact its chances. True, it was never going to gross as much as the real Steve Jobs' net worth, but it was a prestige drama that could've broken even. 

I am unsure what is really to blame. It could be marketing. It could be the novelty approach to Jobs' life. Yet I do think that there's something to blaming Ashton Kutcher's maligned biopic Jobs, which barely did better than Steve Jobs. Still, the film was a disaster and likely set the bar too low for anyone wanting a compelling Jobs picture. As unrelated as they may seem, I believe that Steve Jobs could've just been seen as the second coming of a mediocre biopic. Of course, the Steve Jobs commercials highlighted the egotistical side of the subject, making it look less appealing beyond its minimalism. For what it's worth, this film had an uphill battle all along, as I don't know too many people excited to watch a film about Jobs being a charismatic and flawed person. As I stated in my review, this is material better suited for a play. On film, it seems like too much of an independent film concept to actually be embraced by the mainstream.

So finally, I'll address the elephant in the room: How does this influence its Oscar chances? I want to say that it doesn't, but everyone knows that calling a film a "box office bomb" immediately dilutes interpretation of quality. I am sure that this clenches any chance of being a major winner, but I think that it will reduce itself to a dark horse competitor. Provided that the film doesn't plummet from existence in the months to come, I can see it showing up, at very least in Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay. Last year saw several independent films rack up major awards, so the low ball number shouldn't seem as intimidating. I doubt that this is the end of Steve Jobs as an Oscar contender. I do believe that it's the end of a guaranteed winner, however. Unless it becomes a slow success, which is possible but not expected, then maybe it still has some life in the game.

Still, I think that Steve Jobs will be interesting going forward for reasons that were unintentional. If the "box office bomb" moniker ends up damaging its reputation, it could end up being forgotten entirely, joining a strong heap of prestige movies that failed to make the cut. I hope better for it, but there's not a lot of reassurance at this point. I am curious to see its reputation as the heavy hitters start coming out. Will it be part of the small but noteworthy box office bombs that still were Oscar nominated (I'm working on releasing an article about it tomorrow)? I hope so. Still, it's nice to have some randomness thrown into this season, even if it's from such an unfortunate place.

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