Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A Look at The Top 10 Lowest Grossing Spielberg Films

Scene from The BFG
By now, it is likely well known news that director Steven Spielberg's The BFG is a bomb. True, most Roald Dahl adaptations are, but considering Spielberg's status as one of cinema's most influential and greatest talents, it is a little baffling that it isn't just a bomb that has barely scrapped together in two weeks $41 million on a budget that's almost $100 million more. While international markets can still keep this from being an outright disaster (though one can't be too sure), this looks to be the director's worst performing film in years. But, how badly is it doing? Do you even know what Spielberg's lowest grossing film is? The following is a look at the Top 10 lowest grossing of a director whose name is synonymous with success despite having a few blips and blops along the way.

It is likely that most are taking this past weekend to acknowledge another family film: The Secret Life of Pets. For starters, it is the most successful opening for an animated movie with an original story. I admit that I wasn't expecting The BFG to rebound entirely in week two, but it already looks like even the odds of being a sleeper hit are fading fast. After all, I liked it. I liked it quite a bit. While I don't intend to keep pushing this fact on you, I did come away thinking on if the film did as poorly as we all make it out to be. From my research, it looks pretty bad whether you adjust inflation or not, international or just American box office. In fact, its regular gross makes it the fifth lowest (between 1941 and Always). Adjusting numbers makes it look worse and in one case (American box office adjusted), it comes in second to last in front of Sugarland Express - which technically shouldn't count since it was before he became a household name. 

Still, The BFG's track record may improve enough to not be the director's worst grossing, but the fact that it's only at $41 million ($53 million internationally) doesn't bode well for the road ahead. Spielberg will bounce back, but not without having a black mark on an otherwise very good film, likely beating out his notorious flop 1941 for his least revered work financially and possibly critically. Still, what's to come is a list of the Top 10 lowest grossing films from Spielberg internationally on an unadjusted scale. If nothing else, this will hopefully provide perspective as to how bad these films actually did.

1. The BFG (2016)

Worldwide Gross: $53.3 million

It does seem likely that this film will hopefully not be in dead last for much longer. However, its status as a box office bomb definitely makes it one of the director's most talked about films in a bad way. Whether people weren't willing to get on board with the story of a giant who befriends a little girl; or simply thought that the market was too crowded, this film came out with far more jokes along the lines of "The Big Friendly Giant is a Big Ugly Bomb" that doom it ridicule. Still, with top notch effects and a very engaging story, Spielberg's return to children's cinema for the first time in five years should be more acclaimed than it has been. Even the far worse films like Hook failed to garner as much hostility towards its existence.

2. Always (1989)

Worldwide Gross: $74.1 million

While Spielberg has been praised for having a rather infallible track record in the 70's and 80's (and probably onward), there's no film as forgotten on his resume as much as Always. Unless you're one who watches them all, this title likely escapes your memory more than the equally obscure Empire of the Sun. Of course, this remake of A Guy Named Joe has one attribute that keeps it in the trivia books: it is the final on screen performance by EGOT winner Audrey Hepburn before her death a few years later. Otherwise, it's an odd film, and one whose reputation is almost nonexistent based on how few people could likely name it without a Wikipedia page open.

3. 1941 (1979)

Worldwide Gross: $92.5 million

Go ahead and ask Spielberg about 1941. You'll find that he's just as down on the film as you're likely to be. While I am one of the sole defenders of his larger than life ode to World War II mayhem, the general consensus is that it's self-indulgent and problematic for long stretches of time. While it is wonderful to see him do amazing stunts like the carousel run amok, it is often considered a cautionary tale of what direction his career could've gone in if he chose to believe that bigger was better. While it still has some charm, it will likely be remembered as one of his worst, or at least the point where he understood his limitations.

4. Munich (2005)

Worldwide Gross: $130.4 million

Following Schindler's List, there seemed to be a welcome wagon for a more mature and prestigious Spielberg. This can be seen even in Amistad and later Lincoln. While this film has an edge over most of these entries for being a Best Picture nominee, it still shows that his forays into darker and more political stories don't always tend to pay off. Yes, it was critically acclaimed and its tale of the 1972 Olympics massacre was met with immediate controversy and considered to be his most difficult film. While not as maligned as the other films on here, it does show the waning nature of Spielberg as he has aged, even if his talent remains as strong as ever. Though in fairness, $130 million isn't that bad for a film of this nature.

5. Bridge of Spies (2015)

Worldwide Gross: $165.5

It is about here where the term "Worst Grossing" begins to be more literal than an outright pejorative. Considering that the film's Cold War story was one of the sleeper hits that made it to Oscar night, $165 million isn't that bad of an intake. Speaking as it has phenomenal performances by Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance, it's easy to see why this film connected with an older audience. Yes, it is the director diving into prestigious fare and trying to teach us to not judge books by covers. However, he has done it far more blatantly and less successfully than what he does here. It's a tale of understanding that ranks among his absolute best work. Don't let its placement on this list convince you otherwise.

6. War Horse (2011)

Worldwide Gross: $177.6 million

In all honesty, this film likely wouldn't have had any reputation if Spielberg didn't direct it. For what it's worth, it still comes across as one of his more baffling projects, even if it does explore humanity and war in ways that the director was so keen on. Still, to have a story conjoined by a horse named Joey does seem a little silly. Even then, this was the perfect tee-up for the following year's Lincoln and featured at least one monumental set piece in Joey running across a World War I battlefield to freedom. It's baffling that this film was a hit that earned a Best Picture nod. However, it definitely makes sense once you find the director's earnestness buried deep into the film's core.

7. The Terminal (2004)

Worldwide Gross: $219.4 million

Now that you're seven deep into this list, how odd is it that The Terminal was a bigger hit than half of these? Considering its status as lesser Spielberg, it's amazing that a film about Tom Hanks stuck at an airport connected with audiences so well. I admit that I am taken by its charm and its set design is vastly underrated. However, it is probably his most sappy tale yet, and lacks a lot of the flourishes that makes a Hanks/Spielberg collaboration pop in ways not appreciated since Frank Capra and James Stewart. This is a good movie, but looking at those box office numbers and considering the magnitude of story, you have to wonder what was going on in 2004 that made this so special.

8. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Worldwide Gross: $235.9

I've gone on record as saying that I don't like this movie. However, it definitely made sense for cinephiles to back this movie when it came out. With Haley Joel Osment still riding on The Sixth Sense acclaim, the story conjoined the earnestness of Spielberg with a dark and clinical story penned by the late Stanley Kubrick. For many, it's a fascinating and dense look into modern culture's fascination with technology. Most others simply laughed at it notoriously in theaters for being too long and convoluted. My issue wasn't so much its themes so much as it was its choice to blatantly rip-off "Pinocchio" while not hiding its influences by constantly showing literal "Pinocchio" imagery. Ugh.

9. Lincoln (2012)

Worldwide Gross: $275.3 million

In a career filled with Spielberg trying to bring humanity together, he has rarely made a film as muted and focused as Lincoln. While many could easily lobby this on Daniel Day-Lewis' Oscar-winning performance, it is there in the story and the nonstop dialogue scenes that see men talking through the issue of slavery. It's a film that embraces its prestige cinema tag without giving into saccharine nonsense. It is the closest that we've gotten yet to a full on courtroom drama from him (though Amistad and Bridge of Spies come close), and it seems like he's tossed in his best attributes here. No wonder audiences liked it so much and it got a Best Picture nomination.

10. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Worldwide Gross: $288.1 million

It's okay if you just did a spit take reading this entry. How could Close Encounters of the Third Kind be Spielberg's worst anything? Admittedly, its box office intake is far from bomb territory. However, in a career that has featured far more maligned works, this iconic alien film seems a little... low. Regardless, it's still evidence that for a director who may have a few bombs on his resume, not all of them are necessarily financial losses. In fact, this film helped to spawn interest in supernatural culture and even remains an integral part of the filmmaker's career. Yes, E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial may get more love, but it's hard to imagine his career without the iconic music and its great use of locations. This just goes to show that even if there's been worse films in Spielberg's canon, the final gross doesn't necessarily dictate which is best.

Information gathered from Box Office Mojo, where you can read the stats for his other films. 

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