The Biggest Flops from a Rocky October at the Box Office

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A dramatic thriller based on real events, THE FIFTH ESTATE reveals the quest to expose the deceptions and corruptions of power that turned an Internet upstart into the 21st century's most fiercely debated organization
Photo Credit: Open Road Films (II)
November 10th, 2013

The Biggest Flops from a Rocky October at the Box Office

October came with the promise of jaw-dropping cinematic achievements with the release of "Gravity," which stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Unfortunately, not all movies released in October have been nearly as successful as that film, which has now crossed the $200 million mark while still in fairly wide release. Several films either underperformed or just flopped, leaving some studio executives to scratch their heads and figure out what lessons can be learned from these films, so they won't make the same mistakes again.

Indisputably the biggest flop of the month was also the most shocking. Box-office predictors thought "The Fifth Estate" would perform modestly well. The drama had a lot going for it, not the least of which was charismatic British thespian Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to shaky reviews, which likely helped cement its eventual box-office fate. Even though Cumberbatch received a mostly positive response for his portrayal of the controversial Assange, it wasn't enough to save the film. Since the actor has been hailed as one of the next big stars in Hollywood, the fact the film failed is a big surprise. It earned just $1,673,351 during its opening weekend, which comes out to a paltry $946 average per theater. Compare that to "Gravity," the top-earning film for October, which earned over $15,000 per theater. Cumberbatch is slated to appear in "12 Years a Slave" and "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" in the coming weeks, so he will likely recover very nicely from this small misstep.

Another box-office bomb that was expected to do fairly well was "Machete Kills," the sequel to "Machete," which stars character actor Danny Trejo in the titular lead roll. The film got mixed reviews, but that wasn't expected to stop its momentum once it hit theaters because the original film has a small but very ardent cult following. That didn't seem to be enough to get it a big push financially though, since it only managed to take in $3,837,183 during its first weekend of wide release. That means an average of just $1,512 per screen, which is better than "The Fifth Estate" but not nearly good enough to make it a hit. Since that first weekend, the film has more than doubled its intake and has now crossed the $7 million mark, but that is still not enough to recoup the film's production and advertising costs. It remains to be seen whether this will affect the proposed third film in the series, which would have seen Machete going into space.

Next on the list is "Runner Runner," a crime drama that was expected to do well because of its acting talent. It stars heartthrob Justin Timberlake, who seems to be taking well to his new acting career, as well as Ben Affleck, who had just been announced as the new Batman in future DC Comics' films, replacing Christian Bale in the role. Even with this added publicity, the film still opened to just $7,706,712, which seems like a lot on the surface. The film got a very wide release and opened on over 3,000 screens but made just $2,547 per screen, which is not good for an opening weekend. Like most films, "Runner Runner" fell off quite a bit in the following weekends, and it has managed only $18,876,043 since its October 4 bow, which is just over half of its estimated $30 million budget.

These three films were wide releases, and each had the backing of a major distributor, a major studio, or both. It wasn't only big studio films that were hit hard in October though, as a few indie films felt the financial pinch as well. The biggest one was "Romeo and Juliet," another version of the famed William Shakespeare tale of tragic young love. The film stars former Oscar nominee Hailee Steinfeld as Juliet opposite Douglas Booth as Romeo. It's a modern-day adaptation with a screenplay written by "Downton Abbey" creator Julian Fellowes, so the film had quite a nice pedigree behind it. That didn't save it though, as it managed to earn only $520,116 during its opening weekend. It didn't have nearly as wide a release as "Machete Kills" or "The Fifth Estate," opening on just 461 screens in the United States. Even with this limited release, its per-screen average of $1,128 puts it firmly in flop territory despite the leads getting good reviews for their performances.