George Miller’s art house film starring Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba made just $2.9 million against a $60 million production budget
The good news is that Miller will be just fine, as he’s already hard at work on the highly anticipated “Furiosa,” which is a prequel film follow-up to his box office smash “Mad Max Fury Road.” But you’d have to go all the way back to 1981’s cult classic “The Road Warrior” to find one of his films that had a lower opening.
In short, it’s not great. But the financial cost to the studio, MGM, and its distribution arm, United Artists’ Releasing, will be minimal, and multiple individuals with knowledge of the film tell TheWrap they suspect it could even still turn a modest profit for MGM.
That’s because UAR was merely the domestic distributor for “Three Thousand Years of Longing,” with FilmNation Entertainment handling its financing and international distribution, and MGM acquired the domestic rights to the film for only $6 million, according to one individual with knowledge.
The individual says that may then explain why MGM under its new ownership with Amazon didn’t devote more marketing and print and advertising costs to the film, knowing that it didn’t need a large domestic gross to still make money. And though it received a splashy premiere at Cannes and was intended for the big screen, it’s likely that the film’s cult nature could help it perform via Amazon Prime Video once it hits streaming.
“MGM was pleased to partner with FilmNation to introduce an original George Miller film to theatrical audiences in the US this past weekend, and to continue to contribute theatrical movies to the studio’s exhibition partners,” a representative for MGM told TheWrap.
FilmNation didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Though “Three Thousand Years” comes from the director of “Mad Max Fury Road,” the film is a more avant-garde and intimate fable aimed at an older audience, despite the director’s bombast with color and other cinematic flourishes, with the trailers even proudly touting one critic review that called it “Aladdin for adults.” So it begs the question why such a film wasn’t released on a more limited scale before expanding wider.
As it turns out, one insider explained that “Three Thousand Years of Longing” was conceived to have a more targeted rollout of just 600 theaters in major cities rather than the over 2,400 it ultimately played in. But a surprising number of theaters with a desperate need for product in the dog days of August were willing to take a chance on a George Miller film, and United Artists was able to expand the rollout without too much added cost and jumped at the chance to play the films on multiplex screens that under normal circumstances might never have considered it.
So while the film’s top markets included New York, LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, San Diego, Austin, and Washington, DC — all places it was expected to perform and even hitting No. 1 in some of those markets — audiences elsewhere simply didn’t care, and as many as 500 screens combined for little more than $150,000 of the film’s weekend haul. That led to the film even missing the distributor’s initial projections of a still modest $5 million in its opening weekend.
And while it’s unlikely that international audiences will turn “Three Thousand Years of Longing” into a winner if domestic crowds overlooked it, the film is expected to open in most major markets, excluding China, over the next three weeks, with a Japanese rollout expected some time later. And FilmNation, having sold the rights to the film individually rather than on a worldwide deal, may still be able to mitigate some of its overall losses.
While box office analysts like Comscore’s senior media analyst, Paul Dergarabedian, aren’t completely ready to write “Three Thousand Years of Longing” off yet, especially with National Cinema Day right around the corner, word of mouth needed to be stellar for a movie like this to have legs. Notably, both critics’ reviews and audience scores were actually respectful, with the film notching a 71% Rotten Tomatoes score and a 60 out of 100 on Metacritic, as well as a B grade from audiences on CinemaScore. And in aiming to appeal to an older demographic, it wasn’t enough when other films like “Top Gun,” “Elvis,” “Nope,” the R-rated “Bullet Train” and even “Beast” (also starring Elba) were all still on the market.
“I love that United Artists gave the movie a shot in theaters. Theater owners have been wanting new films. This is not the most commercial of films. It does land in the sweet spot thematically in August, which has always had movies that are edgy and diverse,” Dergarabedian told TheWrap. “But the wind has come out of the sails in this part of August after an absolutely blockbuster summer.”