Even an Oscar-caliber leading cast couldn't save this one. Maggie Gyllenhaal's latest film "Won't Back Down," also starring Viola Davis and Holly Hunter, set the record this past weekend for the worst opening of a film that appeared in more than 2,500 theaters, making a mere $2.6 million [via Box Office Mojo].
Yes, all three of these former Oscar nominees -- Hunter having won a golden statuette in 1994 for "The Piano" -- now have a pretty bad blemish on their resume. But they aren't to blame, say industry watchers, who are reacting to the film with a resounding face palm. "'Won't Back Down' wore the dunce cap last weekend, mostly because its marketing was almost non-existent," says Jeff Bock, box office analyst for Exhibitor Relations.
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Based on a true story about a single mother bent on improving her child's inner city school, "Won't Back Down" "beat" the Rainn Wilson comedy "The Rocker," which had held the dubious title of worst opening in 2,500+ theaters for about four years running. Incidentally, the film that holds the record for worst wide release opening in more than 3,000 theaters is 2006 Luke Wilson family comedy "Hoot." (Apparently nobody gave one.)
When it comes to "Won't Back Down," Bock further points out that "Most people didn't even know what the film was about -- Is this another Steven Seagal movie that I somehow missed? -- or that it was even being released in theaters."
It probably didn't help that critics weren't too hot on it either: It got a very weak 34 percent approval rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes and an even weaker 18 percent rating from the site's designated top critics.
And if you try to place blame on the film's message-y theme that promotes the ideals of charter school education -- one that even drew protests at the Democratic National Convention -- think again, says film industry analyst Len Klady. "You have to be creative about selling this type of material," he says, adding, "'Stand and Deliver,' 'Mr. Holland's Opus' [and] 'Lean On Me' all had to sell stories about schools in trouble and did. My feeling is that the studio tested it and decided it was too difficult to sell this particular film."
Indeed, Bock adds, "Here's a little 'Teacher Drama' 101 for you -- without a cast of young urban students and a hit R&B song backing you, you might as well be making a movie for the Hallmark Channel."
Klady also points out that Fox, the film's distributor, didn't have much at stake because the film was financed by Walden Media -- the same company behind the 2010 documentary that was essentially an indictment on the U.S. education system,"Waiting for Superman." "This is just a case where the film never should have received a wide release, and honestly would have been better served at Fox's indie shingle, Fox Searchlight," adds Bock.
"Won't Back Down" was never tracking well, according to Klady, who says that even with the "insurance" of its big stars, "film-goers don't want to see a film because it's GOOD for them and this film was both 'good' and 'important'... and sincere."
One bright note: "Won't Back Down" made significantly more money than "Oogieloves In The BIG Balloon Adventure." That ill-fated kid flick holds the record for worst opening in 2,000+ theaters, and only brought in a measly $444 thousand when it came out in late August this year.
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