Can We Please Stop Calling Girl With the Dragon Tattoo a Box-Office Disappointment?
"Weak." "Lackluster." "Underwhelming." "Less-than-stellar." Such are the general characterizations of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo's box-office earnings to date from observers, insiders and pundits around the Web. And now for an equally appropriate one-word response to those perceptions: "Huh?"
I'm not exactly sure what kind of money that experts thought David Fincher's 160-minute, hard-R-rated, unswervingly bleak adaptation of the bestselling novel was supposed to have made by now, but let's look at the facts for a second: Through Tuesday, Dragon Tattoo has earned a little more than $79 million domestically. (In all likelihood it passed $80 million on Wednesday, but again -- facts!) That would be $79 million in three weeks of release, the best showing ever for an R-rated December drama in that time frame. Or call it a thriller if you want; that still makes it second only to -- wait for it -- Scream 2.
Again, that's domestically. Worldwide, it's already made more than its 2009 Swedish predecessor: $108.3 million (and counting) to $104.3 million. Which of course we'd all expect, but from the panicked sound of things you probably wouldn't guess it still has yet to open in 16 foreign markets -- including France, Germany, Australia and Japan.
"Well," one particularly specious argument might follow, "the Swedish version only cost $13 million compared to the Hollywood version's $90 million." True. And...? Would studio boss Amy Pascal, producer Scott Rudin, and the whole Dragon Tattoo team love for it to run away with hearts and minds and half a billion dollars? Of course! On the other hand, do you think the notoriously risk-averse Sony leadership would have budgeted this at $90 million or pulled the trigger on two sequels if it wasn't absolutely positive the film was disappointment-proof? Or that they ever sat Rudin and Fincher down for Culver City come-to-Jesus meeting: "You know, guys, Niels Arden Oplev adapted the same book a couple years ago for $13 million... Can you trim a few things?" Give me a break.
Which reminds me: Who exactly is in this film again? Daniel Craig's never successfully opened anything beyond the Bond franchise. Rooney Mara is best known for five minutes of screen time in The Social Network (though to be fair, she has been a leading lady in a number-one film). The movie is the brand, and the brand is the book. Just because it's the official literature of airline passengers, beach layabouts and subway straphangers far and wide doesn't mean they're all going to turn out for it at Christmas -- not when they can see Tom Cruise hopping around the horizon in Dubai.
Oh, yes -- about that Dec. 21 release date. "It was too cocky of us," one anonymous Sony exec told our sister site Deadline. "We might think about that next time." Yeah, right. Sony and Co. had an awards-friendly strategy from the start, and it worked: Just come out of the holiday frame ahead of War Horse (talk about a movie with no stars and no brand), win some guild notices and maybe a Golden Globe, and then nail down seven Oscar nominations including Picture, Director, Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Score and Art Direction. By this point they've crossed $100 million domestic, and just like that they're the hottest Best Picture-nominated wide release still in theaters. (At least until The Descendants, which is an inarguable commercial success, goes wide.) "We might think about that next time." Ha! You do that, Sony.
And if you don't believe that scenario, then ask yourself this: Why are we facing such a consistent barrage of doom-and-gloom Dragon Tattoo stories in a period when the struggles of fellow Best Picture candidates Hugo, War Horse and even The Artist all go relatively unreported? Especially this week, with Oscar-nomination ballots due tomorrow afternoon? Let me put it this way: If no one envied and/or feared Dragon Tattoo, then we wouldn't even be having this conversation.
Elsewhere in the aforementioned Deadline report, a Sony exec is also quoted as saying the $300 million projected globally for their rapey, miserablist Scandinavian potboiler with one marketable star and a hard R-rating and a likely Oscar profile and two sequels on the way would still be "a really good number." Really? You think so, pal? I mean, if the takeaway is that you thought you had the next Hangover on your hands, then trust me: You have have much bigger problems than the movie.
Anyway. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is doing fine. Better than fine! It's great! Glad to get that cleared up.