Call it “lowered expectations” or a “great mistake” or just answer that titular question with a big “it already happened, and just last month” – but yes, Mike Newell, Helena Bonham Carter, and Ralph Fiennes made a movie and none of you bothered to see it. That’s perhaps a bit hyperbolic as some people saw it, but the odds that you, the one reading this right now, didn’t see it are exceedingly high. And no, I’m not getting high and mighty on this one – even I didn’t see the film, and that’s entirely the point here. It was called (or, well, still is called, I guess) Great Expectations, and no one cared to see it when it finally hit the American box office in November. Guess the high schoolers haven’t hit that part of their syllabus yet.
Earlier this year, I examined whether or not the modern box office (or, at the very least, this season’s box office) was in need of both a new Romeo and Juliet and a new Great Expectations. Curiously, I determined that, sure, a new Great Expectations could be okay (bonus – Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham) and that Romeo and Juliet was a nonstarter. That determination was wrong, at least as it applies to audience turnout.
The Hailee Steinfeld- and Douglas Booth-starring take on William Shakespeare’s most famous romance (with terrible scripting changes by Julian Fellowes) came first, opening on October 11th in a medium-sized release. It topped out at around $1.16m in box office revenue and, at most, it was available in 461 theaters. Its opening weekend average was $1,128 per theater, which placed it way down in the forty-fourth spot for averages on that exact weekend (for reference, the weekend was won by Gravity, which had an $11,800 per theater average to launch it into box office orbit).
This film did not perform well. Steinfeld’s career has only yielded three big releases so far (can you believe it?), and Romeo and Juliet is far and away the worst of her results. Ender’s Game made over fifty-five times as much, True Grit made a hundred times as much.
Newell’s take on Great Expectations didn’t fare nearly as well, even with a dismal take to usurp – as the November 8th release has so far made only about $258,000 at the U.S. box office. Released in just 86 theaters, its opening weekend per theater average matched up nicely with Romeo and Juliet – it broke down to just over $1,000 per theater. After seventeen days, it was yanked from theaters. Again, this is a film based on a classic Charles Dickens novel that stars Helena Bonham Carter as a nutjob to end all nutjobs and Ralph Fiennes as creepy criminal. The kid from War Horse is in it! It’s a traditional take on hailed literature that you could see on the big screen, sans cheat sheet! No one cared. Great Expectations will now only go down as one of the great flops of 2013.
Curiously, Great Expectations was released in the UK almost a full year before it came stateside. It opened on November 30, 2012, just in time to capitalize on impending holiday malaise and to remind the Brits that Dickens was a genius. In its home country, the film made about $3.5m, placing it in the bottom tenth of earners for the year. And, yes, we get that it only had a month to make any money (at least based on the BoxOfficeMojo figures we dug up), but it was still beat out by other films that opened after it like Seven Psychopaths, Tinker Bell – The Secret of the Wings, Parental Guidance, and Nativity 2. Even the Brits didn’t turn out for this one. (Though the film did earn a BAFTA nod for Costume Design, so that’s something.)
The film seemed to have some steady marketing – we covered three of its trailers alone here on the site – but its online and television marketing presence was virtually nonexistent. Who would even know that this was a film being released? How come no one drew up some sort of mad character poster with Bonham Carter eating an old crumpet or something? Will it have a market on home video for beleaguered high school teachers? And, really, who wouldn’t want to see a film that features characters named “Mr. Pumblechook,” “Mr. Wopsle,” and “Herbert Pocket”?
Not entirely sure you missed out on this one? Sally Hawkins co-starred. We just might have all missed out on this one. (We’ll get back to you on its actual quality when – or if – we ever see it.)