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Oscar nominations aren't helping ''The Insider''

Director Michael Mann says the TV ad campaign hurt the thriller

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Russell Crowe, The Insider
Touchstone Pictures

”The Insider” is up for Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Adapted Screenplay Oscars — but all of those honors couldn’t help the film from being smoked at the box office. Even after a post-nomination rerelease, the film has made only $28.1 million. According to director/cowriter Michael Mann, the TV ads were a main reason why the film fared so poorly. ”Disney bought a lot of television [ad time],” Mann tells EW Online. ”But I don’t think there was a message coming across in 30-second spots that stuck to the wall. I don’t think people knew what the film was about.”

The subject matter was a tricky sell: After all, ”60 Minutes” and tobacco lawsuits aren’t two subjects that moviegoers automatically conjure up for a night of rollicking entertainment. In New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago — all cities where good reviews have a lot of influence — the movie opened well. But in the rest of the country, where audiences are more motivated by TV advertising, the box office was pretty quiet.

The flood of articles with Mike Wallace arguing that the film was inaccurate also tended to overshadow the movie. ”If there’s a vacuum because we failed to deliver a message that tells [audiences] this is what the film really is, that information gap gets filled in by news,” says Mann. ”So people think, ‘Oh, it’s about these two guys at ”60 Minutes,”’ or ‘It’s gonna tell me not to smoke.’ The proposition of it being a fairly tense thriller isn’t really out there.”

Mann, who is reportedly developing a Muhammad Ali biopic with Will Smith as his next movie (although he won’t comment on future projects), says that regardless of what happens on Oscar night, he has confidence in his film. ”Either they’ll see it on video or DVD,” he says. ”This movie isn’t going away.” As for awards night itself, he says that ”any acknowledgement is a bonus,” but he is not convinced of its significance. ”It’s kind of a contest that descends upon you unwillingly,” says Mann. ”Movies are all so different…. I know how five people line up at a starting line and do a 100-meter dash, but this is kind of like a competition between a pineapple and a lawn chair.”