If you’re a star as big as Madonna, having an opening weekend at the box office like ”Swept Away”’s $375,000 take may seem an embarrassment. According to industry figures, the movie opened on only 196 screens and averaged only $1,913 per screen. In its theatrical lifetime in the United States, it may earn less than the star spends each year on yoga mats. Still, in the wild world of Hollywood accounting, a take that low doesn’t necessarily qualify as a flop. Given the modest cost of making and releasing the movie, and the even more modest expectations accompanying it, ”Swept Away” isn’t a colossal enough disaster to be considered a failure, experts tell EW.com, and no one’s career will suffer as a result.
”If they were to have released the movie in 2,000 theaters, that would have been a disaster,” says analyst Robert Bucksbaum of Reel Source, noting that Sony was wise to distribute it through it’s specialty Screen Gems arm and limit the cost of prints and promotion. (Reuters estimates that the movie itself cost only $10 million.) ”A bomb is a ‘Pluto Nash’ scenario,” he says, referring to this summer’s Eddie Murphy comedy that cost a reported $100 million and opened with sales of just $2.18 million, for a dismal $940 per-screen average.
Not that $375,000 is a success. ”I would call it a cautionary tale,” Bucksbaum says, referring to the fact that few pop stars, even ones as ubiquitous as Madonna, can translate music fandom into movie ticket sales. That’s why, he says, ”Sony was smart” to treat ”Swept Away” like an art-house release; as Reuters reports, the studio has no plans to expand the movie into wide release. ”Everybody knew going in that this was a labor of love for her. They just weren’t thinking of making money.”
It certainly seemed a labor of love for Madonna’s husband, director Guy Ritchie, who departed from his usual guys-with-guns action comedy fare. But the film’s modest showing won’t affect his clout, not even with distributor Screen Gems, which also released Ritchie’s ”Snatch.” ”Screen Gems didn’t make ‘Swept Away’ because they want to be in the Madonna business,” says EW’s Mark Harris. ”They want to be in the Guy Ritchie business.” Agrees Bucksbaum, ”He’ll continue to make the movies he wants to make. He’s a brilliant director and he works on a low budget. It’s worth the risk for studios to work with a director like Ritchie because eventually he’s going to cross over into the mainstream and have a breakaway hit.”
Even the critical savaging the movie endured from most quarters (though not from EW; Owen Gleiberman gave ”Swept Away” a B- and wrote, ”For the first time since ‘Desperately Seeking Susan,’ Madonna doesn’t suck as an actress”) didn’t really affect the movie’s box office, Bucksbaum says. ”Reviews rarely do.” Nor did the Darwinian competition of an especially crowded weekend, which saw six wide releases (including ”Brown Sugar,” ”White Oleander,” and ”Knockaround Guys”) and several high-profile limited releases (such as Adam Sandler’s ”Punch-Drunk Love,” Michael Moore’s ”Bowling for Columbine,” and Jerry Seinfeld’s ”Comedian”). ”It wouldn’t have made any difference which weekend it was released,” says Bucksbaum, since ”Swept Away” wasn’t on the same playing field as the week’s widest releases. In fact, the movie earned a higher per-screen average than fellow newcomer ”The Rules of Attraction,” which took in $2.5 million but just $1,732 per screen.
It’s even possible that ”Swept Away” could ultimately turn a profit, once it plays overseas, on cable, and on video. ”Sony will at least make their money back on this,” Bucksbaum says. In other words, everybody wins and nobody suffers — except maybe those moviegoers who regret sitting through it.