With an attractive cast of well-known actors (Adam Driver, Channing Tatum, Daniel Craig, Katie Holmes), strong critical reviews, and its director’s four-year absence from the filmmaking arena, the stage was set for NASCAR-themed heist comedy Logan Lucky to rev up a strong finish over its debut weekend at the box office. With early estimates indicating an $8 million debut for the $29 million production, however, the film Steven Soderbergh hoped might ignite a revolution for creative control via an unconventional release model seems to have instead hit a roadblock with North American audiences, though its alternative to traditional studio methods leave room for improvement in the months ahead.
With help from comScore analyst Paul Dergarabedian, here’s everything you need to know about Logan Lucky‘s box office performance.
Why Soderbergh chose to release Logan Lucky the way he did
Emerging from a self-imposed retirement from theatrical outings with a charming script in hand, Soderbergh sought to unleash his first movie since 2013 on his own terms. For him, that meant reducing the control a major studio had on quality, content, and marketing.
“My feeling is that it’s gotten way too expensive to release a film wide, and the way that the economic structure of a studio is set up, if you’ve done what we’ve done on this movie — which is, everybody’s worked for scale — you’re too far away from your money,” Soderbergh told EW earlier this year. “That’s why there is no middleman. There is no one taking a cut. The money is coming directly back to the creative pool.”
“There’s no one component that hasn’t been done before, but I think it’s a combination of components,” he added, “There have been advancements in technology that make it a lot easier to get a movie out in 3,000 screens than it was even two years ago. The economic model is pretty simple. You sell the foreign to cover the cost of the [film] negative. We sell the non-theatrical rights to cover the cost of the [prints and advertising], and that’s it. It’s really simple. People have done this before. The distribution part is only a little different because we control it in a way that you normally don’t get to control distribution.”
Thus, he established Fingerprint Releasing, his own distribution label, and partnered with Bleecker Street (The Lost City of Z, Eye in the Sky) for a calculated theatrical rollout that eliminated big studio involvement — particularly in the publicity department. Partnering with Dan Fellman, a consulting professional with former experience as a Warner Bros. executive, on a release strategy, he paid Bleecker a reported $1 million to handle a self-approved marketing campaign, additionally selling foreign and non-theatrical rights (Amazon bought streaming rights, etc.) in an effort to secure around $20 million for marketing purposes, with the recipe for success residing in the fact that, according to the New York Times, everything was “prepaid, and no hefty distributor fees” came off the top.
“The idea is that on top of production costs, they didn’t add on layers and layers of [marketing] expenses that also have to be paid… and if the movie kills it on home video, they can recoup basically everything, so their overall exposure is lower,” Dergarabedian says, noting the studio marketing machine is often robust, involving expenses across all aspects of pushing the film out to theaters (on average between $30-40 million), for which the studio collects a fee. “Bleecker only has around 20 employees, so their overhead is much lower, and they can be very filmmaker-centric and not require the army of people to work on a smaller scale movie.”
While that studio system is working for bigger movies, “there’s no need to put that size of an army behind a small film,” Dergarabedian says. “You end up spending more on marketing and distribution than it costs to make the movie. The big studios are set up perfectly to release tentpoles. When it comes to smaller films, companies like Bleecker Street, Amazon, A24, even Fox Searchlight, are set up perfectly to work with these filmmakers on modestly budgeted films, so you get that boutique, hands-on treatment.”
This new approach also allowed Soderbergh to target his marketing materials in ways that had never been seen before — including pushing out trailers that hadn’t been tested with focus groups and concentrating a portion of promotional efforts outside Los Angeles and New York, including in the south, likely as a means to connect with potential ticket buyers attracted to the NASCAR element of the story.
Logan Lucky isn’t a flop… yet
Though Soderbergh has said a $15 million opening weekend would be a win for the film, its $8 million start — nearly half that projection — isn’t cause for concern just yet. Having been lapped by sturdy newcomer The Hitman’s Bodyguard ($21.6 million) and the horror holdover Annabelle: Creation ($15 million), Logan Lucky is not a film that’s exclusively enjoyable via the theatrical experience, while genre fans tend to savor their chosen fare on the big screen. It’s far from being a financial disappointment, with the major studio middleman being removed from the equation, meaning greater potential for profits from VOD rentals and small screen consumption.
In the age of the fading movie star, big-name celebrities can’t pull in the same crowds they used to, even 10 years ago. Films are largely driven by their content, not the actors in them, and Logan Lucky‘s solid reviews (it currently stands at a 78 percent on Metacritic) bode well for its holdover prospects in the coming weeks. August releases targeted at adults have turned modest openings into decent overall grosses in recent years, most recently 2016’s Florence Foster Jenkins, which bowed to $6.6 million en route to a respectable $27.4 million total.
Streaming and VOD rentals could be key in making the film a hit
While its theatrical run might not have lived up to Soderbergh’s expectations, there’s potential for Logan Lucky to make most of its money in the months ahead, when the film drives out of theaters and parks itself on streaming and rental services.
“Films that often don’t do as well as expected because of the competitive environment in the theater space often do extraordinarily well on home video,” Dergarabedian concludes. “I don’t think [Logan Lucky‘s underperformance theatrically] negates the value and the strategy in doing this kind of deal, especially for films with under $40 million budgets.”
Blame a souring market for the film’s underperformance
“$15 million would have been a great result, but there were two action movies out there with great ensembles casts, and it was a battle because of that. The Hitman’s Bodyguard, by virtue of teaming Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds, paid huge dividends. But let’s face it: the overall marketplace has been depressed for weeks, and that’s probably hurting everyone,” Dergarabedian explains. “There aren’t as many people in theaters watching trailers, and no one could have seen that coming a year ago, that we’d be sitting on a 13 percent summer deficit, which brings the whole marketplace down.”
He continues: “There’s a lot of competition out there, and both [Logan Lucky and The Hitman’s Bodyguard] have action and comedic elements, and that’s sometimes tough when you have two similar movies. Generally, people go see one movie over a weekend, and they make one choice. Hitman certainly was that choice.”