Why ‘Amsterdam’ Bombed and Why ‘Smile’ was a Box Office Hit

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Amsterdam bombed at the box office, despite a huge $80 million budget and an A-list cast that included Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, and Taylor Swift.  Low-budget horror Smile holds on to the number one spot, becoming one of the most surprising box office successes of the year.

Why we care: David O. Russell’s 1930s period drama Amsterdam is set to be one of the biggest misfires of the year. The film looked primed to be a commercial success. But Amsterdam’s lacklustre performance suggests that star-studded casts just don’t bring audiences to the theater anymore.

The Facts

  • Parker Finn‘s directorial debut Smile has earned over $137 million at the box office in just under three weeks of release. The horror movie cost just $17 million to make.
  • The figures are impressive for a film that was originally planned release only on streaming website Paramount+. However, positive test screenings led to the studio releasing the film theatrically.
  • Amsterdam is projected to lose $100 million at the box office. This figure factors in the estimated $80 million budget and at least $70 million in marketing spending, against a projected worldwide box office gross of $35 million.
  • Despite being shown in 3,005 screens across the US, the film collapsed in its box office debut, earning $6.5 million in its opening weekend against a projected $17-$20 million opening.
  • Amsterdam’s release has been marred with controversy. Director O’Russell has been plagued by allegations of abuse on-set behavior and sexual assault during his filmmaking career – along with the now-infamous leaked video of the critically acclaimed director berating actress Lily Tomlin on I Heart Huckabees (2004).

Grand Scheme of Things: Hollywood can’t rely on its most bankable stars for commercial success and word-of-mouth buzz is more important than ever when it comes to the box office.

  • Amsterdam debuted with a score of 20% on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite the major star power, the film could not overcome its bad reviews and according to TikTok, celebrity worship is not what it used to be.
  • Thanks to extremely positive word-of-mouth, Smile continues to beat box office expectations. Ticket sales for Smile have declined a mere 18% from its debut (For reference, ticket sales generally tend to dip at least 50% from opening). “This movie hit a nerve,” says Chris Aronson, Paramount’s president of domestic distribution. “You can’t hold the way we held without the word-of-mouth that says, ‘Holy shit, you gotta see this movie.’”
  • Smile has also been boosted by an innovative and viral marketing campaign, including a grassroots stunt, in which actors, “smiling” menacingly in the stands of NFL games and among the audience at baseball games. 
  • With adults slow to return to theaters after the pandemic, Smile shows how important horror flicks will be to the future of the film industry. It has been the only consistent genre at the box office in recent years, aside from superhero movies.  Upcoming horror film M3GAN grabbed the internet’s attention when it dropped an official trailer this week – with the titular doll becoming an instant meme.