David O Russell’s latest movie, Amsterdam, hit theaters over the weekend, and the initial box office numbers weren’t exactly what the studio was hoping for, to put it nicely. Despite a star-studded cast that boasted Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Taylor Swift, Anya Taylor-Joy, Rami Malek, Mike Myers, Robert DeNiro, Michael Shannon, Chris Rock, Zoe Saldaña, Timothy Olyphant and more, the movie only grossed an estimated $6,500,000 at the US box office. That was only good enough for third place and barely one third of what Smile grossed in its second weekend, which was, by the way, made for less than a quarter of the budget.
The studio won’t know the movie’s full financial picture for a long time, but the early estimates of potential losses are staggering. Deadline did a pretty exhaustive write-up and suggested the film could lose $100M. If you’re wondering how that’s even possible, it’s because apparently the movie’s production budget was $80M and a further $70M was allegedly spent on marketing it. That’s a ton for a prestige movie aimed at adults. It was always going to be an uphill battle to get back to that number, but even so, there’s a big difference between a narrow miss and whatever happened here.
So, what did happen here? I don’t think it’s any one specific thing exactly, but there are a few factors that likely played into this movie’s box office issues. First among those factors is probably the fact that the movie isn’t particularly good.
Let’s just be honest. Amsterdam is kind of a mess, and I say that as someone who likes complicated, messy movies. I’m all-in for an adult drama that requires you to turn on your brain or accept some eccentricity, but Amsterdam, in my opinion, spends too much time chasing its meandering plot across multiple continents and not enough time getting to know any of the characters who aren’t Christian Bale. What we’re left with is a mystery the audience doesn’t have enough information to solve, investigated by characters who we don’t really connect with.
I really like David O Russell. Silver Linings Playbook is one of my favorite movies ever, and I also really cared for American Hustle and The Fighter, among others. I wanted to like Amsterdam really badly. It has its moments, but I just had too many issues with it. And looking at Rotten Tomatoes, I wasn’t the only one. The movie is currently running at 33% among critics, which is a very disappointing score, particularly for a movie like this.
Obviously, every movie that comes out was originally conceived with the intention of being good. There is no situation in which being good isn’t helpful to a movie’s box office performance, but quality is particularly important for movies like Amsterdam. A lot of people are still going to see the new Transformers movie whether or not critics think it’s good, but the market for awards contenders is more closely related to reviews and/ or word of mouth. Just look at the bump many prestige movies get after the Academy Award nominations come out.
But the reviews aren’t the only issue here. Amsterdam cost too much money to make. I’m all for giving great filmmakers real money to produce quality movies, but let’s put this into context a little bit. The Fighter, David O Russell’s crowd-pleasing boxing underdog story with Mark Wahlberg as lead actor, put up a 91% among critics on Rotten Tomatoes. It also scored 6 Academy Award nominations and had terrific word of mouth. It only made $129M worldwide. But with a reported $25M budget, that was more than enough and was probably considered a nice little win by all involved. But even with Blu-ray grosses and streaming rights, it would have had a harder time generating real profit if it was made for $80M pre-marketing. In fact, his highest grossing movie ever, American Hustle, only did $250M at the box office, and that was on the back of 10 Oscar nominations.
So, where did the $80M budget come from here? Well, it turns out the movie ran into some Covid problems. More specifically, the movie was allegedly going to shoot in Boston but because of pandemic concerns, production was moved to Los Angeles, which ballooned the budget from a much more manageable $50M to the alleged $80M figure that is being thrown around. That makes a whole lot more sense, and while the movie would still be in trouble with the lesser budget, the hill to profitability wouldn’t seem quite so steep.
Hollywood is a copycat city. When a movie performs particularly well, there’s an immediate rush to try and replicate what happened. If you squint, you can probably see some similarities between Knives Out, a comedy mystery with a mega-cast helmed by an acclaimed filmmaker. There are also some similarities to the Hercule Poirot franchise, which was just greenlit for a third movie. But those whodunits aren’t really angling to be quite as sophisticated, and they’re actual mysteries the crowd can play along with and try to solve. Amsterdam is more Big Lebowski than Agatha Christie, though it unfortunately doesn’t have any characters as vibrant as Walter or The Dude.
The box office situation is also a whole lot different right now than it was when Amsterdam was first greenlit. Box office has returned, sort of, but it’s still down more than 30% compared to 2019, which is the last full pre-pandemic year. Audiences have proven they’ll show up for major blockbusters like Top Gun: Maverick and Spider-Man: No Way Home, as well as some horror movies, but it’s been much tougher sledding for movies that don’t inherently feel like they need to be seen on the big screen.
So, to sum up, Amsterdam is a prestige movie that didn’t really attract any prestige. It was made for a really generous budget, which was always going to be hard to make back, and it was released during a time in which box office is particularly challenging. Given all that, it’s not surprising Amsterdam could lose a lot of money, and I hope studios take all that into account and don’t just knee-jerk decide prestige movies are no longer worth putting budget into. They are. It just needs to be the right budget for the right movie.
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Mack Rawden is the Editor-In-Chief of CinemaBlend. He first started working at the publication as a writer back in 2007 and has held various jobs at the site in the time since including Managing Editor, Pop Culture Editor and Staff Writer. He now splits his time between working on CinemaBlend’s user experience, helping to plan the site’s editorial direction and writing passionate articles about niche entertainment topics he’s into. He graduated from Indiana University with a degree in English (go Hoosiers!) and has been interviewed and quoted in a variety of publications including Digiday. Enthusiastic about Clue, case-of-the-week mysteries, a great wrestling promo and cookies at Disney World. Less enthusiastic about the pricing structure of cable, loud noises and Tuesdays.