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Released in 1999, The Iron Giant remains one of the most remarkable animated films in recent memory. It marked the directorial debut of Brad Bird, who would, in later years (and listed in no particular order here), script and direct both Incredibles movies and Ratatouille for Pixar, move to live-action with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Tomorrowland, and subsequently become one of the industry's best, most innovative directors. Unfortunately, according to Bird (and box office numbers), The Iron Giant was a commercial dud. And, also according to Bird, he was partially to blame.
Speaking with IndieWire about the 20th anniversary of the film's release, Brad Bird commented on its discouraging box office performance, saying:
The terrible thing was, when it came time to promote the film, they weren’t paying attention to us. Warners was intending to put the film on the shelf and wait for a slow spot at some future date and they could slip it out there. And when the film got a huge response at a test screening, they had not laid the groundwork for it. To their credit, they knew they had to delay the release and lay the correct track for it. And I stupidly said, no.
Getting a bit more personal and in-depth, Bird continued:
I was feeling cocky because the scores were so good, and I said to just put it out there. So they did, and no one knew what the hell it was. I’ll take part ownership in pushing it out into the world too soon as well. They offered to do what was necessary, and I bulldozed them. All the calculations were that if we had $8 million on the opening weekend, word of mouth would carry it the rest of the way. It made $5 million, and we were DOA.
Brad Bird's comments not only explain a rather confounding piece of movie history, but they also reveal a humility in Bird that makes him even more down to earth and likable. He's only in the spotlight when he's got a film to promote, and he doesn't seem to put money above quality storytelling (which is super refreshing). In this instance, his confidence in the story made his better judgments a bit easier to ignore, but we got a great film out of it regardless.
There won't be a sequel to The Iron Giant, but Bird never promised us one to begin with. His reluctance towards sequels is well-known, which is why 2018's The Incredibles 2 even existing is a miracle. It is a solid film, though, which proves that even when pushed to direct something he's not crazy about, Bird can deliver.
The Iron Giant was re-released in a special edition DVD set in 2016, reigniting interest in the film and introducing it to a new generation.