Every year when the NCAA tips off its men’s basketball tournament, Deadline launches its annual survey to show which film from the previous calendar year made the most money. This is the contest’s fifth installment, and this time the threshold for entry into Deadline’s Most Valuable Blockbuster tournament is a domestic gross exceeding $215 million.
When it comes to evaluating the financial performance of top movies, it isn’t always about what a film grosses at the box office. The true tale is told when production budgets, P&A, talent participations and other costs are subtracted from box office grosses, and then estimates of ancillary revenues from VOD to DVD and TV are added. To get close to that mysterious end of the equation, Deadline uses data culled by seasoned and trusted sources.
The contest has evolved since its first year, and this time, we’re counting down from No. 10 all the way to Most Profitable champion. (See last year’s tournament here.). We’ll also dissect the five films that lost the most money, and shine a light on five cash cows that might not qualify under the gross minimum but whose outsized profitability bears a mention.
It is difficult to get at exact talent paydays on cash break deals, but the aim is to demystify the process. Though a box office champ is crowned in the press each weekend, that only tells a small part of the story.
Here we go with No. 10.
The third remake of the 1937 William Wellman film might have lost steam in the Oscar race after triumphant premieres at the Venice and Toronto film festivals last fall, but the film was a monster hit for Warner Bros and a major step forward for Bradley Cooper as a filmmaker. The studio wanted to try again on this tragic love story for decades. Stars like Will Smith, Tom Cruise, Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale all circled the role of Jack, a self-destructive singing icon whose best days were behind him. Clint Eastwood wanted to direct and in his mind, the ingenue had to be Beyonce, with Cooper his favored leading man. At the time they met, Cooper felt he was too young for the role, and he was throwing himself into another ambitious project, playing The Elephant Man on Broadway. That meeting led Eastwood to cast Cooper for the lead role in American Sniper. Cooper eventually changed his mind about the A Star Is Born after watching Annie Lennox perform “I Put a Spell on You” on TV and being blown away by her fierce performance. By the time Cooper was ready to enlist with Eastwood, the director had moved on, and Cooper made the film his own. That process included developing a stadium-caliber singing voice, writing and playing music, and lobbying for Lady Gaga to be the ingenue his downward-spiraling character falls in love with. The process took four years, and that included convincing Warner Bros brass that acting neophyte Gaga was up to the task. A screen test turned around skeptical executives, and she turned in a performance devoid of the vanity one might expect from such a towering musical star. Cooper threw himself into his role, with an assist from Kris Kristofferson. The actor-singer, who played the tragic figure in the 1976 version, gave up 10 minutes of his set at Glastonbury so Cooper could take the stage and sing some of the songs that are in the film. He appeared unannounced, and told Deadline it could have been a very different film if he had been booed off the stage. Warner Bros effectively sold the intimacy and relationship between the lovers.
THE BOX SCORE
Here are the costs and revenues as our experts see them:
THE BOTTOM LINE
Warner Bros kept production costs on this star-driven project quite low at $35M, with Live Nation funding one-third of that budget. Global P&A of $110M included fall festival launches at Venice and Toronto and an awards campaign that generated eight Oscar nominations — including best picture and an original song win for the Gaga co-produced track “Shallow.” A Star Is Born opened on the first weekend of October as adult counter-programming to Sony’s superhero pic Venom, and notched the No. 2 spot at the domestic box office behind the Spider-Man spinoff, $42.9M to $80.2M. By the end of its run, A Star Is Born actually edged out Venom at the domestic B.O., $215.1M-$213.5M. Not accounted for here is the revenue from the hit soundtrack, which was a driving force for this picture’s success, racking up 2 billion streams worldwide. A Star Is Born winds up with $178.1M profit, and that’s without a theatrical run in China, which is standard for many of the movies in this profit tournament.