Dante's Peak

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  • Directed By: Roger Donaldson
  • Written By: Leslie Bohem
  • Release Date: February 7, 1997
  • Domestic Distributor: Universal
  • Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Linda Hamilton, Jamie Renée Smith

Box Office Info:
Budget: $116 millionFinanced by: Universal
Domestic Gross: $67,127,760Overseas Gross: $111,000,000

dante's peak 1997
Dante’s Peak was one of the most expensive productions at the time and was fully financed by Universal.  The mega-budget event movie was developed with a $104M budget, but costs were shaved down to $100M and then it landed a greenlight.  Expenses began to climb when a competing Volcano project at FOX bluntly titled Volcano was also aiming to get in theaters first and both studios began spending more money to accelerate the post-production schedule.

An expensive sequence was added to Dante’s Peak, which cost $2.5M and the initial $100M budget also did not include computer vfx expenses.  Digital Domain was hired to complete the work for $8M.

As the public became aware of the two competing movies, a ridiculous game began between the two studios trying to convince the other that their picture would be completed first.  FOX announced in ads that they had completed filming on October 17, but in actuality filming had been ongoing in front of green screens for at least two weeks after that announcement.  Universal then issued a press release claiming they completed filming on November 6.  Volcano was then dated for February 28, 1997 and Universal scheduled Dante’s Peak for the following weekend on March 7 — but Universal was still bullish on getting their film in theaters first.

In December 1996, Universal paid six-figures for full page ads in 12 publications, including the New York Times, LA Times, USA Today, Time, Entertainment Weekly and Newsweek, which announced that Dante’s Peak would be released on February 7, 1997.  The new date made it impossible for FOX to push Volcano forward, as not only would the vfx not be ready in time, but the studio was locked into the January 31 date for the re-release of Star Wars.  Universal won the year long scheduling war and Volcano was moved to the end of April, but now the studio had to invest more money into Dante’s Peak to rush through post-production.

Universal shaved 12 weeks off of post-production and to speed up work on the vfx, Digital Domain was given an additional $4M.  The studio reported that the budget for Dante’s Peak was $116 million, but estimates were $3M – $5M higher due to the chaotic scramble to complete the movie.

Universal aided the domestic release with a massive P&A blitz that cost a reported $40M and what was envisioned as a tentpole that would dominate the marketplace to itself, was now in major competition with the re-release of Star Wars — which had overperformed the previous weekend.  More troubling for Dante’s Peak were poor reviews, which mostly criticized the movie as a bore until the eruption.  The vfx natural disaster selling point, which had yielded huge returns from Twister the previous May, was also viewed as competent at best and unspectacular.

Dante’s Peak bowed against two small counter-programmers The Beautician and the Beast and The Pest.  Co-star Linda Hamilton also had the turkey Shadow Conspiracy open the weekend prior.  Dante opened with $18,479,435 — placing #2 for the weekend led by Star Wars.  While the opening numbers were a bit soft for a movie of this expense, Dante’s Peak set the record for the highest February opening, which had been held by Wayne’s World (1992).  The re-release of The Empire Strikes Back two weeks later, would unseat Dante’s new record.  Dante’s Peak had modest weekly declines in attendance, but it closed with a less than blockbuster $67,127,760.

The picture did play strong internationally, where it pulled in $111M, but it was not nearly enough to push the film out of the red.  The worldwide cume was $178.1M and Universal would see returned about $98M after theaters take their percentage of the gross — which would just about cover P&A expenses only.  Universal’s parent corp Seagram’s announced that the box office performances of Dante’s Peak and Fierce Creatures dented the fiscal quarter.

2 Comments

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  1. Adjusted for today’s ticket price average of $9.01, Dante’s Peak would have grossed $131.77 million, from the 14.62 million tickets it sold in 1997 at an average price of $4.59.

  2. Based on the 55/45 domestic split and the 40/60 overseas split, Volcano lost about $43.5 million before marketing and Dante’s Peak lost about $34.7 million before marketing.

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