Fathers' Day

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  • Directed By: Ivan Reitman
  • Written By: Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel
  • Release Date: May 9, 1997
  • Domestic Distributor: Warner Bros
  • Cast: Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Box Office Info:
Budget: $85 millionFinanced by: Warner Bros
Domestic Gross: $28,598,376Overseas Gross: $7,600,000

“You have to make fun of ‘Fathers’ Day’ or ‘Bicentennial Man.’ ‘Popeye’ I stand by.”
–Robin Williams

fathers' day 1997 movie
After years of hosting the charity event Comic Relief together, Robin Williams and Billy Crystal had been looking for theatrical projects to collaborate on and eventually they had the misbegotten comedy Fathers’ Day packaged for them.  After Crystal was given a copy of the 1983 French comedy Les compères from his agency CAA, he contacted Williams to to pair up for the remake.  CAA organized the entire Fathers’ Day package, including landing director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters) and the project was considered a blueprint for success.  Everything about the Fathers’ Day project was high concept and designed to practically sell itself, from the title to the comic pairing of the two bankable leads.

The picture was packaged with an expensive price tag and landed at Warner Bros.  The budget for Fathers’ Day was $85 million.   Most disposable studio comedies like this were normally completed for a third of the cost, but Fathers’ Day was expected to be a guaranteed hit and one of the biggest tentpoles in 1997.  There was just one major problem that two A-list leads and a director with a solid track record could not overcome — lousy material.  After the movie became one of the biggest misfires of the year, a WB insider told Premiere magazine “When [CAA] calls and says, ‘We have a package, Fathers’ Day, with Williams and Crystal, and Reitman, we say ‘great.’  We don’t scrutinize the production. When we saw the movie, it took the wind out of us. We kept reshooting and enhancing, but you can’t fix something that’s bad.”

Fathers’ Day was indeed a terrible picture and another sad misstep for Reitman, who had veered his career into full blown studio hackery with his previous feature, the pregnant Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Junior.  1997 was also a troublesome year for WB, which saw fissures from their usual hit making formula of usually placing two A-listers in a tentpole project.  Fathers’ Day and Mad City had spectacular wipeouts at the box office and Conspiracy Theory disappointed.  WB’s year began with the flop Vegas Vacation, then they mishandled the release for Rosewood, both Cats Don’t Dance and Anna Karenina were dumped, Murder At 1600 tanked, then Fathers’ Day bombed and up next was the studio’s mega-budget summer release Batman & Robin which turned into a humiliating fiasco.

When choosing the release date for Fathers’ Day, there was a certain day that seemed most obvious — if you thought of Father’s Day, congratulations you win a cookie.  But Fathers’ Day was dated for Mother’s Day.  The contrarian opening date was scheduled for May 9 and WB gave the picture a massive marketing blitz.  Along with the traditional promotional push, the two actors did the PR rounds on every morning, day and night show imaginable to plug the movie.  In a bit of corporate synergy Williams and Crystal had a cameo on the WB owned TV series Friends, which aired the night before it opened.

Fathers’ Day bowed against The Fifth Element and reviews were awful.  The industry was shocked when Fathers’ Day pulled in a dismal $8,776,159 — placing #2 for the weekend led by The Fifth Element. After the opening, WB announced they would pour more money into a second week ad spend, in an attempt to keep it alive in the marketplace and hope that word of mouth spreads.  The president of distribution at WB Barry Reardon said “We’re supporting it 100%.  We’ve got a movie that we think is very viable, very commercial. We just happened to get off to a slow start. We think it’s going to stay in there.”   There was a modest 30.4% decline in attendance the following frame to $6,108,652 but the domestic run closed with a terrible $28,598,376.

Fathers’ Day was also completely rejected in the international market and the recorded offshore numbers were only $7.6M.  The worldwide gross was $36.1M.  WB would see returned about $19.8M after theaters take their percentage of the gross — leaving tens of millions worth of P&A expenses in the red and the budget untouched by the theatrical receipts.  Fathers’ Day was one of the biggest flops from the 90s.

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