McHale's Navy

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  • Directed By: Bryan Spicer
  • Written By: Peter Crabbe
  • Release Date: April 18, 1997
  • Domestic Distributor: Universal
  • Cast: Tom Arnold, Tim Curry, Debra Messing, Bruce Campbell

Box Office Info:
Budget: $42 millionFinanced by: Universal
Domestic Box Office: $4,529,843Overseas Box Office: $0

“McHale’s Navy’ was a disaster. I’m not pretending it wasn’t a disaster.”
–Sid Sheinberg

mchale's navy 1997
McHale’s Navy quickly began development in 1995 when The Bubble Factory was launched.  Here’s a brief look back at The Bubble Factory.  The company was founded by Sid Sheinberg, who had run MCA Inc., (parent corp of Universal).  In 1990 MCA was acquired for $6.59 billion by the Japanese conglomerate Matsushita.  Then in 1995, the Canadian liquor company Seagram bought 80% of MCA for $5.7 billion and after 34 years of running MCA, Sheinberg’s reign ended.  He was given a seat on Seagram’s board and the giant entity agreed to fully finance his new production company The Bubble Factory.  Sheinberg was given full autonomy to greenlight 3 to 4 movies per year for 5 years with budgets between $35M and $40M and without approval from Universal.  It was widely known that the reason he was given such a fantastic production deal was his close relationship with Steven Spielberg, who made it very clear that as long as Universal kept Sheinberg in-house, he would continue to make films for the studio.  Universal did not want the arrangement with The Bubble Factory, but they were desperate for Spielberg to direct The Lost World: Jurassic Park and the deal with Sheinberg was launched.

The Bubble Factory was a disaster, that quickly churned out a series of lousy movies that all flopped.  Most of their output was turning old TV programs into features and the first movie out of the gate was the bomb Flipper (1996).  Next up was That Old Feeling and two weeks later was the trainwreck McHale’s Navy.  At this point Spielberg had finished The Lost World, but he went off to focus on his fledgling company DreamWorks and had no other projects lined up to direct at Universal.  Just two months after the McHale’s Navy & That Old Feeling embarrassment, Universal wrote Sheinberg a massive check for an undisclosed amount and ended their relationship with The Bubble Factory.  Universal had two more Bubble Factory releases to waste money and time on — A Simple Wish set for July and For Richer or Poorer dated for December.  Both died at the box office.

And now back to the disaster that was McHale’s Navy.  The budget for McHale’s Navy was $42 million.   The Bubble Factory hired TV director Bryan Spicer, who made the leap to features with Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie (1995) for both McHale’s Navy and For Richer Or Poorer.  He successfully returned to his career in television after churning out his three theatrical hack jobs.

Along with sending its director back to TV, McHale’s Navy also mercifully put the kibosh on anymore Tom Arnold studio vehicles.  After his supporting roles in two hits True Lies (1994) and Nine Months (1995), Warner Bros tried to launch him into a bankable star with three dreadful pictures in 1996: Big Bully, Carpool and The Stupids.  All three were critically destroyed and did miserable business.

As the April 18, 1997 release was approaching, Sid Sheinberg’s son Jon Sheinberg, who also ran The Bubble Factory began hyping McHale’s Navy by telling the press: “In terms of production values, it’s going to look like Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.” That’s not a selling point, that’s a warning to audiences.  Also, by 1997, there had been a series of mostly failed moronic military comedies in the mid 90s, which had given us such offerings as In The Army Now (1994), Renaissance Man (1994), Operation Dumbo Drop (1995), Major Payne (1995), Down Periscope (1996) and Sgt. Bilko (1996) — and McHale’s Navy could easily give the Pauly Shore movie a run for the worst of the bunch.

McHale’s Navy bowed against Murder At 1600 and the low budget 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag.  Reviews were abysmal, with most calling it one of the worst of the year and the movie was stillborn at $2,128,565 — placing #7 for the slow weekend led by the holdover Anaconda.  The few that showed up gave McHale’s Navy a poor C+ Cinemascore and it sank 57.2% to $911,890 in its second frame and then promptly lost most of its theater count.  The domestic run quickly closed with just $4,529,843.  Universal would see returned about $2.4M after theaters take their percentage of the gross — which barely covers the cost of just striking release prints and the advertising expenses and budget would be all red ink.

Universal dumped the movie straight to video overseas.

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