The Devil's Own

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  • Directed By: Alan J. Pakula
  • Written By: David Aaron Cohen, Vincent Patrick, Kevin Jarre
  • Release Date: March 28, 1997
  • Domestic Distributor: Sony
  • Cast: Harrison Ford, Brad Pitt, Margaret Colin, Rubén Blades

Box Office Info:
Budget: $86 millionFinanced by: Sony
Domestic Gross: $42,868,348Overseas Gross: $97,939,199

devil's own 1997
The Devil’s Own was a textbook example of the perils of studio filmmaking without a locked script.  The project was a blueprint for success, with Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt as the marquee talent and director Alan J. Pakula (All The President’s Men) at the helm, but the production was a nightmare that cost the studio tens of millions in budget overages.  Producer Lawrence Gordon began developing The Devil’s Own in the late 1980s with writer Kevin Jarre (who delivered a draft in 1990) and he got the interest of a not yet bankable Brad Pitt in 1992.

The project began to actively move forward in 1995 as Seven was becoming a major success and Pitt was signed for $12M.  Pitt suggested Harrison Ford for what was originally written as a smaller supporting role and to much surprise, Ford accepted the role.  He landed a $20M payday in mid 1995, just after Jim Carrey became the first actor to earn that amount for The Cable Guy.  The project landed one of the most bankable stars at the time and it became the movie’s undoing.  Ford demanded script changes that gave him as much screen time as Pitt and the script began to be broken apart to placate his requests.  As the screenplay was being dismantled, Pitt then began to demand changes to the new changes.  Sony set a firm start date for production and there was no usable script — but they had two A-list actors, a prestigious director and a budget set near $70M.

The bad press surrounding the movie began just as the production started, when Pitt went public with his frustration over filming without a usable script and called this “the most irresponsible bit of film making – if you can even call it that – that I’ve ever seen.”  Reports began to circulate that the actors were warring over control of the script which was now being written on the fly and the movie was going over budget and far over schedule.  Pitt sums it up perfectly here: “We had no script. Well, we had a great script but it got tossed for various reasons. To have to make something up as you go along — Jesus, what pressure. It was ridiculous…I don’t know why anyone would want to continue making that movie. We had nothing. The movie was the complete victim of this drowning studio head [Mark Canton] who said, ‘I don’t care. We’re making it. I don’t care what you have. Shoot something.’ I tried to [quit] when there was a week before shooting and we had 20 pages of dogshit. And this script that I had loved was gone.”

The budget for The Devil’s Own eventually soared to $86 million and the disorganized shoot pushed back production two months on Pitt’s next vehicle Seven Years in TibetThe Devil’s Own was originally expected to land a prime December 1996 release, but due to the troubles it was pushed back to March 28, 1997.  The media and critics were expecting the next Ishtar with The Devil’s Own, but the movie ended up not being the trainwreck that was expected.  Not that it was deemed a quality picture, but it landed mixed reviews and despite the high price tag attached to the movie, none of that expense was on screen.

The Devil’s Own bowed against The 6th Man, Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie, B.A.P.S. and Cats Don’t Dance.  Buzz was mostly sour and it disappointed with $14,274,503 — placing #2 for the weekend led by the holdover Liar Liar.  There was a 50.9% decline in attendance to $7,013,200 in its second frame and the domestic run closed with a soft $42,868,348.

The picture did fare better overseas, where Sony bagged $97.3M.  The worldwide cume was $140.8M and Sony would see returned about $77.4M — which would likely cover global P&A expenses, but the theatrical revenue would not dent the hefty budget.

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