Dark City

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  • Directed By: Alex Proyas
  • Written By: Alex Proyas, Lem Dobbs, David S. Goyer
  • Release Date: February 27, 1998
  • Domestic Distributor: New Line
  • Cast: Rufus Sewell, William Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly

Box Office Info:
Budget: $27 millionFinanced by: New Line
Domestic Box Office: $14,378,331Overseas Box Office: $12,821,985

“It was a box office disaster. It wasn’t marketed well and it just completely fell through the cracks.”
Director Alex Proyas


An early draft of Dark City written by Alex Proyas was picked up by Disney in the early 1990s and as the studio began to further develop the screenplay, Proyas went off to helm The Crow (1994).  Eventually Disney dropped the project.  Dark City temporarily moved over to FOX, where the studio hired David S. Goyer to work on the script.  Proyas wanted to cast Ralph Fiennes as the lead, but FOX refused after the actor had just toplined the box office fiasco Strange Days (1995) for the studio.  Proyas then pitched Dark City to New Line, which greenlit the film and awarded Proyas with more freedom than what was being offered at FOX.

The budget for Dark City was $27 million, which was financed by New Line and costs were kept down by filming in Australia.   The mini-major also mitigated their risk on the picture by pre-selling most overseas rights to distributors.  Dark City began production in August 1996 and originally a September 1997 release was eyed.  Dark City was then penciled in for October 17, 1997 but the movie tested poorly and New Line began to tinker with the edit.  Proyas has stated that the executives did not butcher the film, but did impose a pointless opening narration and had numerous scenes excised to speed up the narrative.

Dark City was then moved to January 9, 1998 and then pushed back to February 27, 1998.  New Line did not have a firm grasp on how to market the movie and tried to sell Dark City as a horror film.  The MPAA also inexplicably gave the movie a R rating, claiming it was ‘too weird’ for a PG-13 certification.  An interesting theatrical trailer was cut, sans any dialogue or info about the narrative, but Dark City barely registered any awareness going into release.  New Line also dished out serious coin to run ad spots during the Super Bowl, which did little to bolster audience interest.

Dark City bowed against Krippendorf’s Tribe, Caught Up and Kissing a Fool.  Reviews were lukewarm, with the exception of Roger Ebert who loudly proclaimed the picture a masterpiece, but there was no interest from the movie going public.  Dark City was dead on arrival with $5,576,953 — placing #4 for the weekend led by the 11th frame of Titanic.  It declined 49.1% to $2,837,941 in its second frame and fell 49.2% to $1,443,008 in its third session and then promptly lost most of its theater count.  The domestic run closed with only $14,378,331.  New Line would see returned about $7.8M after theaters take their percentage of the gross — far below the costs of their misguided P&A spend.

Dark City was a complete box office failure in every offshore market, where it pulled in just $12.8M across numerous distributors.

Dark City slowly built up strong cult following on home video after its dismal theatrical run and enough DVD sales prompted the studio to invest in Proyas restoring his director’s cut a decade later.

5 Comments

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  1. Hopefully it’s all good now because this film has a cult following. I love the style of the entire movie and the abstract sci fi idea behind it!

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