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  • Directed By: Adrian Lyne
  • Written By: Stephen Schiff
  • Release Date: July 24, 1998
  • Domestic Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Co.
  • Cast: Jeremy Irons, Dominique Swain, Melanie Griffith, Frank Langella

Box Office Info:
Budget: $58 million Financed by: Pathé
Domestic Gross: $1,071,255 Overseas Gross: $9,453,742

lolita 1998
Adrian Lyne’s updated version of Lolita had a long and miserable road to the big screen, which began when Carolco Pictures purchased the novel rights from Vladimir Nabokov’s estate in 1990 for $1M.  Lyne was attached as director and over the upcoming years, he declined Lolita screenplays from David Mamet, Harold Pinter and James Dearden, before approving a draft written by Stephen Schiff.

As the project began to come together in 1994, Carolco was beset by major financial problems and the production of their mega-budget picture Cutthroat Island was eating up most of their cash reserves.  In order to prevent insolvency, Carolco put their two big budget projects that were already packaged with directors and casts and ready to film, onto the market.  Those projects were Lolita and the infamous Showgirls and the French conglomerate Pathé purchased both.  Even with the sales of the two expensive projects, Cutthroat Island ended up going so far over budget, that it drained almost all of Carolco’s reserves and they barely had money to market the movie.  It was one of the biggest box office disasters ever and Carolco shuttered.

Pathé fully financed Lolita, which went into production with a budget near $40 million.  The costs began to climb from weather related delays and also a prolonged post-production that was mostly in part due to censorship.  When congress passed the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996, Lyne was forced to recut part of the picture.  The law prohibited the visual depiction of what “appeared to be” a child having explicit sex — and despite already landing a R rating from the MPAA, Pathé had lawyers go into the editing room to make sure the film did not run afoul of the law.  It obviously can not be overstated just how horrific child pornography is, but that law was so broad, there was talk it would make movies like Lolita, The Exorcist, Taxi Driver and Midnight Cowboy illegal.  The Supreme Court eventually ruled that it was indeed too broad of a law and struck it off the records.  But back in 1996, when there was uncertainty about showing a minor in a sexual situation, even without nudity or with a body double, Pathé lawyers had some footage of Dominique Swain’s body double removed and certain sequences edited out.  By the time an edit was locked, the budget for Lolita skyrocketed to $58 million.

Pathé began to screen Lolita for global distributors in 1996.  Since they had such high exposure to the large budget, the asking price for US distribution was $25 million with a $20 million P&A commitment.  Studios viewed Lolita as an arthouse movie and found the terms unrealistic.  Making matters worse was both the public controversy surrounding the movie and the new law frightened distributors.  When the movie was passed over, Pathé cut the asking price down to $10 million, but there were no bidders.  Pathé then decided to move forward with a release throughout Europe, hoping strong business and reviews would get the studios interested.

The overseas box office was weak, with Italy grossing over $1.2M as the only market that saw respectable business.  The overseas total was just $9.4M across numerous distributors.  Critics were also split on the movie.  Pathé was now stuck with a film that the market they expected the most money from, might not even land a theatrical release.

Pathé continually screened Lolita for studios and distributors big and small, but there were no takers.  They tried to broker a deal with DirecTV, which would have made Lolita the biggest pay-per-view movie premiere ever, but DirecTV also feared subscriber backlash to the movie’s content and ended talks.  In May 1998, it was finally announced that Showtime picked up the movie for $4 million.  The broadcaster would also spend between $1.5 million to $2 million on advertising.  Showtime then brokered a deal with Samuel Goldwyn Co. to give Lolita a limited theatrical release for Oscar consideration.  Showtime would broadcast the movie in August 1998 and Goldwyn would release Lolita in theaters on September 25, 1998.  In order for the movie to be considered by the Academy, it had to play in a theater before it aired on TV and it was booked into one whole theater in LA on July 24 and pulled in $19,492.

After the movie played on Showtime, Goldwyn spent $2 million on P&A and there was little interest from arthouse auds.  It opened with $93,797 from 15 theaters and never expanded beyond 52 screens.  After all of the trouble and years long protests against the picture, it stalled at just $1,071,255.

Pointless Trivia: It’s either a display of bad taste humor or just clueless idiocy, but The MTV Movie Awards nominated Jeremy Irons & Dominique Swain for Best Kiss.


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  1. I wonder if Showtime went to their sister company Paramount first for distribution before going to Samuel Goldwyn Co. Showtime and Paramount were both owned by Viacom at the time and I think 1998 was the year their arthouse division Paramount Classics (later renamed Paramount Vantage) was founded.

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