Snake Eyes

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  • Directed By: Brian De Palma
  • Written By: Brian De Palma, David Koepp
  • Release Date: August 7, 1998
  • Domestic Distributor: Paramount
  • Cast: Nicolas Cage, Gary Sinise, John Heard, Carla Gugino

Box Office Info:
Budget: $73 millionFinanced by: Paramount; Disney
Domestic Box Office: $55,591,409Overseas Box Office: $48,300,000

snake eyes de palma
In December 1996, fresh off of the huge success of Mission: Impossible (1996), Brian De Palma and co-writer David Koepp penned Snake Eyes and the project landed in a bidding war amongst Paramount, MGM, Polygram and Universal.  Paramount won the auction in a huge $9 million deal, where $5M went to De Palma and $4M went to Koepp.  The studio initially attached Nicolas Cage and Will Smith as the leads, but Paramount would not pay Smith more than $9M and would not agree to his $12.5M salary demands.  Will Smith walked away and then Paramount tried to court Al Pacino in the vacated role, but after a few months of negotiations, he walked away from Snake Eyes.  Gary Sinise was then cast in the role.

After Smith left, the production start date had to be delayed and a battle over Nicolas Cage was then waged between Paramount and Warner Bros.  Both studios claimed to have contractually locked down the actor — Paramount for Snake Eyes and WB for Superman Lives.  Because of the delay, the Snake Eyes production would slightly overlap with the start date for Superman.  Cage had a pay-or-play deal for Snake Eyes and Paramount would not let him go.  The two studios agreed to delay Superman one week and if Snake Eyes went over schedule, Cage would have to film the remainder of his scenes after Superman.  Obviously this became a non-issue when Superman Lives was cancelled by WB.

With the cast now firmly set, Paramount brokered a deal with Disney in July 1997, where Buena Vista Intl. acquired all international rights.  The studios would split the expenses and the global revenue would be shared equally.  The budget for Snake Eyes was $73 million.   When De Palma finished his cut, he was contractually required to deliver a PG-13 rated picture, but the MPAA gave Snake Eyes a R rating.  They objected to a singular use of the word ‘fuck’ and a beating that Cage takes in the movie.  De Palma trimmed the beating, but the ratings board wanted more cuts to the picture and he refused.  Snake Eyes went out with a restrictive rating, despite having none of the trademark De Palma eroticism and gory violence.

Paramount dated Snake Eyes for August 7, 1998 and it bowed against Halloween: H20.  Reviews were mixed, with most critics praising the 13 minute tracking shot that started the film off and criticizing pretty much everything that came after.  Snake Eyes was also looked at as a box office test for Nicolas Cage, who had bankable co-stars in all of his recent big budget hits (The Rock, Face/Off, City of Angels) and this was a picture he had to carry on his own.  Snake Eyes opened with $16,310,373 — placing #2 for the weekend led by Saving Private Ryan.  Auds gave the movie a poor C+ cinemascore and it fell 47% to $8,638,309 in its second frame and closed its domestic run with a mediocre $55,591,409.

Snake Eyes also posted soft numbers overseas and cumed $48.3M.  The worldwide total was $103.8M and Paramount/Disney would see returned about $57M after theaters take their percentage of the gross — which would almost cover P&A expenses but the theatrical receipts would not dent the large budget.

De Palma followed up Snake Eyes with the box office bomb Mission To Mars (2000) and after that troubled production he never directed a movie for a studio again — instead landing most of his funding independently or from European sources.  His streak of money losers continued with Femme Fatale (2002) and The Black Dahlia (2006) was the last expensive production he had reins over.

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