- Directed By: Barry Levinson
- Written By: Stephen Hauser, Paul Attanasio
- Release Date: February 13, 1998
- Domestic Distributor: Warner Bros
- Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, Samuel L. Jackson
Box Office Info:
|Budget: $100 million||Financed by: Warner Bros|
|Domestic Gross: $37,020,277||Overseas Gross: $33,000,000|
Warner Bros put Sphere into active development in 1996 and this mega-budgeted picture was to be their Christmas 1997 tentpole. The project was temporarily put on hiatus in October 1996 just before filming was set to commence to scale back the rising costs associated with shooting outside on a dock which would have exposed the production to natural elements. It was decided to move the shoot indoors to have complete control and filming was to be pushed back two months to allow the construction of massive water tanks and sets.
During the delay, director Barry Levinson went off to helm the low budget satire Wag The Dog with Sphere lead Dustin Hoffman for WB’s corporate sibling New Line. Levinson quickly shot the pic in 28 days and then returned to the production of Sphere.
The budget for Sphere was just north of $100 million, after the budget ballooned from reshoots that were commissioned and expensive vfx were added at the eleventh hour. Warner Bros fully financed. Sphere was first dated for December 12, 1997 but in September WB pushed the release back to February 13, 1998. The studio claimed the move was because the marketplace was too competitive and crowded, but Sphere was testing poorly and the movie needed work. It was this release delay that ended up landing Wag The Dog two Oscar nominations and modest box office success.
Warner Bros had previously demanded that New Line not release Wag The Dog until at least 60 days after Sphere‘s opening. WB wanted no conflicts with their big budget event movie Sphere and they also had another Dustin Hoffman movie scheduled for November 1997, Mad City. Wag The Dog was then relegated to the February dumping ground on Feb. 20, 1998. Mad City turned out to be a disaster and once the problem movie Sphere vacated its 1997 release date, Wag The Dog was dated for a limited bow on Christmas and earned Hoffman a Best Actor nomination.
One month before Sphere was set to open, WB issued reshoots. Sphere was cobbled together for its release date and Levinson and Hoffman have stated over the years that movie was basically unfinished. Sphere received awful reviews and bowed against The Wedding Singer and The Borrowers. The movie did have some heat going into release and was heavily marketed, but interest cooled after the scathing reviews. Sphere pulled in a troubling $14,433,957 — placing #3 for the weekend led by the 9th frame of Titanic. Auds hated the movie and gave it a C- cinemascore and Sphere faded from theaters fast. It declined 46.8% to $7,684,122 in its second weekend and fell 50.4% to $3,809,123 in its third session. The domestic run closed with a poor $37,020,277.
After the film died stateside, WB was hopeful that the international market would pull the movie out of the red, but it saw terrible results in most countries. The offshore cume stalled at $33M. The worldwide total was $70M and WB would see returned about $38.5M after theaters take their percentage of the gross — which would not even cover P&A expenses and the theatrical receipts would not dent the $100M in production costs.