The Gingerbread Man

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  • Directed By: Robert Altman
  • Written By: John Grisham
  • Release Date: January 23, 1998
  • Domestic Distributor: Polygram
  • Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall

Box Office Info:
Budget: $25 million Financed by: Polygram
Domestic Gross: $1,677,131 Overseas Gross: $1,285,902

In 1990, producer Jeremy Tannenbaum made an oral agreement with then unknown writer John Grisham to write The Gingerbread Man for a low five-figure amount.  As Grisham kept working on drafts of the screenplay, his career as a novelist quickly turned him into a household name and numerous big budget studio pictures were adapted from his works.  Even after the huge box office successes of The Firm (1993), The Pelican Brief (1993) and The Client (1994), Grisham’s The Gingerbread Man script was not met with enthusiasm from the studios and was criticized as generic and cliché (as opposed to Grisham’s other mass market writing?).

It was announced in 1995 that PolyGram took on the project and The Gingerbread Man would be one the first movies to be released by the huge company’s new distribution division set to launch in 1997.  The new Polygram distribution arm would handle more commercial fare than their corporate sibling Gramercy.  Polygram’s subsidiary Island Pictures would handle the production of The Gingerbread Man.

Kenneth Branagh tentatively signed onto the project to star, only if he was given approval of the director hired, in hopes that whoever was to helm The Gingerbread Man would be able to elevate the movie from the generic confines of the script.  Veteran director Robert Altman agreed to direct and completely rewrote the script and Branagh landed a $4M payday to take the lead.  Grisham opted to use a credited pseudonym after Altman basically junked the previous drafts and the author was also upset by added profanity and a hurricane to the storyline.  Inclement weather and profanity — a truly offensive combo (this write-up was written during a fucking rainstorm).

The budget for The Gingerbread Man was $25 million and Polygram financed.   Problems arose over Altman’s insistence to cast Robert Downey Jr., who had become so expensive to insure after numerous cocaine and heroin arrests, that the production could not afford him.  It would have cost over $1M to insure Downey, so they went into production without insurance for the actor.  After filming completed, a nasty PR spat landed unwanted media attention when The Gingerbread Man did not test well and Polygram hired another editor to recut the movie and change the music.  Altman demanded his name be removed from the picture and the fall 1997 release date was scrapped during the feud.

Island Pictures founder Chris Blackwell quit in protest of the movie being taken away from Altman and then Polygram shuttered Island Pictures at the end of 1997.  Polygram then tested their cut, which pulled in even worse scores than Altman’s version, so the studio reinstated the original edit, but vindictively buried the movie.  The Gingerbread Man was re-dated for January 23, 1998 and the movie had little support from the studio and barely any signs of marketing.

The Gingerbread Man would be just the second release for Polygram after the disappointing domestic gross of The Game (1997).  The movie was dumped into 8 theaters opening weekend and pulled in $118,278.  During its limited run, The Gingerbread Man expanded to just 30 theaters and the domestic run stalled at only $1,677,131.

Two months later Kenneth Branagh toplined another Polygram release, the lower budgeted The Proposition, which he refused to promote after the studio intentionally botched the release of The Gingerbread Man.  The movie had a small overseas release, where it pulled in $1.2M.

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