Summer Of Sam

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  • Directed By: Spike Lee
  • Written By: Spike Lee, Victor Colicchio, Michael Imperioli
  • Release Date: July 2, 1999
  • Domestic Distributor: Disney (Touchstone)
  • Cast: John Leguizamo, Adrien Brody, Mira Sorvino

Box Office Info:
Budget: $22 million Financed by: Disney
Domestic Gross: $19,288,130 Overseas Gross: N/A

Spike Lee was given the Summer Of Sam screenplay from The Sopranos actors Victor Colicchio and Michael Imperioli and Lee loved the script and boarded as producer.  He had hoped his involvement as a producer would get the project off the ground for the two actors, but there was no interest and the picture went nowhere.  After completing He Got Game (1998) for Disney, Spike Lee returned to the Sam screenplay and decided to direct it.  The budget for Summer Of Sam was $22 million and Disney financed.

When Summer Of Sam was toward the end of post production in early ’99, Michael Eisner made the announcement that Disney was returning to its more conservative roots and would focus its film output on more wholesome family fare.  That announcement was soon hilariously followed by Summer Of Sam landing a much publicized NC-17 rating from the MPAA.  Then the project began to get embroiled in a controversy involving the family members of the victim’s of David Berkowitz — who accused the movie (which nobody had seen yet) of glorifying the serial killer.  With the growing outcry over the movie, publications really began to manufacture controversy and reached out to the Son Of Sam himself David Berkowitz in prison to get his take on the film — who said: ”I am just so sorry that this movie is coming out.  I am so sorry that, you know, this pain doesn’t seem to end.  I am disappointed in Hollywood and the Walt Disney company.”

“I am disappointed in the Walt Disney company.”
–David Berkowitz

A total missed opportunity to put that quote on the poster.

Spike Lee had final cut privilege on Summer Of Sam, but was contractually required to deliver a R rated cut.  The offending content to the MPAA ended up not being the brutal graphic violence, which Lee said he would have been ok toning down, but an orgy sequence.  The puritanical MPAA demanded major cuts to the dark, barely visible and non-explicit sequence, which apparently had too many ‘thrusts.’  It was cut and the movie received its R certificate.

Summer Of Sam premiered at the May 1999 Cannes Film Festival at the Directors’ Fortnight sidebar.  Reviews were lukewarm.  Disney dated the movie for July 30 but then moved it forward to the holiday frame on July 2 as counter-programming to Wild Wild West and South Park: Bigger, Longer & UncutPointless Trivia: Summer Of Sam actually had more profanity than South Park and held the record for use of the word “fuck” until it was dethroned by The Wolf Of Wall Street.

For additional and non-controversial exposure, there was also a cross-promotion with the History Channel, which aired a one hour special about the movie and the killings in the summer of 1977.  Summer Of Sam had minimal buzz going into release and pulled in $5,952,452 — placing #8 for the weekend led by Wild Wild West.  Auds gave the movie a rare and hateful D- cinemascore and it declined 41.8% to $3,466,010 the following weekend and then sank 57.7% to $1,466,779 in its third session and promptly lost most of its theater count.  The domestic run closed with a poor $19,288,130.  Disney would see returned about $10.5M after theaters take their percentage of the gross, which would not cover P&A expenses or touch the budget.

Overseas numbers are not available.

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