Pay It Forward

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  • Directed By: Mimi Leder
  • Written By: Leslie Dixon
  • Release Date: October 20, 2000
  • Domestic Distributor: Warner Bros
  • Cast: Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, Haley Joel Osment

Box Office Info:
Budget: $40 millionFinanced by: Bel-Air Entertainment
Domestic Gross: $33,519,628Overseas Gross: $22,187,783

“Pay It Forward” was not a box-office success and I went to movie jail for quite a long time.

Director Mimi Leder


The rights to the novel Pay It Forward were scooped up by Steven Reuther’s Bel-Air Entertainment in 1998, before its publication in 1999.  It was fast tracked to development and the budget for Pay It Forward was $40 million and it was financed by Bel-Air Entertainment.   Bel-Air was formed in March 1998 as a 5-year equity partnership between Warner Bros and the French conglomerate Canal Plus and WB retained worldwide rights for the films, except for France, Spain and Germany, which went to Canal.

The project went into production as a prestige picture with huge commercial potential, toplined by Kevin Spacey who had just won an Oscar for American Beauty; Haley Joel Osment who had just been nominated for the smash hit The Sixth Sense; Helen Hunt who had won an Oscar For As Good As It Gets; and director Mimi Leder who had just helmed the box office hit Deep Impact.  Things went awry during filming when Spacey and Hunt lived up to their reputations as extremely difficult people to work with and began demanding script changes and were improvising ridiculously corny lines — like this cheap sap, courtesy of Spacey, which was cut from the final edit, but made the rounds in the media and ridiculed to no end:  “I don’t want to spend another second of wasted air, you beautiful, lovely, difficult, hilarious woman. Please don’t let me stay trapped in here forever. I’m so exhausted from being so afraid.”  Please let that footage surface one day.

Screenwriter Leslie Dixon has been very candid about the awful experience on Pay It Forward, saying of the actor’s script demands, “I began making the script worse. There weren’t wrenching changes; it was more the death by a thousand little razor cuts.”   You can read more from Dixon here.

The director and producers were subservient the actor’s retooling of the script and eventually Leslie Dixon quit the project.  Despite being overloaded with cheap sentiment that Leder was trying to tone down during editing, Pay It Forward tested well with audiences.  It was dated for October 20 and industry expectations were high for the picture and awards buzz was strong — that was until it screened for critics, who were mostly nauseated by Pay It Forward.

Warner Bros held two weekends of nationwide previews for the film to help spread word of mouth.  Pay It Forward bowed against Bedazzled and The Legend of Drunken Master and disappointed with $9,631,359 — placing #4 for the weekend led by the holdover hit Meet The Parents.  Auds were far more kind than critics and gave the movie an A cinemascore and it dipped a modest 29.4% to $6,803,726 the following frame.  Pay It Forward continued to post modest weekly declines, but the run closed with a poor $33,519,628.  WB would see returned about $18.4 million after theaters take their percentage of the gross — which would not even cover P&A expenses.

Pay It Forward was also a non-performer overseas, where it cumed $22.1 million.

Mimi Leader’s big screen career was derailed from Pay It Forward.  She was the typical case of a female director with a solid box office track record, who helmed one flop and was then cast out of the studio system.  She had a very successful career in TV, which she returned to.

After a string of box office disappointments from Bel-Air: “Pay It Forward,” “Sweet November,” “Proof of Life,” Ready To Rumble and Rock Star, Canal Plus was going to pull out of the arrangement in 2002 — but Bel-air had no more films in their pipeline, except the delayed Collateral Damage waiting for a release and the perpetually shelved Chain Of Fools, which was dumped straight to video in 2005.

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  1. I was involved at a Methodist church when this came out and the pastor actually mentioned it in a sermon. I had to go see it with a church group and they were all doe eyed over it, but I thought it was crap. I didn’t buy it on DVD, which was rare in those days as I was building a collection. This was terrible movie.

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