Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

  • final fantasy: the spirits within box office
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    • Directed By: Hironobu Sakaguchi, Motonori Sakakibara
    • Written By: Al Reinert, Jeff Vintar
    • Release Date: July 11, 2001
    • Domestic Distributor: Sony
    • Cast: Ming-Na Wen, Alec Baldwin, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi

Box Office Info:
Budget: $137 million Financed by: Square Company
Domestic Gross: $32,131,830 Overseas Gross: $53,000,000

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was financed by Square Company for $137 million.  Square USA was a feature animation offshoot of Square Company, the Japanese video game publisher and Square Co. spent over $45 million to create a state of the art computer animation facility in Hawaii — and this video game adaptation was to launch Square as a leading animation player in Hollywood.  The creator of the Final Fantasy game series Hironobu Sakaguchi, helmed the movie and was also placed as president of Square USA.  In November 1998, Sony signed on as worldwide distributor, except for Japan and markets in Asia.

As the four year production was coming to an end, Sakaguchi announced he would begin production on a second film when The Spirits Within was completed.  The expensive development costs and production costs for the Final Fantasy movie impacted Square’s bottomline so much, that they posted a yearly loss for the first time in the company’s history in 2000 at $18.7 million.  However, they projected a 2001 yearly profit of $6 million after Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within would have its worldwide theatrical rollout.  That $6M in profit would come after the theatrical receipts would cover not only the enormous budget, but a massive global marketing blitz.  Instead Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within ended as one of the biggest box office disasters on record.

Sony gave the motion capture pic an aggressive domestic P&A spend north of $30 million and there was much hype, as well as debate over the movie, which some viewed as threatening to replace actors.  Reviews were mixed and the tentpole bowed against Legally Blonde and The Score.  Sony gave Final Fantasy a head start at the box office, opening the movie on Wednesday July 11th and it pulled in an ok $5,007,886.  It proved to be very front loaded and tanked over the weekend with a troubling $11,408,853 — placing #4 for the frame led by Legally Blonde.  Audiences did not like what they saw and gave Final Fantasy a terrible C+ cinemascore and it took a second weekend nosedive 67.9% to $3,658,552.  It posted a 64.4% third frame drop to $1,302,566 and then promptly lost most of its theater count.  The Spirits Within closed its domestic run with only $32,131,830.

The film was mostly a misfire overseas as well, grossing $53 million — including a majorly disappointing run in Japan that cumed $6 million.  This was a major catastrophe for Square Company, that instead of their $6 million projected profit, they posted an annual loss of $84 million, mostly attributed to the film.  Factoring in Sony’s expenses on the picture, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within lost $100 million.

Three months after the pic opened to dismal numbers, Square Company announced that they would quit the movie business and focus only on video games and the Hawaii facility’s fate was unknown at the time.  Square then tried to partner with a hollywood studio to help manage film production operations, so they would not have to shutter the animation house.  They did not land a partner and with $18 million in yearly operating expenses, they closed the Hawaii location down on March 31, 2002 and 125 employees from Japan and the US lost their jobs.


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  1. Square messed this up royally, their target audience in the West, Gamers, wanted a movie based on Final Fantasy VII, what they got instead was a film not connected to ANY game in the franchise aside from having a guy called “Cid” in it.

    So, spending that much money on a franchise that not only alienated it’s target audience, but had zero brand recognition outside of that (it never caught mainstream press like other games such as Tomb Raider Etc.), was bound for disaster.

    The uncanny valley also didn’t help, I remember Terry Gilliam completely laying into the movie freaky CG actors in a BBC interview.

  2. “Threatening to replace actors” I remember this. Almost 20 years later and we’re really no closer to overcoming the uncanny valley.

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