Rollerball

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  • Directed By: John McTiernan
  • Written By: Larry Ferguson, John Pogue
  • Release Date: February 8, 2002
  • Domestic Distributor: MGM
  • Cast: Chris Klein, Jean Reno, LL Cool J, Rebecca Romijn

Box Office Info:
Budget: $85 millionFinanced by: Helkon Media; Toho-Towa; Atlas Entertainment; MGM
Domestic Gross: $18,990,798Overseas Gross: $6,861,966


Director John McTiernan’s follow up to his remake of Norman Jewison’s Thomas Crown Affair, is the ill-fated fiasco Rollerball, also a remake of the 1975 Norman Jewison film.  German based Helkon Media co-financed the $85 million pic with Japan’s Toho-Towa, Atlas Entertainment and MGM had 30% exposure to the budget.  Helkon pre-sold the film, which kicked off at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival and the sales would limit the financiers exposure to the costs and spread the pain across many distributors.

Production for Rollerball began in July 2000 and a summer 2001 release date was planned, but test screening scores were problematic and the movie was delayed so it could be retooled/salvaged.  MGM wanted the gory violence trimmed, the nudity removed and the hard R rating reduced to PG-13.  Apparently McTiernan’s plan to keep the R rating was to fly out the oversized irritant Harry Knowles of Aintitcool to a screening in NY, since Knowles was infamous for shilling out good reviews when treated like blogger royalty — like when he took an all expense paid trip to NYC for the premiere of the atrocious 1998 Godzilla and gave it a rave review.  Knowles was flown out by one of his favorite directors, but this time it blew up in McTiernan’s face.  Knowles hated the movie, which helped spread bad buzz quickly and as test scores continued to post awful numbers, MGM gutted the movie.

MGM sent McTiernan back to heavily reshoot the movie and the end result isn’t the work of a seasoned pro, it’s the work of man who has lost his way.  Very few films with a budget this high and with this many resources at their disposal, are this incompetent.  Silly black censor bras were put over boobs in locker room scenes; the film inexplicably grinds to a slow motion halt like the projector is failing when profanity occurs; blood is digitally turned to sweat — and the whole thing stinks.  How McTiernan wasn’t fired after executives viewed dailies, especially from a very long cheap looking sequence that was inexplicably shot in night vision, is a mystery in its own.

Rollerball was eventually re-dated for February 8, 2002 and was released with some of the worst reviews and a torrent of pre-release negativity.  Even Universal succeeded in having a judge rule that having marketing material saying “From the creators of The Fast And The Furious” (co-writer John Pogue was a producer on The Fast And The Furious) was “irreparable injury” to the Fast brand.  MGM opened Rollerball in the US and lost some of the action skewing demo to the delayed Schwarzenegger movie Collateral Damage and it also bowed against Big Fat Liar. 

Rollerball pulled in a terrible $9,013,548 in 2,762 theaters.  It placed #3 for the weekend.  Rollerball sank 56.2% in its second frame to $3,946,661 when MGM opened the Bruce Willis actioner Hart’s War to the marketplace, which hurt both pictures.  Rollerball collapsed 70% in its third frame to $1,184,806 and the expensive film was out of release with $18,990,798.  MGM would see back about $10.3 million after theaters take their percentage of the gross, leaving much of their P&A spend in the red.  A few weeks after the pic opened, MGM’s quarter shares dropped 37 cents a share — claiming their $90.8 million quarter loss was mostly attributed to the dismal performances of Rollerball and Hart’s War.

Rollerball was a disaster overseas, grossing $359,145 in the UK, $303,185 from a wide release in Germany and France posted the film’s highest gross with a poor $1,580,046.  Co-financier Toho distributed in Japan to all of $190,627.  The overseas cume was $6,861,966.  As if Rollerball wasn’t enough of a humiliating stain on director John McTiernan’s resume, he also was sent to prison for his role in the Anthony Pellicano wiretapping scandal, when he hired him to investigate Rollerball producer Charles Roven over disagreements on the film.

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  1. I saw it on TV the other day, I couldn’t stop laughing at how all over the place the plot is.

    And just shock from the protagionist that an illegal underground blood sport played in Russia actually could be corrupt had me in stitches. He must have been hit in the head with a metal ball one too many times.

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