Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron

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  • Directed By: Kelly Asbury, Lorna Cook
  • Written By: John Fusco, Michael Lucker
  • Release Date: May 24, 2002
  • Domestic Distributor: DreamWorks
  • Cast: Matt Damon, James Cromwell, Daniel Studi

Box Office Info:
Budget: $90 million (estimated) Financed by: DreamWorks
Domestic Box Office: $73,280,117 Overseas Box Office: $49,283,422

“We made a movie called Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, which is one of [DreamWorks’] least successful movies.
–DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg

Spirit Stallion of the Cimarron 2002
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron was Dreamworks’ third traditionally animated feature after the modest hit The Prince of Egypt (1998) and the box office disaster The Road To El Dorado (2000).  After Spirit flopped, the mini-major released Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003), which nearly sank DreamWorks and that was their last 2D animated feature.  DreamWorks financed Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and never reported the budget to the trades and the production cost was also not issued in DreamWorks Animation’s public offering filing.  The picture was expected to cost at least $90 million.

With traditional animation losing its market share to the burgeoning CG animated craze, Jeffrey Katzenberg had talked about this transitional era at DreamWorks which was working on Shrek, Spirit and Sinbad: “It was my worst period, without a doubt. I really suffered with Sinbad. We’d started on them so we had to finish, but I knew Shrek was the way forward and that I was in a sense lying. I couldn’t tell anybody, but I knew.”  Even with traditional animation on its way out, Katzenberg was indeed high on the movie and decided to push Spirit from fall 2001 to a major Memorial Day holiday release on May 24, 2002.

DreamWorks gave Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron a very expensive marketing blitz to turn the pic into an event sized release and the mini-major launched their largest ever licensing campaign.  Spirit landed dozens of corporate partnerships that gave the movie tens of millions worth of exposure through tie-ins — Burger King, Blockbuster, Baskin-Robbins, Ralph’s, M&Ms, Spirit Airlines (easy tie-in obviously); there was a girl’s clothing line for tie-dyed dresses; pastel bedding; giant plush horses from Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Co.; both Hasbro and Breyer Toy Co. were tapped for a line of toys; Penguin Books published a series of Spirit stories; DreamWorks partnered with libraries throughout the states and gave free Spirit tickets to kids who read 5 books; and Spirit was even issued its own stamp for the U.S. Postal Service’s “The Spirit That Moved America” campaign.

The holiday release date was considered high risk, since Spirit was opening just one week after Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones and three weeks after Spider-Man and both movies would claim most of the male moviegoing demographic.  Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron was tracking strongly with young girls, but the movie had modest expectations at the box office, with early estimates pointing to a $20M 4-day holiday weekend.  To help build more hype, DreamWorks launched 500 word of mouth sneak previews over the May 10th weekend to a solid 70% capacity.  To give Spirit additional exposure in the international market, the studio dished out a few million to give the film a non-competition outdoor Cannes screening, with live music performed by Bryan Adams and Hans Zimmer.

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron bowed against Insomnia and Enough.  Reviews were mixed and unenthusiastic, but it managed to open just above expectations at $23,213,736 over the 4-day period ($17,770,036 3-day).  Audiences gave the movie a strong A cinemascore and it posted a decent enough 36.4% decline in attendance the following frame to $11,303,814 and dipped a very modest 17.7% to $9,303,808 in its third session.  The domestic run closed with $73,280,117.  DreamWorks would see returned about $40.2M after theaters take their percentage of the gross — which would just about cover stateside P&A expenses only.

Universal handled the majority of the overseas markets, where Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron posted weak numbers.  The offshore run closed with a very disappointing $49.2M.

After the theatrical run failed to find its audience, DreamWorks went all out on another marketing blitz for the home video release.  Kelley Avery, the head of video for DreamWorks said the studio courted more tie-in partners for Spirit than they did for the video rollout of Shrek.  After solid video sales, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron was expected to end as a modest write-off.

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  1. It has had a bit of a cult following in past years- or at least, enough to inspire a Netflix series by DreamWorks over a decade later.

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