Windtalkers

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  • Directed By: John Woo
  • Written By: John Rice, Joe Batteer
  • Release Date: June 14, 2002
  • Domestic Distributor: MGM
  • Cast: Nicolas Cage, Adam Beach, Peter Stormare, Mark Ruffalo

Box Office Info:
Budget: $118 millionFinanced by: MGM
Domestic Gross: $40,914,068Overseas Gross: $36,714,197


MGM financed Windtalkers for $118 million and pre-sold the film to overseas distributors, reducing their exposure to the budget to around $80 million.  MGM had originally dated their expensive tentpole for November 9, 2001 but claimed they delayed the pic until June 14, 2002 because of marketing concerns after the September 11th attacks — but it was speculated that the real reason was that accounting rules recently changed where studios had to include marketing expenses upfront, which would have added gallons of red ink to an already red 2001 for MGM.  Regardless of the actual reason for the delay, an additional $2 million in interest accrued from the release change.

In preparing for their initial fall 2001 release, MGM tried to get the movie additional exposure by getting director John Woo, Nicolas Cage and other cast members invited to a July 2001 ceremony, where George W. Bush gave the Congressional Gold Medal to the four surviving members of the original 29 Navajo code talkers.  MGM was counting on the news exposure to help build awareness for their expensive picture, which Native American communities and many others had already denounced for reducing the Navajo code talkers to supporting roles and lensing the movie through a white savior approach.

MGM gave Windtalkers the full support of their marketing machine and spent $42 million on P&A in the US.  The head of MGM marketing Peter Adee said about the marketing blitz: “Everyone thinks we spend like drunken sailors, and they’re right.  It’s because it’s an all-or-nothing game. You either open [big] or you die, so there’s a lot at stake.”  Windtalkers received mixed reviews that leaned negative.  It bowed against The Bourne Identity and Scooby-Doo and placed #3 for the weekend with a very disappointing $14,520,412.  Showing terrible legs at the box office, Windtalkers collapsed 54.9% in its second frame to $6,551,131 when Minority Report entered the market and the domestic run closed with a terrible $40,914,068.  MGM would see back about $22.4 million after theaters take their percentage of the gross.

MGM posted a quarter net loss of $121.8 million, with Windtalkers listed as the primary drain on the quarter.  After ancillary and TV sales, MGM took an estimated $60 million write-down on this flop.  Windtalkers was the third high profile disaster for MGM in 2002 after Rollerball and Hart’s WarWith the remainder of the budget and additional distribution expenses covered by numerous offshore distributors, the full write-down on Windtalkers was closer to $80 million.

Windtalkers played out as poorly overseas at it did in the US, with major markets France, Germany and the UK posting just over $1 million and Japan was the highest grossing territory with $8.3 million.  The overseas cume was just $36.7 million.

Windtalkers was John Woo’s first Hollywood bomb, after a string of hits Hard Target (1993), Broken Arrow (1996), Face/Off (1997) and Mission: Impossible II.  After this he helmed Paycheck, which also tanked and then left studio filmmaking behind because “After Paycheck, I couldn’t get better scripts.

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  1. Based on the 55/45 domestic and 40/60 overseas splits, MGM saw back only $37.2 million, which wouldn’t even cover all of the $42 million P&A cost. With the total cost being at least $160 million, MGM lost an estimated $122.8 million on Windtalkers.

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