Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

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  • Directed By: Peter Weir
  • Written By: Peter Weir, John Collee
  • Release Date: November 14, 2003
  • Domestic Distributor: FOX
  • Cast: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, James D’Arcy

Box Office Info:
Budget: $150 millionFinanced by: FOX; Miramax; Universal
Domestic Box Office: $93,927,920Overseas Box Office: $118,083,191


In November 1993, the Samuel Goldwyn Co. optioned the theatrical rights to Master and Commander for $500,000 against $750,000.  The president of Samuel Goldwyn Films, Tom Rothman strongly pushed for the project to go before the cameras in 1995, but it never materialized and eventually the rights lapsed and were picked up by Disney.  Master And Commander never came together at the mouse house and when Tom Rothman became the chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment in 2000, he acquired the rights again.

Rothman spent nearly a year courting Peter Weir to direct Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and then gave the production a massive amount of resources to mount the epic.  The big-budget swashbuckler genre had been deemed commercially deadly after the spectacular box office wipeouts from movies like Cutthroat Island (1995) and Roman Polanski’s Pirates (1986), but two mega-budget high-sea epics went into production at nearly the same time — Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.  Both projects had hoped to not only put a kibosh on the box office curse for swashbucklers, but also launch a franchise.

As FOX was in pre-production on Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, the budget estimates began to rise past the $100M mark and the studio went in search of financial partners to offset their risk.  FOX sold 25% of the film to Universal and 25% to Miramax.  FOX would handle domestic distribution and Universal & Miramax would own international rights.

The production went over budget and reports began to surface that costs had risen past $135M.  With the addition of 730 vfx shots, the final budget estimates had grown to $150 million.  When executives from Universal and Miramax screened a rough cut of the film, they demanded extensive changes, especially more exposition that takes place on land — but Weir refused and Rothman backed the director.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World was first dated for June 6, 2003 and was positioned to beat Pirates of the Caribbean to theaters first (July 9), but the vfx took longer than expected and it was pushed back to November 14.  The movie was primed as not only an end of the year prestige picture with major awards potential, but as a commercially friendly potential blockbuster.  FOX launched an expensive marketing blitz and buzz was very strong after it landed fantastic reviews.

Master and Commander bowed against Looney Tunes: Back in Action and Tupac: Resurrection.  Tracking was pointing to a high teens opening and it came in well above expectations with $25,105,990 — placing #2 for the weekend led by the holdover Elf.  The following frame had a 39.4% decline in attendance to $15,213,896 and it dipped 20.8% to $12,048,731 in its third session.  Master And Commander had grossed $85.4M before the Academy Award nominations were announced on January 27, 2004, where it landed 10 nominations including Best Picture.  That weekend it was expanded back into wide release.  The final domestic gross was $93,927,920. FOX would see returned about $51.6M after theaters take their percentage of the gross — which would likely cover P&A expenses but barely dent their $75M exposure to the budget.

The overseas numbers were also troubling for a picture of this expense and it pulled in $118,083,191.  The two studios would see returned about $64.9M of the theatrical receipts, which left enough red ink on this project that franchise plans were aborted.

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