The Island

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  • Directed By: Michael Bay
  • Written By: Caspian Tredwell-Owen, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci
  • Release Date: July 22, 2005
  • Domestic Distributor: DreamWorks
  • Cast: Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Djimon Hounsou, Steve Buscemi

Box Office Info:
Budget: $124 million Financed by: DreamWorks; Warner Bros
Domestic Gross: $35,818,913 Overseas Gross: $127,130,251

the island michael bay flop
Caspian Tredwell-Owen’s The Island spec script was in a bidding war between DreamWorks and Paramount and DreamWorks landed the spec in February 2004, for $1 million against $1.5 million.  DreamWorks rushed the project into development and immediately set a summer 2005 release date for the expensive tentpole.  After The Island was a commercial disaster, the head of marketing at DreamWorks, Terry Press said “The biggest mistake this company made was we made a date, not a movie.”  The Island devalued DreamWorks so much, that a year long negotiation about being bought out by Universal was derailed when Universal lowered their bid from $1.5 billion to $1.4 billion, primarily because of the performance of the movie.

The Island was produced for $124 million and was originally going to be about $15 million more expensive, until financier DreamWorks got cold feet about the budget and Michael Bay had to cut pricey sequences from the production.  DreamWorks then wanted a partner to split the costs and Bay pitched the project to Warner Bros which boarded.  DreamWorks would handle domestic distribution and WB would take international.

DreamWorks dated The Island for July 22, 2005 and launched the most expensive marketing campaign in the company’s history.  The mini-major began to market the picture pushing the sci-fi and cloning theme, but that did not click with audiences, so they revamped the ads to push the action — but interest remained low.  As for selling the action spectacle, since the production was rushed, some of the most expensive sequences were filmed last and were not finished in time to be added to the promotional campaign.  Bay began airing his grievances to the media about the poor ad campaign led by Terry Press.  DreamWorks had no grasp on how to sell the picture and even created more than 650 versions of the poster, until the final generic version was chosen.  Bay publicly criticized poster for making Scarlett Johansson look like “a porn star.”

As the movie was tracking for disaster, DreamWorks wanted to push the release back to Thanksgiving, but they were contractually required to open it before the Japan release, which was dated one day after the stateside opening.  The Island bowed against Bad News Bears, Hustle and Flow and The Devil’s Rejects.

Unfocused marketing, little star power and mixed reviews led to a terrible $12,409,070 — placing #4 for the weekend led by holdover Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Michael Bay called the opening ‘a debacle‘ and was quoted by the Latimes: “It could be the subject matter, the lack of stars. I’m not blaming the whole thing on the marketers.”  Maybe it was all of those things, plus the generic quality of the movie.  The Island sank 51.9% in its second frame to $5,963,223 when Stealth, the second mega-budget action bomb of the summer opened, ending The Island‘s slim chances at breaking out.  The domestic run closed with only $35,818,913.  DreamWorks would see returned about $19.7 million after theaters take their percentage of the gross — which would leave a sizable portion of the P&A spend in the red and their half of the budget at a loss.

Warner Bros distributed the film in most overseas markets and saw more success.  South Korea posted the strongest gross at $21.6 million and their marketing material stressed the clone premise.  The offshore cume was $127,130,251.

Following the disastrous box office performance was a copyright infringement lawsuit from the makers of the Z-grade low budget movie Parts: The Clonus Horror (1979), as they claimed The Island ripped off numerous scenes and plot points from their movie.  The claim went to trial and DreamWorks settled the case for seven figures.

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