Punisher: War Zone

  • Punisher: War Zone box office
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  • Directed By: Lexi Alexander
  • Written By: Nick Santora, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway
  • Release Date: December 5, 2008
  • Domestic Distributor: Lionsgate
  • Cast: Ray Stevenson, Dominic West, Doug Hutchison

Box Office Info:
Budget: $22 million Financed by: Lionsgate; Société générale de financement du Quebec; MHF Zweite Academy Film
Domestic Box Office: $8,050,977 Overseas Box Office: $2,049,059

In May 2000, Artisan Entertainment inked a major rights deal with Marvel to turn at least 15 comic book properties into modestly budgeted fare, but only The Punisher (2004) materialized.  Artisan was acquired by Lionsgate in late 2003, which handled the release for The Punisher and inherited the Marvel rights.  That picture underperformed at the box office ($54.7M worldwide), but Lionsgate became bullish on developing a sequel after strong home video sales.  After the disastrous release of Punisher: War Zone, the rights reverted back to Marvel in 2010.

Lionsgate was initially moving forward with Thomas Jane back in the Frank Castle role, but executives began to impose screenplay changes that led to his departure.  The script was widely looked at as garbage and numerous directors turned down Punisher: War Zone.  Ray Stevenson was eventually cast as the lead and Lexi Alexander was tapped to helm the project, which she turned into an 80’s throwback of the trashiest kind (this a major guilty pleasure movie around here).

In 2007 Lionsgate set up a four year financing deal with Société générale de financement du Quebec, which is the government investment branch of the Canadian province — in which SGF would cover 35% of the production costs for Lionsgate’s slate of films.  Punisher: War Zone was one of the first projects under the new arrangement.  Lionsgate also landed financing from the German fund MHF Zweite Academy Film.  In November 2007, while the film was in production, Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group acquired all international rights to the project and another Lionsgate sequel Crank 2.

Between Lionsgate’s financing partners and Sony’s unreported acquisition amount, the mini-major had mitigated most of their risk on the film.  The budget for Punisher: War Zone was a modest $22 million — that figure was confirmed by Lionsgate vice chairman Michael Burns at the December 2008 Global Media and Communications Conference, who also said that he expected the movie to lose only $4M or $5M for the studio.

Production was apparently quite unpleasant, with on set interference from executives and then reports that Alexander was removed during a period of post production and then reinstated at some point.  Rumors also circulated that the picture would be trimmed to PG-13, which seems ridiculous, considering the amount of gore on display, but regardless, buzz was not very promising.

Lionsgate originally slated Punisher: War Zone for a September 12 release, but clearly had no faith in the movie and dumped it over the usually slow post-Thanksgiving frame on December 5.  The new date also put the film in direct competition with another Lionsgate release Transporter 3, which was released the weekend prior.

Reviews were atrocious and Punisher: War Zone was dead on arrival with $4,271,451 — placing #8 for the weekend led by Four Christmases and it opened slightly below Transporter 3.  War Zone plummeted 67.6% in its second frame to $1,383,898 and was pulled out of all theaters after its third week with only $8,050,977.  Lionsgate would see returned about $4.4M after theaters take their percentage of the gross — far below P&A expenses.   In its third quarter report, Lionsgate posted a $93.4 million loss, mostly attributed to the terrible theatrical runs of The Spirit, Punisher: War Zone and Transporter 3.

Sony dumped the movie straight to video in almost every offshore market and it pulled in a mere $2 million from a fleeting theatrical release in a few countries.

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