Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

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  • Directed By: Werner Herzog
  • Written By: William M. Finkelstein
  • Release Date: November 20, 2009
  • Domestic Distributor: First Look
  • Cast: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Fairuza Balk

Box Office Info:
Budget: $25 millionFinanced by: Nu Image/Millennium
Domestic Box Office: $1,702,112Overseas Box Office: $8,886,990


Director Werner Herzog: “No, it’s not a remake.”  This, um, reimagining began with first time producers Gabe and Alan Polsky launching Polsky Films with their eyes on the Bad Lieutenant property.  Producer Edward Pressman owned the Bad Lieutenant movie from 1992 and agreed to develop the project with the Polskys.  Nu Image/Millennium financed Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans and the budget was set at $25 million.  Millennium would also become Nicolas Cage’s best employer for years, as they handed him many starring vehicles, all of which were money losers.  Their working relationship began with The Wicker Man, then Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New OrleansDrive Angry (2011), Trespass (2011) and Stolen (2012).

Millennium pre-sold the rights to distributors, which sold well across the world and actually made a small profit for Nu Image/Millennium when pre-sales eclipsed the budget.  Nu Image/Millennium head and veteran schlock financier Avi Lerner explained the pre-selling process as best he could:  “If I have Werner Herzog and Nic Cage and Eva Mendes, I can go to market and say, ‘Hey, Mr. German Guy, I know this is a dark movie, but you get Nic Cage and Werner Herzog and all I need from you is $2 million. When the German guy says yes–because it’s a good deal for him–then I go to the French guy and the Italian guy and the Japanese guy. They all say yes and if I add up the numbers and it’s more than the cost of the movie, with a little tax benefit from Louisiana, where we’re shooting, then I’m a happy guy. It’s as simple as that.”

As the project was being pitched to distributors at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, the director of the 1992 original Abel Ferrara who was also at the festival, did not not exactly endorse the new iteration of Bad Lieutenant saying: “I wish these people die in hell.  I hope they’re all in the same streetcar and it blows up.”

Despite landing distribution in most markets, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans had trouble attaching a domestic distributor.  The finished film made the sales rounds to all the major studios and distributors and was passed over by all.  The movie played at numerous festivals, landed strong reviews and still there was no distributor interest.  The film eventually went out through First Look, which is owned by Nu Image.  Clearly the company did not want to risk any capital on the picture, which they were already in the black and the small amount of P&A money came from Polsky Films — which spent only $1.3 million.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans was booked into 27 theaters on November 20 and pulled in $245,398 with a mediocre $9,089 per screen average.  The movie never expanded beyond 96 theaters and ended its run with only $1,702,112.  Polsky Films then sued First Look and Nu Image for taking all the money that came in from the box office, when they were contractually obligated to pay back Polsky Films first.  Polsky Films joined the queue behind the 20+ companies that sued First Look for non payment, which owner Avi Lerner closed down from bankruptcy the following year in 2010.

Overseas, the film pulled in small numbers across numerous distributors and its highest worldwide gross was $2.1 million from France for distributor Metropolitan (the French guy).  Most markets posted grosses under $1 million and its overseas cume was only $8.8 million.

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  1. Herzog makes the best documentaries, but his narrative films always seem to bomb or underperform these days.

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