Cowboys & Aliens

  • COWBOYS & ALIENS box office
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  • Directed By: Jon Favreau
  • Written By: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby
  • Release Date: July 29, 2011
  • Domestic Distributor: Universal
  • Cast: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell

Box Office Info:
Budget: $163 million Financed by: Dreamworks; Universal; Relativity
Domestic Gross: $100,240,551 Overseas Gross: $74,581,774

“Certainly you couldn’t have more talented people involved in Cowboys and Aliens, but it took, you know, ten smart and talented people to come up with a mediocre movie. It just happens.”
— Universal President Ron Meyer

cowboys & aliens 2011
In May 1997, it was announced that Universal and DreamWorks jointly acquired the rights to a Cowboys & Aliens pitch for $500,000 against $1.5 million, for what was literally only a drawing of a cowboy and a spaceship.  There was no script, no plot — only the basic idea of a genre mashup that could be a franchise and would also be turned into a graphic novel.  Steve Oedekerk was tapped to write the script for a low seven-figure payday and would land $3.5 million to direct.  If the project made it before the cameras, his deal was potentially worth $7 million.

Cowboys & Aliens was originally scripted as a goofy comedy, but development stalled after the expensive western comedy misfire Wild Wild West (1999) flopped.  In 2002, the project moved over to Escape Artists and Sony and underwent many drafts.  Cowboys & Aliens was becoming more serious as it was being rewritten and Sony eventually decided to pull out after the studio spent far too much developing a picture they thought was now too dark.

The graphic novel was finally published in late 2006 and in 2008, Cowboys & Aliens was back at Universal and DreamWorks, who were finally moving forward with the movie.  The budget for Cowboys & Aliens was a pricey $163 million and financing came from DreamWorks, which covered 50% of the costs, Universal covered 25% and Relativity Media also covered 25%.  Dreamworks and Universal split the marketing costs, with the picture going out through Universal.

After 14 years in development, the project never found a good marketing hook for the high concept mashup, but audience awareness was very high from an expensive marketing blitz.  Cowboys & Aliens also landed tens of millions worth of free exposure from tie-ins with Nestle, 7-Eleven, Comcast, Sprint, Hilton, Nascar and others.  Months before the release, Cowboys & Aliens were plastered all over popcorn bags/buckets and soda at movie theaters.  The expensive tentpole was dated for the prime summer frame on July 29, 2011 and it bowed against The Smurfs and Crazy, Stupid, Love.  Reviews were mixed and tracking was pointing to an opening near $45M.

Cowboys & Aliens disappointed, but won the weekend with $36,431,290. It sank 56.8% in its second frame to $15,729,455 when Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes opened, killing its chances at breaking out.  The domestic run did manage to reach the century mark at $100,240,551.

Cowboys & Aliens posted soft business overseas for a movie of this expense and cumed $74.5M.  With a $174.8M worldwide total, about $96.1M would be returned after theaters take their percentage of the gross, which would not even cover the huge worldwide ad spend.  Cowboys & Aliens ended as a loss of at least $80 million.


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  1. This film all the elements to make it a favorite of mine. But something is missing. I so wanted to love it.

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