Snowden

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    • Directed By: Oliver Stone
    • Written By: Kieran Fitzgerald, Oliver Stone
    • Release Date: September 16, 2016
    • Domestic Distributor: Open Road/End Game
    • Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto

Box Office Info:
Budget: $39 millionFinanced by: Endgame Entertainment; Vendian Entertainment; TG Media; KrautPack
Domestic Gross: $21,587,519Overseas Gross: $15,691,920


Oliver Stone and his producing partner Moritz Borman, began the Snowden project by securing the rights of the book ‘Time of the Octopus‘ by Snowden’s Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena for $1 million.  Kucherena was essentially the gatekeeper for access to Snowden.  Stone and Kieran Fitzgerald’s screenplay was well received when it went to auction for every major studio and while there was interest with the attached cast and reasonable budget, rejection usually came down from the conglomerates that own the studios — which usually have political ties (and opinions) and they viewed Snowden as too much of a controversial figure.

Stone then took the project to France based Pathé and development moved forward.  The gross budget for Snowden was $50 million and after rebates the exposure was $39 million.  Financing came from Endgame Entertainment, Vendian Entertainment, TG Media, and KrautPack — The Bavaria fund ‘The FFF Bayern’ awarded the project €1.6 million from the Special Funding Programme for International Co-Productions.

Before production began, Open Road (joint distribution between theater chains Regal and AMC) partnered with Endgame Entertainment to take domestic rights and the two companies would co-finance P&A and distribution expenses.  Wild Bunch pre-sold the film and sold out most markets, with the exception of the surveillance state that is the UK, which also viewed the project as threatening and controversial (finally in October 2016, Vertigo Releasing took UK rights).  Pre-sales accounted for the bulk of the budget.

As financing was being finalized on the Stone movie, a competing project began development at Sony.  The studio purchased the book rights to Glenn Greenwald’s “No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the U. S. Surveillance State” but they canceled the project since Stone’s movie would make it to the marketplace first.  Say what you will about Oliver Stone (and the quality of this movie), but he at least had the convictions to make the movie he set out to and in the Sony Wikileaks emails, Keith E. Weaver, Sony Executive Vice President Worldwide Government Affairs, objected to parts of a press release about acquiring Greenwald’s book.  He asked that the following changes be made:  1. In the first sentence of the second paragraph – delete the phrase “illegal spying” and either leave it simply as “operations” or replace it with “intelligence gathering” – so the clause would read “U.S. government’s intelligence gathering operations.”  2.  In the second sentence of the second paragraph – delete the phrase “misuse of power” and replace it with “actions” or “activities” so that it would read “the NSA’s actions” or “the NSA’s activities.”  If a book press release ends up doctored to comply with the current propaganda machine, one can only imagine how toothless the Sony feature would have been rendered.

Open Road first dated Snowden for a wide release on Christmas in 2015, but Stone needed more time to edit and the date was pushed back to May 13 — with eyes on a Cannes premiere.  After very strong test screening responses, Open Road decided to move the pic to September 16 as a potential awards contender.  This drew a very negative response from European distributors, which wanted to use the publicity garnered at Cannes as a platform to launch the movie and release it after the festival.  Open Road did not allow the Cannes screenings and distributors had to push the date back to the fall.

To drum up interest, there was a panel at Comic-Con and a live stream of Edward Snowden, as well as a Fathom Events nationwide stream of Edward Snowden in theaters just before the release.  While the film was successful in returning some media attention back to surveillance, whistleblowers and mounting cries to either pardon or execute Snowden, the movie was tracking soft.  For better or worse, additional exposure arrived the day before the film’s release, when the House Intelligence Committee issued a scathing report about Edward Snowden to smear the movie.

Snowden received a mixed response from critics and opened against Blair Witch and Bridget Jones’s Baby and was tracking for an $8 – $10 million weekend.  It was booked into 2,443 theaters and came within its modest forecast at $8,000,058 — placing #4 for the weekend led by the holdover Sully.  Audiences gave the pic a great A cinemascore, but it did not have the legs it needed to break out and it declined 49.3% to $4,056,229 the following weekend.  Snowden then sank 51.5% to $1,966,630 in its third frame.  The domestic run closed with a disappointing $21,587,519.  Whether it was the soft reviews or fatigue/depression from the 2016 dumpster fire of an election — what was once the town’s major hot project, fizzled at the box office without much fanfare.

Snowden also struggled overseas.  Germany posted a mediocre $3.2 million and the France release pulled in $3.4 million in receipts.  The offshore cume stalled at just $15.6 million.

3 Comments

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  1. Welp, people want movies about heroes. No matter how much the far-left keeps banging the drum, the movie-going public knew that Snowden is no hero. That Assange flick with Cumberbatch bombed for the same reason.

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