Death Wish

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  • Directed By: Eli Roth
  • Written By: Joe Carnahan
  • Release Date: March 2, 2018
  • Domestic Distributor: MGM
  • Cast: Bruce Willis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Elisabeth Shue

Box Office Info:
Budget: $30 millionFinanced by: MGM
Domestic Box Office: $34,017,028Overseas Box Office: $14,559,351


In 2007, the mess that was MGM was crippled by $3.7 billion in debt, massive interest payments, a looming bankruptcy and a small equity fund that kept the studio running on fumes.  MGM was mining their massive library of movies to set up a slate of projects of established titles that they could remake — RoboCop, Red Dawn, Poltergeist, Fame, Three Stooges, more James Bond and Death Wish.  In 2007, just months after Rocky Balboa lifted Sylvester Stallone’s career out of the gutter, MGM announced that Death Wish would be rebooted as a new franchise for Stallone to direct and star in.  While the Stallone deal was in the works, Death Wish novelist Brian Garfield’s sequel Death Sentence (2007) was wrapping production from Hyde Park/FOX.  That picture was a critical and box office dud.

Stallone eventually walked away from the project in 2008 and only a handful of pictures made it into production at MGM, before their financial woes forced them to cease distributing movies.  The Death Wish property was resurrected again in January 2012, when MGM was emerging from its bankruptcy and was given a $500 million line of credit led by JP Morgan and a slew of other irresponsible banks.  The remakes RoboCop, Poltergeist and Carrie were greenlit and Death Wish began to move forward under director Joe Carnahan.  He left over ‘creative differences’ and sent a lovely email to MGM CEO Jonathan Glickman, which he wrote: “You had a potential Oscar-winning film with maybe the best script in Hollywood but because you’re a coward and a dumb c-nt you now have an untested, second-time director and an arrogant, lazy, aging action star that will run that poor kid into the ground. Good luck, asshole. You’re a spineless, gutless turd who doesn’t belong in the business. Enjoy your run as a ‘studio head,’ Glickman. It’s going to be a short one. F-ck you, Joe Carnahan.”

Glickman’s contract has been renewed until 2020 and Carnahan’s filmed screenplay for Death Wish has a 0.00% chance at an Oscar.  Gerardo Naranjo was the next director called in to take the reins of Death Wish, but he left after MGM vetoed Benicio Del Toro in favor of Bruce Willis.  Next up was Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, which had the approval of Bruce Willis, but they exited after MGM refused to allow them to rewrite the script and inject humor and steer the tone and character more toward Taxi Driver and Falling Down.

In June 2016, Eli Roth signed on as director and Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski were brought in to do an uncredited rewrite.  The budget for Death Wish was $30 million after tax rebates from Canada and MGM financed.   The studio partnered with the new startup distributor Annapurna Pictures to handle their slate of movies in the international market.  Annapurna had brokered dozens of deals with overseas distributors to output their releases and Death Wish went out through their pipeline.  MGM handled the domestic release, making Death Wish their first distributed picture since Hot Tub Time Machine (2010).

Death Wish was first dated for November 22, 2017, but just days after the 2017 Las Vegas shooting on October 1, MGM pushed the movie back to March 2, 2018.  Finding a problematic free date for a movie like Death Wish would be damn near impossible, considering the frequent mass shootings in the United States — and after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting on February 14, 2018 Death Wish was criticized as pro-gun, right-wing agitprop.  When it comes to the Death Wish series, it has been met with the same controversy since 1974.  Controversy aside, despite having a budget larger than all of the previous Death Wish movies combined, this remake could never reach the unhinged and amazing anti-genius of Death Wish 3.

MGM was bullish on marketing their return to distribution and gave Death Wish a heavy P&A spend.  $22.14 million (as per iSpotTV) was spent on TV ads, plus millions more in other traditional means of advertising and distribution expenses — with a domestic ad spend certainly north of $35M.  Reviews were predictably awful, but tracking was pointing to a mid to upper teens bow.  Death Wish bowed against Red Sparrow.  Bruce Willis’ drawing power had flatlined to the point where his career has been in direct to video hell for almost 5 years and he seems to have exhausted any remaining goodwill amongst general audiences.  Death Wish came in below estimates with $13,010,267 — placing #3 for the weekend led by holdover Black Panther.  The movie declined 49.4% to $6,581,130 the following frame and fell 48.8% in its third session to $3,368,565.  The domestic run closed with $34,017,028.  MGM would see returned about $18.7M after theaters take their percentage of the gross.

Bruce Willis’ star wattage has also faded offshore, where Death Wish has done mostly dreadful business.  The reported overseas cume stands at $14.5M.

The Death Wish property is inherently exploitation trash and should not require a mid-range budget and its financing should have been modeled after sub $10M budgeted Blumhouse fare — which this easily could have launched a franchise.  Instead in MGM’s financial report (page 53) they posted a net loss of “$11.6 million… which primarily reflected the net U.S. theatrical performance of Death Wish and Operation Finale.”

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