Is Brad Pitt seen as too good a guy to play a hit man? Moviegoers this weekend gave a thumbs down to his crime thriller “Killing Them Softly,” which opened to a disappointing $7 million at the box office.
It's Pitt's worst box office opening ever, or at least since 1992's "Cool World," which took in $5.5 million. That one was on just 1,600 screens though. "Killing Them Softly" was in 2,422 theaters.
Expectations were modest for “Killing Them Softly,” distributed by the Weinstein Company. Analysts had the film doing $12 million and thought it might do better, based on the appeal of Pitt. Instead it wound up with same weekend total as Disney's animated "Wreck-It Ralph," which is in its fifth week.
Pitt got a lot of the credit for the surprising success of last year’s baseball movie “Moneyball,” which opened to $19 million and went on to make $75 million. But first-night audiences gave "Killing Them Softly" an “F” CinemaScore, and the Weinstein's date change -- it had originally been set to open Oct. 19 -- didn't help.
Erik Lomis, head of distribution for the Weinstein Co., admitted he was disappointed and surprised.
"We thought a bold, caring film and we are proud of the movie," he told TheWrap Sunday. "We looked at the reviews and we thought it deserved a wide release.”
Producer Annapurna Production made the film for $15 million and is on the financial hook. "Killing Them Softly" has generally received good reviews -- 81 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes -- after premiering in competition in Cannes earlier this year. Some critics questioned whether the film's relentless references to the 2008 recession made it too talky for action fans.
It can cut either way when an actor who typically plays a "good guy" becomes a bad guy, or at least a very flawed character, in a film. Denzel Washington notably went against his typical roles in the 2001 film "Training Day," in which he played a cop gone bad. That film debuted No. 1 at $22 million.
"You never know," Lomis said. "We had a strong Friday and thought that would provide a lift." That miserable "F" CinemaScore, however, meant the word-of-mouth was going to hurt rather than help, however.
Andrew Dominik (“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”) directed and wrote the screenplay on "Killing Them Softly." The supporting cast includes Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins and James Gandolfini.
It's always a risk when stars try something different. Box-office heavyweights Tom Cruise and Adam Sandler stepped out of their comfort zones in movies that opened in June -- “Rock of Ages” and “That’s My Boy” -- and landed flat-footed.
Warner Bros.' $74-million "Rock of Ages," with Cruise as an aging rock icon, opened to a disappointing $15 million. Sony's $65 million "That's My Boy," with Sandler in his first R-rated comedy, did even worse with just $13 million.