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Jason Reitman’s ‘Men, Women and Children’ Takes Box-Office Bellyflop

Despite Adam Sandler topping the ensemble cast, its wide opening is fifth-worst ever

“Men, Women & Children,” writer-director Jason Reitman‘s drama about sex, parenting and life in the digital age, brought in an anemic $306,367 in its nationwide opening in 608 theaters this weekend.

No one was expecting blockbuster numbers from the film, in which Adam Sandler tops an ensemble cast, particularly since it gained little traction in its platform release. But the opening grosses were the fifth-worst ever for a movie on more than 600 screens, according to BoxOfficeMojo.

To put that in further perspective, limited openers “Birdman” and “Dear White People” out-grossed “Men, Women and Children” this weekend — on four and 11 screens, respectively.

“Men, Women and Children” was produced by Reitman and Helen Estabrook via Right of Way Films. It’s taken in just $461,162 after three weeks, so making it to a $1 million in domestic grosses is a very long shot. That will leave backers Indian Paintbrush and Paramount, which distributed and marketed the film, on the hook for its $16 million budget.

Also read: ‘Dear White People’ Takes Marketing Cue From Itself to Start Fast at Box Office

“Men, Women and Children” is the polar opposite of a typical Sandler comedy vehicle, and was always going to be a tricky sell to mainstream audiences. Sandler, Jennifer Garner and Judy Greer are parents to kids played by Kaitlyn Dever, Ansel Elgort and Olivia Crocicchia, all wrestling with technology’s troubling impact on their relationships and lives.

But the flop is startling because of the box office pedigree of those involved.

Sandler has been one of the biggest draws of the past two decades, and his films have generated more than $3.9 billion in worldwide grosses. Reitman made a major splash several years ago with the critical and commercial hits “Thank You for Not Smoking,” “Juno” and “Up in the Air.” But his more recent efforts, the well-reviewed “Young Adult,” and “Labor Day,” failed to connect. Elgort is coming off a starring turn in “The Fault in our Stars,” one of the summer’s biggest breakout hits.

Also read: Nicholas Sparks’ ‘Best of Me’ Marks Author’s Worst Box-Office Opening Ever

“It’s unfair to pin the success or failure of a movie on a star or stars alone,” BoxOffice.com vice-president and senior analyst Phil Contrino told TheWrap. “It’s a myth to say that people that people show up reflexively. Stars generate interest, but there has to be a story that people care about. Look at Tom Hanks and ‘Cloud Atlas.’ He worked very hard to promote that movie, but it still wasn’t enough.”

Several factors hurt “Men, Women and Children.”

The critics didn’t like it (28 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), which matters more for smaller films which depend on word of mouth. The marketplace was a tough one, primarily because of “Gone Girl,” another R-rated drama that has been the top choice for older moviegoers for weeks now. And Paramount’s marketing campaign was low-key, to say the least.

Also read: 5 Reasons Why ‘Gone Girl’ Has Hyper-Hold at the Box Office (Video)

Hindsight is just that, but the decision to go with a limited release initially, rather than starting with a nationwide opening, can be questioned. Platform releases are designed to build on positive word of mouth, but the buzz from its screenings at the Toronto International Film Festival wasn’t that strong, and “Men, Women & Children” struggled in its limited debut. It averaged $2,825 on 17 screens on the first weekend in October, then $1,595 on 28 in its second.