Why ‘Logan Lucky’ Became 2017’s Best Reviewed Box Office Flop

Steven Soderbergh’s thrifty marketing plan for his latest heist film didn’t pay off

Logan Lucky

Steven Soderbergh hoped to revolutionize movie distribution with a radical plan for cheaper, more targeted marketing on the Daniel Craig-Channing Tatum heist thriller “Logan Lucky.”

But like the onscreen heist things didn’t go according to plan. Despite earning a 93 percent “Fresh” rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, the film opened with just $8 million from 3,035 screens, finishing a disappointing third at a weak box office.

That is by far the lowest opening among the 10 wide-release films that have received a “Fresh” rating of 90 percent or higher on Rotten Tomato’s Tomatometer this year.

Soderbergh’s eagerly awaited return to movies had many things going for it. Produced at a reasonable $29 million budget, the film starred two talented leads, Tatum and Adam Driver, as two brothers in a rollicking heist to steal millions from Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Joining them was a cast that included Seth MacFarlane, Riley Keough, Hilary Swank, and James Bond himself, Daniel Craig, the latter of whom played a grizzled career thief with a knack for blowing things up. Reviews hailed director Steven Soderbergh for coming out of a brief retirement to make a popcorn flick that’s smarter than it looks. Yet it has failed to light a spark commercially, so what happened?

Most box office duds misfire for several reasons. But for “Logan Lucky,” there is one clear explanation: The film failed to raise awareness with audiences, and that’s due in large part to an ambitious attempt by Soderbergh to promote the film on a thrifty marketing budget. Unfortunately, the plan didn’t work out the way it was supposed to.

In interviews about his return to filmmaking, Soderbergh spoke extensively about his frustration with Hollywood, particularly how studios overspend on marketing and then take a large slice of the box office to make up the cost.

Looking to change this with “Logan Lucky,” he came up with a plan with producer and former Warner Bros. distribution exec Dan llmllman to promote the film on a budget less than what they spent to make the film with the hopes that the lion’s share of the box office would go to Soderbergh and the cast.

In a deal made with Bleecker Street (which is co-distributing with Soderbergh’s Fingerprint Releasing), “Logan Lucky” would only market the movie with money from post-theatrical distribution deals such as its streaming deal with Amazon, while foreign pre-sales would fund the production budget. In total, about $20 million was scraped together for marketing, far smaller than the budgets given even for micro budget films like those from Jason Blum’s Blumhouse.

That budget would be used to target demographics whose walks of life matched those of the characters depicted in the film. The first trailer made its debut on Memorial Day weekend during NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600, the race during which the heist in the movie takes place.

Marketing also targeted regions of the country where NASCAR is most popular, specifically the South and Midwest, rather than major coastal markets. Instead of a fancy red carpet premiere in Hollywood, a more subdued advance charity screening was held for fans in Knoxville.

Arguably the most prominent promotion the film received was Daniel Craig’s appearance on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” last week, though any jokes Craig might have shared with Colbert about playing a thief with a thick Southern accent were overshadowed by Craig making it official that he was coming back to make one more James Bond movie.

In exchange for marketing and distributing the film, Bleecker Street received a minimum fee of less than $1 million instead of a fixed cut of 10-15 percent of the box office.

If the box office returns reach certain thresholds, Bleecker Street would then receive a portion of the profits on top of the minimum fee, with their slice of the pie growing with each threshold crossed. Soderbergh said that this model lowered the bar “Logan Lucky” needed to clear to make the film profitable, estimating that a $15 million opening would be considered a win.

“All these people who work for scale to make this film will literally be able to go online with a password and look at this account as the money is delivered from the theaters,” he told GQ. “So it’s complete transparency. The question is: Can we put a movie out in 3,000 theaters, and spend half of what a studio would spend to do it, and succeed?”

With an opening that is barely more than half of that $15 million goal, the answer seems to be no, but the decision to go with a cheap marketing plan wasn’t necessarily a bad one. While Blumhouse’s thrifty marketing strategies with Universal carry a bigger price tag than what “Logan Lucky” had, they are still cheaper than a lot of blockbusters and have continuously given the horror studio immense bang for their buck.

Perhaps more marketing in between the film’s Memorial Day weekend trailer release and the heavy regional marketing could have built more buzz for the film. As Exhibitor Relations analyst Jeff Bock told TheWrap last week when discussing this summer’s box office duds, “The real success comes with coming into theaters with a lot of hype and then having the reviews to back it up,”