Before its theatrical release, The Walk seemed to have everything going for it. The dramatized retelling of Philippe Petit's harrowing high-wire act across the Twin Towers seemed like the Imax event of the year. In addition to the star power of lead actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt and director Robert Zemeckis, it received positive early reviews from critics, and the Imax 3D effects were insanely hyped up by the media. Countless stories of people getting severe vertigo during screenings were arguably the film's biggest selling point. BoxOffice.com at one point predicted a $16 million opening. However, any hope of this movie doing well in its wide release was shattered this weekend.
After being released exclusively in Imax 3D on September 30th, The Walk had a wide expansion last Friday. In its first weekend in wide release, The Walk grossed a paltry $3.6 million, making it one of the worst opening weekends of all time for a movie released in over 2,000 theaters.
Just to give you an example of how bad of an opening that was, here are a few notorious flops that had bigger openings than The Walk:
- Movie 43 - $4.8 million opening.
- Vampire Academy - $3.9 million opening.
- Gigli - $3.7 million opening.
- Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return - $3.7 million opening.
All of this just begs the question: what happened with this movie? While there's no way to ask every person on Earth why they didn't see the movie, we can always come up with theories. I recently posted a discussion on Reddit about The Walk's underwhelming performance, and many of the theories presented made a lot of sense.
One theory is that Philippe Petit's story was already adequately told in the documentary: Man on Wire. James Marsh's documentary was one of the most acclaimed movies of 2008, appearing on several critics' top ten lists of the year. One could argue that audiences would rather see the true story (complete with footage of the actual event) told by the people who were actually there instead of a dramatized version of it. Moreover, those unfamiliar with Petit's walk could have had no interest in seeing the movie, as the story may not be notorious enough to be known by the average modern moviegoer.
In addition, while big names like Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Robert Zemeckis are attached to the film, that never necessarily guaranteed getting audiences to come see the movie. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as good of an actor as he is, isn't as big of a box-office draw as someone like Chris Pratt or Denzel Washington (who starred in Zemeckis' more successful movie Flight). He's had several supporting roles in big movies like The Dark Knight Rises and Inception, but he has yet to headline a big blockbuster movie. It didn't help that his attempt at a French accent in the trailers may have made audiences weary of his performance. Again, audiences may have been more willing to see the documentary with the real Philippe Petit than a movie starring an actor playing him.
Oddly enough, one of the biggest things that could have hurt the film was something meant to promote it: the stories of people vomiting in the theaters. Being a movie theater employee myself, I can tell you that audiences are often hesitant to sit through 3D Imax movies because they get nauseous. While The Walk isn't only being shown in Imax as of last weekend, it was heavily promoted as an Imax experience. Those who read headlines like "Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Movie The Walk Is Literally Making People Throw Up," may be even more reluctant to see the movie than they would with other Imax 3D releases. Even those who regularly see Imax 3D movies may give The Walk the cold shoulder at the perceived possibility of vomiting while seeing it. This may be one case when the extra ticket money from Imax 3D sales did nothing to help the film.
There's no way of knowing the real reason why The Walk flopped so badly, but these theories are certainly reasonable. Whether it's the superiority of Man on Wire, or the lack of audience interest, The Walk is another example of a film that tanked badly despite its good critical reception. Hopefully, the movie will fare much better on DVD, and possibly earn a few Oscar nominations. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is still a rising star, and Robert Zemeckis is still a great director, so it's entirely possible that nobody's career will be hurt too badly by this film. Still though, opening with less money than Legends of Oz is quite an unfortunate accomplishment.