I don’t know why this story comes as a great surprise to anyone. The LA Times is reporting that, despite a domestic box office take north of $100m and thirteen Oscar nods, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has a long way to go to be in the black.
The film’s high theatrical and awards profile has been hard-won. Like any massive tentpole movie, the promotional budget has basically doubled the original production budget. So Button isn’t a $150m movie — already an astronomical figure for what amounts to an art-house movie that is a bit more audience friendly than most — it’s a $300m movie. [EDIT: Make the production budget $175m, says an insider source.]
Battling Fox Searchlight’s Slumdog Millionaire, which is much cheaper with a lot more awards momentum, could push the promo budget to $135m. The film will have to perform like crazy as it rolls out overseas, and hit expectations for DVD and TV sales. The film has done well here ($100m is already impressive) but will that carry into other markets? There’s a good chance not.
So now does Paramount’s reluctance to drive forward with Torso make a lot more sense? Thought so. But here’s a best-case scenario: Fincher wants the project enough that he agrees to slash the budget. He’s a filmmaker that I’d love to see work under considerably more stringent constraints than those to which he’s accustomed.