#4 Box Office Bust Gigli

Synopsis: Other movies have lost more money at the box office than Gigli (2003). However, the Ben Affleck/Jennifer Lopez flop may be Hollywood’s most publicized failure. It’s why I probably don’t even have to tell you that “Gigli” rhymes with “really.” Due to the nonstop coverage of Bennifer’s scandalous off-screen relationship, the movie had a lot of negative buzz before its release. After the movie’s flaws (e.g. inane story, bad acting) got exposed, already weak ticket sales became nonexistent. In fact, Gigli holds two dubious box office records. First it experienced the largest drop-off in theaters after an opening weekend (82%). Second, it had the largest drop-off in theaters after two weekends (97%). With production costs rumored to be around $75 million and worldwide ticket sales of $7 million, Gigli earned its spot as the #4 Box Office Bust.


#4 BOX OFFICE BUST: GIGLI

Plot: Caught up in a kidnapping scheme to protect a mob boss, a low-level hitman (Affleck) and a lesbian assassin (J. Lo) develop feelings for their hostage as well as each other.

Producers: Martin Brest, Casey Silver.

Director: Martin Brest.

Writers: Martin Brest.

Actors: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez.

Metacritic Score: 18 (Overwhelming dislike).

BOX OFFICE NUMBERS*
Movie Release Date Estimated Production Costs** Opening Gross Ticket Sales Theaters Opening Gross / Theater Lifetime Gross Ticket Sales
Gigli Aug. 1, 2003 $54 million $3.8 million 2,215 $1,700 $7.0 million

* Information provided by boxofficemojo.com.

** Information provided by IMDb.

Thewrap.com reported actual production costs of $76 million vs. $54 million. Regardless, I have relied on IMDb as the source for my analysis. Of note, I understand that studios tend to under-report expenses, especially for flops. In essence, the actual production costs likely exceed the reported numbers for all box office busts and not just Gigli.

Background: 

Imagine yourself in the shoes of Hollywood bigwig Joe Roth. After serving as Chairman of Walt Disney Studios and 20th Century Fox, you start a production studio in partnership with Sony Pictures. You come out of the gate strong with three increasingly profitable movies.

  1. Tomcats (2001) – worldwide gross of $23 million with production costs of $11 million.
  2. The Animal (2001) – worldwide gross of $85 million with production costs of $47 million.
  3. America’s Sweethearts (2001) – worldwide gross of $138 million with production costs of $46 million.

None of theses movies won over any critics. However, you’re in the business of making money so you feel pretty good about your choices. Wondering about your next hit, you find yourself in an elevator with fellow bigwig John Hardy. At the time of the encounter, Hardy had a more impressive streak of his own. Of note, he served as an executive producer of the following hit movies.

  1. Out of Sight (1998) – worldwide gross of $78 million with production costs of $48 million.
  2. Erin Brockovich (2000) – worldwide gross of $256 million with production costs of $52 million.
  3. Ocean’s Eleven (2001) – worldwide gross of $451 million with production costs of $85 million.

While in the elevator, Hardy pitches you on a film that he says will be a bigger, better, funnier version of Out of Sight. With nowhere to go, you listen because he has earned that right. More importantly, he has less than a minute to sell you.

GIGLI – THE PITCH

Hardy: Martin Brest has written an edgy rom-com that he wants to direct and produce with Affleck and J. Lo as the co-stars.

You (Roth): Tell me more.

Hardy: Think about what Brest did with Eddie (Murphy) in Beverly Hills Cop, Bobby (DeNiro) in Midnight Run, and Al (Pacino) in Scent of a Woman. He can do the same with Ben and Jen.

You: I’m listening.

Hardy: I don’t have to tell you, but Armageddon hit half a billion and Pearl Harbor did over 400 mill. Affleck’s red hot. Lopez’s last three (Out of Sight, The Cell, and The Wedding Planner) did 300 mill so she’s solid too. Heck, she’s America’s Sweetheart right now.

You: Isn’t she Puffy’s girl?

Hardy: She was. But she just got married to some back-up dancer so she won’t have any baggage for us to worry about.

You: What’s the budget?

Hardy: Afflect wants 12 and a half, and Lopez wants 12. But, the whole thing can be done for around $50 million.

The door opens and Hardy gets out.

You: Anything else?

Hardy: Yeah, (Al) Pacino and (Christoper) Walken have supporting roles.

You: Hoo-ah! I’m in.

Hardy: Hoo-ah! I’ll make sure it has plenty of cowbell.

You: Huh?

The door begins to close.

Hardy: Ya know, the SNL skit?

You knew but wanted Hardy to explain the weak reference.

MARTIN BREST – THE MAN BEHIND THE MEN

While I took creative license with the previous dialogue, I tried to keep the content as accurate as possible. For instance, Brest deserves credit for expanding the careers of Eddie Murphy, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.

First, Brest directed Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop (1984). The former SNL stand-out already had starred in 48 Hrs (1982) and Trading Places (1983). However, Beverly Hlls Cop proved to be his first true blockbuster with over $100 million in ticket sales. On an inflation adjusted basis, the movie generated over $550 million at the box office. By that measure, the movie remains Murphy’s highest grossing movie to date. Furthermore, it ranks in the top 50 grossing movies of all-time.

Second, Brest directed and produced Midnight Run (1988). Of note, that movie was De Niro’s first successful comedy. With movies like The Godfather: Part II (1974), Taxi Driver (1976), and Raging Bull (1980) under his belt, the actor had earned a reputation as one of Hollywood’s best actors. Still, his ability to carry a comedy had been questioned given the failure of The King of Comedy (1982). Interestingly, much of De Niro’s best work recently has been in comedies.

Third, Brest directed and produced Scent of a Woman (1992). Like De Niro, Pacino already had an accomplished career before working with Brest. Still, the actor would be Oscar-less without the role of Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade.

MARTIN BREST – TRACK RECORD

Each of these movies produced and/or directed by Brest generated at least $80 million at the box office. At the same time, each one received critical acclaim. Even though Scent of a Woman had the lowest Metacritic score (59) of the three, it received four Oscar nominations. Furthermore, Brest received two nominations (one for Best Director and another for Best Picture) for his work on the movie.

With a strong track record as a director and producer, Brest wanted to add writer to his credits for Gigli. For as questionable as that might sound, he previously had success writing screenplays. Of note, he wrote and directed the comedy Going in Style (1979) starring George Burns and Art Carney. As such, his desire to write the screenplay for the movie didn’t raise any red flags.

GIGLI – PRODUCTION NOTES

According to the Gigli production notes aggregated by Cinema.com, Brest thought Affleck and Lopez would be ideal for his movie. In particular, he said:

[Affleck] has the physical presence to make Gigli intimidating, but he also possesses a wonderful vulnerability. He has a very outgoing nature that, simultaneously, reveals a certain amount of self-doubt. Ben understands the character’s contradictions, his bullying, thug-like behavior and that layer of sensitivity. It was fascinating to watch him juggle those emotions. He kept both elements going at all times, balancing them effortlessly.

When describing the female lead, Brest mentioned:

She had to be someone who can look you right in the eye and tell you exactly what she’s thinking, someone who doesn’t care what you think about her, and yet, her manner is soft and sensual. Even as I say it, I realize I’m talking about Jennifer Lopez.

AFFLECK / LOPEZ TRACK RECORDS

At the time, Affleck’s greatest success as an actor came from roles in explosion-intensive movies directed by Michael Bay. The following clip, which shows what the movie Up (2009) would have looked like if directed by Michael Bay, should help you appreciate Bay’s artistic style. As a co-star with Sandra Bullock in Forces of Nature (1999) and the star of Reindeer Games (2000), Affleck didn’t fare as well without the big stunts and special effects. Then again, Brest seemed to have a magical touch with the actors in his movies.

Unlike Affleck, Lopez didn’t have any concerning blemishes on her acting résumé. To start, she earned a Golden Globe nomination for her breakout performance in Selena (1997). Lopez suffered a sophomore slump with U-Turn (1997); however, all of her subsequent movies grossed at least $75 million worldwide. With her career flying high, she arguably had replaced Meg Ryan as the most marketable leading lady in a romantic comedy.

At this point, Gigli should have been as close to a sure thing as exists in Hollywood. Well, what happened? Oh yeah, I remember.

BENNIFER: THE IMAGE THAT STARTED IT ALL
Gigli - Jenny from the Block

While tabloid junkies love pictures like this, moviegoers don’t

DOWNFALL:

According to the same production notes on Cinema.com, Gigli co-producer Casey Silver shared Brest’s thoughts about the spot-on casting of Affleck and Lopez. In particular, Silver said,

The first time we saw Ben and Jennifer share a frame together, it was immediately clear that they possessed that elusive thing called chemistry.

Beneath the palpable sexual tension that informs their relationship, both actors give carefully calibrated performances under Marty’s meticulous direction.

Apparently, Silver witnessed real-life chemistry because Ben and J. Lo became an item during the shooting of the film. Initially treated just as a rumor, the romantic connection between Affleck and Lopez turned into a 24/7 phenomenon. Specifically, “enquiring minds” developed an insatiable appetite for photos of the actress making out in public with her Gigli co-star.

Still a newlywed, Lopez filed for divorce in time for the release of her hit song “Jenny From the Block.” The picture of Affleck worshiping Jenny’s ample rear came from the video for the song. Shortly thereafter, Lopez announced her engagement to Affleck by showing off a 6.1 carat ring worth $1.2 million.

BENNIFER – THE IMAGE THAT STARTED THE FALL
Gigli - Bennifer

The fact that the size and cost of the ring are known says it all.

We all know that an off-screen relationship often starts from an on-screen connection. However, we’re less interested in the fictionalized relationship when it happens. Against incredible odds, Affleck’s character successfully romances Lopez’s lesbian character in the movie. Against similarly incredible odds, Affleck successfully romanced the still-married Lopez in real life. Which story seems more compelling to you? 

Perhaps learning from Affleck and Lopez’s mistake, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie waited to reveal the real-life connection that developed on the set of Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005). I’m probably naive, but I believe Pitt when he claims that he and Jolie didn’t engage in extracurricular activities during the filming of the movie. The only support I have involves the strong on-screen chemistry between the two that comes through in the movie.

Long before Gigli failed at the box office, I had heard numerous interviews with on-screen couples who refused to act on any feeling because they feared that the show or movie would suffer. In fact, they thought the sexual tension helped their performances. Too bad Benny and Jenny didn’t listen to that advice.

BENNIFER – GET A ROOM!
Gigli - During production

Unfortunately, the chemistry apparent in this photo never showed up in the film. As an aside, notice how uncomfortable everyone in the background seems to be.

GIGLI – QUOTES

After getting panned by almost every critic, Gigli earned a Metascore of 18. Some of my favorites comments about the film include the following quotes.

Gigli is a rigli, rigli bad movie.

Bruce Newman, San Jose Mercury News

Gigli has no story, no redeeming characters that anyone could care about, and the actors are all on autopilot, completely soaked with their own vanity. It’s as if everyone in Gigli thought that all they had to do was show up. The problem here is that no one even shows up.

David Gore, Film Threat

If you thought you could never, ever feel sorry for Jennifer Lopez, buy a ticket to Gigli.

Colin Covert, Star Tribune

The Affleck effect is akin to a black hole, sucking all the energy and life out of every scene he’s in.

Eleanor Ringel Gillespie, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

You have to wonder why stars whose faces adorn nearly every magazine cover in America would attach themselves to a movie that, by all indications, was originally scripted in crayon. Careerwise, this is the equivalent of a bungee jump with a cord that’s a bit too long.

Bill Muller, Arizona Republic

CONCLUSION:

Given the non-stop tabloid coverage of Bennifer’s relationship, the studio likely had high expectations for the film. Unfortunately, any positive expectations disappeared after the movie grossed less than $4 million during its opening weekend. Due to the scathing reviews and the pathetic box office total, Columbia Pictures immediately pulled all ads.

With only negative word of mouth, already weak ticket sales became nonexistent. In fact, Gigli holds two dubious box office records for movies released in more than 1,000 theaters. First, it had the largest drop-off in ticket sales after an opening weekend (82%). Second, it had the largest drop-off in theaters after two weekends (97%). Based on its reported budget of $54 million, the movie recovered less than 7% of its production costs at the box office. While not a record, that total earned the movie a spot as a Top 1o Bust.

To add insult to injury, Gigli became the first movie to sweep the five major categories for the Razzies. In case you don’t know, the Razzies serve as the anti-Oscars. Of note, the movie earned Worst Actor (Affleck), Worst Actress (Lopez), Worst Screenplay (Brest), Worst Director (Brest), and Worst Picture (Brest). Not surprisingly, it also received a Razzie for Worst Screen Couple (Bennifer).

POSTSCRIPT:
AFFLECK – THE NEXT BATMAN

For at least a few years after the Gigli disaster, Affleck’s acting career suffered. His movie Surviving Christmas (2004) only grossed $15 million at the box office. His next movie, Man About Town (2006), never saw the big screen and went directly to DVD.

Perhaps fearing that his career in front of the camera might be over, Affleck wrote and directed Gone Baby Gone (2007). The movie performed okay, but importantly opened up new doors for him. As the co-writer / director of The Town (2010), Affleck made sure to save a role for himself. That movie achieved critically acclaimed (Metascore of 74) and commercially success (over $150 million in worldwide ticket sales). 

Showing his ability to be a multi-dimensional threat, Affleck produced, directed, and acted in Argo (2012). For that movie, he received a Golden Globe for Best Director and an Oscar for Best Picture. Lest you think his career in front of the camera is over, he recently acted in Gone Girl (2014), which generated over $350 million worldwide. Furthermore, he’ll be portraying Batman in at least three upcoming movies. Cha-ching! Cha-ching! And Cha-ching!

J-LO: TV STAR

Lopez recovered much quicker than her former lover based on her success with Shall We Dance (2004) and Monster-in-Law (2005). Of note, both movies grossed over $150 million at the box office. More recently, she starred in Back-Up Plan (2010) and Parker (2013), which grossed $80 million and $50 million, respectively. No longer America’s Sweetheart on the big screen, she has transitioned to television as a co-host on American Idol. Furthermore, she will star in the new TV series Shades of Blue. The show hasn’t aired yet so it’s too soon to tell if it’ll succeed. Fortunately for her, the show also stars Ray Liotta and Drea de Matteo so I wouldn’t be surprised if it does.

WHAT HAPPENED TO MARTIN AND BENNIFER?

Unlike Affleck and Lopez, Brest never recovered from the failure of Gigli. Since making the film, Brest hasn’t written, directed, or produced another Hollywood movie. He deserved to take the brunt of any criticism given that he wrote, directed, and produced the movie. Then again, the backlash seems excessive. Apparently, Brest was the person whose bungee cord was a bit too long.

Just like Brest’s career, Bennifer’s relationship couldn’t survive the fiasco. Within weeks of the film’s disastrous performance at the box office, the couple called off the wedding. Of note, they postponed the ceremony with only four days to go. Within weeks after that, they split up for good. 

Interestingly, both Affleck and Lopez had roles in Jersey Girl (2004). Directed by Kevin Smith, that movie was released seven months after Gigli. J. Lo had a small role limited to the first fifteen minutes of the film. However, do you notice an omission in the following movie poster?

JERSEY GIRL – LESSON LEARNED
Jersey Girl- Lessons learned from Gigli

At least Larry King liked it.

Despite all of the oppressive attention paid to their high-profile relationship, Affleck and Lopez must not have minded it too much because they both married celebrities. Specifically, J. Lo married singer Marc Anthony in 2004 and Affleck married actress Jennifer Garner in 2005. Those new relationships didn’t face the same suffocating scrutiny, but Afflect and J. Lo still attract a lot of attention. Of note, the media closely followed Lopez’s separation from Anthony in 2011 and Affleck separation from Garner earlier this year. As you might imagine, rumors regarding the return of Ben & Jenny have been circulating. Hopefully, they’ve learned their lesson.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:
Movie Release Date Estimated Production Costs** Domestic Ticket Sales Worldwide Ticket Sales
Going in Style December 25, 1979 N/A $27 million $27 million
The King of Comedy February 18, 1983 $20 million $3 million $3 million
Beverly Hills Cop December 5, 1984 $14 million $235 million $316 million
Midnight Run July 22, 1988 $30  million $38 million $82 million
Scent of a Woman December 23, 1992 $31 million $63 million $134 million
Selena March 21, 1997 $20 million $35 million $35 million
U-Turn October 3, 1997 $19 million $7 million $7 million
Out of Sight June 26, 1998 $48 million $38 million $78 million
Armageddon July 1, 1998 $140 million $202 million $554 million
Meet Joe Black November 13, 1998 $90 million $45 million $143 million
Forces of Nature March 19, 1999 $75 million $53 million $94 million
Reindeer Games February 25, 2000 $42 million $23 million $32 million
The Cell August 18, 2000 $33 million $61 million $104 million
The Wedding Planner January 26, 2001 $35 million $60 million $95 million
Tomcats March 30, 2001 $11 million $14 million $23 million
Pearl Harbor May 25, 2001 $140 million $199 million $449 million
The Animal June 1, 2001 $47 million $58 million $85 million
America’s Sweethearts July 20, 2001 $46 million $94 million $138 million
Ocean’s Eleven December 7, 2001 $85 million $183 million $451 million
The Sum of All Fears May 31, 2002 $68 million $119 million $194 million
Maid in Manhattan December 13, 2002 $55 million $94 million $155 million
Daredevil February 14, 2003 $78 million $103 million $179 million
Gigli August 1, 2003 $54 million $6 million $7 million
Jersey Girl March 26, 2004 $35 million $25 million $36 million
Surviving Christmas October 22, 2004 $45 million $12 million $15 million
Shall We Dance October 15, 2004 $50 million $58 million $170 million
Monster-in-Law May 13, 2005 $60 million $82 million $155 million
Gone Baby Gone October 19, 2007 $19 million $20 million $35 million
The Back-up Plan April 23, 2010 $35 million $37 million $77 million
The Town September 17, 2010 $37 million $92 million $154 million
Argo October 12, 2012 $45 million $136 million $232 million
Parker January 25, 2013 $35 million $18 million $46 million
Gone Girl October 3, 2014 $61 million $168 million $369 million

* Information provided by boxofficemojo.com.

** Information provided by IMDb.

#4 BOX OFFICE BUST: GIGLI
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