Top 10 Box Office Busts Top 10 Selections

#5 Box Office Bust: Town & Country (2001)

Synopsis: Just like Brendan Fraser, Warren Beatty earned the dubious distinction of starring in more than one Top 10 Box Office Bust. While the term “star” may have applied to Fraser for a fleeting moment, it most certainly has applied to Beatty for decades. Still the Hollywood legend failed miserably with Ishtar (1987) and Town & Country (2001). Coming in at #10 in my countdown, Ishtar may be a more well-known fiasco. However, I consider Town & Country more bust-worthy. Despite having a strong cast that included Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn alongside Warren Beatty, the movie didn’t work. In particular, it only grossed $10 million at the box office. With an inflation-adjusted loss of $125 million, Town & Country certainly earned its spot as the #5 Bust. 


#5 BOX OFFICE BUST: TOWN & COUNTRY (2001)

Plot: After getting caught cheating on their wives, a famous New York architect and his best friend escape the city in an attempt to deal with their mid-life crises.

Producers: Michael De Luca, Simon Fields, Andrew Karsch, Sidney Kimmel

Director: Peter Chelsom

Writers: Michael Laughlin, Buck Henry

Actors: Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton

Metacritic Score: 34 (Generally negative reviews)

BOX OFFICE NUMBERS*
Movie Release Date Estimated Production Costs Opening Gross Ticket Sales Theaters Opening Gross / Theater Lifetime Gross Ticket Sales
Town & Country April 27, 2001 $90 million $3.0 million 2,222 $1,400 $10.0 million

* Information provided by boxofficemojo.com

** Information provided by IMDb

BACKGROUND

As indicated by the movie poster used as the featured image for this post, Town & Country had an impressive cast. In case you missed it, the actors highlighted included Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Andie MacDowell, Garry Shandling, Jenna Elfman, Nastassja Kinski, and Goldie Hawn. By the time production began in 1998, the actors résumés included the following highlights.

THE SUPPORTING CAST
  • Shandling had just completed a successful six-season run as the star of the HBO series The Larry Sanders Show (1992-98).
  • MacDowell had proven to be a capable female co-star playing alongside Bill Murray in Groundhog Day (1993), Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and John Travolta in Michael (1996).
  • Elfman had co-starred with Richard Dreyfuss in the disappointing Krippnedorf’s Tribe (1998). At the same time, she could be considered an up-and-coming TV star because of her hit show Dharma & Greg (1997-2002).
  • Kinski had portrayed a variety of characters throughout her twenty-year career. Most notably, she won a Golden Globe Award for Roman Polanski’s Tess (1979).
THE CO-STARS

Town and Country - The Stars

All of these actors had legitimate roles (i.e. not just cameos) in the film. Regardless, Beatty, Keaton and Hawn served as the presumably bankable headliners. Interestingly, each combination of these three Oscar-winning actors had paired up previously. For the first (and only) time, all three joined forces to make Town & Country.

To start, Beatty and Hawn starred together in both $ (1971) and Shampoo (1975). Both actors received Golden Globe nominations for Shampoo. That movie also received four Oscar nominations and grossed approximately $50 million at the box office. Adjusted for current ticket prices, that total would be almost $200 million today.

Next, Beatty and Keaton starred together in the critically successful Reds (1981), which won four Oscars. Even though they didn’t win, Beatty and Keaton received Best Actor and Best Actress Oscar nominations. Reds also succeeded at the box office with $40 million ($120 million today) in ticket sales.

Last, Hawn and Keaton starred together in The First Wives Club (1996). The movie didn’t win any major awards, but grossed over $180 million worldwide ($340 million today).

THE STAR – WARREN BEATTY

In addition to being recognized as an A-List actor, Beatty distinguished himself as an accomplished writer, director and producer. Across all four disciplines, he had received 13 Oscar nominations by the time production on Town & Country had started. Furthermore, he received another one by the time production had ended. Specifically, he had been nominated for the following Oscars.

  • Four times for Best Actor – Bonnie and Clyde (1968), Heaven Can’t Wait (1979), Reds, and Bugsy (1991).
  • Four times for Best Writing – Shampoo, Heaven Can’t Wait, Reds, and Bulworth (1998).
  • Two times for Best Director – Heaven Can’t Wait and Reds.
  • Four times for Best Picture – Bonnie and Clyde, Heaven Can’t Wait, Reds, and Bugsy.

Given Beatty’s track record behind the camera, the studio hoped that he would take a more substantial role in the production of the Town & Country. Regardless, he just wanted to act in the film. At that point, the studio should have reconsidered going forward given the failures of Love Affair (1994) and Ishar. Specifically, Beatty also only wanted to act in those unsuccessful movies.

BEHIND THE CAMERA

Perhaps against better judgment, the studio relied on the vision of Peter Chelsom. Of note, Chelsom had directed the critically-acclaimed Funny Bones (1995) and The Mighty (1998). Neither film did well at the box office, but the “suits” viewed Chelsom as an up-and-comer who could lean on Beatty if needed.

Writer Michael Laughlin joined Peter Chelsom as a novice to a big-studio film. As a background, Laughlin started in the business as a producer in the 1960s and 70s before becoming a writer/director in the 1980s. I could mentioned a few of the films he made, but I highly doubt you’ve heard of any of them.

According to an article in Variety, Laughlin described Town & Country as “a sophisticated study of sex among slightly older people.” Apparently, producers Andrew Karsch and Sidney Kimmel liked the script enough to buy it. Initially, they set a budget of $14 million. However, as the cast of big-name stars grew, they expanded the budget to $40 million (including $10 million for Beatty). With compensation based on the size of the production budget, Laughlin laughed all the way to the bank.

DOWNFALL
FLYING BY THE SEAT OF YOUR PANTS

New York Times writer Rick Lyman wrote an article about the struggles during the production of Town & Country. In the article, Lyman included the following quotes from former New Line Cinema president Michael DeLuca.

I trace everything back to shooting the movie without a locked script. That was always the problem. It was a constant problem. It never went away.

Shooting without a locked script is like the oldest and stupidest trick in Hollywood, and I stepped right into it. We did the best we could. Sometimes you can gamble and it works; most of the time it doesn’t work. And this is a case of a time when it didn’t work.

DeLuca had been given credit for the studio’s success from the Austin Powers franchise and movies like The Wedding Singer (1998) and Rush Hour (1998). At the same time, he took the fall for the failures of Little Nicky (2000) and Thirteen Days (2000).

LITTLE NICKY – A BAD MOVIE, BUT NOT A BUST
Little Nicky
At times, comedy works. At times, it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, it call be really bad. As evidence . . . Little Nicky.

With respect to Town & Country, DeLuca gave the green light to the film and oversaw its production. Likely due to significant cost overruns, he got fired before its release. In the end, the failures must have outweighed the successes.

For the Variety article written before the start of filming, Laughlin set himself up for a fall. Specifically he crowed when giving the following quote.

I learned about writing from spending time with Hitchcock, Renoir and Truffaut. Like Truffaut, I know all the cuts in my head before I write a word of dialogue.

Apparently, the cuts in Laughlin’s head didn’t mesh with the cuts desired by the studio. In particular, the executive viewed the screenplay as incomplete. Hmm. I wonder if that ever happened to Hitchcock, Renoir or Truffaut. Don’t worry, I know the answer.

INMATES RUNNING THE ASYLUM

As an inexperienced director of a big-budget film with big-name stars, Chelsom didn’t rise to the occasion. In an article for Inside.com, one of the movie’s producers claimed, “we’re going to sea and the right guy didn’t have his hand on the rudder.”

Compounding the problem, Chelsom didn’t have a completed script to shoot. As a result, he acquiesced to numerous takes with a lot of ad lib from the actors. In his New York Times article, Lyman referenced two sources who claimed that approximately 240 hours of film had been used. One of the sources offered the following observation.

The task of putting together a movie when you have that much footage is very different from putting together one that’s been shot to the script.

For as talented as the cast of Town & Country might have been, Chelsom couldn’t handle the assignment given his lack of experience. For any sports fans, let me offer the following analogy. Assuming Beatty could be controlled by Chelsom would be like assuming Peyton Manning could be controlled by Lane Kiffin. Specifically, Kiffin proved his worth as a talented offensive coordinator in college, but failed miserably as a head coach in the NFL.

ONE FOR THE PRICE OF TWO 

Given the excessive filming, the production scheduled slipped significantly. Unfortunately, Keaton and Shandling had prior commitments so the production of Town & Country went on a one-year hiatus. Initially, the producers believed the full cast would be needed some reshoots. Ultimately, it became apparent that the movie needed a new ending and completely new scenes.

Faced with a movie requiring a rewrite, the studio recruited Buck Henry. Of note, Henry co-created the TV series Get Smart (1965-70) with Mel Brooks. As a writer, Henry received the Writers Guild of America’s award for Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen as a co-writer of What’s Up Doc (1972). In addition, he earned an Oscar nomination as a co-writer for The Graduate (1967). Helping his cause, the Academy nominated him for an Oscar as a co-director with Beatty on Heaven Can Wait. Then again, Beatty just acted in Town & Country and didn’t pulling any strings behind the scene. Yeah, right.

Originally hired only to write a new ending, Henry also created new subplots with new characters. Go figure, he even created a role for himself. In essence, the full cast and crew had to be reassembled as if making another movie. However, they simply reassembled to remake the same movie. Not surprisingly, the production costs doubled from $45 million to $90 million due to excessive filming, extensive reshoots, and long hours in the editing room. Almost three years after filming began, the studio finally released the movie after a record 13 delays.

CONCLUSION

Given its highly publicized delays, the movie received a lot of negative buzz. Lyman perhaps said it best with the title of his article, “Town and Country: Stumbling Toward a Theater Near You.” Offering further insight, ABC’s Joel Siegal wrote

If this film somehow stumbles anywhere near you here’s my advice — move. 

Siegal also commented,

If you watch the film, you get the feeling people involved knew it was in terrible trouble. But everything they did to fix it — adding characters, adding subplots, cutting scenes — made things even worse.

Generally panned by critics, the movie received three Razzie nominations. Known for their sense of humor, the Razzie’s nominating committee gave a nod for Worst Director to “Peter Chelsom (with Warren Beatty).” See, even the Golden Raspberry Award Foundation knew about Beatty’s behind-the-scenes involvement despite claims that he only wanted to be an actor in the film.

The movie started out weakly at the box office with only $3 million in opening-weekend ticket sales. Word of mouth didn’t help given that it grossed less than $7 million during its four-week run in the theaters. With worldwide ticket sales of $10 million, the film lost approximately $85 million at the box office. That total would be equivalent to $125 million today. Despite its all-star cast, Town & Country completely flopped and deserved its spot as the #5 Box Office Bust.

POSTSCRIPT
THE WRITERS
  • Buck Henry

Henry effectively retired after rewriting the script for Town & Country. However, he picked up his pen (or opened his laptop) to co-write the screenplay for the small indy film The Humbling (2014). According to IMDb, Al Pacino took on Philip Roth’s 2009 novel of the same name as a passion project and convinced Barry Levinson to direct it. Then, both men presumably lured Henry out of retirement to write the screenplay. Presumably not worthy of a domestic release, the movie generally received a positive review from critics with a Metascore of 59.

  • Michael Laughin

Unlike Henry, Laughlin stayed retired after writing the original script for the movie. At least now he has something in common with Hitchcock, Renoir and Truffaut.

  • The Director (Peter Chelsom)

Despite the failure of Town & Country, Chelsom got the chance to direct again. Specifically, he directed Serendipity (2001) starring Jonathan Cusack and Kate Beckinsale, Shall We Dance (2004) starring Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez, and Hannah Montana The Movie (2009) starring Miley Cyrus. Each of these movies succeeded commercially with worldwide box office totals ranging from $80 million (Serendipity) to $170 million (Shall We Dance).

More recently, Chelsom went back to his roots and directed the small indy film Hector and the Search for Happiness (2014). The film received mostly negative reviews with the best quote provided by the New York Post’s Lou Lumenick. In particular, Lumenick offered the following thought.  

Even with appearances by such dependable performers as Toni Collette, Stellan Skarsgård, Christopher Plummer and Jean Reno, the interminable Hector and the Search for Happiness will most likely inspire audiences to search for the exit door.

While not incredibly original, Lumenick’s line was amusing.

THE ACTORS
  • Diane Keaton

Actors and actresses generally have the easiest time recovering from a flop. With respect to the stars of Town & Country, Keaton fared best and continued her career without even a slight hesitation. As a co-star with Jack Nicholson in Something’s Gotta Give (2003), Keaton received a Best Actress Oscar nomination. Furthermore, the movie generated over $260 million in worldwide ticket sales.

Subsequently, she co-starred in The Family Stone (2005) with Claire Danes and Rachel McAdams, Because I Said So (2007) with Mandy Moore, and The Big Wedding (2013) with Robert De Niro and Katherine Heigl. While not as successful as Something’s Gotta Give, each movie did well on its own and all three combined to gross over $200 million worldwide.

  • Goldie Hawn / Warren Beatty

Unlike Keaton, Hawn and Beatty’s acting careers have been nonexistent for more than a decade. Hawn co-starred with Susan Sarandon in reasonably successful The Banger Sisters (2002). Then again, Beatty hasn’t appeared on the screen since Town & Country. According to IMDb, Beatty will be returning to the big screen next year as Howard Hughes in an unnamed film. Apparently, he’s ready to face critics again after a 15-year hiatus.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

The following table summarizes the box office totals for the movies referenced in the previous sections.

BOX OFFICE NUMBERS*
Movie Release Date Estimated Production Costs** Domestic Ticket Sales Worldwide Ticket Sales
Groundhog Day February 12, 1993 $15 million $71 million $71 million
Four Weddings and a Funeral March 11, 1994 $4 million $53 million $246 million
The Wedding Singer February 13, 1998 $18 million $80 million $123 million
Krippendorf’s Tribe February 27, 1998 N/A $8 million $8 million
Rush Hour September 18, 1998 $33 million $141 million $244 million
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me June 11, 1999 $33 million $206 million $312 million
Little Nicky November 10, 2000 $85 million $39 million $58 million
Thirteen Days December 22, 2000 $80 million $35 million $67 million
Town & Country April 27, 2001 $90 million $7 million $10 million
Serendipity October 5, 2001 $28 million $50 million $78 million
The Banger Sisters September 20, 2002 $10 million $30 million $38 million
Something’s Gotta Give December 12, 2003 $80 million $125 million $267 million
Shall We Dance October 15, 2004 $50 million $58 million $170 million
The Family Stone December 16, 2005 $18 million $60 million $92 million
Because I Said So February 2, 2007 N/A $43 million $69 million
Hannah Montana The Movie April 10, 2009 $30 million $80 million $156 million
The Big Wedding April 26, 2013 $35 million $22 million $47 million

* Information provided by boxofficemojo.com

** Information provided by IMDb

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