This week, Neil Calloway looks at why soccer movies tend to bomb at the box office…
The timing could not have been better; name recognition could not have been higher, it was the perfect time to release a film about an organisation that dominated the headlines for the past few weeks. It doesn’t always work out like that, though, and United Passions, the film telling the story of FIFA, made a miserly $918 dollars during its opening weekend. That’s not a typo. That’s nine hundred and eighteen dollars. Turns out there is such a thing as bad publicity.
In fairness, the film was only released on ten screens, but a screen average of just over $90 does not bode well for a film that cost somewhere between $25 and $32 million dollars, with FIFA itself putting up around $17 million of the budget. On a limited release elsewhere in the world (as well as FIFA, Azerbaijan provided some of the budget) the film has made almost $200,000 dollars.
Still, $200,000 is not a good return on the investment, and even if you remember that box office isn’t the be all and end all of cinema (Avatar made more money than James Cameron’s two Terminator films combined, and I know which I’d prefer to watch). Respect is due to the one person who saw United Passions in Phoenix, Arizona. Imagine going to watch a movie, realising you’re the only person in the cinema, and then a few days later, reading the paper, it becomes clear that you’re the one responsible for the fact that the film took $9 in your city. If I was responsible for 1% of a film’s opening weekend takings I’d be quite proud.
The truth is United Passions was always going to be a hard sell in the States. There is a great film to be made about the machinations behind the scenes at FIFA, but that film is not going to be paid for by FIFA, or approved by them in any way. United Passions joins a long line of football films that fail at the box office.
Unlike baseball, basketball, ice hockey and gridiron, soccer has provided the basis for relatively few box offices successes. Bend It Like Beckham was a success, and Escape to Victory has achieved cult status because of its combination of Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone, Bobby Moore, Pele and several Ipswich Town players in a film directed by John Huston, the man who helmed The Maltese Falcon and The Misfits, but more often than not, if your film is about football, it’ll be a disappointment.
The Game of Their Lives, from 2005, tells the story of the US national team’s shock victory over England in the 1950 World Cup. The film cost $13 million, but made less than $400,000 at the global box office. Perhaps the film was made less believable by having Stan Mortensen, a genuine working class hero who overcame injuries sustained when his bomber crashed during the Second World War and is still the only person to score a hat trick in an FA Cup Final, portrayed by the privately educated rock star Gavin Rossdale.
The Goal! trilogy of films started out with huge fanfare and a raft of cameos from football stars in 2005, by the time the final film in the series came out in 2009, it debuted on DVD and the only footballers in it were found in stock footage.
Even The Damned United, a credible attempt to adapt a great book, failed when it came to the football; none of the actors playing the footballers looked like players. I don’t mean they didn’t look like the players they were portraying, I mean they didn’t look like footballers at all. Unlike American Football, actors can’t be doubled by actual players under layers of protective gear. You either use actors that can’t play football, or footballers can’t act.
The fact is that a film about football just isn’t as exciting at the real thing. No film maker would make a film where Germany beat Brazil 7-1 in a World Cup game in Belo Horizonte, but that happened in 2014. Two films – Will and One Night in Istanbul – were made about Liverpool’s victory in the 2005 Champions League Final. Neither of them made a profit.
Film makers should stay away from football; there is more drama in even an average match than there ever is in a film about soccer. If I want the genetically engineered dinosaurs or guys playing flaming guitars chasing Charlize Theron across a post apocalyptic desert, I’ll be in the cinema, if I want goals and real life, heartbreaking drama, I’ll be at a football game.
Neil Calloway is a pub quiz extraordinaire and Top Gun obsessive. Check back here every Sunday for future installments.