Like almost every sports classic you can think of, Brad Pitt’s Oscar-nominated Moneyball was a solid domestic hit but was comparatively ignored overseas.
What would you say if I told you that Sony and Brad Pitt’s Moneyball was a box office disappointment? It earned strong reviews, solid buzz and six Oscar nominations, including nods for Best Picture, Pitt for Best Actor and Jonah Hill as Best Supporting Actor. The still-appreciated Bennett Miller-directed sports dramedy about how the Oakland A’s became a major MLB competitor in 2001/2002 by using statistical analysis to build a winning team with cheaper, less idealized ballplayers, opened with $22 million in October of 2011, legging out to a respectable $75 million domestic. But the film, adapted by Stephen Zaillian with rewrites from Aaron Sorkin from Michael Lewis’ non-fiction best-seller, would earn just $35 million overseas, giving it a $110 million global cume or just 2.2x its $50 million budget.
That’s double the budget, which doesn’t account for marketing expenses and an awards season campaign. I’m assuming Moneyball eventually became profitable over the last nine years thanks to DVD, cable and its current home over at Netflix
I said “live-action” because of exceptions like Pixar’s Cars trilogy (a combined $588 million domestic and $1.406 billion worldwide), DreamWorks’ Turbo ($83 million domestic and $283 million worldwide in 2013) and (yes, it counts) Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny’s Space Jam ($90 million/$230 million in 1996). Otherwise, save for a few boxing movies like Hugh Jackman’s Real Steel ($85 million/$299 million in 2011) and Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky IV ($127 million/$300 million in 1985), almost every live-action sports movie you can think of earned, at best, 50/50 in terms of domestic/overseas split and in some cases much “worse.” Even Russell Crowe’s Cinderella Man earned 57/43 ($62 million/$108 million in 2005) in 2005. Michael B. Jordan’s Creed and Creed II earned $109 million/$173 million in 2015 and $116 million/$214 million in 2018.
Before you say “Black movies don’t always travel overseas,” you should A) slap yourself in the face and B) please note that Cool Runnings (about a Jamaican Olympic bob-sled team) is an exception to the rules. The 1993 release, which has become a generational favorite and has aged very well as a Disney
Rocky Balboa earned $70 million domestic and $156 million worldwide in 2006, while Rocky V (which climaxes with a street fight) earned $41 million domestic and $120 million worldwide in 1990. Clint Eastwood and Hillary Swank’s Million Dollar Baby earned $100 million domestic and $217 million worldwide in 2005, while Aaron Paul’s video game-based Need for Speed earned $43 million domestic, $66 million in China and $203 million worldwide in 2014. Otherwise, even if I missed one, every sports flick (A League of Their Own, 42, Remember the Titans, Sea Biscuit, Field of Dreams, The Fighter, White Men Can’t Jump, etc.) earned most of their money in North America. Even Tom Cruise’s Days of Thunder, four years after Top Gun earned $176 million/$356 million, grossed $83 million domestic and $158 million worldwide.
That’s great when Sandra Bullock’s The Blind Side (also based on a non-fiction Michael Lewis book) earns $256 million domestic and $34 million overseas in 2009. It’s not great if Christian Bale and Matt Damon’s Ford v Ferrari earns $117 million domestic but $225 million worldwide on a $97 million budget in 2019. The conversation-focused Moneyball is a winning studio programmer, released during one of the last years where we could take such a thing (almost) for granted. I think pre-Avengers nostalgia may make the recent surge of mid-to-late 2011 theatricals (Bad Teacher, The Help, Real Steel, etc.) perhaps more than coincidental. Moneyball was an Oscar-nominated gem that didn’t make enough domestically to compensate for the expected overseas disinterest in sports movies. For a flick about analyzing the stats to win, that’s ironic.