K-19: The Widowmaker
July 19, 2002
Allow me, for a moment, this speculation: When New Regency Films and 20th Century Fox backed out of the $80 million-budgeted project in the summer of 2001, they decided it wouldn't be able to find a large enough audience in this day and age to make the movie a financial success. The signs were clear; Thirteen Days (though landlocked, this is a similarly-themed tale of a true life near-miss with a nuclear disaster) was a $35 million player at the box office in January 2001. If an American audience wasn't going to show for a film about a uniquely American crisis, what box-office hope did this tale about a Russian nuclear submarine accident have?
Needless to say, they bailed. Also needless to say is nine months later, the now-Paramount Pictures film looks to capitalize on America's newly-awakened appreciation for those Cold War days gone by. With the Doomsday Clock on the move again and the post 9/11 success of war pics like Black Hawk Down, K-19 is now poised to set a course for friendly box-office waters this July. The premise of the movie is the true story of the Soviet Union's submarine K-19, which nearly started nuclear war on June 4th, 1961, when its reactor threatened meltdown.
Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson bring star power to the film, and - at least in Ford's case - a hefty salary demand. Part of the overall $80 million budget is a $25 million payday for Ford. It is money well spent if he can bring in Air Force One-type volume ($170+ million). If he does, Ford's deal is said to kick over to 20% of the domestic gross at about $125 million.
Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break) directs Christopher Kyle's screenplay (the two recently worked together on September 2002's The Weight of Water). Kyle's screenplay caused some controversy early on when survivors of the incident were upset with their boozy, incompetent characterizations. Many of the sailors' names were changed in the movie as part of a compromise.
The box-office prospects bode well for K-19; Ford's track record speaks for itself. Additionally, the movie has a weight and depth to it that is usually missing from the popcorn flicks that dominate the summer months. Bucking that trend may work in K-19's favor. Halloween: Resurrection and Stuart Little 2 will offer little opening-weekend competition for K-19's target demographic. (Calvin Trager/BOP)
Comparison films for K-19: The Widowmaker
|Air Force One
|Clear and Present Danger
|Hunt for Red October, The