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European Distributor Says 'Cloud Atlas' Was Too Intellectual For American Audiences

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by Kevin Jagernauth
November 1, 2012 12:28 PM
42 Comments
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To say that "Cloud Atlas" has been polarizing is an understatement. Critics seemed to either love it or loathe it, and even among The Playlist staff, some found it to be brilliant, and others a mess. This writer was certainly in the latter camp, but no matter what bloggers, fans or critics thought, mainstream audiences just didn't care. The movie opened to a far-below-expectation $9 million last weekend (though it boasted the best per-screen average), under Warner Bros.' hopes of $12-15 million. The film cost $100 million to produce (mostly from overseas coin and god knows how much else it cost to market), and the folks behind it will be hoping that as it rolls out to foreign territories over the next couple of months, that international viewers will be a more receptive audience. But, distributors don't seem to be too worried.

THR caught up with A Company (yes, that's what they're called) who are teaming with 20th Century Fox to bring the movie to screens in Russia and Eastern Europe. And they aren't too concerned about how the movie played in America, because maybe "Cloud Atlas" was just too smart for us. “Of course the U.S. release was disappointing, but it hasn't changed our release plans,” honcho Alexander van Dulmen said. “ 'Cloud Atlas' has a more intellectual approach and the European audience is more open to movies where you have to think a bit.”

How dare he....oh wait, we did make "Taken 2," a $115 million (and counting) massive blockbuster despite it being as dumb as rocks. So maybe there's something to the argument there. But it's really not about how smart or stupid a movie is, the marketing for "Cloud Atlas" probably just didn't resonate. The trailers and TV spots spent a lot of time talking about the themes of the movie, but didn't really convey why Tom Hanks had five different costumes or whatever. Given the choice to see a movie with a bunch of stars, but you're not sure what it's about, or the movie with Liam Neeson kicking ass or Ben Affleck saving Americans...you can do the math...

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42 Comments

  • Kyle | November 22, 2013 8:35 AMReply

    I agree that Cloud Atlas had a more intellectual *approach* than your standard Hollywood film. But the reason it performed so poorly was because the approach was littered with structural weaknesses, dues ex machinas, and hyper-condensed sequences.

    It viewed more like a collection of interrelated short stories rather than a feature-length film. The fact that each story, while related by the characters, fell into a different genre, made it doubly hard to swallow.

    Tying everything together with themes and motifs *is* a cerebral approach, yes, but the fact that audiences didn't like it speaks more to the failings of the screenplay than to the audiences who watched it.

    A well-written screenplay will resonate with viewers. A poorly written one will struggle to find fans. The intentions were noble, the aspirations high, and some of the sequences were emotionally charged and powerful, but the overall structure was a screenwriting miss.

  • Cosmis | August 24, 2013 12:03 PMReply

    Visually stunning. Seemingly superficial and cheesy at times but oh wow this film told me a story. I understand that this was originally a book but it's truly wonderful to see how many artists contributed towards one great idea. Also South Korean Doona Bae's acting was perfect. I was entranced during the entire film... and for the past 5 hours haven't been able to get it out of my head.

    Sadly I feel like the general viewer would find it difficult to cope with both the length, complexity and intensity of the film.

  • DemurMore | March 1, 2013 3:14 PMReply

    Cloud Atlas is at the very top of my list of favorite movies. It is currently tied with The Man from Earth. It is senseless trying to decipher why it was a box office flop in the U.S. But saying it is too intellectual for an American audience is pretty insulting. I mean, the French fell in love with Jerry Frigging Lewis for God's sake! Yeah, real intellectual! Name calling doesn't help. Objectively analyzing this awesome cinematic effort is much preferable than pitting one country's intellect against another's. That's, well, just plain non-intellectual.

  • The American | February 8, 2013 2:46 AMReply

    Since you Europeans Are so intellectual Why don't you make your Ownovies And quit talking shit because all the actors in this movie are Americans and people who made the movie are Americans so go fuck yourself by sailor intellectual we made the fucking movie Oh and PS the movie was budgeted and produced by Americans to you freaking Europeans it's Weantinogue good actors and all the good ones mechanical

  • THE EUROPEAN | March 3, 2013 4:07 PM

    Since you Americans are so creative, why don't you get your own fucking writers? Cloud Atlas is written by a Englishman, financed by German companies and one of the main characters is British (Ben Whishaw). In fact, if your actors are so good, why do you steal ours so often? Hugh Laurie? Andrew Lincoln? Dom West? Robert Patisson?

  • Closure | February 27, 2013 7:45 AM

    Other countries do make their own movies, but those movies are not appealing to American audiences, because most of them don't involve car chases, explosions, etc. The last sentence of this post reveals that the reviewer themself would rather watch action movies over an intriguing movie with more than just 'good guys' and 'bad guys'.

  • voxnulla | February 6, 2013 9:37 AMReply

    Normally I would agree that the average American audience with their average attention-span of a goldfish is by far the most responsible for the pacing up, dumbing down and flattening of modern day movies. Substituting depth and content with digital trickery and convoluted nonsense neatly describe most production of the last decades.
    Cloud atlas however does not fall into a league of its own. It is just as guilty of these cheap tricks to fool the audience into assuming depth where there is none as most movies. The only thing is that the specific recipe of convolution and editing tricks somehow fooled the European audience more then the Americans. Perhaps the length or the lack of rhythm put them off. Or perhaps the US audience is finally tired of poor storytelling masqueraded with flaccid gimmicks to make it seem more then it is. One can only hope.

  • Ken Sturmer | January 10, 2013 9:34 AMReply

    European audiences have always enjoyed movies that made them think, not just fodder for the masses as American audiences! That is why the movie was a flop in America. They simply wanted to see fluff, and what they got was way over their heads.

  • Puhek | November 4, 2012 4:34 PMReply

    If you need a trailer to tell you why exactly the Tom Hanks is in 5 different 'roles', well hell yeah, you're better off with the "doooh" movies 'murica.

  • Scotty | November 4, 2012 1:50 PMReply

    No, it wasn't too "intellectual" for Americans. I got it. I just thought it was pseudo-intellectual drivel. You had multiple, interwoven story lines, each of them with one-dimensional characters and no plot twists. This movie appears to have been written/directed or whatever by someone with a vestigial, Judeo-Christian belief in absolute truth who incompletely converted to Buddhism and dropped some acid. It was a kaleidoscopic turd whose deepest message was that everything effects everything else. Wow, like we didn't know that already. Fuck off, Europe.

  • CALMDOWNSCOTTY | November 7, 2012 10:17 AM

    By the way. One more thing.

    When you said "kaleidoscopic turd whose deepest message was that everything effects everything else." You must have missed the details of the movie, which consisted of the journal of a man who was freed by a self-freed slave inspiring indirectly the founding of a new religion in a future dystopia which is disseminated through a tribe of developing humans in a post-apocalyptic future.

    "Wow, like we didn't know that already." Which is why people are still killing each other, preaching dogmatic bullshit, and having wars. Have you ever considered that part of what art is about is introducing to a newer generations in a newer way ideas that have already been introduced to older generations? The movie is a shout in the face of the very kind of cynical apathy regurgitated by your personality archetype time and time again throughout the ages.

  • CALMDOWNSCOTTY | November 7, 2012 10:10 AM

    Scotty, are you one of those people who prefers fiction to be an escape from reality, an analysis of it, neither, or both?

    Forget that question, actually. Save it for yourself, later, whenever you're free to think for a moment. Toilets are usually a good place to philosophize. I mean that.

    Anyhow, I've noticed a trend that whenever a trippy, non-linear movie with vague philosophical notions of any kind gets released, there's a mixed reaction where people who "already have their shit figured out" call it "pretentious drivel" while people who are still developing philosophically or are simply open to new ideas tend to like it. Consider that some may feel the same way about the phrase "pseudo intellectual drivel" the way you feel about "we're all interconnected."

    It seems to me that the movie isn't objectively bad, but just frustrating to people who have already been introduced to its ideas a thousand times.

    That aside, I have to wonder if people like you write these little scathing reviews because they enjoy the creativity that can be had in shitting on someone else's work (understandable) or if they are genuinely that fucking angry about it.

  • Scotty | November 4, 2012 1:47 PMReply

    No, it wasn't too "intellectual" for Americans. I got it. I just thought it was pseudo-intellectual drivel. You had multiple, interwoven story lines, each of them with one-dimensional characters and no plot twists. This movie appears to have been written/directed or whatever by someone with a vestigial, Judeo-Christian belief in absolute truth who then converted to Buddhism and then dropped some acid. It was a kaleidoscopic turd whose deepest message was that everything effects everything else. Wow, like we didn't know that already. Fuck off, Europe.

  • AE | November 2, 2012 2:10 PMReply

    Seemed a strange decision to open on such few screens when it was clear there would be more than a few waiting to brand it a flop if it didn't make the top spot. Now of course all the flop chatter will spread like a wave and keep people away, if they'd opened on more screens Ca would likely have won the weekend and had a decent chance. No matter, the film will live on and occupy that special status of unique films ignored on release , and appreciated in hindsight. However, if anyone's a loser it's the movies in general, the disgustingly suffocating way movie's arequickly chewed up and spat out by the mob, from the second the first screenings over, to the initial two day response. Film is dead? Damn it's self destructing!

  • brian | November 2, 2012 5:41 AMReply

    Cloud atlas opened in 2000 screens in US...Argo opened in 3200.....why was CA opened in so few?
    On Facebook hundreds of people express there pleasure at seeing Cloud Atlas:
    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=512841068726139&set=a.475834945760085.114735.276594512350797&type=1

  • Sketchee | November 2, 2012 11:47 AM

    Probably because Cloud Atlas is an indie film, albeit an expensive and incredible one.

  • Sean | November 2, 2012 12:21 AMReply

    Its true. But the USA climate was horrible the last few weeks for any film.... Halloween, an Election coming up, a huge Storm that f'd up shit... Someitmes i def do feel us americans just want to watch dumb films w/o thinking.

  • Jasper | November 1, 2012 8:56 PMReply

    Every movie performed poorly this weekend because 1) it's halloween weekend and 2) - I don't know if you've read the news - an enormous super storm slammed into the most populated corridor of the US. They could have released a Dark Knight Twilight crossover and it would have still barely broken double digits.

  • Dave | November 1, 2012 7:05 PMReply

    The movie is going to tank overseas for reasons that are nothing to do with intellect and more to do with torrenting. I've been busting to see Cloud Atlas since I read the book and heard about the movie (and I love everything the Wachowskis have a hand in)... so if Warners think I'm going to wait until Feb 2013 to see this in Australia they must still be trapped somewhere in the 90's. I just saw Argo the other day so there is no excuse for delaying Cloud Atlas.

    Maybe if I like it after I've seen a DVD-rip quality torrent on my big LCD telly I'll buy the bluray and watch it again, maybe not. Either way, myself and millions of other potential movie goers will be watching this at home long before February.

    Warner Bros FAIL!

  • Cribbster | November 1, 2012 5:43 PMReply

    People in the United States aren't really dumber than anywhere else in the world. And, generally, they're better educated than most (despite the fact of our declining public school system). That obviously could change, but, for now, that remains the case. But there is a cultural difference in the way audiences approach movies in the United States compared to Europe. And most of it is circumstantial. Big, giant blockbusters are like crack. And American studios have a lot of money to make those blockbusters – money that foreign studios simply don't have (although give the Chinese and Bollywood a few years and that'll change). And American audiences have been sucking on that crack pipe ever since "Jaws." Europeans dig a lot of smaller movies for a lot of reasons, but if you take a look, big, stupid American blockbuster make most of their money in overseas markets. As for "Cloud Atlas," wake me up when the thing does four times the business that it does in the United States. Because the U.S. is practically the same size of continental frickin' Europe, and Europe is more densely populated. Just because it makes more overseas doesn't mean the movie is more deeply embraced by individual countries. It's a bigger audience.

  • Sketchee | November 2, 2012 11:48 AM

    I don't think many studies show America being better educated than most, however.

  • Jessica | November 1, 2012 4:09 PMReply

    Any European who gets to work with Americans will realize that indeed Americans are... just not very bright. That's just the truth. Education is obviously weaker in the US than it is in the richest countries in Europe. The average Scandinavian is doing better professionally speaking than the average American.

  • Phil | December 17, 2012 11:49 PM

    I'm with Sarah - pace out - an Earthling from Europe am I - big up the human race! Peace and love!

  • Sara | November 2, 2012 3:07 AM

    Oh good grief, again with the stupid Americans canard. Stupidity is a worldwide affliction, I promise. Also, you're conflating innate intelligence, education and socioeconomic/professional success as if they were automatically connected, which is not the case. It's perfectly possible to be very bright in a very bad school, or smart and broke, or dumb and rich.

    As for Cloud Atlas, I can see how critics would think it a mess, but I'll still argue that it was a beautiful and fascinating mess. It is worth seeing in the theater as well, since it's one of those films that's best seen on a big screen with surround sound. My guesses as to why it hasn't done well here yet: an unusual release date (films like this normally open in mid-late December in this country, so that's when we tend to expect them), surprisingly short runs in theaters (I just barely managed to catch it in St. Louis), sky-high ticket prices, and the ridiculous ease of downloading a free torrent instead. Oh, and there was that little hurricane thingy that shut down most of the East Coast earlier this week. I suspect that's got people a bit distracted. Give it another weekend or two, will you?

  • doctyor jones | November 1, 2012 3:13 PMReply

    We have retards in Europe as well.

    If it were to be true, it might be because the United States of America tends to approach their talent in an elitist way, where it is quality over quantity (for example with insanely high university tuition, as for example in Denmark, where you actually get paid by the government to go to school).

    That makes the cultural and scientific elite in USA among the absolute best, but it is a small margin of the entire population.

  • AS | November 1, 2012 4:20 PM

    The high price of tuition has nothing to do with quality and everything to do with corporate dominance and ensuring that only a very small portion of the country is educated. If you keep the population uneducated, they will never challenge the forces that be.

  • Tom | November 1, 2012 3:08 PMReply

    Americans largely don't think of film as art so they'd rather see Liam Neeson kicking ass than be challenged a bit by something more thoughtful.

  • Dan | November 1, 2012 3:02 PMReply

    No culture. Bah! We invented jazz, blues, rock, the great American musical that outstripped anything the Europeans put out ( Cole Porter, Berlin, Rogers, Sondheim, Gershwin, Coleman). In regards to drama we brought forward Tennessee Williams, Eugene ONeil, Arthur Miller, etc. Literature has given Twain, Melville, Poe, Wharton, Pond, James, Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, Hammett, Morrison, Roth, Doctorow, MCcarthy, and Updike. One need only look at the work of Frank Lloyd Wright to see an influence on architecture. I could go on for hours in regards to developments in the sciences, but the fact of the matter is America has substantial culture, which is amazing for a country that isn't even 300 years old. Stating American in intellectually and culturally defunct is ridiculous and absurd.

  • Mark | November 1, 2012 6:16 PM

    SK didn't say America didn't have culture, he/she said the culture is trashy (which it is).

  • Dan | November 1, 2012 4:56 PM

    Could the average Englishmen tell the difference between Johnson's plays and Marlowe's plays? How many Spainards have read Cervantis? What percentage of South Americans could properly define magical realism? How many Dutch people could explain Reubin's defining attribute? Every culture has a segment unaware of its heritage. Stating that America is without culture is a lie.

  • Mark | November 1, 2012 4:26 PM

    Right, because all of those people have a massive foothold in the American conciousness... Oh please, your average American couldn't tell you who Updike was if you held a gun to their head. None of those people have any place in the American culture of 2012. The iPhone 5 does, though....

  • SK | November 1, 2012 2:28 PMReply

    Deep-throat was too intellectual for American audiences. The reason Americans are so ignorant is because they have no culture; or I should say, a trashy culture. It's a culture of materialism, consumerism and jingoism (which unites everyone in a fervor of blind nationalism). The box office hits only reflect this.

  • wes | November 1, 2012 2:06 PMReply

    If by `intellectual' you either mean `pseudo-intellectual' or `superficially intellectual,' then okay.

  • Alex | November 1, 2012 1:38 PMReply

    True. Americans are idiots. Everybody knows that.

  • Dan | November 1, 2012 12:39 PMReply

    Hardly, Taken 2 has made 118 million in the states, but 197 million in the rest of the world. Saying one country enjoys intellectual films more than another is silly. Every Terrence Malick film has seen it gross more in the US than any other country. What does that say about the intellectual abilities of those European countries. Secondly, Cloud Atlas made as little as it made because it was a spectacular mess, not an enigma of a movie.

  • MisterEd | November 2, 2012 3:30 PM

    "Hate to be that guy, but Tree of Life made 13mil in the US, 41mil overseas; Thin Red Line made 36mil in the US, 62 mil overseas; etc."

    Hate to be that guy but "overseas" and the International market are not the same. You're bundling the millions those films made in the entire planet (except the USA) and making it seem like those millions were made just in Europe. NOPE.

  • Tam | November 2, 2012 5:04 AM

    The European market makes zero promo for small American movies. That's the reason why indies make no money.

  • things | November 1, 2012 2:03 PM

    Dan, you realize your point applies to essentially EVERY English-language film that gets a worldwide release, right? It's a meaningless comparison.

  • PETER | November 1, 2012 1:55 PM

    I think this is a brilliant film as Roger Ebert wisely mentioned. I think Americans are just too lazy, sometimes. We definitely are not idiots.

  • Dan | November 1, 2012 1:50 PM

    Yeah, Tree of Life made 13 million in the US. The next highest grossing country was France with 8 million. No single country has spent more buying tickets for Malick's films than the US: Combind, all other countries spent more, but individually, the US beats them.

  • things | November 1, 2012 1:18 PM

    Hate to be that guy, but Tree of Life made 13mil in the US, 41mil overseas; Thin Red Line made 36mil in the US, 62 mil overseas; etc. The Malick example actually supports the point that American audiences are less receptive to more intellectual/ cerebral films than Europeans. That's too reductive of an assertion certainly but there is probably an element of truth within it.

  • NF | November 1, 2012 1:06 PM

    Also, Taken 2 was produced in France, not America

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