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MGM Takes A Loss On 'Dragon Tattoo': Does This Mean David Fincher Is Out?

by Kevin Jagernauth
March 22, 2012 6:36 PM
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Well, it's not quite "John Carter," but today MGM revealed in a call with investors (via Deadline) that though "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" took in $231 million worldwide (not bad for a hard-R crime drama that runs 2 1/2 hours long) it still didn't meet the numbers honchos thought they would get out of a fanbase that snapped up 30 million copies of the book worldwide. “It is below our expectations and we booked a modest loss,” exec Gary Barber said, adding that they ”were hoping we’d do 10% more than we did.” But what does this mean about the proposed sequels?

Back in January, it was announced that Sony (who has a co-financing and distribution deal with MGM) would be moving ahead with "The Girl Who Played With Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest." However, with the numbers now in and finalized, Barber cautions that sequels will only happen “assuming we can achieve better economics.” So what does this mean?

Well, we presume that studio executives are now looking long and hard at whether or not they want to keep director David Fincher on board. Now, he does have an option on 'Fire' -- said to be his favorite book of the series -- and his pay-or-play deal stipulates that he gets $5 million whether they move ahead with him or not. It's a pretty penny to pay, but studio heads might be ready to cut the cord. By most accounts, the production of 'Dragon Tattoo' featured a lot of head-butting between the director and the studio, starting with the casting of Rooney Mara, a decision that Fincher had to fight for. There were also concerns about the running time, which at one point was closer to three hours, something that Sony was not happy about (a movie that long usually means a sharp drop in how many times during the day it can screen at the multiplex). If a movie is a big success, that kind of friction is easily forgiven, but when a picture underperforms, it isn't so easily forgotten.

We're guessing a couple things will happen here: Firstly, MGM will probably watch the numbers of the recently released BluRay/DVD to see how it does (oh yeah, that DVD disc is pretty cool -- see below). Next, you can expect the budget on 'Fire' to be lower than the reported $90 million (which doesn't include the extensive P&A campaign, and we wonder if that number includes the late-stage reshoots on the movie) and as for Fincher? We think MGM may try to renegotiate their deal, and perhaps keep him on as an executive producer (keep the fanboys happy), give him a taste of the box office on the sequels and avoid paying out $5 million for him to walk.

But again, who knows. With Fincher apparently battling Netflix over "House Of Cards," perhaps the 'Dragon Tattoo' franchise is at least a fight he's been through already and is familiar with, and he'll be willing to bend a bit to return. But it'll be interesting to see how it plays out.

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  • Adam | March 31, 2012 7:29 PMReply

    Only Hollywood execs would consider this a loss, and how is it a loss anyway? You HOPED for 10% more. It still made over 2 1/2 times its budget. News flash MGM, that is not a loss in any sense of the word. Lets see Sony/MGM...YOU fought against Fincher's casting of Mara, who went on to receive an Oscar Nom...YOU made the mistake of releasing a 2 1/2hr R-rated crime drama on Christmas Day...YOU were dumb enough to over-project its BO take against monster action flick franchises MI:4 and Sherlock Holmes 2...maybe the problem is YOU.

    The only reason I saw this film was because Fincher made it. If they don't ask Fincher back, then they shouldn't bother making the sequels at all.

  • AbSiddique | March 29, 2012 1:57 PMReply

    If Fincher is not directing the sequels, then I'm not going to watch them. Straight and simple!

  • Corperateshills | March 25, 2012 9:45 AMReply


    For all the Hollywood bashing that the playlist does, this article made me wonder how naive these dudes really are. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Hollywood knows about their dubious accounting.

    If only 5% of movies make a profit how in gods name has Hollywood been able to to say in business for 100 years and turn out hundreds of movies a year.

    This article is attacking a one of the best filmmakers out there today while eating the shit some studio has feed them.

    Trusting the word of a studio executive about profit is like...well, is there anything more naive??

    also can this fucking business of talking about box-office as the end and be all of a film's life. The movie is going to be generating money for the studios for years to come. It is a film in the filmography of filmmaker that people will be looking at for years down the road. Yes every studio wants SHIT tons of money those first two weekend when they keep 90% of the box-office receipt but if Sony and MGM wanted that from this film, they wouldn't have made a release date and secondly they wouldn't have released a rape revenge movie on Christmas.

  • Edward Davis | March 25, 2012 10:44 AM

    You totally missed the point of this article and the strategic reason the studio sent out this news: when the director is no longer on board for parts 2 and 3, you'll re-read this piece and it'll make sense you and you'll realize we were one of the few, if only to make sense of this info the studio sent one. It was step 1 in a larger plan.

  • Huffy | March 23, 2012 9:14 AMReply

    For the best in my opinion. 18 Million copies or not that last two books in the series are shit. The first one was little more than so-so pulp mascaraing as important literature but Fincher's direction elevated the material greatly. He could do the same with the next two I suppose but I'd rather see him tackle more challenging projects. He's always talking about the difference between "movies" and "films" and I'd say we're about due for a film. The $5 million guarantee will sting but considering Fincher's Kubrick/Cimino-like tendencies they'd probably shave that and more from the budget without him attached.

  • Stevenmarque | March 23, 2012 6:32 AMReply

    I'm not as qualified to speak so fluently on the fiduciary issues of the first or the potential subsequent films, but as fresh and precious as it may sound to Sony; I was totally seduced by the treatment and casting in term of cogent aesthetics and uncompromising vision. For me, a hard R series with such rich Fincher duende; directing such an emerging Rooney imago is priceless and important as a flag. I'll fund the rest to keep all in place just as is. If this exact brand isn't worth a 10% sacrifice, then nothing is. Robert Evans would agree. SM

  • hmmm | March 23, 2012 1:00 AMReply

  • rodie | March 22, 2012 11:28 PMReply

    If this film had been released in summer and the female lead was someone well-known like Natalie or Scarlett, the studio would have made their 10% more. It's as simple as that. With this source material, the release date, the lengthy run-time and the cast they had (even Craig isn't really a big draw unless he's 007), their expectations for box office seemed to be a little unrealistic.

  • KitCon | March 22, 2012 10:32 PMReply

    If they're just looking for an extra 10% or $23M surely they'll make that from ancillaries. It could be another case of murky studio accounting to strengthen their bargaining position, avoid payouts &/or taxes.

  • a | March 22, 2012 9:46 PMReply

    I loved this movie but please, Playlist, tell me there's a good chance there won't be sequels. I'm eager for new stuff from Fincher, Mara, and Craig, not more of the same.

  • Luis | March 22, 2012 9:03 PMReply

    Simply the best film to parade this year at the Oscars, voted as a side runner due to Academy lack of cinematic culture... and brains!

  • Nik Grape | March 22, 2012 9:01 PMReply

    Just re-watched it last night, (the Blu Ray/DVD combo edition is spectacular). I really hope Fincher gets to do the sequels (why not shoot them back-to-back to save cost?) because if he's out, fuck the sequels. Plain and simple. I doubt fanboys (guess that includes me too, I love this one) would be happy if Fincher stays on as executive producer because everyone pretty much knows that doesn't mean shit. Agghh man, I'm going to keep a close eye on this one, hopefully those DVD/Blu Ray numbers are good.

  • Ken | March 23, 2012 12:49 AM

    If they had someone like Matthew Vaughn doing the sequel, I'd be ok with that. But there are very few directors (that is, directors for hire) that I would want handling this movie if it's not gonna be Fincher.

  • LeonRaymond | March 22, 2012 8:11 PMReply


    Oh God I love you both for pointing those facts out. damn I loved and I mean loved that movie but whose damn idea was it to release it on CHRISTMAS DAY are you kidding me!!!!

  • Mary | March 22, 2012 7:10 PMReply

    R rated movie with two rapes that earned over $230 million is a flop? They should blame themselves for releasing it during Christmas time.

  • Green | March 22, 2012 11:00 PM

    Actually 2 rapes and a coerced BJ for spending money. Gives new meaning to the term pay or play.

  • Gabriel | March 22, 2012 7:59 PM

    Actually it was three rapes. But yeah I agree. They should have known that a film like Dragon Tattoo was going to have a ceiling when it came to the box office. I blame Sony and MGM for budgeting it at 90 million when they could have done it for way less. I loved the film though.

  • cirkusfolk | March 22, 2012 6:48 PMReply

    Can you try to find the Sunday box office articles from around the time Dragon Tattoo came out? Because I remember in one of them I specifically said the film was gonna flop based on the numbers it was pulling in, and you assured me it would not. Actually, you may have said something like, it was too early to tell, but you still implied I was wrong. Doesn't appear to be that way now does it.

  • Yod | March 22, 2012 11:01 PM

    You may well be the most unlikeable person in the world.

  • Edward Davis | March 22, 2012 9:48 PM

    "Remember when I prematurely called this?!?" Don't be extra fatuous, Circus. Almost every film in December looked like a bomb at first and yet Sherlock Holmes 2 surpassed the original worldwide total gross, so did Mission Impossible, and We Bought A Zoo cracked the $100 million mark. You should ALWAYS wait and see unless the film is something like "John Carter" where the math is so evidently and deeply against it it's pretty apparent from week one what the outcome will be. Otherwise, well, you start looking like a jackass who makes kneejerk-y statements. Oh wait...

  • Christopher Bell | March 22, 2012 6:51 PM


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