Films postponed after 9/11 flop at box office

Fearing audiences would deem their content offensive, many Hollywood studios postponed the release of films after the Sept. 11 attacks on America. But as Disney’s Big Trouble proved last week, the move seems to have hurt studios more than anything, Variety reports.

Big Trouble was originally slated for release Sept. 21, 2001, but the studio postponed it until April 5, 2002, in light of the World Trade Center attacks. The all-star ensemble opened last weekend to a bleak $3.5 million.

The film, headlining Tim Allen and Rene Russo, was not the first picture delayed by 9/11 to perform dismally at the box office. Warner Bros., for example, chose to postpone the release of Collateral Damage starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Originally scheduled for release Oct. 5, the film was instead released Feb. 8, 2002. The film, about a fireman battling terrorists, grossed $40 million domestically–a small figure by its standard, budget and star power.

Warner Bros., however, went ahead with the scheduled release of Training Day. The gritty action picture starring Denzel Washington, who won an Oscar for this part, fared much better than Collateral Damage, grossing $76 million domestically. Universal’s Spy Game, which also stood its ground after 9/11, did well at the box office. The spy drama eventually pulled in $62 million at the box office.

Other postponed films that failed to soar at the box office include Paramount Classics’ low-budget Sidewalks of New York starring Edward Burns and DreamWorks’ The Last Castle starring Robert Redford and James Gandolfini. But the shortage of advertising caused by continuous news coverage didn’t help the film’s causes, either.

The true test, however, will be MGM’s Windtalkers and Miramax’s Gangs of New York.

Windtalkers, starring Nicolas Cage and directed by John Woo, focuses on the several hundred Navajo Native Americans who were recruited as Marines and trained to use their language as code after the United States declared war on Japan in World War II. Pushing the release date back to June 2002 put the picture last in a long line of war films, including Black Hawk Down, We Were Soldiers and Hart’s War.

Sony actually did the opposite of what almost every other studio was doing and moved Black Hawk Down‘s release date to take advantage of the patriotic climate following 9/11–and it worked. The film went on to earn a hefty $108 million at the domestic box office.

This week, Miramax announced it would release its 18th-century epic Gangs of New York, originally slated for release in September 2001, on Christmas week 2002. Directed by Martin Scorsese, the film is unlikely to flop. But if it follows in the footsteps of other pics stalled by the events of 9/11, the delay will more likely hurt it than help it.