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Box Office 2.0: Martin Scorsese and Roman Polanski at the Box Office

Box Office 2.0: Martin Scorsese and Roman Polanski at the Box Office

As noted in the latest weekend box office column, veteran directors Martin Scorsese and Roman Polanski both had very promising in debuts for their latest works, “Shutter Island” and “The Ghost Writer.” Both coming off of their recent debuts at the Berlinale, the films were the top wide (“Shutter”) and limited (“Ghost”) debuts. “Shutter” took in an impressive $41,062,440 from 2,991 screens – Scorsese’s best debut ever, while “Ghost” averaged a massive $45,752 from its limited four-screen debut, the top per-theater-average of the year so far and Polanski’s best limited debut (“The Pianist” averaged $18,543 on 6 screens back in 2002).

Considering both directors’ long history of filmmaking (both started making feature films in the 1960s, meaning “Island” and “Shutter” represent each’s sixth decade of filmmaking), indieWIRE decided to take a look back and their relationship to box office numbers over the years, and how both of their new films may end up eventually situating themselves within this financial narrative.

Scorsese’s most financially successful decade has been this recent one (which, coincidentally, has seen all of his narrative films star Leonardo DiCaprio). “Shutter Island” should very well become his third (and third consecutive) $100 million grosser, joining 2004’s “The Aviator” and 2006’s “The Departed.” Even adjusting for inflation, “The Departed” remains his top grosser ever at $151.6 million in 2010 dollars ($132.8 million unadjusted), with 1991’s “Cape Fear” and “The Aviator” just behind with $139.9 and $122.9 million, respectively. “Shutter Island” should likely find itself within that mix, though probably toward the bottom of it (horror/thrillers generally hold up quite poorly at the box office post-first weekend, though the prestige of Scorsese and his cast should probably help soften that to a degree).

Also interesting should be watching how “Island” fares overseas. In its limited debut last weekend (in markets including Scandinavia, Russia, Spain and Australia), “Island” grossed $9.1 million, and expands significantly in coming weekends (including France and Germany this weekend and the UK on March 12th). Scorsese and DiCaprio’s history overseas bodes well. “The Departed” grossed 54% of its worldwide total outside of North America (taking in $157.5 million), “The Aviator” had 52% (taking in $111.1 million), and “Gangs of New York” managed nearly 60% (taking in $116 million).

While “The Ghost Writer”‘s success this weekend was obviously on a much smaller scale than “Shutter Island,” it did manage to find itself among the 100 best per-theater-averages of all time with its four-screen debut. Certainly, what happens to it as it expands beyond a comfortable starting point in New York and Los Angeles remains to be seen, but “The Ghost Writer” actually has a decent shot at becoming one of Polanski’s top grossing films if these numbers hold up. Only four Polanski-helmed films have ever grossed over $20 million (when not adjusted for inflation, though number grows six when you adjust for inflation), with 2002’s “The Pianist” the only one after 1980.

Even more so than Scorsese, Polanski has generally – and expectedly – done much better overseas, where “The Ghost Writer” has yet to track any numbers. 2002’s “The Pianist,” for example grossed 73% of its worldwide total outside of North America, while 2000’s Johnny Depp starrer “The Ninth Gate” made 68% of its money the same way. While publicized numbers for his best Stateside grosser – which remains 1968’s “Rosemary’s Baby” even without adjusting for inflation – are unavailable, its clear his post-exile box office has been dominated by foreign grosses. Even 2005’s “Oliver Twist” – considered a huge financial disappointment domestically, grossing only $2,080,321 – grossed a whopping 95% of its worldwide total overseas, totalling $40,500,000.

Below is a tally of both Scorsese and Polanski’s top grossing films as of Sunday, February 21, 2010. Because of the general lack of availability of worldwide numbers pre-1990, the numbers only include North American numbers, and are not adjusted for inflation.

Top Ten Grossing Martin Scorsese Films in North America
1. The Departed (2006) $132,384,315
2. The Aviator (2004) $102,610,330
3. Cape Fear (1991) $79,091,969
4. Gangs of New York (2002) $77,812,000
5. The Color of Money (1986) $52,293,982
6. Goodfellas (1990) $46,836,394
7. Shuttler Island (2010) $41,062,440
8. Casino (1995) $42,512,375
9. The Age of Innocence (1993) $32,255,440
10. Taxi Driver (1977) $28,262,574

Top Ten Grossing Roman Polanski Films In North America
1. Rosemary’s Baby (1968) $33,395,426
2. The Pianist (2002) $32,572,577
3. Chinatown (1974) $29,200,000
4. Tess (1980) $20,093,330
5. The Ninth Gate (2000) $18,661,336
6. Frantic (1988) $17,637,950
7. Death and the Maiden (1994) $3,038,495
8. Oliver Twist (2005) $2,070,920
9. Bitter Moon (1994) $1,862,000
10. Pirates (1986) $1,641,825

“Box Office 2.0” is a weekly column by indieWIRE Associate Editor Peter Knegt. Check out the previous editions:

Box Office 2.0: The Worldwide Box Office Wrath of “Khan”
Box Office 2.0: 10 Potential Late Winter Indie Breakouts
Box Office 2.0: Oscar By The Numbers
Box Office 2.0: Recapping The Non-Competition Films of Sundance ’09
Box Office 2.0: Recapping The Competition Films of Sundance ’09
Box Office 2.0: Tracking The Awards Contenders
Box Office 2.0: The Biggest Stories of the 2009 Indie Box Office
Box Office 2.0: “Broken Embraces” and the Cannes ’09 Crop
Box Office 2.0: What Happens To “Precious” Now?
Box Office 2.0: The Curious Case of “Orson Welles”
Box Office 2.0: Fall Winners and Losers
Box Office 2.0: Assessing 2009’s Dox Office From “Capitalism” to “The Cove”
Box Office 2.0: Two Notable DIY Releases That Opened In “Precious”‘s Shadow
Box Office 2.0: Snap Judgements & Great Expectations

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