So we’ve already discussed today how box office tracking is usually full of sh*t (click here for a refresher), but there is a threshold where it simply doesn’t matter how wonky the numbers are—you can’t deny when a movie sh*ts the bed. And The Fifth Estate, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Bruhl, definitely sh*t the bed. Before the Cumbercollective comes after me, shanks out, let’s be clear: this isn’t Cumberbatch’s fault (although he is going to be stuck with the tab).
The Fifth Estate never should have been in wide release. There are two things that occur when an actor breaks out. 1) Some crap movie, usually of the horror persuasion, that’s been sitting on the shelf for years gets a slap-dash release, hoping to capitalize on the newfound fame of the star (see also: Jennifer Lawrence/The House on the End of the Street). Or 2) A movie which by any sane reckoning ought to be treated as art house fare is launched into the mainstream, hoping to capitalize on the actor’s burgeoning name recognition (see also: Kristen Stewart/Adventureland). The second option is what just happened to The Batch.
Numbers are shifty and studio math is laughably dishonest, but the totals on The Fifth Estate are abysmal across the board. It opened with $1.7 million and only garnered another $1.6 million abroad, which means the international market won’t bail it out. Its wee take is laid against a $26 million production budget and at least that much again spent on advertising—and that’s being conservative. That ad campaign was aggressive, but even being kind you’re talking at minimum $50 million in the tank on spending. There’s no way to spin these numbers. This movie did badly.
So what’s it mean for Cumberbatch? Well, it’s a black mark on his banner year, and his chances of competing for a lead actor Oscar just got vaporized—it’s too competitive a year to ride in on the back of a bomb—but his performance was the best received aspect of the film. His reputation as an actor escapes unscathed, especially because anyone familiar with the industry will recognize this as a case of studio overreach, and that The Fifth Estate should have had a much more reduced ad campaign followed by a specialty release. It never should have been thrust into the mainstream.
But his reputation as a celebrity will take a hit. His is the most recognizable name attached to the film, and a quick Google search of “Fifth Estate box office” reveals a lot of “Benedict Cumberbatch’s movie tanks” headlines. That gives the impression that he isn’t as real-world famous as he is “internet famous”. But he’s right on the cusp, and he’ll benefit from the dual Oscar charges of August: Osage County and 12 Years a Slave, plus the return of Sherlock at the end of the year(ish), and a major event release in The Hobbit: The One with the Badass Dragon. And he plays the dragon! As we know, everything is better with dragons. Including Benedict Cumberbatch.