Saturday, July 21, 2018
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'Live By Night,' the Ben Affleck film set in Ybor City, is a box office bomb and here's why

Ben Affleck's Live By Night, which is set largely in Ybor City, is bombing bad at the box office.

The movie opened in late December in just a handful of theaters, a tactic studios usually use to qualify films for awards nominations like the Golden Globes and Academy Awards. But Live By Night has generated about as much Oscar buzz as Batman v. Superman.

Movies that open in limited release in December typically pull in big crowds in those theaters, driving up their per-screen averages. Not Live by Night. It made a paltry $33,000 from four theaters when it opened Christmas weekend, a per-screen average of about $8,300. It's not uncommon for films in limited release to average five times that or more.

Live By Night went into wide release last weekend in 2,800 theaters and pulled in an estimated $5.4 million, giving it an ugly per screen average of $1,900.

It couldn't even crack the weekend's top 10 — finishing in 11th place behind Passengers, a mild box office disappointment that was in its fourth week of wide release.

The website boxofficemojo.com said Live By Night was "delivering truly disastrous results" in its review of the weekend's highest grossing films, which was led by Hidden Figures' estimated $20 million.

Prior to this dud, Affleck was not only an A-list actor, but a bankable director. His first film, 2007's Gone Baby Gone, was an under-the-radar sleeper that made $20 million — pretty good for a film from an actor trying his hand at directing for the first time. Remember, back then Affleck was on the outs as a movie star and his success at directing helped resurrect his career.

His Boston crime caper The Town in 2010 made $98 million and was a hit with audiences and critics.

Then came Argo, which won three Oscars, including Best Picture, took in $136 million at the box office and cemented Affleck as a director to be reckoned with critically and financially.

So how could his next film flop so badly?

First off, Affleck waited four years between Argo and Live By Night, an eternity in Hollywood and enough time to cause a lot of the good will Affleck attained from the Oscar-winning film to dissolve. The bad buzz surrounding the Batman v. Superman movie, in which he played the Caped Crusader, likely didn't help.

Live By Night also has been rejected by critics, scoring a poor 33 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes compared to 96 percent for Argo. Live By Night, which is based on a book by Dennis Lehane (who also wrote Gone Baby Gone) is a movie targeted to an older and more sophisticated audience — people who are more likely to read the bad reviews, including the C+ grade from Tampa Bay Times film critic Steve Persall, who said Affleck's portrayal of a Prohibition-era Florida bootlegger is "as dashing as dishwater."

Audiences haven't been impressed either. Just 56 percent gave the film a positive review on Rotten Tomatoes, well short of the 90 percent received by Argo.

Bad movies can be hard to market, and that appears to be the case with Live By Night. The posters and trailers are flat and fail to distinguish it from countless other Prohibition gangster films. The tag line on the poster is: "Joe was once a good man." Barf.

Even the buzz locally has been muted. It probably doesn't help that even though the movie is set in Tampa, it was filmed in Georgia because that state offered tax incentives Florida did not.

Related: Interview: Ben Affleck talks Live by Night including building Ybor City in Georgia

The incentives were apparently enough to cover the costs of building a replica of Ybor City.

Live By Night likely will struggle to make much more than $10 million before it quietly closes, a sure disappointment for Affleck and the studio. It probably won't even match the $15 million that the last major Hollywood film set in (and in this case, filmed in) Tampa Bay, The Infiltrator, which was released last summer, made by the end of its theatrical run.

The budget spent on Live By Night has not been released, but it likely wasn't cheap to re-create historical Ybor City — even with tax incentives. That makes it likely Live By Night will lose a sizeable chunk of money.

It's too bad. Tampa Bay continues to search for every opportunity to get itself in front of the nation as an emerging destination to live, work and play. That so few moviegoers will see the city — even if it's a fake facsimile from nearly a century ago — seems like a lost opportunity, especially considering the talent involved in this film.

Contact Chris Tisch at [email protected] Follow @christisch1.

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