Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom
|Budget: $35 million||Financed by: Distant Horizon; Pathé; Department of Trade & Industry;
Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa; National Empowerment Fund
|Domestic Gross: $8,323,085||Domestic Distributor: The Weinstein Company|
|Overseas Gross: $19,010,750||
Directed by: Justin Chadwick
Produced by: Anant Singh
South African producer Anant Singh, acquired Nelson Mandela’s biography Long Walk To Freedom back in 1996 and tried to get the film into production since. Financing fell through on numerous occasions, but Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom finally made it into production in 2012. The film was being touted as “the largest South African production ever mounted” with a budget of $35 million. Most local pictures from South Africa cost less than $2 million. The production received funding from numerous sources in South Africa, including the Department of Trade and Industry, which invested R60-million (approx. $6.5 million), the Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa and the National Empowerment Fund. Producer Anant Singh’s Distant Horizon shingle also co-financed, along with Pathé. Pathé handled worldwide sales to distributors and distributed the movie in the UK and France. The Weinstein Company took US rights and Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom would be a major awards hopeful for the distributor.
Awards bait specialist Harvey Weinstein fully backed an ambitious campaign for Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, to play up its importance as a serious Oscar contender. Things began with a highly publicized White House screening for President Obama on November 7. In a tone-deaf and unintentionally ironic political gesture to Nelson Mandela, Weinstein also organized a bipartisan screening hosted by hawks Hillary Clinton, Colin Powell and John McCain to a crowd of 800 very wealthy elitists. Next up was an eight city college tour of the movie, co-sponsored by Coca-Cola(?). Mandela passed away on December 5, which was about the time that the Weinstein marketing machine was moving forward with the movie and there was talk that the company was attempting to cash-in on the death of the historic Mandela. All the money, effort and political pandering to play up the film’s prominence was muted by mixed reviews and general indifference from critics. Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom was dated for a limited release on November 29 and was scheduled to expand wide over the Christmas frame. It was first booked into 4 theaters and pulled in a solid $84,283 with a $21,071 per screen average. It grossed $304,537 in a limited run before going nationwide.
The Christmas frame was saturated with competitive fare and Mandela bowed against The Wolf Of Wall Street, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, 47 Ronin, Grudge Match and Believe. The Weinstein Company booked it only moderately wide into 975 theaters and it struggled with $2,240,745 — placing #13 for the holiday weekend led by holdover The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. TWC added a handful of locations the following weekend over the New Year’s frame, bringing the theater count up to 1,010 but Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom sank 52.9% to $1,055,769 and promptly lost most of its theater count. The following weekend the Oscar nominations were announced and only Bono landed a nomination for original song. The US run closed with only $8,323,085. TWC would see returned about $4.5 million after theaters take their percentage of the gross, far less than their P&A spend and unreported acquisition amount.
Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom grossed a solid $2.1 million in South Africa and struggled in most markets. The UK numbers were a mediocre $7.1 million, which posted the highest overseas gross. The offshore total came to $19 million across numerous distributors. Months later, British screenwriter William Nicholson blamed the poor box office on 12 Years A Slave, because auds: “were so exhausted feeling guilty about slavery that I don’t think there was much left over to be nice about our film. So our film didn’t do as well as we’d hoped, which was a bit heartbreaking.” Topping off an interview in theguardian, he also boasted about fabricating Mandela’s speeches: “All but one … were made up by me because his own are so boring. I know it sounds outrageous to say a thing like that, but when he came out of prison he made a speech and, God, you fell asleep.” Perhaps the movie tanked because it was your run of the mill, self important biopic.