If it seems like Edward Norton has been on every talk show and podcast for the past two weeks to promote his new film, Motherless Brooklyn, it’s because he has. The drama follows a man with Tourette’s Syndrome who while investigating the murder of his friend and mentor, uncovers citywide corruption.
Releasing a drama set in the 1950s is a tough sell in 2019 and despite his best efforts, Norton couldn’t lure audiences to the theater to see his passion project. Through two weeks of release, the $26 million movie has yet to reach even $10 million in box office gross. This isn’t the first time Norton’s had one of his movies fail financially, though.
In fact, one of his most beloved, Fight Club, was a flop upon its release 20 years ago. And the reason the pic failed to connect with moviegoers, according to the actor, was due to the marketing.
“I think there was a reluctance on the part of some of the people who were actually marketing it, to embrace the idea that it was funny, and honestly I think they felt indicted by it,” Norton told PeopleTV. “I think if you felt more like the guy who plays my boss in the film, then you tended to not like the film. But also, it was just a tough one to distill.”
Despite the great title, moviegoers had little interest in seeing an anti-capitalist meta drama about how we’re all so insignificant in the grand scheme of things. To be fair to the marketing team at 20th Century Fox, the sensible way to promote it was through the action and fighting. And to be honest, after watching the original trailer for Fight Club, I thought they did a pretty good job of conveying the dark humor in the film.
Nevertheless, a confusing marketing campaign can make or break a movie’s success. Just look at last weekend with Doctor Sleep. It’s a sequel to both a 40-year-old film and a six-year-old book. For general audiences though, they were clearly unaware of its connection to a horror classic and the poor opening weekend of the movie reflects this confusion.
In the case of Fight Club though, Norton’s happy not only with the lasting legacy of the film, but the collaborations while making it, saying:
“It was an interesting experience because we all loved it and we were very confident about it. We were a little stung,” the actor pointed out. “You can never completely detach your ego to how does it do when it first opens, but then we all had the very special experience of realizing that the relationship it formed with people was everything you dream of when you get into films.”
How much a movie makes during its theatrical run often determines its success, but in the case of Fight Club, it was a financial failure that eventually found its audience. And now, all these years later, it’s widely considered to be one of the greatest films of the past few decades.