The Jake Gyllenhaal movie “Nightcrawler” opened on Halloween. Yes, in 2014, October 31st was a Friday. Studio Open Road was originally intending on releasing the film on October 17th. In fact, I have a poster hanging up in my house with that release date on it.
But instead of having the film go up against Brad Pitt’s “Fury”, the animated “The Book of Life” and romance “The Best of Me”, Open Road decided to push “Nightcrawler” back two weeks. Its competition on Halloween weekend: the thriller “Before I Go to Sleep” and the 10th Anniversary re-release of the original “Saw”. Both of them bombed that weekend.
To an extent, “Nightcrawler” didn’t. It opened in second place, barely behind the week two gross of horror flick “Ouija”. But “Nightcrawler” only earned $10.4 million. Part of the reason why: people were at parties, out trick-or-treating with the kids or staying-in to man the house for those trick-or-treaters.
But when it comes down to it, I just don’t think people knew what the movie was about. If you went to the multiplex and saw that title on the time chart, without any knowledge of the plot, you’d probably think it was a horror movie.
Even the poster with the intense close-up of Gyllenhaal (the one I have in my house) still kind of gives you that “maybe it’s a creepy/scary movie” impression. Heck, so does the poster of him in a dark outfit in front of a red car.
“Nightcrawler” is indeed a creepy film, but not in the traditional sense. And if it had been marketed as a dramatic thriller about the TV news scenes in Los Angeles, featuring gritty, layered showcases from Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo, it might’ve made more money. The total domestic gross was $32.4 million, about three times the opening weekend. That’s solid, but still not extraordinary.
There were a lot of other choices around that time, too. I didn’t see “Nightcrawler” on Halloween or that weekend. Frankly, I wasn’t aware of the true story of the movie. If I was, I would’ve made an effort to definitely check it out. But I had another priority on that Halloween Friday: seeing “Birdman”. It finally arrived at a movie theater near me after a two-week limited release open. “Birdman” blew me away, and as you might already know, I recently named it the Best Motion Picture of the 2010s.
I caught-up on “Nightcrawler” about two months later, with a few days to go until the end of 2014. Jake Gyllenhaal was receiving major Best Actor nominations, so I had to experience his performance. And boy, is it incredible. I love the movie as a whole and ranked it No. 5 for the year (which I did not expect to do going in). Unfortunately, Gyllenhaal wasn’t able to attend the 2015 Oscars as a nominee.
Releasing a new movie on Halloween, especially one that doesn’t fit what people think of around that time of year, can be a dangerous play. In 2003, Disney decided to avoid the Halloween Friday by debuting the animated “Brother Bear” in wide release on Saturday November 1st. (It had been in just two theaters the previous week.) Why bother trying to convince families to give-up the holiday by seeing a non-“scary” movie?
And in 2008, The Weinstein Company opened “Zack and Miri Make a Porno”. The movie was already facing controversy for weeks before then. Theater owners didn’t want the word “Porno” on marquees, so the title was universally shortened to “Zack and Miri”. Its box office run mirrored that of “Nightcrawler”. Also that day: horror film “The Haunting of Molly Martley”, which made just $13.6 million total.