Edgar Wright is a beloved writer/director of cult classic movies like Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Scott Pilgrim vs The World. The auteur filmmaker has a loyal fanbase of dedicated followers, and he’s been a critical darling since his days on the cult British television show, Spaced. His characteristic highbrow/lowbrow working-class brand of comedy has earned him accolades and a certain level of reverence… However, some might be surprised to learn that his uncanny knack for visuals and fast-paced, intimate storytelling savvy have yet to earn him any sort of major box office credibility.
Baby Driver is the director’s latest attempt to create a commercial film which doesn’t play by the established rules of Hollywood blockbusters, and the movie is already a box office success, thanks to a strong opening weekend and a small second weekend dropoff. Forbes describes Baby Driver as an “unqualified sleeper hit,” and as of the time of writing it has already tripled its $34 million production budget in worldwide box office gross.
How does it compare to previous Edgar Wright movies, and why did Baby Driver succeed where, or example, Scott Pilgrim failed? Read on for our full analysis.
It may come as a surprise to his many fans, but Edgar Wright has never directed a bona fide box office smash before. Several of his films have seen a degree of financial success, and all four of them are critically-acclaimed, but it’s hard to call any of them an indisputable home run.
While Wright had considerable cult success with Spaced, it was his first film, Shaun of the Dead, which put him on the map for many would-be fans. The horror-comedy tribute to the works of the late, great George Romero was produced for a paltry reported budget of $6.1 million. The British production only received a limited release in the United States, and only played at 675 theaters at its peak. Despite this, the film managed to rake in a fairly solid $13 million in North America, and a grand total of $30 million worldwide. That’s not a lot of money for most Hollywood blockbusters, but considering its meager budget and subsequent ascension to cult classic status, it was certainly enough to keep Edgar Wright employed in the movie-making business.
For his second film, Hot Fuzz, Wright re-teamed with the leads of Shaun of the Dead, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Rather than a zombie horror spoof, Hot Fuzz took its inspiration from high-adrenaline action movies like Lethal Weapon, Point Break, and – in particular – Bad Boys II. Equal parts parody and tribute to the testosterone-laced genre of buddy cop thriller, as well as a scathing social satire all its own, Hot Fuzz was produced with a budget roughly double that of Shaun of the Dead, but still only $12 million. The film brought in $80.5 million worldwide, with 23 of those millions coming from the North American box office. It was significantly more money that Shaun of the Dead made, but somewhat less than industry insiders were expecting, considering Shaun‘s cult status and the perceived anticipation for Hot Fuzz. In any event, the film was a mid-sized hit, bolstered by its minuscule spending, and Universal Studios finally saw fit to entrust Edgar Wright with a full-on blockbuster project, with a reasonably large budget.
After tax rebates are factored in, the final reported cost for Scott Pilgrim vs The World was $60 million… Unfortunately, while it’s currently one of the most beloved cult films this side of Serenity, Scott Pilgrim was a straight-up bomb at the box office. In North America, it topped Hot Fuzz to become Wright’s biggest film yet, but, considering its budget, that’s a dubious honor. With a final haul of only $31 million, Scott Pilgrim couldn’t even count on the European market to bolster its coffers (as had been the case with Hot Fuzz). All told, the Michael Cera-starrer only brought in $47 million globally, a far cry from the estimated $150 million or so it would have taken to put Scott Pilgrim in the “win” column. Granted, the film became a major home video performer, but that’s not what this article is about.
Following the failure of Scott Pilgrim, Wright reunited with Pegg and Frost for The World’s End, which brought the budget down to a more manageable $20 million. Ultimately, the closing chapter of the “Cornetto Trilogy,” after Shaun and Hot Fuzz, brought in $46 million worldwide. Less than Hot Fuzz, more than Shaun of the Dead, it was a financial non-entity which didn’t make much money for its production company and distributor, but didn’t exactly ruin their fiscal reports, either.
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