Ever since he first burst on the Hollywood scene in the 1990s, it was clear Ben Affleck was more than just an actor. He and Matt Damon won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar in 1998 for Good Will Hunting and after a string of duds in the early-2000s, Affleck made a very successful move into directing.
Gone Baby Gone was Affleck’s breakout hit as director that more than made up for the likes of Gigli. He then followed Gone Baby Gone up with the equally impressive The Town, before his third film, Argo, became an unequivocal smash. All three of those films garnered Oscar attention, with the latter even going the distance and scooping up a Best Picture Oscar win (while also causing some controversy when Affleck wasn’t given a Best Director Oscar nomination).
Affleck’s fourth film, Live By Night – a prohibition-era gangster epic set in Boston and Florida – has fared less well. At one point mooted to be a contender come awards season, its critical reception has been pretty weak, with the film only earning a 32% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences clearly weren’t too hot on the film either; its early box office numbers were low and now that it’s gone into wide theatrical release, Variety‘s reporting that Live by Night is set to post a $75 million loss.
Live By Night cost $65 million to make and after releasing in most territories, has grossed a paltry $16.5 million – which when accounting for marketing costs, makes for quite an overspend. By comparison, Gone Baby Gone made $34.6 million on a $19 million budget, The Town took in $154 million on a $37 million budget and Argo made an impressive $232.3 million against a $44.5 million price tag. Affleck’s previous success is what led to the $65 million budget for his second Dennis Lehane adaptation (few non-blockbusters get made in the mid-range budget region nowadays), but it was evidently a misjudged choice.
The bad reviews and lack of Oscar buzz are a key reason why the film’s not connected with people. It’s a very competitive time of year box office wise and Live By Night simply doesn’t offer the same allure as the widely-praised likes of La La Land or Manchester by the Sea. It won’t have helped that much of the pre-release hype bypassed the movie itself and instead focused on the development of Affleck’s upcoming Batman movie. Despite its failure, the film was perhaps not deserving of the level of dislike it received – it’s flawed and ponderous, but there are some very interesting ideas in there. Still, coming from such an accomplished director, it’s hard to not call Live by Night a disappointment.
This development rounds out what was a trying year for Ben Affleck in general. Batman V Superman, starring Affleck as the Caped Crusader, was among the more polarizing films of 2016, while The Accountant (which Affleck also headlined) didn’t have much of an impact, however you cut it. Still, with his starring role in Justice League and tentative plans to start filming The Batman this year, Affleck is aiming to get fully back on-track in 2017.