Did Joaquin Phoenix’s Bizarro Publicity Stunt Actually Pay Off at the Box Office?

By
Photo: Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures; Getty Images

When Joaquin Phoenix showed up in a possibly altered state on David Letterman's show last Wednesday night, most of the early reaction was that his weirdo performance-art schtick was either "disastrous" or "career-ending." Vulture's assessment didn't go down that track; we were actually more pissed that he didn't do a better job of promoting his latest film. However, in a funny twist, it just might turn out that all of us were wrong. What would you say if we told you that Two Lovers was Joaquin's most successful opening weekend since he starred alongside Mel Gibson in Signs?

While that statement is true, there is one caveat we'd like to explain. The film managed to rack up some $120,000 over the four-day holiday weekend, which is actually pretty decent considering the film opened in very limited release on seven screens in New York and Los Angeles. So, if you break down the gross on a per-screen basis, it grossed an estimated $17,143 per screen, which would make it Phoenix's best opening since Signs pulled in $18,418 per screen back in 2002. Granted, that film did some $60 million that weekend, but the point that we're trying to illustrate is that Phoenix's near-mute turn on Letterman definitely amped up the curiosity factor, driving people to see a performance by Phoenix that our own David Edelstein described as being "stupendous in a way he has never been before."

While this gambit appears like it may end up paying some dividends for Phoenix's acting career, we would like to strongly discourage other actors from misguidedly pursuing careers in the music industry. After all, the last thing anyone needs to see when Tyler Perry hits the talk-show circuit this week to push Madea Goes to Jail is him threatening to go on tour with Animal Collective.

Did Moviegoers Show 'Two Lovers' Any Love Following Actor's PR Debacle? [Madison + Vine/Ad Age]
Two Lovers [Box Office Mojo]