The tagline for Gulliver’s Travels is “Something Big Is Going Down,” and according to ominous tracking numbers, that thing could be the movie itself. NRG data leaked to Vulture points to an opening of only $10 to 13 million for the Jack Black family comedy, deadly for a movie that Fox insiders say cost nearly $120 million, but other sources on the production suspect is much higher. According to the survey, only 74 percent of moviegoers were aware of Gulliver’s, and only 24 percent of them expressed “definite interest” in seeing it. As the head of marketing at another studio explains, “That means disaster. Only one in four people who know about your movie want to see it.”
The film was directed by first-time live-action director Rob Letterman, who was behind the animated hits Monsters vs. Aliens and Shark Tale. Sources on the production tell Vulture that there was a steep learning curve in his move to real actors and a very complicated special-effects situation. Not helping matters, the neophyte director butted heads with his experienced effects supervisor, Jim Rygiel — who won the Best Visual Effects Oscar for his work on all three Lord of the Rings movies — and Letterman eventually fired him. (The director, who would not comment for this story, also went through two pairs of editors.) The film was originally slated for a summer 2010 release; while our sources tell us that Letterman’s inexperience led to the delay, a Fox insider maintains that the studio made the decision to bump it to Christmas way back in July 2009, after the Night at the Museum sequel opened in May and grossed $177.2 million: respectable, but $73 million less than the first NATM, which opened in the 2006 Christmas season.
Also working against Gulliver’s is the fact that it’s opening right on Christmas Day, a Saturday, which means it only has eight days to try to recoup the bulk of its price tag before kids go back to school. Meanwhile, Little Fockers opens three days earlier, on Wednesday, and is also tracking much better: 43 percent definite interest to Gulliver’s 24 percent. And while Fockers is the first choice of 16 percent of moviegoers, Gulliver’s is the first choice of just 3 percent. Can Fox avoid taking what experts say will likely be a $100 million write-down on its Black comedy? The odds of it doing so look to be Lilliputian.