It has become common wisdom that the only movies with a chance to succeed as theatrical releases are big-budget franchise films, relegating mid-budget titles to their fate as unremarkable day & date or straight to streaming releases.
The production company Project X Entertainment begs to differ. The company was founded in 2019 by industry veterans James Vanderbilt, William Sherak, and Paul Neinstein with the mission of, “Making smart content commercial, and commercial content smart.” Project X is behind the Michael Bay-directed action thriller AMBULANCE, which opened in theatres this weekend. It was produced on a budget of $40M and therefore can achieve profitability with a much lower box office take than a major studio tentpole.
In a recent episode of Variety’s “Strictly Business” podcast, reporter Andrew Wallenstein pressed Project X’s William Sherak on the economic viability of AMBULANCE. Sherak suggests that the quality of the studio’s marketing campaign and the appeal of director Michael Bay and star Jake Gyllenhaal will bring out moviegoers. Unfortunately, it appears the AMBULANCE’S opening weekend grosses were modest, despite its being one of Bay’s best-reviewed films. Still, mid-budget films including DOG, SCREAM, and THE LOST CITY have all had profitable runs, proving a mid-budget movie can still succeed.
Even when a film fails to draw audiences, the losses are minimized because of the modest investment in creating the movie. The key is to avoid financial catastrophes such as MOONFALL, the Roland Emmerich disaster film that had a production budget of over $150M but which ended up grossing only $50M worldwide at the box office.