Donnie Darko’s heavily panned sequel S. Darko has been more profitable since its release than the original film, according to producer Adam Fields.
The cult-classic sci-fi thriller Donnie Darko has been less profitable over the years than its heavily criticized sequel S. Darko, according to producer Adam Fields. The original film, which stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Maggie Gyllenhall, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, James Duval, and Patrick Swayze, grossed just over half a million dollars in its initial theatrical run. It has since gone on to gain major acclaim in more niche film circles and is widely seen as a highly influential and significant movie.
In many ways, Donnie Darko was doomed from the start. The tragic shooting at Columbine High School just two years before the film’s 2001 release made many distributors hesitant to affiliate themselves with it, given the movie’s themes of teenage violence. Writer and director Richard Kelly eventually managed to secure a deal, but the film’s marketing campaign was later curtailed in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, given the story’s focus on a plane crash. As a result, Donnie Darko flew largely under the radar when it came to theaters.
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After its initial release, however, Donnie Darko gained fame through DVD sales, rentals, and streaming. In spite of that second life on home video, the film has apparently still failed to find any significant financial success. In a recent interview with Screen Rant, producer Adam Fields even said that the movie’s heavily panned sequel, S. Darko, has been more profitable than the original. Read Fields’ quote below.
[EXCLUSIVE] “According to the most recent profit statement, it’s lost more money than the movie cost…That’s the real magic of “Hollywood Accounting.” Especially because it wasn’t like they spent so much money on marketing! It’s really amazing that this $4.5 million movie that became the biggest movie on Netflix… And in the last 15 years there’s never been a time when it’s not on a cable station or a streaming platform. I think Fox Home Video sold three million units in the first few years. That’s a lot of units for a movie that didn’t perform in theaters. Then, they paid millions to extend those rights. Yet over the entire last 16 years, they’ve reported less than $150k in domestic revenue. Where did all that money go? Into the Darko wormhole?
“The irony is, I just got a profit check for S. Darko for $75! It ain’t much, but the sequel, that was never released in theaters, cost almost the same as the original, and I’ve never seen it on any cable or streaming platform… And yet, that movie is somehow profitable, while the original, this cult phenomenon, has lost more money than it cost to make! These profit statements have a standard clause that they can charge interest on the budget until it’s been recouped, which is fine, but each dollar that comes is supposed to reduce that amount. They’ve never applied any revenue to the cost of the movie, so the interest keeps growing every year. So now the interest is greater than the cost of the film…but it would be great if just a few dollars trickled down to the people who made the movie.”
It seems almost impossible that a hated sequel with no theatrical release could outperform a classic like Donnie Darko, but it makes sense with the financial sleight-of-hand explained by Fields. It’s a shame that many of those who worked hard on the original have never truly gotten their due, even after the film became a hit post-release. Unfortunately, it sounds like they might never.
For Donnie Darko fans, it may be seen as an even greater insult that S. Darko appears more successful by some bizarre metrics. While Fields returned to serve as a producer on the sequel, Kelly was not involved, and has in fact decried the film openly. The critical consensus on S. Darko’s release was that it failed at recreating the distinct tone of the original film in any meaningful way and that the result was a cluttered and confusing mess. Kelly has said recently that he’s been working on a proper Donnie Darko sequel, though what exactly that would look like remains unclear.
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