With a budget of at least $25 million, a new film about the history of international soccer authority FIFA opened to a miserable start at the U.S. box office -- taking in just over $600 in its theatrical debut this weekend.
United Passions, a French drama about the origins of the sport's governing body and its pivotal executives, was screened in 10 theaters this weekend in a very limited release. Cities that held screenings were New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Phoenix, Kansas City, Miami, Minneapolis, Houston, Dallas and Philadelphia.
It is not uncommon for films to perform modestly in a limited release, but analysts say the box office numbers for United Passions are every bit as bad as they look.
On Friday, its first day of release, the film earned a combined $319 at all 10 theaters. Saturday, it did even worse -- $288 -- for a two-day grand total of $607. The top performing cinema was located in Hollywood, which sold $164 in tickets. A D.C. area theater was second ($161) and one in New York was third ($112), according to the Hollywood Reporter.
The film, directed by French filmmaker Frédéric Auburtin and starring Tim Roth, Sam Neill and Gérard Depardieu, chronicles the 1904 founding of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association -- known commonly as FIFA -- and the story continues in the decades that followed.
Because FIFA paid for 90 percent of the budget, United Passions is viewed by many critics as nothing but glorified propaganda -- particularly in view of the negative press coverage of corruption scandals that have dogged FIFA for several years now.
Last week, 14 people were arrested in a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the organization's operational practices and alleged corruption -- specifically involving the host selection process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup soccer tournaments. Seven of those arrested are FIFA officials and two are former officials.
Days later, FIFA President Sepp Blatter -- portrayed by Roth in the film -- resigned amid the scandal. The chosen host cities for 2018 and 2022, Russia and Qatar, could be stripped of the tournaments if evidence of violations surfaces, a FIFA executive said Sunday.
Because movie theaters can typically seat hundreds of people, $607 is not an impressive haul by a long shot. For example, if just 100 people paid $9 for a ticket in each of the 10 theaters playing the film, the box office earnings would be $9,000 -- and that's just for one screening.
Further, the U.S. box office isn't the only place the film crashed upon arrival. At its global premiere last year at the Cannes Film Festival, Depardieu was the movie's only principal to show up for it.
It has been reported that as much as $32 million may have been spent making United Passions.
In Phoenix, just one person attended the film's screening in the first two days. in Los Angeles, where screening a limited release film is commonplace, only two tickets were reportedly sold.
On the critical side, reviews for United Passions have been far from passionate.
"Irony is the least of the film's issues," Los Angeles Times critic Michael Rechtshaffen said. "The bloated, talky epic ... comes across as a squirm-inducing heap of propaganda at its most self-congratulatory."
"Even without the cloud of the recent disturbing developments, United Passions is a cringeworthy, self-aggrandizing affair that mainly benefits from its unintentional camp value," opined Hollywood Reporter critic Frank Scheck.
"I really had higher expectations of Roth. I hope he never works again. This is abysmal," an amateur reviewer remarked on the film's Internet Movie Database page.
Admittedly, however, United Passions isn't a typical theatrical release. The film's producers simultaneously released the motion picture for rental and for sale online at websites like Amazon and YouTube, as well. Financial figures from those transactions, as well as Sunday's theatrical earnings, were not immediately available.