This weekend, Oliver Stone's long-awaited sequel to his 1987 Wall Street film was released. Considering that the U.S. has just experienced the deepest financial crisis since the Great Depression, you might have thought that Americans' interest in his new movie, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, would be piqued. Apparently, however, you would be wrong. Although the film opened at #1, it made a modest $19 million in its first weekend. This shows that Main Street just isn't that interested in Wall Street.
A weekend take of $19 million might not sound so bad, but in a September of mediocre movies, it was the poorest #1 weekend showing since the month's first weekend, when The American pulled in just $13.1 million. Of course, that film had only one-third the budget of Money Never Sleeps. To put that in perspective, Afterlife, the latest in the seemingly endless installments of Resident Evil films with approximately the same budget as Money Never Sleeps was released earlier this month and made $26.6 million in its first weekend. Moreover, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, in its second weekend at the same time a year earlier made $25 million in the #1 slot.
So why didn't Money Never Sleeps do better? There are a few things that could be going on here. One possibility is that people just don't like Oliver Stone films. That's likely a part of it, as he doesn't generally score the big bucks with his films. But even his 2006 World Trade Center movie made approximately as much as Money Never Sleeps in its first weekend, taking in $18.7 million. But Money Never Sleeps got more hype, has a more impressive cast, and addresses a subject fresher in Americans' minds than the World Trade Center attacks were in 2006.
Another possibility is that the actors in the film don't draw big crowds. That doesn't appear to be the case either, however. The last several major films of its lead character, Shia LaBeouf, included Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Eagle Eye, Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and Transformers, all of which did quite well ($109, $29, $100, and $71 million opening weekends, respectively). Although Michael Douglas hasn't been as busy lately, he won an Oscar for his role of Gordon Gekko in the first film, is an A-list actor, and has grabbed headlines recently due to his well publicized battle with cancer. So again, you would think these actors would interest theatergoers.
Finally, if there were other, better options out there, then that also would have hurt the film. But this doesn't seem very plausible either. Coming in second was Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole. Unless you have a child that likes owls, you've probably never heard of it. The only other major movie in its first week was You Again, which looked purely terrible, and only made $8.3 million. The other films out there released over the past few weeks aren't really blockbuster smashes either. So the competition was hardly fierce.
That really only leaves one option: Americans just aren't that interested in Wall Street. As someone who covered the financial reform battle in Congress very closely over the past year, I don't find this surprising. The interest in Wall Street by readers was far weaker than that of other political battles involving business-related issues like taxes, health care, or the environment. The reality is that most people don't feel like Wall Street affects them, so they don't much care about what bankers and traders do -- even when it obviously does begin to affect them by helping to trigger an incredibly deep recession.
This lesson has a clear implication for Washington. Any political capital that Democrats were hoping to score by imposing a stricter regulatory regime for Wall Street will likely be minimal. Although around half of Americans were in favor of cracking down on big banks, it's not likely that the work Democrats did will excite even many of those voters in November. After all, if Oliver Stone, Shia LaBeouf, and Michael Douglas have trouble getting Americans interested in Wall Street, then incumbents with in-play seats like Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-PA) probably shouldn't expect to rely on an anti-Wall Street talking point to get many votes.
Here's a chart that provides some perspective on the weekend take of Money Never Sleeps: