Kevin Costner’s ambitious epic Horizon flops at the US box office

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Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
Kevin Costner's epic Horizon.
Kevin Costner's epic Horizon. Credit: Madman/Warner Bros

Kevin Costner may be having some second thoughts on walking away from Yellowstone.

His passion project, Horizon: An America Saga – Chapter One, bombed when it opened in the US this past weekend. The movie grossed an underwhelming $US11 million at the box office, against a production budget upwards of $US100 million.

The film is slated to open in Australia this Thursday.

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That’s a disappointing result for a film so costly, especially one that wasn’t financed by a deep-pocketed tech company that has longer-term plans for its second life on streaming, such as the likes of Apple movies Napoleon, Killers of the Flower Moon and Argylle.

Costner famously invested between $US38 million and $US50 million of his own money into the production. But Horizon’s commercial failure – and it may be too early to definitively call it that – will not bankrupt the actor and filmmaker. He financed his portion by mortgaging just one of his many properties. He has more.

Kevin Costner's epic Horizon.
Kevin Costner's epic Horizon will open in Australia later this week. Credit: Madman/Warner Bros

It is a blow to Costner on a creative level. The ambitious project was one he nurtured for years and that opening weekend does not bode well for his further plans for Horizon.

As the subtitle “Chapter One” suggests, this was only the first in a series of films. Four, in fact. Chapter Two has already been made and will be released in August while filming has begun on Chapter Three. Chapter Four is, at this point, pie in the sky.

If the first cab off the ranks could only eke out a measly $US11 million, who’s going to turn up for the next at least two instalments? More of the predominantly white (75 per cent of American ticket buyers) and male (57 per cent) audiences have shown up so far?

Perhaps the demand audiences invest in four movies factored into why ticket sales were so lacklustre. In this age of streaming domination, it’s a lot to ask people to trek to the cinema for one movie, let alone the first of four. And it’s a signal not to expect a proper resolution.

Horizon is Costner’s fourth film as a director, and like his previous efforts including Dances with Wolves, it is also a western, a genre with which he is now inextricably linked.

Kevin Costner's epic Horizon.
Sienna Miller in Horizon. Credit: Madman/Warner Bros

The film takes place over more than a decade and follows an ensemble of characters who are migrating west after the American Civil War. The cast includes Sienna Miller, Sam Worthington, Giovanni Ribisi and Luke Wilson.

The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival to mixed and negative reviews. It is three hours long.

Costner and Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan has been locked in an increasingly public battle over the actor’s involvement in the popular drama in which he plays John Dutton, a vicious landowner who uses violence to “protect” what he perceives is his.

Yellowstone has just started filming the second half of its fifth and final season, and after an open sledging match, Costner is now confirmed not to return to close out his character’s story.

Depending on who you believe, the schism is due either to Costner making himself unavailable for filming due to his Horizon commitments, or because Sheridan’s scripts were not ready for the previously agreed-upon production timeframes.

Costner was reportedly making $US1.3 million per episode on the show, which made him one of the highest-paid actors on American TV.

But the end of Yellowstone is not the end of that world. The narrative universe will continue on with a new series which is expected to feature many of the core Yellowstone cast including Kelly Reilly and Wes Bentley, with persistent rumours Matthew McConaughey has been approached for a lead role.

Costner, meanwhile, is left licking his wounds and hoping for a week two bounce. There is also still the international market, including Australia, but the appetite for such a distinctively American story is often tampered with on the global stage.

Kevin Costner's Horizon.
Kevin Costner's Horizon is divided into four parts. Credit: Warner Bros/YouTube

In better news for the cinema business, Inside Out 2 crossed the billion-dollar threshold this weekend after 19 days, a record day for an animated feature.

It was, for the third week, also the highest-grossing film in Australia where it made $5.96 million for a so-far total of $27.62 million.

It was a robust weekend at the local box office in general. School holiday crowds also turned out for Despicable Me 4, which was second with $5.39 million.

For adults, A Quiet Place: Day One opened to $3.96 million in Australia. It’s the best opening for the franchise which includes two previous films. Day One is a prequel starring Lupita Nyong’o and Joseph Quinn and is the first that wasn’t directed by John Krasinski, who still has a “story by” and producing credit.

In the US, A Quiet Place: Day One beat expectations for a $US40 million opening to premiere with $US53 million. Internationally, it’s almost at $US100 million, from a $US70 million production budget.

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