After several years in development, and numerous delays, John Travolta’s Gotti finally hit theaters this past weekend, and now new details have surfaced that reveal star John Travolta thought this movie would launch him into the Oscar race. Whether that’s true or not, it’s quite unlikely that Travolta will get any awards traction since the movie was both a critical (0% on Rotten Tomatoes) and commercial failure ($1.7 million opening weekend in 11th place). This report also claims that it was Travolta’s Oscar obsession that lead to getting Lionsgate Premiere removed as the distributor, after reports they was pulling the film from its dual release in theaters and on VOD, since Travolta needed a full theatrical release to qualify for the Oscars.
To help fund this awards season campaign, Travolta turned to Edward Walson, the son of cable TV pioneer John Walson Sr. from New Jersey. Edward Walson had already financed a number of movies and Broadway plays, and he also believed in the movie’s awards season potential enough to help Travolta buy the film back from Lionsgate Premiere and also pay for the release costs. There was between $4 million and $5 million available for an awards campaign, not nearly enough for a full, viable campaign, but they put together a plan to promote the film through, “a mix of sponsored promotions and free publicity, as well as side investments,” which included Travolta himself joining social media for the first time, signing up for Facebook and Instagram, but not Twitter.
The key to this awards campaign was to make sure the film had a screening at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. While the film wasn’t selected to screen in competition, Travolta arranged for an out-of-competition screening at the festival’s Palais, while also agreeing to appear at other events such as a 40th Anniversary screening of Grease and also participating in a two-hour master class, along with a party in his honor at the Hotel du Cap. When all was said and done, all of the Cannes events cost $1 million.
Part of the costs for the party were paid for by one of the movie’s sponsors, MoviePass, which had taken an equity stake in Gotti back in April during the CinemaCon convention in Las Vegas. MoviePass also held a contest where one subscriber would win a trip to the New York City premiere and meet Travolta and his wife, Kelly Preston, who also stars in the movie. MoviePass also boasted on Sunday that more than 40% of those who saw Gotti on opening weekend were MoviePass subscribers, but if all of the service’s subscribers had gone on opening weekend, the movie would have made north of $25 million, and not the $1.7 million debut it had.
Travolta and Preston also travelled to Chicago, Dallas, Miami and Phoenix to promote the film, while pricey TV spots aired in both New York and Los Angeles. Gotti fared best in all of those markets, but the movie “fell flat” in every other market it opened in. Gotti debuted in theaters with a partnership with Vertical Entertainment, opening in 503 theaters where it pulled in a $3,419 per-screen average. You can head over to The Hollywood Reporter for their full report on Gotti.