George Lucas' Red Tails takes off at the US box office
Red Tails made a respectable $19.1million at the US box office this weekend. But is it the swansong producer George Lucas would have wanted?
Last week, George Lucas announced via an interview with the New York Times that he was “retiring” from mainstream filmmaking. The news came in the run-up to the release of Red Tails, a WWII aerial drama that he funded with around $100 million of his own money.
Seen by some as something of a creative gamble, Red Tails was originally turned down by Hollywood film producers, because its story of an all-black flying squadron, the Tuskegee Airmen, was seen as being too risky to finance. Frustrated, Lucas decided to bankroll the project himself, with The Wire director Anthony Hemingway at the helm.
Red Tails, Lucas insists, will be his final big-budget blockbuster – though if it’s successful enough, he apparently hopes to be able to get Spike Lee to direct a prequel, and then if that’s successful, a third film, that follows on from the events of the first. “If we can get over $20 million in our first weekend,” Lucas said, “we’re kind of in the game. We’re in The Help category.”
Over its first weekend, Red Tails scored just shy of the $20million Lucas hoped for – it made number two at the box office with $19.1million – but it’s still managed to exceed some observer’s expectations, who’d expected the movie to be a flop. (The fourth Underworld movie, Awakening, took the top spot with $25.4million, which isn’t bad, given its largely negative reviews.)
Given that Steven Soderbergh’s inexpensive yet aggressively marketed Haywire only managed to make a tepid $9million on its debut weekend, the cash raked in by Red Tails doesn’t seem too bad at all. Even Fox, who’d agreed to market Lucas’ film domestically but refused to invest any of its own money in doing so, admitted that his gamble had paid off to a certain degree.
"I couldn't tell you how right he was," Fox's Chris Aronson said, according to E Online. "…This is why he's George Lucas. He was right."
Lucas can also take comfort in the movie's exit polls. Critics' reactions have been mixed (though our own Ron Hogan thoroughly enjoyed it), but audiences gave it an A rating.
If Red Tails can continue to exceed expectations in other territories, then Lucas may have a minor hit on his hands – even if its performance didn’t hit the $30million first weekend gross that would, he reckoned, provide an automatic green light for his proposed prequel and sequel.
But if Red Tails truly is Lucas’ blockbuster swansong, he’ll at least have ended this particular strand of his career something of a high note.