Ang Lee's "Life of Pi" Quietly Makes Nearly Half a Billion Worldwide

Posted 2:24 PM January 13th, 2013 by Senh Duong
Life of Pi

When I first saw the trailer for Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi,” it seemed like a nice-looking arthouse movie that would do arthouse biz unless it catches on like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” or “Brokeback Mountain.”

Then I got on and learned that it cost a whopping $120M to make! Haven’t the studios learned from the disappointment of “Hulk” that they shouldn’t give Lee a huge budget to play with? Sure, it’s adapted from a bestselling book by Yann Martel, but it’s essentially a $120M movie about a boy and his tiger. It’s gonna be a huge money loser for Fox, I thought.

But it opened surprisingly well in the U.S. last year during the Thanksgiving weekend with $22.5M and slowly crawled its way to $94.8M as of Sunday, January 13. It’s even more impressive in foreign markets, where it has banked $356.3M, about a third of which is from China. With a worldwide total of $451M, it’s by far Ang Lee’s highest grossing film, nearly doubling his previous high of $245.3M with “Hulk.”

Not only is “Life of Pi” a commercial success, it’s also critically acclaimed. On Rotten Tomatoes, it scored 89%. Their consensus reads, “A 3D adaptation of a supposedly ‘unfilmable’ book, Ang Lee's Life of Pi achieves the near impossible -- it's an astonishing technical achievement that's also emotionally rewarding.”

The Oscar nominations reflects that critical assessment: “Life of Pi” is nominated for 11 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and several technical categories. Only Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” has scored more nominations.

It also received Best Picture (Drama) and Best Director nods from the Golden Globes, which is airing their winners today.

By now, I wonder if it’s reached its peak at the box office. Will the 11 nominations it got from the Academy Awards and 3 from the Golden Globes give it much of a bump here and abroad? With an extra $50M plus in earnings over the past week from overseas, it seems like it is in foreign territories, but not in the States where it’s losing hundreds of screens per week

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