Author Martin Amis first published London Fields in 1989, and after a 15-plus year journey, a cinematic adaptation of the novel finally opened in theaters last weekend. Yet judging by the box office receipts, that wait may not have been worth it, as the film starring Amber Heard performed historically bad. Martin Amis is not surprised that London Fields flopped, although he can’t point out specifically why it did, as he explained:
Martin Amis seems to have had no illusions about London Fields being some massive box office hit. He knows his novel and he contributed to the screenplay, so Amis knew what this film would be and probably had some inkling it didn’t have mass-market appeal. Since London Fields flopping didn’t come as a surprise, perhaps that tempers any sort of disappointment for the author.
The novel is known as being ‘unfilmable,’ and while Martin Amis rejected that distinction, he also found Matthew Cullen’s film to be extremely faithful. It sounds like that faithfulness and the unfilmable quality of the source material came through onscreen, as Martin Amis acknowledged to The Guardian that the film itself may have been a bit confusing.
That lack of clarity in the film could certainly have contributed to London Fields‘ negative reviews, and that opens up the question of whether or not the film was faithful to a fault. In his interview with The Guardian, Martin Amis seemed to have liked the film, but adaptation is a tricky balance and faithfulness doesn’t always make for a good film. Stephen King hates The Shining, but it’s a great movie.
Still, the fact that the film is confusing is only something that audiences would have found out after seeing it. Sure the 0% on Rotten Tomatoes probably didn’t encourage audiences to see it, but that doesn’t really account for the film’s performance entirely.
Although Martin Amis never thought London Fields would be popular, ‘not popular’ doesn’t really capture the scope of the film’s fiscal failures. London Fields opened on October 26 and earned a dreadful $160,000 opening weekend from 613 theaters. That earned it the ignominious distinction as the worst per screen opening of all time.
A failure on that level probably goes beyond the movie being confusing. Another movie in theaters, Bad Times at the El Royale features a potentially confusing non-linear narrative and the marketing campaign doesn’t really tell you what it’s about, and it fared far better at the box office.
As is often the case in these situations, it’s difficult to pinpoint one specific thing that did London Fields in. Anecdotally, the marketing seemed near nonexistent and what was out there didn’t do London Fields any favors or let audiences know what this movie actually is. The reviews were poor and the Johnny Depp factor couldn’t have helped, but like I said, it’s probably more complicated than any one or three things.
At least Martin Amis got to see his novel realized onscreen, even if it performed poorly. Who knows, perhaps London Fields will draw people in with a morbid curiosity to see why it flopped so hard.
London Fields is in theaters now. For other films coming out this year and certainly hoping to put up better numbers than that film, check out our release schedule.