How ‘47 Meters Down’ Went From Potential Home Video Obscurity to $40M-Plus Box-Office Hit
When 47 Meters Down was released on June 16, the shark thriller, in which Mandy Moore and Claire Holt star as two sisters on a diving expedition gone horribly wrong, took an unexpectedly large bite out of the domestic box office.
Its opening weekend of $12 million wasn’t at all bad for a $5 million to $6 million indie — shot by writer-director Johannes Roberts, mostly in a water tank in the decidedly unglamorous British town of Basildon (exteriors were done in the Dominican Republic) — and a film that had unceremoniously been served a C rating by CinemaScore.
The following week, 47 Meters Down didn’t just manage to avoid sinking, but actually rose a place — from fifth to fourth, leapfrogging All Eyez on Me, while week three saw the film drop just 34 percent, the best hold of any film in the top 10. A month from launch, it currently boasts a domestic haul of more than $42 million, a major achievement given its early tracking of around $13 million to $14 million.
“But there was never any theatrical release commitment or requirement under their deal,” says Godfrey. “The film was made at a budget that was really positioned as a high-end home entertainment movie with the potential for theatrical.”
However, after the film was shot in 2015, the positive reaction from test screenings convinced Fyzz — which Godfrey set up in 2010 with Robert Jones — that 47 Meters Down deserved a shot in cinemas.
Adding to the complications, June 2016 also saw the release of another shark survival thriller. The Shallows, starring Blake Lively, did phenomenal business, earning some $55 domestically ($119 million worldwide) off a $17 million budget.
Enter Entertainment Studios, the TV production and distribution banner of former stand-up Byron Allen. Allen had established the company in 1993, initially to make comedy shows, but it had grown over the years to become the largest independent producer/distributor of first-run syndicated programming for broadcast TV. In October 2015, it made a major move into film with the acquisition of indie distributor Freestyle Releasing.
Following weeks of discussions, on the exact day of the original release on Aug. 2, 2016 and as DVDs were in trucks and on their way to stores (in some cases they were already on shop shelves), a deal was finally closed between Dimension and Entertainment Studios — reportedly for seven figures — that would alter the course for 47 Meters Down.
Not only was Entertainment Studios prepared to wait until June 2017, but it backed up its commitment to 47 Meters Down with a promise of a 2,500-screen launch and major P&A spend (Godfrey says the company spent more than $30 million on the release).
Like any true thriller, it wasn’t exactly a smooth ride to get there. Godfrey admits that he had a “dramatic few days,” and the film’s foreign sales agent, Altitude, had to jump on the phones to convince the foreign buyers — which included eOne in the U.K. and Square One in Germany — to come on board and hold off on the film’s release.
“If you make an investment in 2013, 2014 to buy a movie, thinking you’re getting it in 2016, then are held back for another year, that can create massive problems for your internal cash flow and budgeting,” he admits. “So we’re very grateful.”
Looking back now, the decision to wait also benefited from some good fortune, with Mandy Moore receiving a sizeable career boost thanks to NBC’s acclaimed This Is Us.
“It’s a great story,” says Godfrey, who is now working on upcoming Fyzz productions including the Rosamund Pike, Joel Kinnaman and Clive Owen-starring Three Seconds, as well as Final Score, starring Dave Bautista and Pierce Brosnan, alongside its slate of investments, which he says will hit around $150 million this year (recent films include Wind River and Martin Scorsese’s Silence).
"We’re not pretending this is the best film ever made, but it’s a fun summer thrill ride. And everyone’s made money, everyone’s won. The conversation now starts about whether there’ll be another one."
As to whether there will be a sequel to 47 Meters Down, Godfrey says: "It looks like we’re working toward it."
A co-worker has seen it, and wasn’t really impressed, but they’ve done a fine job making it into a successful release.