by Hans ten Cate
Wednesday, 20 August 1997

Click on the negative to see some behind-the-scenes photographs taken on the set of Fierce Creatures by the Marwell Zoological Society Photographic Group.

Fierce Creatures has had a mediocre run in theaters, sad to say. Stiff competition from other blockbuster films, like Star Wars: Special Edition, and poor promotion by Universal Pictures caused Fierce Creatures to disappear from theaters a lot sooner than need be. The film, however, may find new life on video, which is already scheduled to hit video-rental stores in the United States on July 1.

Still, the general consensus on Fierce Creatures, by audiences who saw it, is that it is a great flick. It is generally perceived to be "almost as funny as A Fish Called Wanda." This, in the grand scheme of things, means that Fierce Creatures should have swept the box office. Instead, the film had opening grosses of only $3.759 million in the United States and £5.539 million in Britain, which is not a strong showing for a first weekend.

Although I haven't come across many articles on the subject of "what happened to Fierce Creatures," one of the most intelligent observations I received was from Ihsan Amantullah, a Cleese fan in Carmichael, California, who had done a little research on the subject. Essentially, Fierce Creatures sunk possibly for the following reasons:

  1. January movies. January is a bad time to release a major movie, blockbusters typically occur during the summer and during the November/December holidays. In addition, Fierce Creatures got buried by still-strong winter blockbusters like Jerry Maguire. Comedies, in particular, shouldn't be released in such a "dry" period and then be expected to do well. Fewer people go to the movies to see comedies in January.
  2. Poor promotion. Typical of studio advertising strategies as of late, the film's promotional campaign ended just around the time of the film's premiere. A poor strategy, generally. A Fish Called Wanda received active advertising even after it had premiered. That particular film was released nine years ago into small theaters and built up through word of mouth. Fierce Creatures was dumped into 1,593 theaters in the United States and left to sink-or-swim on it's own by the studios after the promotion campaigns stopped.
  3. Star Wars. The only thing that could make large numbers of people flock to a theater in late January helped to bury the film. People who might have otherwise seen Creatures saw Star Wars instead.
  4. Super Bowl weekend. In the United States, the last weekend of January (which is when Fierce Creatures premiered) is reserved for the American football championship, commonly known as the Super Bowl. This event keeps many Americans indoors watching television, not movies in theaters.

In truth, however, no one ever really knows why a film does or does not succeed in the box office. Famed screenplay writer William Goldman, who is also a good friend of John Cleese and who was an uncredited contributor to the Fierce Creatures script, once wrote that "Nobody - not now, not ever - knows the least goddamn thing about what is or isn't going to work at the box office." Had Fierce Creatures been released one year earlier, it may have been perceived as an entirely different film and may have done very well - even with the new ending. Let's hope that the Fierce Creatures video will acquire a quiet but large following of fans.

How about it, fans?