Critique: ‘Donnie Darko’ (2001)

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Directory of World Cinema: American Independent 2, edited by John Berra, published by Intellect Books, 2013

Richard Kelly, the director of Donnie Darko, best describes the cultural journey of his film in the inlay notes for the Director’s Cut DVD release when he says that it has ‘been a roller-coaster ride through production, film festival hype, backlash, disappointment, cult revival and now rebirth.’ Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of his statement is that he is only considering a hectic period that spans no more than three to four years.

Donnie Darko had a modest budget of $4.5 million, and only just missed out on being released direct-to-video, making a meagre $517,000 from its initial run in the US. The film was then held back for a year from an international release because of the 9/11 attacks in New York. Nevertheless, this hiatus gave the film enough time to generate significant interest across the globe, where it has since covered its costs, making $4.11 million in box office revenue alone.

However, Donnie Darko’s commercial success lies in its DVD release(s), as DVD sales for America alone have been in excess of $10 million, which prompted Newmarket Films to release a special ‘Director’s Cut’ of the film. To put these figures in perspective, of Kelly’s following two films, Southland Tales (2006), and The Box (2009), The Box has only just managed to gross fractionally more than its $30 million production costs, whilst Southland Tales theatrical revenue recouped less than $400,000 of its $17 million dollar budget, making it a bona fide box office disaster.

Obviously, success should not be measured in purely commercial terms…


The full 850 word version of this review is published in Directory of World Cinema: American Independent 2, edited by John Berra, published by Intellect Books, 2013. 

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