The first trailer for Alexander Payne's Nebraska made its way online today, leaving his fans anticipating the road trip flick even more after positive receptions at Telluride and Cannes. The latter festival saw star Bruce Dern take home a trophy for his leading role. You can check out the trailer below this article, but first, let's take a look at Payne's underrated--yet impressive--history at the box office.
Although Payne's resume is relatively short, the writer/director has made an impact on film fans since 1999's Election. The box office disappointment (grossing $17 million against the same amount in negative costs) became an underground hit and introduced mainstream crowds to the young filmmaker. Three years later, his About Schmidt endeared audiences through Jack Nicholson's and Kathy Bates' Oscar-nominated roles. That flick went on to amass $65 million stateside and $106 million overall.
Payne escalated his success significantly with 2004's Sideways, a film that netted five Oscar nominations and his first personal Academy Award (Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay). He was also nominated for directing, while Thomas Hayden Church and Virginia Madsen grabbed supporting actor and actress nods behind the film's Best Picture nomination. At the box office, audiences continued to prove that Payne's character-driven quirk was up their alley: Sideways cashed in $71.5 million domestically and another $38 million in foreign territories. It was his most profitable film up to that point.
Of course, that changed seven years later. Payne took his time selecting another project, and when he did, The Descendants became his top earner with $83 million in North America. During the filmmaker's absence from theaters, star George Clooney built a strong Oscar-friendly reputation himself--and his star power paid off. Partly thanks to the expansion of overseas markets during the same time, The Descendants banked $94 million outside of its domestic earnings. Costing an estimated $43 million to produce and market, the hit dramedy marked a new high point in Payne's career and picked up five Academy nominations--including three for Payne in the Adapted Screenplay (for which he won his second Oscar), Director, and Picture categories.
With Nebraska, Payne returns to his roots. The film was shot partly in his home state--as was Schmidt, Election, and his first film, Citizen Ruth--on a reportedly small production budget of $10-15 million. Releasing the title under their Vantage banner, Paramount is hoping for the film to click with older audiences during the holiday moviegoing season after the November 22 release. However, this will be the first directorial effort from Payne in which he is not credited as a writer on the film. From a commercial standpoint, the film boasts less star power than his previous outings, while the black-and-white format has proven a challenging sell to large audiences (something even The Artist struggled to accomplish after its Best Picture win two years ago).
That being said, Bruce Dern himself is a highly respected actor and his performance may help offset the lack of a Clooney or a Nicholson. Alongside Saturday Night Live alum Will Forte, making his dramatic debut, Stacy Keach, and Breaking Bad's Bob Odenkirk, the strong ensemble cast is right up Payne's alley. If this Middle American family portrait builds upon current buzz through awards season, adult audiences will take notice. It's unlikely that Nebraska will continue Payne's streak of increasing box office revenues, but it certainly doesn't need to as he continues to influence today's budding generation of writers and directors.
Alexander Payne's Box Office Résumé:
The Descendants (2011): $82.6 million domestic / $176.7 million global
Sideways (2004): $71.5 million domestic / $109.7 million global
About Schmidt (2002): $65 million domestic / $105.8 million global
Election (1999): $14.9 million domestic / $17 million global
Citizen Ruth (1996): $0.286 million domestic
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The Nebraska trailer: