The 2006 movie Zyzzyx Road sounds like a typical thriller from the get-go. Grant (played by, Leo Grillo, no one you’ve ever heard of), the protagonist, is a family man on a business trip to Vegas, where he meets Marissa (played by Katherine Heigl). The two go back to a motel room and, while intimate, are surprised by Marissa’s ex, Joey (Tom Sizemore). Joey attacks Grant but Grant strikes back and kills Joey. Grant tosses Joey into the trunk of his car and drives out to the unknown to bury Joey’s body, but when he arrives in the middle of nowhere — Zyzzyx Road — Joey’s body isn’t in the trunk any more. Joey isn’t dead, etc. etc. Typical thriller fare.
Typical, except that — excluding some penny-ante films made for a few thousand dollars – Zyzzyx Road is the lowest grossing movie in history, netting a whopping $20.
Twenty dollars. Not $20 million, but two thousand pennies. And don’t take that to mean that Zyzzyx Road is a historically bad movie — it probably isn’t. It has 4.6 stars (out of 10) from IMDb, a low score but hardly the worst. (That honor goes to Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2, which somehow grossed over $9 million.) Rather, the movie’s very low payday was by design.
Grillo, who was both the lead actor and the movie’s executive producer, wanted to be able to pay his Screen Actors Guild-member stars a lower than average rate. SAG allowed lower budget films (Zyzzyx Road‘s budget was only about $1.25 million) to do this so long as the movie had a domestic theatrical run. (Sizemore, by this point an also-ran with a bad drug habit, and Heigl, then an up-and-comer but hardly established, did not object.) So Grillo had a plan: Pay a small Dallas theater $1,000 to screen the movie once a day, every day for one week, at noon, fulfilling the SAG-imposed obligation.
Grillo and his team did not expect anyone to show up at the theater, but six people did. Six, total, over the seven day, seven showing run. Of the six, three bought tickets, spending $10 apiece. One of those three was a makeup artist who worked on the movie; Grillo returned her money, so the movie unofficially grossed $20 at the box office. $1.25 million spent (including $1,000 to that Dallas theater), and $20 in revenue. Not great math.
But don’t weep too much for Grillo and Zyzzyx Road – this was, as noted, all part of the plan. Zyzzyx Road had two more markets to explore: international theaters and domestic at-home (e.g. DVD and on-demand) viewing. By the end of 2006, the movie was still a money loser, but with some meaningful revenue: it made nearly $400,000 through these channels. To date, it has not received the domestic distribution Grillo has hoped to get.
Bonus fact: In 2001, Eddie Izzard and Matt LeBlanc teamed up to star in the movie All the Queen’s Men – a film with a $15 million budget, more than ten times that of Zyzzyx Road. All the Queen’s Men worldwide earnings, however, were less than 10% of Zyzzyx Road‘s, at roughly $23,000, making it one of the biggest money losing films of all time, with a negative 99.9% return on investment.
From the Archives: Back to the Archive Footage: How the producers of the Back to the Future trilogy cut a few corners and ended up getting sued.