We can all name at least a few of the movies in the top 10 box office winners of all time. But not many people know that the rec0rd-holder for the lowest ticket revenues of all time is “Zyzzyx Road,” starring Katherine Heigl and Tom Sizemore. The official figure is just $30 from just six patrons, reduced later to $20 after the film-makers refunded two tickets bought by the film’s make-up artist.
In truth, nobody was supposed to see Zyzzyx Road at all. The Dallas screening was never meant to be a real theatrical run. Instead, it was set up to fulfill a Screen Actors Guild agreement, which permits low-budget films to pay actors a lower rate as long as the film gets a domestic theatrical release. The Dallas ”opening” was merely a formality. ”I didn’t want an audience,” says Grillo. ”We looked at it and said, What’s the cheapest way we can get out of this mess? We rented the theater for $1,000.”
At most of the screenings, Grillo’s plan worked just fine: Nobody showed up. Even so, the movie had to run. ”We paid to show the movie every day,” says Grillo. ”So legally speaking, we have a screening every single day. If a tree falls in the forest and nobody’s there, does it make a sound? In the law of physics, the answer’s no, but in the law of SAG, the answer’s yes.”
Grillo decided to pursue foreign sales first and worry about a legitimate domestic release much later, betting on the rise of Heigl’s and Sizemore’s Hollywood profiles (Grey’s Anatomy soon grew into one of TV’s highest-rated shows, and Sizemore landed a VH1 reality show). Regent Entertainment started hawking the foreign DVD rights, eventually selling the film in 23 countries, including Bulgaria, Indonesia, and Portugal. By the end of 2006, it had generated around $368,000.
Want to see it? You’re in luck. The Zyzzyx Road DVD was released today. If you see it, let me know what you think!