Why Did Secretariat Flop Abroad?


Source: Secretariat via Facebook 

While there have been many films over the years based on horse racing, none have quite managed to capture the essence of the much-loved sport as well as Randall Wallace’s Secretariat. The 2010 film, which is based on a true story and chronicles the life of the famous racehorse of the same name, is a moving tale boasting exceptional performances from Diane Lane and John Malkovich.

Lane plays housewife Penny Chenery, who takes over her father’s stables in Denver after he falls ill. Despite a lack of horse-racing knowledge, with the help of Lucien Laurin (Malkovich), Chenery helps Secretariat rise up through the ranks of the sport to become one of the greatest racehorses of all time.

There are emotional struggles throughout the picture, such as the death of Chenery’s father and her almost having to sell the prize racehorse, but this is ultimately an uplifting tale where there was never really any doubt over whether Secretariat would prevail. As a tribute to an actual horse who did achieve the Triple Crown by winning the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont, embellishing the story for dramatic purposes would have seemed unjust.

Secretariat was of course set in the iconic racecourses of America and touched on the huge interest the Triple Crown events have always had within betting markets, interest comparable only to Australia’s Melbourne Cup and the UK’s Grand National, for which fans seek betting tips months in advance. Despite this global interest in horse racing, Secretariat was something of a flop on foreign shores.

In fact, the film only generated 0.9% of its total gross overseas, equating to a mere $537,416. In the USA it made $59.7 million, but from its budget of $35 million, this wasn’t a good return. The film received mixed reviews but has a reasonable audience score of 76 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes.

Few horse racing films have made it at the box office, and the theme seems to be lacking an audience despite the fact that so many people watch the sport. The most notable film in recent times is 2003’s Seabiscuit, which was directed by Gary Ross and earned $148 million worldwide from its $87 million production budget. It was also nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Films about horse racing have become quite a rarity, and it is perhaps down to past failures that have made the theme an unattractive prospect for filmmakers. The fact is that, for whatever reason, the likes of Secretariat, Seabiscuit, and Dreamer all have uplifting storylines, they just didn’t attract quite enough viewers.

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