The last few years have seen some eye-popping opening-weekend box office totals:
- Avengers: Infinity War (2018): $258 million
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015): $248 million
- Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2015): $220 million
- Jurassic World (2015): $209 million
These days, it’s not uncommon for a movie to make a quarter of a billion dollars over two or three days. But if we told you that one major motion picture earned just 30 bucks total, there’s no way you’re buying it, right?
Well, believe it.
Zyzzyx Road, released in 2006, was probably never bound for greatness. It stars a pre-Grey’s Anatomy Katherine Heigl alongside Tom Sizemore, who was arrested during filming for repeatedly failing drug tests while he was on probation. In the film, Heigel’s character is seduced by an out-of-towner. Naturally, they murder her boyfriend, stuff him in the trunk, and head out to the Mojave Desert to bury him, where chaos ensues.
While none of that sounds especially promising, it was a series of decisions that were made about the film’s distribution that would doom it to a historic low. Zyzzyx Road was made for $1.2 million with John Penney writing and directing and Leo Grillo producing and starring.
Penney had a number of cult movies to his credit, like the William Hurt film Contaminated Man. Grillo fell out of acting after a couple of minor TV roles about 25 years earlier, but he saw the movie as an opportunity to support his real passion: animal rights. Specifically, he wanted to use his share of the movie’s profits to start making animal movies.
Grillo decided to prioritize foreign sales and release Zyzzyx Road domestically later on, banking on his costars’ rising popularity. (Grey’s Anatomy would go on to become one of TV’s highest-rated shows and Sizemore landed a short-lived VH1 reality show).
But in order to do so, the film needed 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. So Zyzzyx Road was shown once a day for six days at a theater in Dallas.
It earned, yes, $30, though Grillo later found out that the movie’s makeup artist saw it with a friend, so he refunded her $10.
Zyzzyx Road was released on DVD in 23 countries and went on to earn about $368,000 before the end of the year. But by then, the media had already declared it the “lowest-grossing film of all-time,” a title it still holds.