The Forgotten Alan Rickman Movie That Was A Controversial Mega-Budget Flop

Alan Rickman's forgotten serial-killer film Perfume was somehow a colossal failure domestically, but a massive hit in Europe and it remains controversial even today.

By Jonathan Klotz | Published

Alan Rickman is one of the greatest actors ever to grace the stage, and while he had more successes (Die Hard, Robin Hood) than failures (Quigley Down Under) in his illustrious career, there’s one forgotten 2006 film worth a closer look, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. Released in-between appearances as Professor Snape, the astonishingly big-budget production was a success in Europe yet a failure everywhere else. Earning barely $2 million in the United States compared to over $130 million in Europe, what went wrong with the controversial film, and why has it failed to gain a cult following on this side of the Atlantic?

For starters, it’s based on a 1985 German novel by Patrick Suskind, following Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, an 18th-century Frenchman with a superhuman sense of smell. Following the accidental murder of a Parisian woman while attempting to sniff her, Grenouille desires to kill young women and capture their scent to manufacture the perfect perfume. With a sense of obsession similar to Netflix’s hit series You, the film is told from the killer’s perspective and very quickly gets strange.

Starring Ben Whishaw as Grenouille, Rachel Hurd-Wood as Laure Richis, the doomed girl selected as the lynchpin of his perfect perfume, Alan Rickman as her father Antoine Richis, and Dustin Hoffman as Giuseppe Baldini, that man that teaches Grenouille about perfumes, the film has an award-winning cast. Behind the camera, Perfume was directed by Tom Tyker, a frequent collaborator of The Wachiosikis that worked on The Matrix Resurrections, Sense8, Cloud Atlas, and Run Lola Run.

If you’ve seen any of his films, you know that Tyker is a creative director with a flair for visually captivating scenes, which is what led to the controversy over the film, considering he’s asking the audience to be on the side of a serial killer. Grenouille kills young women throughout the film, and in a bizarre final twist, he succeeds in killing Laure and completes his perfect perfume. The scent is magical, causing Alan Rickman’s Antoine to forgive the killer, and the rest of the town is so enraptured they allow him to walk away from his execution.

Alan Rickman and Rachel Hurd-Wood in Perfume

The film doesn’t end there, which would already be a strange ending to a relatively straightforward and gruesome serial killer tale. Critics on Rotten Tomatoes disliked the third-act twist and panned the film for its uneven screenplay, leading to a 59 percent rotten rating. On the other hand, audiences gave it a 74 percent positive rating, praising the inventive visual style of the kinetic film.

Going by the consensus of critics and audience members, unlike most Alan Rickman projects, Perfume has no middle ground: it’s either loved or hated. The disappointing domestic box office is credited to the December release, as who wants to watch an artistic film about a serial killer around the Holidays? In addition, 2006 was before the rise of True Crime as a genre, and the wave of serial-killer media hit pop culture, leading to the theory that if the same film were to be released today, it would be a smash hit.

European audiences loved the film, particularly in Germany, where the novel was a best-seller. It embraces European film-making styles and conventions, which don’t fit neatly into the American blockbuster template. The result is a fascinating film about a truly dark subject that dares the viewer to embrace his twisted worldview, even as Grenouille brings nothing but pain and suffering to everyone he meets.

Alan Rickman’s most bizarre film is available to rent on Prime Video for those interested.