John Young
May 25, 2012 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Sacha Baron Cohen‘s latest comic creation, The Dictator‘s North African tyrant Admiral General Aladeen, has appeared everywhere from the Oscars red carpet — where he dumped ashes on Ryan Seacrest — to Cannes, atop a camel. But the comedian’s stunts didn’t generate ticket sales, with The Dictator debuting to only $17.4 million — behind both Borat ($26.5 million) and Brüno ($30.6 million). His onslaught of promotional pranks may be partly to blame. ”It rubs people the wrong way, especially in middle America,” says Exhibitor Relations box office analyst Jeff Bock. Baron Cohen’s next role — the villainous Thénardier in this year’s Oscar-hopeful musical Les Misérables — will likely require the actor to sell the movie as someone we’ve rarely seen: himself.

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