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Top 10 Takeaways: ‘Fantastic Four’ Flop Proves Reboots Are Tricky; Are Mediocre Movies Catching Up to Streep?

Top 10 Takeaways: 'Fantastic Four' Flop Proves Reboots Are Tricky; Are Mediocre Movies Catching Up to Streep?

“Fantastic Four” is one of the few out-and-out duds of the season and likely the last shot at a $50 million-plus opening for a while. However, last year’s quarter at this time was very strong, and 2015 still has “Star Wars” in reserve. 

Still, there is positive news. “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” remains popular, low-budget “The Gift” from new distributor STX had a very promising start, and several longer-running films continue to perform. But the glow of what had been a huge 2015 summer is fast fading.

The Top 10

1. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (Paramount) Week 2 – Last weekend #1
$29,400,000 (-47%) in 3,988 theaters (+32); PTA (per theater average): $7,372; Cumulative: $108,654,000
2. Fantastic Four (20th Century Fox) NEW – Cinemascore: C-; Criticwire: C-; Metacritic: 27; Est. budget: $120 million
$26,200,000 in 3,995 theaters; PTA: $6,558; Cumulative: $26,200,000
3. The Gift (STX)  NEW – Cinemascore: B; Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 78; Est. budget: $5 million
$12,007,000 in 2,503 theaters; PTA: $7,286; Cumulative: $12,007,000
4. Vacation (Warner Bros.) Week 2 – Last weekend #2
$9,145,000 (-38%) in 3,430 theaters (+19); PTA: $2,666; Cumulative: $37,325,000
5. Ant-Man (Buena Vista) Week 4 – Last weekend #3
$7,826,000 (-39%) in 2,910 theaters (-412); PTA: $2,689; Cumulative: $147,436,000
6. Minions (Universal) Week 5 – Last weekend #4
$7,400,000 (-40%) in 3,123 theaters (-452); PTA: $2,370; Cumulative: $302,754,000
7. Ricki and the Flash (Sony)  NEW – Cinemascore: B; Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 54; Est. budget: $18 million
$7,000,000 in 1,603 theaters; PTA: $4,367; Cumulative: $7,000,000
8. Trainwreck (Universal) Week 4 – Last weekend #6
$6,300,000 (-34%) in 2,525 theaters (-435); PTA: $2,495; Cumulative: $91,102,000
9. Pixels (Sony) Week 3 – Last weekend #5
$5,430,000 (-48%) in 2,864 theaters (-859); PTA: $1,896; Cumulative: $57,645,000
10. Southpaw (Weinstein) Week – Last weekend #7
$4,764,000 (-37%) in 2,274 theaters (-498); PTA: $2,095; Cumulative: $40,726,000

The Takeaways

Summer Swoon – What’s to Blame?

This weekend last year, top films “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” debuting, and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” in its second week, grossed over $107 million combined. At $55.6 million, this year’s top two barely did half that. That’s the main reason for the 32-percent Top Ten decline. It’s the weakest second August weekend since 2009. The month has become increasingly popular to launch top films that still can pop strong numbers. Last year, “Guardians” led the way.

So it was logical for Fox to slate “Fantastic Four” in early August. But the result is one of the rare big budget bombs of the season, a more certain money-loser than “Terminator: Genisys” or the slightly higher worldwide grossing “Mad Max: Fury Road,” though both were more expensive ($150 million or more) and still struggling to break even. 

It’s a rare week, with four wide releases in one, for the summer. One, the latest Aardman Animation entry “Shaun the Sheep,” failed to make the Top Ten (its Wednesday opening brought in $5.5 million but have cost its weekend placement). This European-produced film already has taken in over $50 million overseas.

Japanese anime “Dragonball Z: Resurrection F,” from FUNimation, grossed about the same since Tuesday in limited showings. More on this inventive pattern in Arthouse Audit.

“Fantastic Four” – Reboot or Retread?

Last week’s Takeaways anticipated the bellyflop of this latest Marvel-character film, and the second go-round of the franchise. This fits squarely into one of this summer’s memes: rebooting an established series is riskier than a hot-on-the-heels-of-success sequel. “Jurassic World” pulled it off. Those that don’t seem to suffer from an increased cynicism among audiences about the quality of a new entry (and likely tests the notion that there was ever that high an interest for many in the first place). 

Even in unadjusted grosses, the two earlier films, “Fantastic Four” in 2005 and “Rise of the Silver Surfer” in 2007, opened more than twice as well. These came before the big explosion in the brand, although others (particularly the “X-Men” films) outpaced them. But perhaps the frequent release of these – plus the more at arms-length Marvel involvement – has reached its saturation point. Bad news if true, since there are a lot of high-end expensive superhero projects in the works.

Chances are most will do better. This big underachiever could have had an impact, but was hampered by bad pre-release publicity, lousy reviews and even early casting controversy. The reality is the Marvel name no longer guarantees blockbuster reaction.

Among the “four” central characters are two actors moving up in the world after breakout specialized success: Miles Teller (“Whiplash”) and Michael B. Jordan (“Fruitvale Station”), who were meant to appeal to moviegoers based on their recent critic-oriented crossover hits, and to lend respectability to the project. Jordan could be on the verge of breaking out with “Rocky” reboot “Creed,” but that doesn’t help here. Teller has his roles in “Divergent” and “Insurgent” as well as “Spectacular Now” and “Whiplash” to boost him, but those don’t lend an image of an easily accepted superhero. And keep in mind, combined “Fruitvale” and “Whiplash” grossed $29 million total; that’s three million more than this mediocre opening gross. Whatever benefit the producers hoped for, it either was wishful thinking or other factors negated it.

STX & “The Gift” – Smart People Make Smart Movies — and Moves

As bankruptcy threatens Ryan Kavanaugh’s mini-major Relativity, which has succeeded with mid-budget independent productions over the last few years, a similar company introduced itself quite successfully this weekend.

STX Entertainment, founded with major financial backing (an announced $1 billion through 2018) by a combination of finance and entertainment executives, looks strong right out of the box with the better-than-expected showing for their sophisticated adult-oriented thriller “The Gift.” 

But money is only part of the key to success. Right up there is getting smart people to work for you, both corporately and on individual films. And that looks like it is part of the picture here.

Since nabbing early attention stateside for 2010’s “Animal Kingdom,” Australian actor Joel Edgerton has made consistently interesting films, more often second lead or supporting than in the riskier position of being expected to carry a film. He used his established credibility to get backing for his directorial debut, “The Gift” (he co-wrote brother Nash’s 2008 “The Square”). Taking a lead in the film made it easier to get this $5 million production made. It helps that this is his original screenplay, so he controlled his own destiny.

Enter three other people with proven success and sometimes outside-the-box thinking. Producer Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Productions has been a low-budget horror film goldmine in recent years, even in a declining market. He’s been able to keep to low budgets despite the temptation to spend more. But Blum clearly has wider goals. It’s ironic that on a weekend where “Whiplash” star Miles Teller didn’t help “Fantastic Four,” Oscar-nominated “Whiplash” producer Blum returns to doing what he does best: nurturing new talent, reinventing genres to make them feel fresh, and making sure they are economical enough to make a profit. (“The Gift,” likely with significant deferrals, came in at $5 million; STX bought domestic rights for $2.5 million and much high marketing costs.)

Add to the mix highly respected (and Australia native) Rebecca Yeldham, who came out of the film festival world (she programmed for Sundance some years back) to become a producer. Up to this point her credits have been more arthouse/awards-oriented – “Motorcycle Diaries,” “The Kite Runner,” “Anvil! The Story of Anvil” and “On the Road” – but an intelligent adult-oriented genre film is hardly worlds apart from her previous credits.

And then there’s Adam Fogelson, Chairman of the Motion Picture Division at STX. Fogelson, with a wealth of marketing expertise, was ousted as Chairman of Universal Pictures two years ago, with his colleague Donna Langley elevated. She has deservedly reaped the benefits of that company’s staggeringly successful 2015 slate. But insiders realize many films take two years or longer to develop, so their recent success likely comes in part from his role. Coming back this soon with a new company – always a risk – rather than chasing other studios and their high turnover rate and corporate politics looks like a very smart decision.

One good weekend doesn’t make a film, much less a company, a success. But STX has started strong. And give them credit for slating this adult-oriented film with less competition. Maybe it was luck that had two of their big competitors – the wider expansion of “Irrational Man” and the new “Ricki and the Flash” – are disappointments, and since “Mr. Holmes” little else has fared well. But maybe this was anticipated as well.

What Went Wrong with “Ricki and the Flash”?

“Ricki and the Flash” promised to be a potential summer adult-oriented success along the lines previous seasonal Meryl Streep successes like “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Julie and Julia” and “Hope Springs.” As it turns out, even though their level was never likely, the shortfall in its initial results – an estimated $7 million in 1,648 (including nearly all where this had potential) – is a disappointment. Three years ago, “Hope Springs” did $14 million on its initial weekend (on top of $4.5 million earlier with a Wednesday opening) by comparison.

Let’s specify upfront that Streep has had a great decade. “Prada” and “Mamma Mia!” catapulted her to previously uncharted territory for older actress. But being regarded by many as the default automatic choice for best actor (of either gender) of her time or getting regular Oscar nods never hurts. But that success may have reached its limits.

Her audience is mainly older, majority female, more educated and thus more likely to be review-oriented. One of the amazing tidbits about her success is that, unlike her earlier career when she worked with many top directors and acclaimed films, her recent films generally haven’t been that well reviewed. Per Metacritic, it has been nine years since she has been in a film that scored above 75 (the equivalent of 3 stars in a 4 star system, with anything less being more mixed). With “Ricki,” ten of her 15 live action films with lead roles have ranked below 60 – Metacritic’s generous score for “favorable.” That’s a critical consensus that suggests overall mediocre output. (The lower scores include hits “Mamma Mia” and “It’s Complicated” and awards contenders “The Iron Lady” and “August: Osage County.”) 

“Ricki” combined her with an acclaimed director (Jonathan Demme) and screenwriter (Diablo Cody). Many of her recent films have been helmed by less established or hardly strongly personal ones. But it could be that going to see a movie just to see a Streep performance as the main reason is no longer enough. Do her audiences want more than just The Meryl Streep Show? The big success of the ensemble musical “Into the Woods,” which clearly benefited from her presence, makes that point. 

Holdovers

“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” dropped 47% its second weekend, retaining the top spot. This is exactly the same drop as the last summer-season “M.I.” release. Apart from “Pixels” the rest managed to only fall less than 40%. This is often a factor of weaker openings, thus less competition. But it helped make up some (but not close to all) in the shortfall at the top of the chart.

“Trainwreck”‘s fourth weekend was nearly as good as “Ricki and the Flash”‘s first; “Southpaw,” surprisingly “Vacation,” “Ant-Man” and “Minions” all had healthy holds. August means holdovers are likely as new competition becomes less intense — and more so with Weinstein’s last minute pulling of their animated “Underdogs” this week.

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