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‘The Great Wall,’ Isn’t: Why All Three President’s Day Releases Flopped

This was a terrible weekend for new releases, but what it means for the year could be worse.

The Great Wall Matt Damon

“The Great Wall”

The Great Wall” (Universal) fared best among the three new original debuts this week. But at $18 million, it fell short of what was needed to boost this very expensive Chinese production aimed at international markets (while making American audiences see it as nothing out of the ordinary).

Even so, it did better than the disappointing Ice Cube comedy “Fist Fight” (Warner Bros.) or Gore Verbinski’s disastrous “A Cure for Wellness” (20th Century Fox), which barely made the Top 10. But any heft came from decent holdovers from last weekend’s unprecedented trio of $30 million+ openers.

That’s the good news. The bad is this is a Top Ten that compares miserably with 2016, and represents a further decline in year-to-date totals. Even if they aren’t in actual free fall, they’re showing serious weakness.

The Top Ten

(all estimates for the three-day weekend; with school holiday Monday, the order will likely shift slightly)

1. The LEGO Batman Movie (Warner Bros.) Week 2 – Last weekend #1

$34,225,000 (-35%) in 4,088 theaters (no change); PTA (per theater average): $8,372; Cumulative: $98,791,000

2. Fifty Shades Darker (Universal) Week 2 – Last weekend #2

$20,967,000 (-55%) in 3,714 theaters (+4); PTA: $5,645; Cumulative: $89,663,000

3. The Great Wall (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Metacritic: 42; Est. budget: $150 million

$18,079,000 in 3,325 theaters ; PTA: $5,436; Cumulative: $18,079,000

4. John Wick: Chapter 2 (Lionsgate) Week 2 – Last weekend #3

$16,500,000 (-46%) in 3,113 theaters (no change); PTA: $5,300; Cumulative: $58,692,000

5. Fist Fight (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Metacritic: 37; Est. budget: $25 million

$12,015,000 in 3,185 theaters; PTA: $3,772; Cumulative: $12,015,000

6. Hidden Figures (20th Century Fox) Week 9 – Last weekend #5

$7,100,000 (-11%) in 2,217 theaters (-450); PTA: $3,203; Cumulative: $142,592,000

7. Split (Universal) Week 5 – Last weekend #4

$7,038,000 (-26%) in 2,445 theaters (-516); PTA: $2,879; Cumulative: $123,604,000

8. A Dog’s Purpose (Warner Bros.) Week 4 – Last weekend #6

$5,561,000 (-23%) in 2,400 theaters (-625); PTA: $2,317; Cumulative: $50,676,000

9. La La Land (Lionsgate) Week 11 – Last weekend #8

$4,500,000 (-9%) in 1,587 theaters (-478); PTA: $2,836; Cumulative: $133,504,000

10. A Cure for Wellness (20th Century Fox) NEW – Cinemascore: C+; Metacritic: 47; Est. budget: $40 million

$4,200,000 in 2,704 theaters; PTA: $1,553; Cumulative: $4,200,000

Fifty Shades Darker Dakota Johnson

“Fifty Shades Darker”

Screenshot/Universal

 

The Takeaways

A Big Presidents Day Weekend Drop

Through Thursday, we’re down 8.6 percent year to date from 2016. It’s still early enough for a rebound, but the reality is that too many new releases fail to connect with domestic audiences.

The three-day weekend Top Ten came to around $130 million, with Presidents Day to boost the total. Last year, Presidents Day totaled $216 million; that’s a 40 percent drop.

Last year had “Deadpool;” there’s no equivalent this year, although “The LEGO Batman Movie” and “Fifty Shades Darker” are headed for $100 million; “John Wick: Chapter Two” could also make it. It’s looking like the first four months of this year will lag behind last year, when four movies grossed $330 million or more (“Batman v Superman,” “The Jungle Book” and “Zootopia” joining “Deadpool,” and representing half of the year’s top eight domestic releases).

“Logan,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “The Fate of the Furious” could hit big and equalize things before summer starts. In the meantime, ordinary releases such as the three new ones this week remain key to stabilization. And not every pre-sold franchise lives up to expectations or compares to last year’s hits.

Sequels Save the Day

Last weekend’s three openers came back with $71 million combined, about half of the total business. This week, those films scored well enough to continue to impress.

“The Lego Batman Movie” held best, with a 35 percent drop and will pass $100 million on Monday (and $72 million so far early in its foreign dates). With an $80 million budget and a long shelf life, this is a decent hit for Warners.

Universal’s “Fifty Shades Darker” will show more profit on its $55 million budget, especially with an international performance of $187 million so far. “Shades” will likely end up the biggest release of early 2017, beating out their own “Split.”

At 46 percent down, the “John Wick” sequel fell perhaps a bit more than hoped. More significantly, at $58 million in 10 days it’s already $15 million over the initial version’s $43 million total domestic gross.

The Great Wall

“The Great Wall”

Universal

“The Great Wall” Takes a Fall

Legendary Entertainment has been a vital force in big-budget films for over a decade. Now Chinese owned, they are attempting to make Hollywood-equivalent, large-scale movies in China that have global appeal. The local success meant “Warcraft” worked last year, despite being a U.S. flop. Now the more expensive (and more Asian-centric) “The Great Wall” emerges as a signal that duplicating Hollywood-based product can be tricky.

The Matt Damon-starring historical epic cost $150 million and engaged top-end artists and craftspeople from director Zhang Yimou down. It opened in most of the world already, so all involved understood the stakes for its domestic release.

Foreign totals had come to $246 million, with most of that in China. But at its budget, plus $100 million or more likely in marketing, the domestic take looks to be in the $50 million-$60 million range. That will mean a $300 million total worldwide; calculate little more than half back after theaters take their share, and you’re looking at an initial $100 million shortfall.

That will be significantly reduced by nontheatrical venues, making this look like close to a breakeven proposition. But Legendary, which the Wanda Group acquired for $3.5 billion, isn’t in the breakeven business.

The formula here — action/epic story, big-name star — is the easiest to replicate. Comedies, serious dramas, animated, and comic-book franchises are tougher to create or develop for worldwide audiences.

“Fist Fight”

With “Fist Fight,” a Reliable Formula Fails

Take Ice Cube, reliable as a comedy lead for many years, throw in a star from the “Horrible Bosses” film, give them a basic set up (feuding high school teachers work up a grudge match). With a low-enough budget, it’s an easy success and maybe a sequel.

The $25 million budget might have looked reasonable, but the $12 million initial result will likely not exceed $30 million domestic and won’t see much more overseas. With low-end marketing at least equal to the production cost, that means again a film dependent on nontheatrical venues to make up the difference.

That’s not enough. This is the sort of bread-and-butter basic film that New Line is supposed to make for Warners and churn out a reasonable profit. Its failure isn’t a big deal on its own, but that it fell so far short of both Ice Cube’s previous successes and similar R-rated comedies for, younger, minority and male-oriented audiences suggests the same old stuff isn’t drawing like it used to. That’s more significant, and will increase the push for more one-size-fits-all production.

“A Cure for Wellness” the Latest Big-Name Director Flop

The most original of the new releases is also the biggest flop. At $40 million, it’s way below what Gore Verbinski (“Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Rango,” “The Lone Ranger”) usually works with. Perhaps emulating M. Night Shyamalan, he hoped for a career rebound with a psychological thriller with some sophistication (this is set in a peculiar Swiss sanatorium).

With “The Visit” and now “Split,” Shyamalan (and producer Jason Blum) have no need to worry about new competition. With $4.2 million, barely making the Top 10 (likely to drop out for the four days) and grossing about the same in its initial 36 foreign dates, this will likely be a total write-off for Fox.

Last year saw multiple Oscar-winning directors fall short including Martin Scorsese, Ang Lee, and Robert Zemeckis. Verbinski now joins them, but at a younger age.

At a time when so many big names are shifting to non-theatrical production, it’s hard to see how those who finance expensive features keep justifying the risks. When “Split” can be financed for $5 million and churn up massive business, clearly the risk can pay off. A mid-level, original, mass-audience film with no stars is a rarity; this wipe out will ensure that continues.

“Hidden Figures”

How to Oscar Holdovers Stacked Up

We’re headed for the final stages, though expect the usual last-minute rush next weekend. Totals are in inverse order of the strength of their holds, although all three did great.

“Hidden Figures” fell 11 percent and added $7.1 million; even without an upset Best Picture win, it should reach at least $170 million.

“La La Land” kept its drop to nine percent, adding another $4.5 million. If it wins as predicted and Lionsgate delays home viewing for at least a short time, $180 million remains in sight domestic (it has already amassed $200 million in foreign, many times more than “Figures” can expect).

“Lion” did even better, with a four percent rise to over $4 million with some additional theaters. With further expansion even without any wins, it could hit $60 million, a rare recent success for Weinstein. If so, it will be their biggest domestic success since “Paddington” two years ago (ahead of “The Hateful Eight,” which only managed $54 million). That’s a welcome story for a struggling company.

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