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‘Daddy’s Home 2’ is Paramount’s Last Big Hope, But It’s Stuck With Last Place

Hopes for a last-second box office hit are high, but after a terrible 2017 the studios year literally can't get much worse.

“Daddy’s Home 2”

“Daddy’s Home 2” opens today with advance estimates around $20 million. That’s a modest number, but for Paramount that’s great news: Not since “Transformers: The Last Knight” in June has it seen a movie open to as much as $8 million, nor grossed above $18 million. The $69 million-budgeted comedy is a sequel to the original that grossed $150 million two years ago. (In this case, #2 at the box office was great: #1 was “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”) The sequel reprises directing, writing and leads (Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell), with Mel Gibson and John Lithgow added as their intrusive fathers.

For Paramount, 2017 is the worst year in its history, and the release comes a week after in which two big news stories have rocked the studio. First, worldwide president of marketing and distribution Megan Colligan resigned, with claims of gender discrimination. Then, Paramount faced the abrupt end of a billion-dollar film financing deal with Chinese investor Huahua, which the companies announced early this year.

“Daddy’s Home 2” is Paramount’s 10th release this year and is in seventh place with a 4.6 percent share of domestic box office. (Sixth place is Lionsgate, which has nearly double the share.)

It’s been a long slide for the 105-year-old studio. In the ’70s and ’80s, it was often the top company. In 1997, it distributed “Titanic,” the biggest domestic hit in the last 35 years. They were #1 in share as recently as 2011, with six films among the top 16 grossers. But four were Marvel and Dreamworks titles. With them gone, they have placed sixth or seventh every year.

Mark Wahlberg as Cade Yeager in TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT, from Paramount Pictures.

“Transformers: The Last Knight”

Credit: Paramount Pictures/Bay F

But even their worst year had them with at least six percent. Now, even with a decent showing for “Daddy’s Home 2,” they are certain to fall under five percent, and it likely could end up closer to four. That’s rock bottom. Of course, market share isn’t the ultimate arbiter of studio success; it’s profit. But the news there isn’t good, either.

Yes, they had a worldwide hit with “Transformers: The Last Knight” ($600 million worldwide), but at over $200 million in production and marketing costs. “xXx: The Return of Xander Cage” was weak in the U.S. (only $45 million), but did over a quarter million more overseas, so in the black.

“Rings” looks like it will break even, “An Inconvenient Sequel” was very low budget and not too wide, and Europe likely saved “Baywatch.”

Beyond that, there’s a lot of red ink spilled, from “Monster Trucks” to “Ghost in the Shell,” and the lower-budgeted “mother!” or “Suburbicon.”

Downsizing Matt Damon

“Downsizing”

Paramount

Its Christmas release, Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing” (only a week of which will count towards 2017 totals) could end up as a decent performer based on “The Descendants” or “Sideways.” His new film received reviews less enthusiastic its predecessors, and box office will likely follow suit. So the pressure on “Daddy’s Home 2” to overperform. Maybe it could open closer to $25 million and then, with the help of Thanksgiving and word of mouth, it might approach $100 million. Even so, Paramount would end the year with a record low.

The studio currently has nine titles on its 2018 release schedule, with “Mission: Impossible 6” (tentative title) as the marquee. There’s also a couple of risky entries including “Annihilation” from Alex Garland, his first film since “Ex-Machina.” Whether the studio improves remains to be seen, but at least it can’t get much worse.

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