Thirty-five years after the Ridley Scott sci-fi original (which was not an initial box office success but grew into a cult favorite), the long-aborning sequel “Blade Runner: 2049” had much to recommend it: rave reviews, Denis Villeneuve directing his follow-up to sci-fi Oscar-winner “Arrival”; Ryan Gosling’s first wide release since “La La Land”; a committed multi-generational smart sci-fi fan base.
So why did the movie fall short of expectations? It was expected to score at least $40 million domestically against a $155-185-million budget: $31 million marks a serious under-performer and suggests that to the extent that Villeneuve channeled the original, he may have delivered an artistic achievement that is not mainstream.
With most of the world outside Asia already playing the film, the initial foreign $81 million take will not yield $300-million worldwide — which is close to what the movie cost to make and market (shared by Alcon Entertainment and financier Sony Pictures Entertainment; Warner Bros. is the U.S. distributor-for-hire). With only about half of box office receipts returning to those who financed this visually stunning movie (which is at its best seen on the big screen), “Blade Runner: 2049” is unlikely to ever turn a profit.
This underwhelming box office doesn’t come out of nowhere. Smart sci-fi genre movies with complicated plots and big themes, iconic franchises with a strong but not necessarily wide base, and complex intellectual concepts combined with adventure/action elements do not always sustain high-end budgets.
Already this year “Alien: Covenant,” which saw Ridley Scott deep in the weeds of the franchise he started nearly four decades ago, managed only a domestic take of $74 million (barely double its opening of $36 million), while “The War for the Planet of the Apes” despite great reviews topped out at $146 million domestic. That would normally be considered good, but the production costs were higher, and the sequel dropped more than a third from the previous series effort.
“Apes” with strong foreign returns likely ekes out a small profit, while “Covenant” looks less hopeful. Both were considered by 20th Century Fox as prime franchises with further sequels considered likely (Scott has ben talking about furthering the “Covenant” story).
At least these sequels were building on a recent history of success. “Blade Runner 2049” was jumping from a visionary film which went head to head with “E.T.” in the summer of 1982, with Ridley Scott returning to sci-fi after “Alien” (he passed on the initial sequel) and featured Harrison Ford at the height of his draw after two “Star Wars” films.
The lack of first-hand awareness or interest beyond a small but intense cadre of smart sci-fi fans likely contributed to the result. That audience wasn’t huge–the $4 million Thursday preview represented about 400,000 tickets sold–but was likely the core. As strong as the reviews were, even that audience only responded with an A- Cinemascore (two grade steps below best). And the 11 per cent overall Saturday falloff — not unusual for a second day when preview totals are combined with Friday — suggests that older audiences more familiar with the original and more likely to respond to strong reviews didn’t rally behind it. (The audience skewed very male; marketing failed to draw women.)
The 163-minute length, dense plot, and the studio’s insistence on sustaining mystery about key plot elements are among the factors leading to the tepid response. (This follows similar attempts from Paramount to control plot reveals on the disappointing “mother!”) “Blade Runner 2049” was among the key players in the long-shot drive for 2017 box office parity with 2016. That looked possible when the incredible “It” opened a few weeks ago. But hopes for a continued rebound included “Blade Runner” opening to perhaps double this amount.
This tepid gross combined with two other weak new films managed to achieve a total about the same as a year ago. But unless there are strong performers ahead, increasingly it looks like the year will fall as much as five per cent below 2016.
Two other new entries, “The Mountain Between Us” (20th Century Fox) and “My Little Pony” (Lionsgate), showed mediocre results. Both represent the sort of mid-level release that increasingly finds difficulty gaining traction. An adaptation of a bestselling novel about two plane crash survivors played by sexy British stars Idris Elba and Kate Winslet, “The Mountain Between Us” managed only $10 million, weak for its $35-million budget. Like “Blade Runner 2049” director Villeneuve (“Incendies”), “The Mountain Between Us” director Hany Abu-Assad broke out when two of his Palestinian films were nominated for foreign-language Oscars (“Paradise Now,” “Omar”).
Lionsgate handled distribution for the Hasbro-financed “My Little Pony.” Its showing is yet another example of animated features not resonating as much as they normally would.
Then there’s “It,” still third in its fifth weekend, higher than any other film released before this week since it opened. Now at $304 million, the ultimate domestic take should well exceed the $325 million.
The Top Ten
1. Blade Runner 2049 (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic: 81; Est. budget: $155 million
$31,525,000 in 4,058 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $7,769; Cumulative: $31,525,000
2. The Mountain Between Us (20th Century Fox) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic: 47; Est. budget: $35 million
$10,100,000 in 3,088 theaters; PTA: $3.271; Cumulative: $10,100,000
3. It (Warner Bros.) Week 5; Last weekend #2
$9,655,000 (-43%) in 3,605 theaters (-312); PTA: $2,678; Cumulative: $304,933,000
4. My Little Pony (Lionsgate) NEW – Cinemascore: A- ; Metacritic: 41; Est. budget: $XXXXX
$8.800,000 in 2,528 theaters; PTA: $3,481; Cumulative: $8,800,000
5. Kingsman: The Royal Circle (20th Century Fox) Week 3; Last weekend #1
$8,100,000 (-52%) in 3,488 theaters (-550); PTA: $2,322; Cumulative: $79,964,000
6. American Made (Universal) Week 2; Last weekend #3
$8,073,000 (-52%) in 3,031 theaters (+7); PTA: $2,663; Cumulative: $30,445,000
7. The LEGO Ninjago Movie (Warner Bros.) Week 3; Last weekend #4
$6,750,000 (-42%) in 3,611 theaters (-436); PTA: $1,869; Cumulative: $43,824,000
8. Victoria & Abdul (Focus) Week 3; Last weekend #11
$4,142,000 (+272%) in 732 theaters (+655); PTA: $5,658; Cumulative: $5,958,000
9. Flatliners (Sony) Week 2; Last weekend #5
$3,800,000 (-%) in 2,552 theaters (no change); PTA: $1,489; Cumulative: $5,958,000
10. Battle of the Sexes (Fox Searchlight) Week 3; Last weekend #6
$2,400,000 (-30%) in 1,822 theaters (+609); PTA: $1,317; Cumulative: $7,678,000