Late last week, National Association of Theater Owners CEO John Fithian performed a victory dance in the New York Times when “The Irishman” clearly fell short of the theaters Netflix sought for its platform opening. However, that looks like a Pyrrhic victory in the face of “Terminator: Dark Fate” — yet another $100 million-plus would-be blockbuster that opened in his theaters to little box-office effect.
Theaters don’t make the movies, of course, but they do influence what studios make. At Cinemacon, exhibitors respond to clips from films like “Terminator: Dark Fate,” “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” and “Gemini Man” as if they represent roads paved with gold, while lustfully booing any mention of Netflix. This is the third big-budget flop this fall, and it reveals a myopia that could destroy the industry.
“Dark Fate” cost $185 million; this weekend, it grossed $29 million. Paramount greenlit the film almost three years ago, with James Cameron returning to hands-on control as producer and it heralded the return of original “Terminator” star Linda Hamilton. All involved assumed that worldwide this was surefire.
However, supposedly failsafe decisions like this one ignore the reality that streamers’ programming provides plenty of allure for viewers — and with that, clues for how future patrons would make their entertainment choices.
This weekend’s total came to around $115 million; last year, the same weekend made about $145 million. At the start of the fall, the question was if the remaining films of 2019 could make up a shortfall of about $500 million, or 5.5%. Instead, the gap has increased to nearly $600 million and 6%. This weekend’s four wide-opening films grossed $48 million total; last year, “Bohemian Rhapsody” debuted at $51 million. Netflix screens are not the problem.
Audiences often respond well to beloved franchises. But there’s also a generation gap at play: The people who greenlight these films know, love, and respect their predecessors, but the audience? Many don’t remember, don’t care, or may not even know the referent. The most frequent group of moviegoers are 18-24 years old, which means the original “Terminator” was released at least a decade before they were born. Clearly, a massive spend means nothing to this group, nor does Cameron’s supervision (which must be concerning for the “Avatar” sequels ahead). Studio must look beyond the comps, and their own experiences, to consider that a whole cornerstone of current production may be eroding.
Three other new films were original; combined, their budgets reached around $100 million. “Harriet,” the least expensive (informed sources suggest around $17 million), did by far the best. Though aimed mostly at a domestic audience, targeted marketing far below a normal wide release gave it a chance to work. And with an A+ Cinemascore, there are clear signs in the initial grosses of strong word of mouth.
Edward Norton’s passion project “Motherless Brooklyn” is another mixed-review prestige adaptation that arrived with a thud. Warners apparently kept its stake low (reportedly under $26 million), and didn’t go wider than needed (1,300+ theaters). This is the kind of project that needs everything to go just right; advance showings at key festivals are not enough.
The animated “Arctic Dogs” supposedly cost $60 million, although Byron Allen’s distribution company isn’t stuck with most of that. However, its poor $3.1 million start shows that family audiences are increasingly selective — and they can see the same or better on Netflix, and soon on Disney+.
Warner Bros. Pictures
The weekend’s saving grace, once again, is a handful of well-received films continue to have strong holds. It doesn’t get better than “Joker,” which dropped only 28% in its fifth weekend and now stands at $300 million; with similar strong foreign holds, the worldwide total is $934 million. That’s $66 million short of $1 billion, and without China, all on a $60 million budget.
“The Addams Family” shed only 29% and is headed for a domestic $100 million or better. “Maleficent” fell 37%; while it’s not a breakout, it will likely eke a profit following its further explotation on Disney+.
Last week’s two wide openers in the Top Ten showed different responses. STX’s horror social media thriller “Countdown” had a respectable drop of 30% and now has a shot at a $30 million domestic take for its a little over $10 million cost. Sony’s police drama “Black and Blue” dropped 52% and now will top out a little over $20 million.
For a deep dive into this weekend’s specialized releases, including Netflix’s “The Irishman” and Neon’s “Parasite,” check out this morning’s report.
The Top Ten
1. Terminator: Dark Fate (Paramount) NEW – CInemascore: B+; Metacritic: 54; Est. budget: $185 million
$29,000,000 in 4,086 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $7,097; Cumulative: $29,000,000
2. Joker (Warner Bros.) Week 5; Last weekend #2
$13,925,000 (-28%) in 3,519 theaters (-417); PTA: $3,957; Cumulative: $299,612,000
3. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (Disney) Week 2; Last weekend #1
$12,175,000 (-37%) in 3,820 theaters (+30); PTA: $3,187; Cumulative: $84,325,000
4. Harriet (Focus) NEW – CInemascore: A+; Metacritic: 60; Est. budget: $17 million
$12,000,000 in 2,059 theaters; PTA: $5,828; Cumulative: $12,000,000
5. The Addams Family (United Artists) Week 4; Last weekend #3
$8,499,000 (-29%) in 3,607 theaters (-495); PTA: $2,356; Cumulative: $85,295,000
6. Zombieland: Double Tap (Sony) Week 3; Last weekend #4
$7,350,000 (-38%) in 3,357 theaters (-111)); PTA: $2,203; Cumulative: $59,307,000
7. Countdown (STX) Week 2; Last weekend #5
$5,850,000 (-34%) in 2,675 theaters (no change); PTA: $2,187; Cumulative: $17,766,000
8. Black and Blue (Sony) Week 2; Last weekend # 6
$4,050,000 (-%) in 2,062 theaters (no change); PTA: $1,964; Cumulative: $15,442,000
9. Motherless Brooklyn (Warner Bros.) NEW – Metacritic: 60; Est. budget: $26 million
$3,650,000 in 1,342 theaters; PTA: $2,720; Cumulative: $3,650
10. Arctic Dogs (Entertainment Studios) NEW – Cinemascore: B- est. budget: $60 million
$3,100,000 in 2,844 theaters; PTA: $1,090; Cumulative: $3,100,000