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As Sony Moves Into ‘Uncharted’ Box Office Territory, the Risks and Rewards Are Enormous

Tom Holland, a well-known video game, and the hunger for new product: Is that enough for the studio to continue its winning streak?

Victor "Sully" Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg) and Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) look to make their move in Columbia Pictures' UNCHARTED.  photo by: Clay Enos

“Uncharted”

Clay Enos

Uncharted” will likely see the best opening weekend so far this year. Critics don’t care four Sony’s video game adaptation starring Tom Holland (a weak 47 at the moment at Metacritic), but he and co-star Mark Wahlberg have their fans and there’s pent-up demand for an appealing new release. The three-day opening should be more than $30 million, possibly by some distance.

Meanwhile, the studio is celebrating the latest milestone for “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” On Monday, it crossed $760 million in domestic gross. That places it as #3 of all-time moneymakers on the “ignore film history and inflation list,” or around #23 among all sound-era domestic releases based on ticket sales (rather than variable prices).

Either way: That’s phenomenal. It’s doing 80 percent or more of the business seen by “Avatar,” “The Force Awakens,” and “Avengers: Endgame,” none of which had to contend with a pandemic or a freefall in theater attendance.

This year, only Paramount’s “Scream” opened at $30 million or higher. Between September and December 2021, seven movies opened at $40 million or better (add two if you consider five-day Wednesday openings). There’s a lack of momentum and blockbusters like “Spider-Man” and the upcoming “The Batman” (Warner Bros./March 4) can only do so much to restore theaters.

The first 45 days of 2022 box office represent about about 50 percent of the same, pre-Covid period in 2020. The annual goal identified by AMC CEO Adam Aron and others is $8.2 billion, which would be 80 percent of 2019 (the last normal year). At least this weekend should reflect improvement between “Uncharted” and United Artists’ “Dog” starring and co-directed by Channing Tatum. That family comedy should benefit from the actor’s appeal and the dearth of family product.

In this environment, “Uncharted” — one film on a mid-February Presidents’ Day weekend — could have an impact beyond its position as a backstop for “The Batman.” Here’s what makes its performance of greater relevance:

“Kimi”

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Strong performance is critical for non-franchise projects

As a video game adaptation it’s not exactly the original dramas that theatrical films now avoid (see Steven Soderbergh’s acclaimed “Kimi,” now on HBO Max), but the fear factor is high for a standalone studio title with this much financial commitment. Its performance will be a factor in future production and platform decisions.

This will test the appeal of gaming adaptations

Studios consider these to be an underutilized source of IP, but there’s also been many failed attempts. Most of the successes have been mid-level genre adjacencies like the “Resident Evil” and “Mortal Kombat” franchises that don’t have the $120 million budget of “Uncharted.”

Can Tom Holland open without Spider-Man?

Holland was the lead in dramas like “Cherry,” “Chaos Walking,” and “The Devil All the Time,” but it’s Marvel and Peter Parker that made him a star. “Uncharted,” opening two months after the massive success of “Spider-Man,” is a test of his appeal outside the Spidey suit.

Leonardo DiCaprio provides a comparison with “Titanic.” It was still at #1 with the equivalent of a $40 million gross 13 weeks into its run when his next film opened, “The Man in the Iron Mask.” The period costume adventure opened to #2, just under “Titanic,” and ultimately took in an adjusted $140 million in U.S./Canada theaters.

That performance showed that DiCaprio was the real deal. At that point in his career, he was more established otherwise than Holland; “Romeo + Juliet” two years prior was a big hit. Marvel actors have found it trickier to see their appeal transfer to other films.

Can Sony keep making hits?

Of the five top studios, only Sony has no streamer to feed. More than others, it depends on theaters to thrive.

In just over four months, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” and “Spider-Man” grossed about $1 billion in domestic totals. They all placed in the top nine among 2021 releases, with “Venom” at #3.

That’s a performance expected from Disney, which had four of the year’s top 10. Universal, MGM, and Paramount each had one; Warner Bros., none.

Morbius

‘Morbius”

Sony

The trend might be even stronger if they stuck with their January 28 “Morbius” date, which is now set for April 1. For now, “Uncharted” will be a test of their ongoing status.

“Uncharted” is too expensive to fail

When you add marketing, this film will need about a quarter billion in earnings to recoup all in. Of that, worldwide theatrical earnings might need to be as high as $150 million — about $300 million in box-office gross. Initial foreign territories brought in $22 million last weekend. For “Uncharted: to reach around $110 million in domestic gross, it will needs a $35 million ipening as well as strong word of mouth.

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