Box Office Top 10 Film News

Box Office: Fantastic Four & How the “Too Many Superhero Movies” Problem Will Work Itself Out

“It’ll work itself out” is an expression you hear a lot in baseball, usually in reference to how a team might appear to have a surplus of talent at certain positions. You have 8 starting pitchers competing for only 5 spots? Oh, don’t worry. It’ll work itself out. Someone will get hurt at some point. Someone will be ineffective. Someone you probably didn’t even expect will over-perform. The decision will eventually be made for you.

Well, is the Fantastic Four truly a new franchise worthy of multiple installments?  That’s a decision the market just made for Fox, and it’s going to help the perceived “too many superhero movies” problem work itself out.

With a meager $25.6 million domestic, $59.7 million worldwide debut despite playing in nearly 50 different countries, FF just had the worst opening weekend for any superhero movie ever. Okay. That’s not actually true, but the doom and gloom on FF’s box office makes it seem that way. Technically, Hellboy ($23m), Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance ($22.1m), Chronicle ($22m), Kick-Ass ($19m), Spawn ($19.7m), the first Blade ($17m), Catwoman ($16m), The Punisher ($13m), Elektra ($12m)….you get the point. Other superhero movies have had lower opening weekends, but those go as far back as the late 90s, none of them had a budget remotely close to FF’s $120m, and most of them technically sold more tickets back in their day than FF just did.

Plus, there’s this, from THR:

“Audiences on Friday night gave [Fantastic Four] a C- CinemaScore, the worst grade that anyone can remember for a marquee superhero title made by a major Hollywood studio (CinemaScore, based in Las Vegas, was founded in 1979) […]Audiences have rarely given superhero movies variations of a C grade, even those that have failed at the box office. The Green Hornet, flopping in 2011 with a $33.5 million debut, received a B+ CinemaScore, while duds Elektra, Catwoman and Daredevil earned a B. Exceptions include Ghost Rider: The Spirit of Vengeance (C+), Batman and Robin (C+) and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (C).”

That’s’ right – if you go by CinemaScore, Fantastic Four is actually worse than Batman and Robin, aka, the movie George Clooney’s been apologizing for throughout the rest of his career! To further put it in perspective, this summer’s other widely hated blockbusters, Terminator: Genisys and Pixels, received a B+ and B CinemScore grade respectively.

That means that not only is Fantastic Four an instant financial disappointment it can’t rely on word-of-mouth to turn the tide, even if maybe that wouldn’t kick in until home video.  Nope, it’s both failing to sell enough tickets and pissing off those people who actually do buy tickets, which is clearly not a good combination. As a result, Fantastic Four is tanking so spectacularly across the board that the internet has already coined a term for it: “Tranking,” not exactly the legacy the film’s director, Josh Trank, was hoping for. Now I’ll pause for an obligatory reference to the behind the scenes drama, and point you to the other articles I’ve already written about Fantastic Four’s production history soap opera (here and here and here).

Fantastic_Four_poster_2Fox’s domestic distribution chief Chris Aronson did exactly what someone like him is supposed to do in this situation and put on a brave face, telling THR,While we’re disappointed, we remain committed to these characters and we have a lot to look forward to in our Marvel universe.” However, he declined to comment specifically on Fantastic Four 2, which is almost definitely not happening now (just as we never got that Green Lantern sequel or Superman Returns sequel despite WB distribution chiefs spinning similar stories as Aronson just did) which brings me to my larger point.

According to Slate’s online calculator, there have been 56 superhero films in the last 10 years, and at that rate there will be 286 more superhero films released before I reach my life expectancy. Furthermore, there will be at least 8 more Batman movies before I die and five more Superman movies. Seven more people will play Spider-Man. That’s a fun, if misleading little conversation starter, further contributing to the ongoing narrative that there are too many superhero movies these days and sooner, rather than later, the bubble will burst. The film business is cyclical, and eventually the studios shove certain trendy genres down our throats so much that our collective gag reflex kicks in and we spit out the “same ole, same ole” they’re force feeding us, although after a long break that meal starts to look good again.

You could make an argument that Fantastic Four is simply capping off a summer in which our gag reflex against superhero movies has started to creep in. Age of Ultron failed to repeat the success of the first Avengers at home and worldwide, ultimately upstaged by both Furious 7 and Jurassic World. Ant-Man will end up as one of Marvel Studios’ lowest grossing movies of all time. Now, Fantastic Four has turned into a flaming car wreck which we can’t stop staring at.

over-saturated-a-rant-445078
The bubble has burst before, eventually re-ignited by Iron Man and The Dark Knight in 2008

You could also counter that Age of Ultron still ended its run as one of the top 5-grossing movies of all time, with a higher international gross than the first Avengers. Ant-Man was always a tough sell, and given its similarly troubled production history Marvel’s doing pretty well for itself by avoiding a disaster and instead settling for something that’s performing like the first Captain America and Thor movies. And Fantastic Four has been a PR nightmare for so long that no one should really be all that surprised by what’s happening to it at the box office. The prior FF films Fox made have aged poorly and are not fondly remembered, and it would have taken a Batman Begins-quality movie to truly relaunch the franchise. That obviously didn’t happen, and we’ll probably never truly know who to blame, although a wide view of the subject would argue that maybe the Fantastic Four just don’t translate to the big screen all that well.

However, the failure of this new Fantastic Four is a reminder that, ultimately, whatever perceived “superhero movie saturation” problem (as I wrote about at length earlier this year) we are about to have will ultimately work itself out. There are seven superhero movies due out next year and again in 2017, five in 2018, 4 in 2019 and two in 2020, although Marvel Studios reportedly has a rough plan for its roster of movies through at least 2025:

ReleaseTimeline_2015-2020
Found at ComicBookMovie.com

But Fantastic Four’s failure has thrown that in flux. For Fox to actually move forward with Fantastic Four 2 at this point would be insane. What should they do? Fast-track a Deadpool sequel since everyone loved that Deadpool trailer two weeks ago? Push Gambit back from October 2016 to FF2’s 2017 release date? Hurry up on that New Mutants adaptation from The Fault In Our Stars director?  Lease the FF back to Marvel Studios like Sony with Spider-Man?  Try something truly desperate like a Fantastic Four/X-Men crossover?  You can’t just throw Wolverine in there to prop everything up, like in Days of Future Past, because Hugh Jackman is about to retire from that character.

It’s a tough spot, but the more obvious solutions have been suggested to Fox by a ticket-buying public which just told them that they don’t really view The Fantastic Four as a marquee comic book franchise.  It’s a reminder that film studios announcing release dates for sequels doesn’t ultimately mean a damn thing when those release dates can be just as quickly abandoned, like how Sony’s super ambitious plan for Amazing Spider-Man 3 and 4 as well as Venom and the Sinister Six went out the door after ASM 2 set franchise lows.

The “too many superhoero movies” problem (if, indeed, you view it as a problem) will naturally work itself out because not all of the movies we see listed out there are truly going to get made.  At this point, the only entity which has consistently followed through on most of its promised movies has been Marvel Studios. If they say they’re going to make an Inhumans movie in 2019 I believe them. If WB says they’ll make Flash and Aqauman in 2018, Shazam! In 2019, and Cyborg and Green Lantern in 2020 I instinctively want to get a big eraser out to be ready to wipe those off the board if Batman V Superman is a financial disappointment or Suicide Squad does so well it demands its own sequel forcing all the other DC movies to move back.  The market will eventually tell the studios how many superhero movies it can truly withstand, and as Fantastic Four shows all it takes is a really bad first step for everything to unravel.

This Weekend’s Actual Box Office Top 10 Totals (8/7-8/9)

1) Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

  • Production Budget=$150m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$28.5m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$65.5m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$107.7m/$156.7m/$264.4m

It only declined 48% this weekend, nearly identical to Mission Impossible III’s 47% second weekend decline, still the franchise record holder among the movies with traditional releases (Ghost Protocol is in its own category because it oddly opened exclusively in select IMAX theaters before expanding wide in its second weekend).

2) Fantastic Four (Debut)                                                                                                                                    

  • Production Budget=$120m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$25.6m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$34.1m
  • Worldwide Debut=$59.7m

Fox reportedly slashed the budget immediately prior to filming, yet then they had to weeks of expensive reshoots.  The result is that we don’t really know how much we should trust that reported $120 million budget.  It could actually be as low as $100m or significantly higher.  Either way, the type of debut this movie just had combined with its toxic word-of-mouth could have it out of the top 10 by the end of August, and the fact that it’s not really doing any better overseas suggests Fox will end up taking a financial loss on this one.

3) The Gift (Worldwide Debut)

  • Production Budget=$5m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$11.8m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=Less than $1m
  • Worldwide Debut=$12.7m

This is the first movie from STX Entertainment, a new mini-major run by former Universal execs. with billions of backing from Chinese investors. It is also a Blumhouse Production meaning it was made independently for very little and then put on the market, STX picking up distribution after everyone else passed. The result is a solid debut, several million above what pre-release tracking suggested. Blumhouse movies are notoriously front-loaded, though. Let’s see how The Gift holds up.

4) Vacation

  • Production Budget=$30m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$8.9m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=Not available yet
  • Domestic Total=$37.1m

5) Ant-Man

  • Production Budget=$130m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$7.9m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$9.2m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$147.5m/$178.9m/$326.4m

Ant-Man still hasn’t opened in Italy, Korea, Japan or China meaning it could still catch up to Captain America: The First Avenger ($176m domestic/$370m world) but maybe not Thor ($181m domestic/$449m world). Regardless, Ant-Man will end up on the lower tier of Marvel Studios’ hopeful franchise launchers, far closer to the floor (The Incredible Hulk) than the ceiling (Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy).

6) Minions

  • Production Budget=$74m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$7.4m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$18.2m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$302.8m/$609.8m/$912.6m

Who needs Gru? Minions is right on par with Despicable Me 2, which ended with a dom./int./worldwide slash line of $368m/$602m/$970m in 2013.

7) Ricki and the Flash (Domestic Debut)

  • Production Budget=$18m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$6.6m

Tom Rothamn spearheaded this project when he was just the head of Tri-Star Pictures, one of Sony’s in-house labels. Rothman has since become the new head of Sony Pictures, and this is the first movie Sony has released since then which you could actually call “one of his movies” instead of something his predecessors had put into motion. In other word, Rothman gets more of the blame/credit for whatever Ricki and the Flash does than Pixels. Sadly, Ricki and… landed with a bit of a thud, although older-skewing movies like it tend to do just that before sticking around for a while.

8) Trainwreck

  • Production Budget=$30m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$6.1m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$5.2m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$90.9m/$6.1m/$97m

You could say this is a nice rebound for director Judd Apatow, whose prior two movies – Funny People ($51m domestic) and This Is 40 ($67m domestic.) were box office disappointments. However, most of the praise is going Amy Schumer’s way, and probably deservedly so.

9) Pixels

  • Production Budget=$88m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$5.4m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=$9.2m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$57.6m/$73.6m/$131.2m

10) Southpaw

  • Production Budget=$30m
  • Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$4.7m
  • Weekend Gross (International)=Less than $1m
  • Domestic/International/Worldwide=$40.6m/$10.1m/$50.7m

What Left the Top 10?:

  • Paper Towns – Current total: $28.8m domestic on a $12m budget
  • Inside Out Current total: $335m domestic on a $175m budget
  • Jurassic World Current total: $635m domestic on a $150m budget

Inside Out is now Pixar’s third-highest grossing film of all time in the US/Canada, fifth highest worldwide.

What’s Up Next?: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Straight Outta Compton

Sources: THR

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4 comments

  1. Yeah, I said exactly the same shortly after DC and Marvel made their big announcements. Remember how crowded the slates looked back then, with all the Sony projects still in it? I said back then that the Sony movies most likely won’t happen safe for some sort of spiderman movie to keep the right, that I doubt that there will be a F4 sequel because I had the bad feeling that the first one won’t be good, and that the entire DC slates hinges entirely on the upcoming movie. Especially stuff like Cyborg will only be made if all puzzle pieces fall perfectly.

    Now, not even a year later, the Sony slate has been cancelled safe for one Spider-man movie which is tucked into the Marvel slate and one animated Spiderman entry, the F4 sequel is as good as cancelled no matter what story Fox tries to spin and Cyborg is now at the top of the “won’t happen” list.

    Let’s be honest here, even if the DCEU kicks off, if the audience watches Justice League and decides that they don’t like one of those characters, said character won’t get a stand-alone movie. That’s how it works.

    The only studio which will most likely stick to their guns is Marvel, because they can afford to, and none of their planed entries really hinges that much on everything else.

  2. BTW: Inside out has still not been released in a lot of countries. I won’t get to see it until the first of October (Disney is really crazy…I am in the mood to skip that movie already because after so much time everyone telling me how great it is and me not able to see it, the excitement has pretty much died).

  3. It’s sad to see the new Fantastic Four movie doing poorly at the box office. I’m still planning on seeing it soon, but my hopes for it being good have fallen after reading some reviews.

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