Last summer, when Edge of Tomorrow made less money in its first month of release than Transformers: Age of Extinction made in its first 3 days many in the film community shook their head and declared, “You see, America, this is why you can’t have nice things!” It was an easy stance to take because everyone seemed to agree that Edge of Tomorrow was really good and Age of Extinction was really not, yet their respective box office performances suggested the complete opposite. In response to this Transformers-shaming, BirthMoviesDeath argued:
I don’t care how much money Edge of Tomorrow makes. I’m happy it exists. I’m happy that the people who found it did. I’m happy that Tom Cruise got to give a terrific performance. I’m happy that Emily Blunt got to kick ass. I’m sad that more people won’t have a chance to experience this movie on a big screen, but I’m okay knowing that in a few years Edge of Tomorrow’s box office take won’t matter. In ten years no one will watch the movie and fret about its cume – they’re just going to watch the movie and like it.
I find that sentiment refreshing when I look at this weekend’s box office top ten and see that a movie I quite liked, Man from U.N.C.L.E. (read my review), is pretty much dead on arrival. Its first weekend ($13.4m) couldn’t beat Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’s third weekend ($17.1m). That’s bad. Since its production budget is thought to be somewhere between $75m and $80m, it is going to have play huge, huge I tells ya’, at the international market to have any shot at getting that sequel its ending so clearly tries to set up. Considering its European setting, it theoretically could turn into an outsized hit overseas.
It debuted in 23 territories outside of the US/Canada this weekend, and easily pulled a #1 finish in Russia, not surprising considering that one of the main characters, Armi Hammer’s Illya Kuryakan, is Russian. However, the production budget probably doesn’t include all the sunk costs from the project’s development hell period dating all the way back to 1993. After producer John Davis waited that long for this thing to finally happen, a mere $25m worldwide debut must seem anti-climactic. This weekend’s other new release, Straight Outta Compton, almost made that much on its first Friday in the US/Canada alone.
The difference here is that people really liked Edge of Tomorrow and were happy to argue in its defense. I mean, come on – it has a 90% on RottenTomatoes! Yeah, Man from U.N.C.L.E.’s looking at a mere 67%, which is “good, not great” territory. WhatCulture just called U.N.C.L.E. one of the summer’s 14 most disappointing movies (I respectfully disagree). Plus, there’s no easily-dismissed Transformers movie around making way too much money and thus standing in as a symbolic enemy to “good movies.” Instead, the two movies U.N.C.L.E. finished behind in the domestic top 10 this weekend, Straight Outta Compton and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, are legitimately great. Why bother writing U.N.C.L.E.’s obvious obituary when you can praise Compton for grossing the type of money ($60m) normally reserved for big budget spectacles and animated family films?
Don’t you kind of want to know why Compton just enjoyed the fifth best August opening ever (passing Signs) while towering over prior rap movies like 8 Mile ($51.2m debut) and Notorious ($20.5m debut)? Doesn’t its opening beg for a socio-political analysis, like NBC News’ observation, “Straight Outta Compton may take place more than two decades ago, but its themes of racial tension, poverty, and police brutality ]clearly] still speak to moviegoers living in a post-Ferguson world”? Isn’t it interesting how four different companies – Universal Pictures, Universal Music’s Interscope label, Apple and Beats audio – came together to promote Compton, and ended up scoring multiple viral hits, especially the “Straight Outta Somehwere” meme? What does it mean that Compton’s opening weekend was almost evenly split on gender, men (52%) and women (48%), and age, those over 30 (51%) and those under (49%)? Or that while African-Americans made up 46% of the audience Caucasians accounted for 24% and Hispanics for 21%? Isn’t it inspiring to see just how inspired Ava DuVernay was by Compton?
Yet I keep coming back to Man from U.N.C.L.E. because, dangit, I was really hoping to see a sequel, and based on that budget and worldwide opening it’s hard to imagine that’s going to happen now. As a point of comparison, Kingsman: The Secret Service had a nearly identical budget ($81m) and opened to $36m domestic before topping out at $128m here, $406m worldwide, yet Fox took its sweet time in announcing a sequel. If such an obvious success can take so long to turn into a sure thing when what hope does U.N.C.L.E. have, especially with American Ultra and Hitman 47 flooding the action movie market next weekend?
Warner Bros. isn’t conceding defeat, though (not that I’d expect them to). The studio’s distribution chief told the press, “Guy Ritchie made a terrific picture, but unfortunately it didn’t catch the audience this weekend. We know the older audience doesn’t come out on the first day, so hopefully they will find the movie over the next couple of weeks.” His bigger concern should be the fact that 86% of the opening weekend audience was over the age of 25. It’s a stat like that which makes it easy to simply write this off as yet another franchise revival which missed its nostalgia window and took way too to arrive.
However, there’s probably a bigger factor at play here than, “What did they expect since barely anyone remembers the old U.N.C.L.E. TV show anymore?” No, U.N.C.L.E. was doomed on January 26, 2015 when Paramount surprisingly moved Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation up to a July 31 release, aiming to repeat Guardians of the Galaxy’s trick of being a bigger-than-expected August hit. How dare they! Warner Bros. had the same thing in mind on August 12, 2014 when it moved U.N.C.L.E. back from the dumping grounds of a mid-January 2015 release to the suddenly fertile lands of a August 2015 release, giving the project of a vote of confidence after Guardians and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had proved you could open big in August. At that point on the release schedule, the only other spy movie the summer was going to have was Melissa McCarthy’s rather matter-of-factly named Spy. The moment Rogue Nation turned into a summer movie to avoid November-December competition from Spectre and Star Wars is the moment U.N.C.L.E. went from a potentially refreshing change of pace to the third spy movie of the season, opening in the shadow of whatever insane practical stunts Tom Cruise pulled off this time.
Then Rogue Nation got here and turned out to be amazing, so amazing that it’s on pace to be one of the highest-grossing films in MI franchise history. U.N.C.L.E. is light on star power (for however much star power really matters anymore) and comes from a director (Guy Ritchie) whose quirky style is rather divisive. However, it is exactly the kind of light, breezy movie which should play well in the summer, and for a variety of reasons not many people went to see it and even those who did split on whether they liked it (opening night audiences graded it a B on CinemaScore). Sigh.
I don’t care how much money Man from U.N.C.L.E. makes. I’m happy it exists. I’m happy that the people who found it did. I’m happy that Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer got to give a terrific performance. I’m happy that Alicia Vikaner and Elizabeth Debicki got to come off as slightly more modern women without seeming anachronistic. I’m happy that everyone in the movie got to play dress-up in the coolest 60s clothes they could find. I’m sad that more people won’t have a chance to experience this movie on a big screen where the marriage of Guy Ritchie’s camera and orchestrator Daniel Pemperton’s remarkable period music is best enjoyed. I’m okay knowing that in a few years Man from U.N.C.L.E.’s box office take won’t matter. In ten years no one will watch the movie and fret about its cume – they’re just going to watch the movie and like it. But I would have really liked to have seen a sequel. Fingers crossed and all that.
This Weekend’s Actual Box Office Top 10 Totals (8/16-8/18)
1) Straight Outta Compton (Worldwide Debut)
- Production Budget=$29m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$60.2m
- Weekend Gross (International)=Less than $20k
- Worldwide Debut=$60.2m
2) Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
- Production Budget=$150m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$17.1m
- Weekend Gross (International)=$46.1m
3) The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Worldwide Debut)
- Production Budget=$75-80m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$13.4m
- Weekend Gross (International)=$12m
- Worldwide Debut=$25.6m
4) Fantastic Four
- Production Budget=$120m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$8.1m
- Weekend Gross (International)=$16.2m
And that is a second-week plunge of 68%, putting Fantastic Four just behind X-Men Origins: Wolverine (-69%), Elektra (-69%), Hulk (-69.7%), Jonah Hex (-69.7%), Hellboy 2 (-70%) and Steel (-78%) on the list of biggest second weekend declines for a comic book movie. It’s doing better overseas, but not enough to make much of a difference.
5) The Gift
- Production Budget=$5m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$6.5m
- Weekend Gross (International)=Less than $1m
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. It dropped 45% this weekend, which is a good hold for a micro-budget thriller. By comparison, Blumhouse’s last effort, The Gallows, dipped 59% in its second weekend and ultimately topped out at $22m domestic.
- Production Budget=$130m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$5.4m
- Weekend Gross (International)=$5.6m
- Production Budget=$30m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$5.18m
- Weekend Gross (International)=$2m
- Production Budget=$74m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$5.14m
- Weekend Gross (International)=$15m
Minions will soon pass Toy Story 3 to become the fourth highest-grossing film ever internationally.
9) Ricki and the Flash
- Production Budget=$18m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$4.5m
- Domestic Total=$14.6m
- Production Budget=$30m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$3.8m
- Weekend Gross (International)=$6.2m
Within the next day or so, Trainwreck will become Universal Pictures’ 6th movie of 2015 to cross $100m domestic. The next closest on that list is Disney, which has 4 movies past $100m. Sony doesn’t have any.
What Left the Top 10?:
- Pixels – Current total: $64m domestic on a $88m budget
- Southpaw – Current total: $45m domestic on a $30m budget
What’s Up Next?: American Ultra, Hitman: Agent 47, Sinister 2