On October 2, THR ran the following headline: “Box Office Tracking: Pan in Serious Need of Pixie Dust.” Well, duh. After Pan was pushed back from its original summer release date (June 26, 2015) due to a need to perform re-shoots and finish the special effects, the writing was pretty much on the wall. The same exact studio (WB) had done the same exact thing with Jupiter Ascending for basically the same reasons, and it didn’t turn out so well. In fact, I previously did a deep dive into this, and the evidence suggests that when movies get pushed back for those reasons, particularly if it is being moved away from a summer release, the end result is a box office bomb at least half of the time.
As a result, it is not at all surprising to see that Pan just dumped a giant turd on WB’s balance sheet this weekend, grossing an estimated $15.5 million domestic and $20.5 million from 40% of of the international market. That’s for a movie which carries a budget of at least $150m, and had been predicted by the tracking agencies to open somewhere between $21m and $31m. Instead, it opened even lower than Jupiter Ascending, which at least managed $18.3m in its February 2014 release.
The reasons for this vary. The project has been shrouded in negativity ever since Rooney Mara, one of the most pale-skinned women in Hollywood, was cast to play a Native American character, resulting in inevitable outrage and petitions. The director, Joe Wright, best known for Atonement, Hanna and Pride & Prejudice (’05), had never made a movie on this scale before, and he oddly chose a remarkably green screen-dependent approach with very few practical sets/locations. The casting was confusing (Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard, a character previously unattached to the Peter Pan story? Garret Hedlund as a Captain Hook with a laughable American accent?). The trailers were unintentionally hilarious. The family-friendly competition of the moment, Hotel Transylvania 2 and The Martian, has been surprisingly fierce. The marketing (or perhaps the mere concept of the movie) failed to entice the right audience. Similar to the way Tinkerbell needs claps to live, live-action fairytale films need young female audiences to survive, but that particular audience would apparently rather see stories about women (Maleficent, Cinderella) than one about a little boy. So, only 18% of Pan’s audience was under the age of 18, and 55% of the overall ticket buyers were female, compared to 77% for Cinderella, 60% for Maleficent.
In 2003, Universal made a truly brilliant, mostly faithful version of the Pan story in Peter Pan, and it bombed. In 2015, WB thought it could slap a big name star (Jackman) on it, put a new spin on things (it’s a prequel!) and get away with it. Why not, right? Disney practically printed money off the back of that approach with Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent, and Spielberg pulled it off back in ’91 with Hook, which grossed $300m worldwide on a $70m budget. So what if critics hated it (30% on RottenTomatoes)? The kids loved it, and it was Spielberg and Robin Williams nearing the height of their box office powers. There’s no such financial draw for Pan (away from X-Men movies, Hugh Jackman has more box office bombs than hits), but it’s been similarly crapped upon by critics (25% on RottenTomatoes).
Spielberg made a half good/half bad Peter Pan movie in a totally different era of film history, and it made money. Universal made a spectacular Peter Pan movie minus any film stars in an era not yet dominated by comic books/sequels/remakes, and it bombed. WB made a pretty bad Peter Pan movie clearly chasing after Disney’s live-action fairytale pixie dust, and it’s an instant bomb, unless China goes absolutely, positively insane over it later this month.
The verdict: The Peter Pan story is timeless, but it is not one which justifies a big budget film adaptation anymore. WB might have been better off with an adaptation starring Jackman as Captain Hook, treating him the same exact way Maleficent sought to grant sympathy to the historic devil. Then again, if that approach had failed to entice young female viewers they might have still been screwed, but it would have probably made the marketing campaign easier to follow.
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-That’s a 32% second weekend drop for The Martian, placing it right in-between Gravity (-23%) and Interstellar (-40%) and suggesting a final domestic total higher than $188m (Interstellar) but lower than $274m (Gravity)
–Transylvania 2 is now $14m ahead the pace of the first Hotel Transylvania at the domestic box office.
-It’s good news/bad news for RatPac Entertainment, Brett Ratner’s film finance company. They financed The Intern for WB, and it’s well on its way to becoming at least a modest hit for all parties. However, they also financed Pan. Those modest gains on The Intern aren’t going to offset those devastating losses on Pan.
–Scorch Trials is now $14m behind the pace of the first Maze Runner at the domestic box office.
What’s Up Next?: Bridge of Spies, Crimson Peak & Goosebumps