The Choice is the eleventh Nicholas Sparks novel to make the transition to the screen in the last 17 years, but it is the first which has been made through the author’s newly formed production company. So The Choice, unlike any Sparks movie before it, actually comes with the label “A Nicholas Sparks Production.” As Sparks told WTOP:
“I’ve written the script for various films, or I’ve served as a producer for various films. (But this) was exciting because I was able to be more involved in other elements of the film: where it was filmed or the budget or the music, all of these things I didn’t have much exposure to in the past. That was really a lot of fun to be able to do, because the movie can come out exactly like I wanted it to come out.”
That must make today rather difficult for Mr. Sparks because the actual totals from this weekend’s box office are in, and The Choice made a mere $6 million from over 2,600 theaters, easily the lowest opening weekend total for any Nicholas Spark movie. Best of Me and its $10m opening in Oct. 2014 previously had claim to that rather dubious record. Of course, Best of Me still has the Nicholas Sparks movie record for lowest total domestic gross ($27.6m), but that too is in in jeopardy now.
On the plus side, the people who actually [wait for it] chose to see The Choice didn’t hate it, giving it a B+ on CinemaScore. The most recent Nicholas Sparks movie, last year’s The Longest Ride, was graded as an A on CinemaScore, and it followed up a disappointing opening weekend ($13m) with a moderately leggy domestic run, ending at $37m. Plus, The Choice only cost $10m to make, the lowest budget for a Sparks movie since A Walk to Remember‘s $11m in 2002.
However, even if The Choice exactly equals The Longest Ride‘s modest [wait for it] longevity its final domestic gross would still only be $16.8m (assuming an identical 2.8 opening-weekend-to-final-domestic-gross multiplier). That wouldn’t be enough to at least double their budget, and keep in mind that people seemed to like The Longest Ride a little more.
Also keep in mind that Valentine’s Day is next weekend. By putting The Choice out when they did Lionsgate and Sparks aimed to be Super Bowl weekend counter-programming. However, they also figured that as long as they weren’t completely swallowed whole by the Super Bowl this weekend they’d have Valentine’s Day next weekend to be the date-movie of choice against a batch of new movies consisting of an R-Rated comic book story (Deadpool), a dumb comedy (Zoolander 2) and a “girl’s night out” comedy (How to Be Single).
The problem with their strategy, of course, is that they were indeed swallowed whole by the Super Bowl. It kicked their ass, and a debut of $6m doesn’t really give them a fighting chance going forward.
The bigger problem with their strategy, though, is that Nicholas Sparks has probably entered the John Grisham decline phase of his career where the general sameness to all of his work has finally caught up with him. I kept referencing The Longest Ride earlier as if it was a great box office performer, but it was actually the second lowest-grossing Sparks movie ever. It’s actually been a bad couple of years for his movies at the domestic ticket booth:
“Even I don’t know why so many films have gotten made. … I have the second most. It’s Stephen King and me … They’re different enough that Hollywood says there’s room in our year for a film like this, there’s room in our marketing campaign to try to capture this particular audience. … I’ve just been fortunate enough to catch that wave, and I’ve been riding it for a long, long time.”
That wave has probably wiped out at this point. There is a fair argument to be made that Fox’s strategy to use The Longest Ride as a female skewing piece of counter-programming to the second weekend for Furious 7 simply backfired, which is why it didn’t do so well. You can similarly argue that The Choice was killed by the Super Bowl, and that if the next Nicholas Sparks movie is released at the right time and is actually pretty good (as good as his movies get anyway) it should have no problem finding an audience.
However, this feels more like the natural bottoming out period for a Hollywood fad genre, like how the slasher genre (temporarily) died in the late 80s after a decade of dominance and John Grisham lawyer movies lost their appeal by the late 90s. Giving people the same basic movie over and over again (see the below Cracked.com chart for the Nicholas Sparks story formula) usually equates to an extended period of ridiculous profitability before a sudden and severe crash:
“I try to write novels that are different than anything I’ve done before. … You’ve got Colin and Maria, she’s my first Hispanic character that I’ve ever created. … He’s had some trouble with the law in the past. She’s an attorney. They’re very different. Opposites attract. Can they make it?”
It sure as heck didn’t hurt his book sales – See Me debuted at No. 1 on The New York Times best-seller list. However, as far as his movies go, love him or hate him, Nicholas Sparks’ long run of date night dominance might be at an end, or at the very least it might be a good idea to take a year off.