“The Hollywood western is alive and well,” so sayeth Forbes in response to The Magnificent Seven‘s seemingly impressive $34.7 million opening weekend, the second biggest opening for a live-action western behind Cowboys & Aliens ($36m).
Is it, though? Is the Hollywood western alive and well just because a Denzel Washington movie did the Denzel Washington thing at the box office, namely open to at least $30m, undoubtedly boosted by also being Chris Pratt’s first new movie since Jurassic World? Moreover, can Magnificent Seven truly be said to be proof of an entire genre’s financial viability when it actually opened $5m below pre-release projections? On top of that, it only rode to a muted $19.2m from 63 foreign markets, actually outgrossed on the foreign weekend chart by Bridget Jones’s Baby ($21.9m).
As such, the jury is still out on whether or not Seven‘s distributors (MGM, Sony) and financiers (Village Roadhow, LStar Capital) will actually recoup their costs and turn a profit, not with a budget in the $90m range, weak international start and questionable long-term prospects. The opening weekend audience was mostly male (56%) and over the age of 25 (67%), and seemed to generally like the film (A on CinemaScore). Films which skew older like this do tend to post solid multiples, and Magnificent will definitely need that. If it drops more than 50% next weekend they might be in trouble. However, in the here and now Magnificent‘s opening is seen as a definite victory.
Still, how can we be singing the praises of Magnificent Seven and the western when this is still the same year in which Jane Got a Gun set a career low for Natalie Portman and posted the third all-time highest second week drop in box office history? Plus, we’re still less than a year removed from The Hateful Eight, which topped out at a mere $54m domestic (but somehow made up for it with $101m overseas).
Yeah, but, dude, a western just made damn near $35 million and debuted at #1 domestically? That kind of thing almost never happens. In fact, westerns have never been box office draws, at least not since we started paying attention to such things. Only 9 westerns have ever grossed over $100m domestic, 13 if you adjust for inflation.
The Biggest Westerns in Actual Dollars (Domestic)
The Biggest Westerns in Adjusted Dollars (Domestic)
Still, even if Magnificent doesn’t join the $100m group it won’t be an automatic failure. A week ago, Cracked.com argued in its “How Hollywood Can Lose Billions & Still Make Terrible Movies” video some genres just don’t make money, including westerns, pirate films, swords & sandals sagas, nont-LOTR affiiliated fantasy fare and non-Hunger Games YA distopias. Their subtitle was “Maybe Don’t Spend $200M on a Western.” Thankfully, Magnificent cost less than half of that $200m and now has a fighting chance, proving that while westerns may never be huge box office players due to limited international appeal they can still be financially viable if made for a reasonable cost. Or it might just prove that Denzel Washington is box office gold, and any future western remakes Hollywood tries to churn out to mimic Magnificent Seven are doomed to fail. Only time will tell.
The true future of the genre is likely in the neo-western which has swept through indie cinema in recent years, with Hell or High Water being the most recent example. However, if Denzel wants to make another quasi-traditional western (obviously, his mere presence as a black man makes any western at least somewhat non-traditional) the audience will probably be there because, well, he’s Denzel.