In what seemingly every industry trade and pop culture site has deemed a stunner, Boo! A Madea Halloween beat Inferno at the domestic box office this weekend. To put it another way, modern day cross-dressing, black Ernest (RIP Jim Varney) beat Forrest Gump. That’s something which would have once seemed impossible. Now, eh, it’s really not that big of a deal.
Okay. That’s a lie. It’s certainly headline-worthy. Madea, playing in its second weekend, was only expected to make around $13m based on the drops experienced by the prior films in Tyler Perry’s franchise. Instead, it raked in $17.2m, a mere 39% drop from its debut and easily the best second weekend hold in Madea franchise history.
Inferno, on the other hand, was projected to open to at least $25m, an already disappointing sum since the last film in the franchise, 2009’s Angels & Demons, cleared $45m ($46.2m to be exact) upon its debut and the franchise starter, 2006’s The Da Vinci Code, posted an astounding $77m debut. However, Sony halved Inferno‘s budget down to a lean $75m after Angels & Demons more blockbuster-like $150m. As such, they lowered the bar, signaling they weren’t expecting another $758m worldwide gross (as was the case with Da Vinci Code) or even $485m (as was the case with Angels & Demons). Even so, they have to be stunned to see Inferno coming in just over $10m below projections this weekend, grossing a mere $14.8m and losing to a Madea movie.
So many questions:
- Does this signal the end of the literary movie in the age of the binge?
- Did the Cubs-Indians World Series ratings have something to do with this?
- Was Sony actually dumping Inferno by opening it over Halloween weekend, traditionally one of the slowest box office weekends of the year, especially considering Doctor Strange will gobble everything up upon its domestic debut next weekend thus eating into Inferno‘s long-term play?
- Like so many other movies at the 2016 box office, is Inferno just another sequel no one really asked for? And have audiences officially had enough with the end-of-the-world plot in Hollywood blockbusters (in Inferno, Hanks’ character has to prevent the release of a plague which will wipe out most of the population)?
- On the opposite end of the spectrum, why the heck is a Madea movie doing so well? Didn’t that franchise flame out with the Christmas movie three years?
Better question, though, how much does this even matter? Inferno was already declared a modest international hit two weeks ago, and even with this disappointing domestic debut it’s now sitting at $147m worldwide. By the end of today or tomorrow it will reach $150m, thus doubling its production budget, which is commonly believed to be the break-even point for most movies.
So, who cares if Inferno bombs in North America? They made a sequel to a series of financially successful, but little liked movies, and they waited 7 years to do it. They recognized the potential for failure, and focused most of their efforts on building up demand overseas since that’s where moviegoers had been most receptive to Da Vinci and Angels & Demons in the first place. Plus, they slashed the budget. As a result, they don’t have a disaster on their hand; they have an embarrassment.
Hollywood is still the center of the film world, and it’s embarrassing for Ron Howard, Tom Hanks, the various producers and higher-ups at Sony to be sitting on a domestic turkey like this. When they walk into restaurants in town, friends and strangers alike will console them on their loss the way one might speak to someone suffering from the shock of a recent cancer diagnosis. Ron Howard, in particular, has to wonder what’s gone wrong with his career that he would be responsible for four consecutive bombs – The Dilemma, Rush, In the Heart of the Sea and now Inferno. At least his Beatles documentary, Eight Days a Week-The Touring Years, has been well-received.
But Inferno has pretty much already doubled its budget, and it’s only just now opened in North America and China. Frankly, as of late bombing in North America simply doesn’t mean as much as it used to.
Okay. Again, that’s a bit of a lie. It still hurts to bomb in North America, the biggest film market in the world (China hasn’t surpassed us yet), because studios actually collect a bigger cut of the profits in North America than they do anywhere else in the world. In general, the studios split ticket sales with North American theaters 50/50 (on the really big films they’ll often negotiate an even more generous cut) compared to 40/60 with overseas theaters and 25/75 with Chinese theaters. However, you have to go where the customers are, and right now ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada are stagnating at best whereas they are booming all throughout Asia and in select European countries.
Thanks to this, we are all increasingly familiar with films being saved by China or international box office, but that’s usually been for movies like Prometheus which underperformed domestically but didn’t outright bomb. 2016, on the other hand, has seen a mini-wave of what Forbes called the “bombed in America, saved overseas” hits. These are the movies which outright and unequivocally bombed in North America, but were outsized hits either everywhere else or specifically in China, where Now You See Me 2 barely fell shy of $100m ($97m) and Warcraft actually exceeded $200m ($220m).
Warcraft almost doesn’t belong on that chart, not just because it’s the only non-sequel. No, it’s also far and away the most expensive of the bunch, carrying a blockbuster-sized budget of $160m compared to the far smaller scale the rest of the films had to work with: See Me 2=$90m, Resurrection=$40m, Ice Age=$95m, Bridget Jones=$35m and obviously Inferno=$75m. Yet that’s the type of company Inferno is keeping these days, hanging out with a bunch of other movies domestic audiences couldn’t have cared less about, justly or not, but international audiences thought sounded like a bit of fun. Maybe we’re all just too busy obsessing over the Trump-Clinton election, Cubs-Indians World Series and latest Netflix/Amazon Prime/Hulu/Whatever else show everyone on our Twitter feed won’t shut up about. Fine. I get it. SyFy’s Channel Zero: Candle Cove is apparently pretty good.
Okay. I immediately regret wasting my time on this article because who cares about the dying light of Hollywood’s barrage of unwanted sequels when there are shows as good as Channel Zero (not to mention Westworld, Black Mirror, etc.) out there! Oh man, did you see that Westworld orgy scene? And wasn’t that one episode (take your pick) of Black Mirror just the coolest thing ever? And please tell me you’re watching South Park this season because it is better and more relevant than it has been in a long time. Inferno, though? Ah, who cares.