As we close out the film industry’s biggest earning season, it looks like the summer was a mixed bag for Hollywood. If you’re Disney, you have everything to rave about; if you’re another studio, it wasn’t so easy.
Last weekend, Universal became only the second studio to earn a $1 billion this year, well behind The House of Mouse. Combined, Universal and Warner Brothers have released 20 titles this year, and still lag behind Disney’s seven releases by about $800 million.
The homogenized market only continued throughout the summer. For 16 weeks in a row the top film was based upon an existing property. Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” was a big hit, and managed to become the only film of the season based on an original story to gross more than $100 million.
But all was not well. Amid the string of hits, there were also plenty of misfires. So to catalog what did not work among the films released this summer, I looked at their box office performances, expectations and investments, and quality. Without further ado, here are the worst offerings to grace theaters this summer.
15. The Secret Life of Pets 2
It may seem odd to say an animated animal pic that drew $150 million was a failure, but when measured against the success of its predecessor, this was a dismal return. In the end, it earned far less than half of the original, and took three weeks to out-gross the first movie’s opening weekend. That it faced little direct competition, and was the only animated kids’ film out at the time, only makes the tepid performance seem weaker.
An attempt at telling a dark version of an otherworldly superhero tale, this would have ranked as a higher failure, except the gutter-low standards make this seem slightly more successful. It debuted on Memorial Day weekend, but could only muster an opening at number five, drawing less than $8 million. It fell 69 percent in its second week, and after three weeks, was dropped from 1,600 screens, closing out at just over $17 million earned. The fact that it was made for only $6 million means that, depending on the marketing spend, there was a slight chance at breaking even.
13. Long Shot
Adult comedies have struggled in general over the past few years. In this one, we’re asked to believe Seth Rogen could actually be in a relationship with Charlize Theron. I mean, okay. The nerds on “Saturday Night Live” seem to be landing their share of beauties, but still. Worldwide, the venture barely drew $50 million, so Lionsgate sure is not laughing at the money it lost on this one.
12. The Hustle
Considering this film stars Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson, set in a female reworking of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” (itself a remake), you expect some more return than $35 million. It logged a dismal 11 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and did not fare much better overseas. Once all of the ancillary markets like VOD sales and cable rights are collected over the years, United Artists might break even on this title.
One result of Disney’s takeover of 20th Century Fox was some completed projects becoming orphaned. This broad action comedy with Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani was left in a bit of a marketing lurch because of the merger. Based on a character named Stu, who is an Uber driver, the film featured over-the-top violent action that few audiences got on board with in July. While no fortune was lost, it was a money-loser for the absorbed company’s bottom line.
10. Child’s Play
Here, United Artists made another reboot attempt, trying to revitalize the demon doll franchise, this time with Mark Hamill doing the voice of the possessed toy. UA leaned heavily on the counter-programming formula, releasing this the same weekend as the monolith “Toy Story 4.” They even released a series of posters showing Chuckie rendering various characters from that film.
It did not pay off. The film opened a few million below expectations, plunged 69 percent in week two, and fell from the top ten immediately after. It’s doubtful this will relaunch a franchise.
This Luc Besson action piece barely managed to reach the top 10 in its opening weekend. In the end, it only gathered $7.7 million. This title was never really regarded, so it cannot even be said the film was forgotten. The only reason it doesn’t rate higher is that there were so few expectations placed on it.
Scratching your head over this title? What if I say it featured Oscar-winner Diane Keaton, as well as Pam Grier, and Rhea Perlman, all of whom star as cheerleaders in a retirement community? Still nothing? You would hardly be alone, as no one went to this movie. It opened meekly in the number six position, and after two weeks was dropped from more than 1,800 screens, going on to take in only $12 million. Despite a very low budget, it still lost money for STX Entertainment.
7. Dora and the Lost City of Gold
It’s still in theaters, but this film is not performing as intended, and that’s stark considering the built-in recognition of the material. The “Dora The Explorer” television show has long been a hit, but elevating the character to pre-teen status in a comedic action romp has not translated well for audiences.
It opened a few million below the soft projections, and was even beaten out by the teen horror project “Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark.” The budget was kept modest, at $50 million, but to date it has not approached that figure, and Paramount sunk a lot more into the marketing, so this is shaping up to be a losing adventure.
6. The Kitchen
It has been a tough, brutal summer for Warner Brothers, and this was one of the company’s lesser problems. Featuring an impressive cast that includes Mellissa McCarthy, Elizabeth Moss, and Tiffany Haddish, the crime drama was something no one had much interest in seeing. Debuting in the number seven position was bad even after the middling projections of $8 million met a weak $5 million opening. To date, the $38 million budget has only returned about $10 million, and the film is about to disappear from theaters by the end of the month.
This is the second attempt by Samuel L. Jackson to revitalize this property into a contemporary franchise. The last time was almost 20 years ago, a sign of lacking demand. This time, moviemakers went for a generational attempt, with the original actor Richard Roundtree joining the cast. There was quite a bit of modern toxic-masculinity dialogue but little in the way of genuine humor and action. Warner had expected maybe a $15 million opening but it barely made half of that, debuting pitifully.
4. Godzilla: King of the Monsters
In 2014, a new version of this generations-old monster was a massive hit. This time around they did everything bigger (more than a dozen monsters??) and more widespread. The result was more carnage than capital. This version trudged its way to a $110 million total, when the last film made nearly that amount in its opening weekend. Foreign sales were stronger, but it is tough to see how this will end up turning a profit, which is surprising given the strength of the source material.
3. Men In Black International
In many ways, it’s been a tough summer for sequels and reboots, but possibly as much due to the sheer glut of recycled content released as other factors. Sony attempted to reboot this successful property with an all-new cast, and it did not draw the crowds. For a major midsummer release meant to relaunch a franchise, ending up with just $80 million to show for is rather dismal. Things are only slightly mitigated by stronger foreign business, but it does not seem that was enough to push this into profitability. It seems amazing they bungled this proven commodity.
While maybe not an obvious choice for such a high-placed failure, the effort behind this shows how much it failed. Based upon a toy line, STX Entertainment had every intention of making this film the studio’s launch into animated features.
And they went all in. The studio acquired all of the merchandising rights to the toy line, brought in a number of recording artists (Kelly Clarksson, Blake Shelton, Pitbull), and have a television series slated to come out on Hulu next year. Heavy outdoor advertising was done in major markets, and they managed to have more than 100 promotional partners worldwide.
The film opened directly into the teeth of “Avengers: Endgame” and drew a paltry $8.6 million, on the way to a pathetic $20 million run. As a result, the global release has been suspended to retool the marketing and attempt to recover some of that massive worldwide effort.
1. Dark Phoenix
So much is at issue with this Marvel property, which is not an actual Marvel release. Fox has long held the rights to the X-Men intellectual property, delivering mixed results over the years. This was considered the culmination of the series, and as such was reviled by most everyone.
The film was the worst-reviewed of the “X-Men” films. Fans dismissed it, and general audiences avoided it. This was also the worst opening of a film in the series, coming in at $32 million, and its total run at $65 million is also a franchise worst. It dumped 1,600 theaters by the third weekend, something unheard of with comic book releases.
With a budget pegged at $200 million, this is some severe red ink to be absorbed by Disney in its corporate takeover. The good news for fans now is that the property is back in the hands of Marvel, and they can redevelop things in the proper fashion.