When Baby Driver debuted last Wednesday, the $34 million heist movie was enjoying good reviews in keeping with the reputation of its widely respected, and cultishly adored, director Edgar Wright. But it couldn’t possibly do more than $20 million by the end of the weekend, according to rival studios. Even Sony seemed to expect a base hit instead of a home run. Instead, Baby Driver has currently cleared $34 million.
This number is surprising for several reasons, including the fact that it allowed Baby Driver to outgross Transformers: The Last Knight in its second week of release. That audiences were tiring of the franchise, at least in America, was obvious; the last entry made $100 million in a weekend in the US, but only $243 million total. But it took the fifth entry more than a week to stagger across $100 million, and $200 million seems a remote possibility at best. Worse, foreign audiences seem sick of the robots too.
According to Hollywood’s current conventional wisdom, this shouldn’t have happened. Audiences, it’s assumed, love sequels and original ideas just won’t sell. Films matching the latter description — especially ones that cost under $100 million even if they’re headlined by big stars — are often destined for Netflix premieres, the fate of movies like the Brad Pitt-starring War Machine and the forthcoming Bright, led by Will Smith. Hollywood calls these “mid-budget” movies — films made by studios at a cost too great for an indie but considerably less than a blockbuster — and they’re harder to make and market now than ever. In the past, many mid-range movies were made profitable by DVD and Blu-ray, but as home video revenue has shifted from selling each customer a $20 Blu-Ray to getting a tiny sliver of the $10 a month consumers pay to Netflix, Hollywood’s model has shifted to making money globally, and mid-budget movies are seen as less profitable and harder to sell.
Meanwhile, the sequel and its cousin the remake, have increasingly come to be seen as the safe bet, particularly in recent years. Sequels are “proven.” They have audiences built in who will go to see the movie, at least in theory, and they have international appeal. The fourth Transformers movie, for example, grossed a billion dollars overseas, four times what it made in America. As a result, 2017 will see almost 40 sequels, remakes, and reboots hit theaters. But Hollywood’s increasing conservatism when it comes to greenlights and the need to make a movie that can play in Jakarta as easily as Peoria has led to a problem: audiences are starting to walk away from them.