There are a lot of different ways to measure the “total box office,” which may account for the discrepancy in the reports of just how bad this box office weekend was, but any way you slice it, it was bad. Box Office Mojo calls it “the worst weekend in two years” (judged by total gross of the top 12). Forbes says the “cumulative total” is the “lowest total weekend in over a decade.” Thompson On Hollywood factors in attendance and the picture gets even grimmer:
Not adjusting for much higher ticket prices, the initial estimated total places it below all weekends I can find going back to Halloween 1998 (often weak if Oct. 31 falls on the weekend). And with adjustments, it looks like the number of tickets sold hasn’t been this low since 1988. Full weekend gross totals only go back to 1982, but if you add in population growth, who knows how long it has been since so few people were attracted to theaters (it looks like about six million went this weekend).
Basically, you take a slow-on-a-good-year weekend like the weekend after Labor Day, factor in a bunch of underwhelming titles from the last two weeks – November Man, As Above/So Below, When the Game Stands Tall – and add no wide releases this week except an inscrutable Christian-themed Elvis whatsit (The Identical), and you get, surprise, no one going to the theater. That’s not to say that domestic box office isn’t experiencing a downturn, but you can’t entirely rule out a perfect storm of absolutely nothing worth seeing.
It’s not good, for instance, when the only new release is a Christian/Jewish parable about Elvis that never mentions Elvis. Yes, there have been a ton of successful “faith-based” films this year. You know what most of them have in common? Incredibly straightforward premises. “God’s Not Dead,” “Heaven Is For Real,” “Son Of God” – you can’t get much more on-the-nose than that, short of naming your movie “Hey, You. Believe In Jesus.” The Identical, on the other hand, based on the idea that Elvis’ stillborn twin had grown up and become a Christian Elvis impersonator (only not Elvis, because rights issues), feels like it was written in some inscrutable code that only the Marcellino family understands. Thus, it earned just $1.9 million on almost 2,000 screens. But God never gives you more than you can handle.
Also, it was apparently really expensive. Box Office Mojo puts The Identical’s production budget at $15 million, while The Hollywood Reporter adds in the $16 million+ marketing budget “that was split 50-50 between faith-based efforts and national TV, radio and digital campaigns,” reporting a total cost north of $32 million.
Pretty incredible for a film that looks like it was production designed by someone who normally makes children’s birthday costumes.
It also earned itself a 4% recommended score on RottenTomatoes (I’m proud to call myself part of that 4%). But as they say, it wasn’t made for meanie critics.
“We made this for real human beings, not critics!” That stings. But being at a film festival right now, I have to admit, they’re not wrong.
In the midst of the doom and gloom, there was Guardians of the Galaxy, a legitimately good movie and not a reboot, remake, or sequel, passing Man of Steel in domestic gross and becoming the biggest August release ever. It’s now on track to pass Iron Man‘s $318 million domestic take, with international openings still to come in Japan and China. So, while the fact that people (North Americans, anyway) can no longer be counted on to show up for just any movie may be cause for alarm, it seems pretty clear that they’ll still show up for a good one.