I’ve mentioned it before -many times!- but it bears repeating. It’s the lovely quote by prestigious screenwriter/writer William Goldman concerning making films, and their chances of becoming box office successes:
Nobody knows anything… Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.
I point this quote out because we’ve had, IMHO, two prime examples which demonstrate the wisdom of this quote.
I refer to the box office performances of Terminator: Dark Fate and the just released Doctor Sleep.
Terminator: Dark Fate (let’s refer to it as TDF from here on) looked to me like it would be a success well before its release.
I mean, come on! You had James Cameron back to the Terminator universe, not as a director but providing the story and producing the film, his first involvement in this universe since Terminator 2. You had hot director Tim Miller (Deadpool) behind the camera. You had the Arnold Schwarzenneger and Linda Hamilton. The film gets released and, over on rottentomatoes.com, winds up with a very strong 71% positive among critics and another very strong 84% positive among audiences.
Things were certainly looking good.
What could possibly go wrong?
Rebecca Rubin at variety.com notes the following:
According to the article, the movie has made approximately $200 million so far, counting both the U.S. and worldwide residuals. However, to “break even” the film needed to make around $450 million, which means -again according to the above article- Paramount stands to lose around $100 million from this film.
Scroll back up, my friends, and re-read that wonderful quote from William Goldman. Can you at least begin to understand why I feel it is so on the mark?
TDF had so much going for it, yet when it was finally released, audiences essentially didn’t care to go see it.
I suppose in part it could be because of fatigue with the Terminator brand. Even in my review of the film (you can read it here) I noted the weak box office and stated:
If I could go back in time, maybe I’d convince the makers of those (Terminator) sequels to lay off and, by the time TDF shows up, people might be more willing/eager to give it a shot.
It is also possible that, plain and simply, Arnold Schwarzenneger simply no longer holds the box office appeal he used to have. Maybe seeing an older Linda Hamilton was also a turn off. Let’s face it: The big box office hits often involve the young and pretty. Or maybe the story presented simply wasn’t “good enough” to justify seeing the film again. In other words, maybe the movie had few/no repeat customers, another ingredient necessary for box office success.
Nobody knows anything.
Regardless, the studios gambled on what I personally would have thought was a sure thing and, ultimately, it looks like that gamble won’t pay off. In time I suspect the film will make its money, especially through home video, but for now the film is a loser.
Which brings us to example “B”: Doctor Sleep.
Released just this past Friday, here was another film I would have thought would do quite well.
The movie is based on a Stephen King novel, the sequel to one of his most famous works and movie adaptations, The Shining. The director, Mike Flanagan, was a director on the rise known for his work in horror. He won plenty of accolades for his The Haunting of Hill House mini-series. He earned both Stephen King and the Stanley Kubrick (director of The Shining) estate’s thumbs up for his attempts to merge both movie and books.
The movie’s trailers, I thought, were intriguing. The idea of seeing what happened to the main character of Danny Torrence some forty years after the events of The Shining was to me very appealing. Hell, I don’t read Stephen King novels but I admit I was tempted to get that one!
Then, like TDF, the movie is released and gets wonderful ratings on rottentomatoes.com. As of today, the film has a 74% positive rating from critics and an incredibly strong 90% positive among audiences.
Only, it too underperformed.
Anthony D’Alessandro at deadline.com writes:
The movie opened much softer than expected, earning some $14.2 million and coming in second to the wartime drama Midway. According to the above article, if Doctor Sleep manages to make some $100 million at the box office in its run, it will still nonetheless lose that $20 million. If it makes even lower than that…
Unlike TDF, I wound up not liking Doctor Sleep (you can read my review here). Having said that, I nonetheless really expected audiences to flock to the film the first week, yet that clearly didn’t happen.
Perhaps it was because the film was inexplicably released just after Halloween. Seriously, what’s up with that? You have a horror film you’re going to release and you don’t take advantage of the one holiday associated with all things that go bump in the night?!
Perhaps it was the fact that, despite many viewing The Shining -movie and book- as a classic, it is an older work and they simply weren’t that interested in revisiting something that old. Perhaps the cast simply wasn’t strong enough to elicit interest.
Nobody knows anything.
And so it goes.