Film Discussion

US Box Office Report: 16/06/23 – 18/06/23

The Flash sprints into a brick wall, Elemental’s fire is snuffed out, audiences roll out of Transformers, it’s a bloody massacre basically, and Other Box Office News.

Last week I was recovering from the kind of flu that keeps you up all night shivering to your bones, hence no BOR.  I do not recommend getting flu on the (then) hottest days of the year.  So, quick recap on last week’s big story: at the time, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts looked like a bona fide hit!  Across the Spider-Verse made sure to keep it honest, but in the end the second-entry in the Transformers “We Promise it’s Not Shit This Time” Universe commandingly sat atop the chart with $61 million, almost treble what Bumblebee opened to in December 2018.  (Yes, it really did take them that long to pull together a sequel to Bumblebee.)

Since it also boasted a solid “A-” Cinemascore, things seemed to bode well for the robots poorly in disguise… then this weekend came along and, despite solid day-to-day holds from the people who actually did turn up, Rise of the Beasts had a full-on meltdown by falling 67% to just $20 million, below the third weekend of Spider-Verse.  We’ll get onto the potential why in a little bit cos, as you’re about to find out, it’s a bloodbath out here.

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Kicking off with what you all came here to see: another few additional stompings to the corpse of Warner Bros. DC’s The Flash.  The hill that David Zaslav, Warner Discovery at large, and a lot of other famous industry faces by contractual proxy were so adamant to die on that they cancelled the significantly-cheaper to finish and market Batgirl, stood behind their controversial lead star by insisting the movie is so good “people will forget that”, and sank a tonne of money into a blatantly ludicrous marketing campaign where Twitter accounts got plastered on professional posters claiming that The Flash is “one of the best superhero films of all-time”.  Despite the fact that anyone with eyes could see this was going to end with WB adding yet another ginormous bomb to their increasingly dire resumé, The Flash came out and did just dismally.

Last year, Black Adam ended up being considered a DOA bomb when it opened to $67 million, and I was reticent to call the time of death on that one until the following weekends were factored in; perhaps because things had just been so dire at the Box Office around that period so I got easily won over by moderately-sized numbers.  I’m not making the same mistake again.  The Flash may be #1, but it only got there with $55.1 million.

READ MORE: The Flash – Film Review

That’s just barely more than the infamous Ryan Reynolds Green Lantern movie from 2011 opened to, which itself was a ginormous character-killing bomb.  The PostTrak scores had only 60% of general audiences recommending the film, whilst kids actually scored the thing worse than even Eternals, and the Cinemascore came in at a franchise-low “B” (equal to Batman v Superman which would collapse in its second weekend).  And overseas, it’s also tanking with just $75 million from almost every major territory including a mediocre $13.8 mil from China and an awful £3.2 million in the UK, the tenth-best of the DC Extended Universe in this country.

Incredibly, however, The Flash may not even manage to be the biggest bomb of the weekend.  Lost in the middle of all this excitement was the fact that a new Pixar film also got released.  It’s called Elemental, by all accounts is very good, and those who did go see the thing really enjoyed it (it rocks an “A” Cinemascore).  The trouble being, not a lot of people went to see it.  Like, record lows for a Pixar film.

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Elemental, in second place with $29.5 million, is a mere $400,000 from being the worst opening weekend for a wide-release Pixar film ever; yes, worse than the original Toy Story in 1995 ($29.1 million).  I don’t care if it does end up pulling off a Puss in Boots: The Last Wish kind of miracle turnaround, this thing is fully cooked.  (Not least because, as is Pixar tradition, its reported budget is $200 million compared to Last Wish’s $90/110 million.)  Just like with Flash, there is no way to spin this.  Expect Incredibles III to be emergency-announced any day now.

And we’re still not done!  Comedy is a genre that’s been underserved at the multiplex as of late, something I’ve groused about around the wide web more than a few times, first murdered by Hollywood’s shift to international markets as their primary concern and later buried by the rise of streaming services.  The notoriously inconsistent Tim Story, though, bless his heart, is out here trying to keep the genre’s pulse going at the cinema regardless of more senior members pulling over the tarpaulin.

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For once, he seems to have hit upon a winner quality-wise in Black-centric horror-satire The Blackening and, much like with Elemental, those who did turn up seemed to have a fun time (with a solid “B+” Cinemascore).  It’s just that, again, nobody really turned up and Blackening had to settle for sixth place with $6 million.  Unlike our other spot-lit pics, that’s actually enough for Lionsgate to cover the film’s $5 million budget, but I still struggle to see this as a win, even with my usual “you don’t always need to make ALL the money” philosophy.

So, what’s going on?  Why has almost everything besides Spider-Verse failed to some degree or another over the last month?  It’s a fair question, and one far more interesting to devote column inches to than whatever hacky puns and segways for site plugs I can conjure up, so let’s examine a couple of theories of mine.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/™ & © 2023 DC Comics.

1] Some brands seem just irrevocably tainted

This appears to be the root cause of DC’s woes and why Warner Bros. went super hard on the Batman (and DC nostalgia in general) cameos for the marketing.  DC has felt like poison as a cinematic brand, outside of Batman, for a very long time now, especially anything related to this mess of an interconnected franchise.  Even the few genuinely good movies in there saw their potential earnings kneecapped by association (plus outside factors like COVID) – Shazam!, Birds of Prey, The Suicide Squad.

The audience investment, affinity, and goodwill just aren’t there, particularly since the last time anybody who is not terminally-online saw The Flash was in a universally-derided Justice League movie from nearly six years ago.  Marvel can afford a hit to their brand or two because they’ve earned the goodwill to burn, as evidenced when people showed up for Guardians of the Galaxy, vol. 3 three months after Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania dropped trou on a public stage.  Also because Guardians vol. 3 didn’t have as its lead actor somebody whose “Controversies and Legal Issues” section on Wikipedia features over half-a-dozen subheadings.  That doesn’t always help.

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2] Streaming has seriously devalued certain types of films, way more than we’re willing to admit

If you’ve been on r/BoxOffice over the last weekend… firstly, get off that dumpster of a subreddit; it’s full of people too stupid for r/WallStreetBets spouting utter bullshit with total infuriating conviction.  Point is, there’s been a lot of debate on there as to why Elemental is the latest in a worrying cold-streak for Pixar post-Toy Story 4.

“Pixar need to tell better stories”, “they’ve been surpassed by Sony on visuals”, “it’s the same movie over and over again”, and other such flagrantly untrue nonsense.  (On the Sony note, I’d like to just remind everyone that Spider-Verse is the exception over there and not the rule.)  Instead, the real reason why Lightyear and Elemental have been flopping, one outright acknowledged by studio head Pete Docter before the weekend even started, is undoubtedly Disney’s decision to release three straight Pixar films exclusively on Disney+.

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Pixar films used to be major theatrical events you’d take the whole family out to go see.  Then, due to the pandemic, they became free pack-ins with the streaming service almost every family is required by law to have.  Audiences have been conditioned to think of Pixar movies as being streaming fodder, something they don’t need to race out to the cinema for, especially since Disney drop almost all of their cinema releases onto Disney+ within six weeks.

A lot of people can wait six weeks, so they don’t bother going to the expensive multiplex, and that’s a really hard habit to break once it’s instilled.  In the short-term, going all-in on streaming provided a lucrative windfall for Disney – and the other studios with streaming services, it’s not just Disney – but it’s come at the long-term expense of devaluing what used to be a sure thing.  No coincidence that The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Minions: The Rise of Gru, and Sing 2 did so well since Universal, in spite of having their own (struggling) streamer to prop up, didn’t send Illumination films to the content mines during the pandemic and dilute their value as a result.

(The shift of feature-length comedy’s native platform over the last half-decade to streaming is this process in slo-mo and a likely contributor to The Blackening’s underwhelming start.)

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Photo by Glen Wilson. © 2023 Lionsgate.

3] The cost-of-living is getting untenable

Not sure if this is as much a factor in the US as it is in the UK, but the general sentiment likely still applies even though I think it’s the one aspect nobody ever truly mentions when discussing Box Office health.  Cinemagoing is mad expensive, yo!  The average cost of one ticket last year was $11.75 according to research firm EntTelligence, and that’s not taking into account premium seats, peak times, special format surcharges for IMAX or 3D or (god forbid) 4DX, food, drink, etc.

When you’re struggling to keep the lights on, are you really gonna put money aside to take a chance on a movie that’s either crap, on streaming in a few weeks, or you’ve already seen and loved?  Hence why films like Fast X or Transformers: Rise of the Beasts can debut with very respectable-to-strong numbers then utterly crater just seven days later.  Unless the movie is properly exceptional and filling a specific big-screen niche, the repeat-goers market – so integral to the world-conquering success of Top Gun: Maverick, Avatar: The Way of Water, and dragging Puss in Boots: The Last Wish to profitability – is going up in smoke at an alarming rate.  Not helped by…

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Courtesy of Paramount Pictures. – © 2023 Paramount Pictures. Hasbro, Transformers and all related characters are trademarks of Hasbro. ©2023 Hasbro.

4] The schedule is just too goddamned crowded

Next weekend is going to be the first in a month-and-a-half to not see a new release blockbuster.  The first time since Fast X that no mega-budget tentpole which needs a minimum of half-a-billion to break-even gets dropped into cinemas.  (We instead have Jennifer Lawrence-starring sex-rom-com No Hard Feelings and Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City, which got started in six screens this weekend and pulled off the best performance of any Limited Release film since maybe La La Land in 2016; $790,000 for a $131,666 PTA.)

That’s too many blockbusters back-to-back.  Especially when all of them are fighting for the same few specialty viewing formats – IMAX, 4DX, etc. – which make up an increasing portion of the Box Office totals.  Spider-Verse isn’t falling too badly, in fact it’s already blown past the original’s total gross, but it would certainly be doing even better if, like Mario, it had a full month to monopolise IMAX screens instead of having to immediately cede them to Transformers and The FlashWhen stories are breaking about Tom Cruise having to beg for Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One to not lose all its IMAX screens within a week cos Oppenheimer releases then, you know it’s a problem.

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The most irritating thing about all this, as someone who’s been following the industry for a full decade, is it’s not even a new problem to have!  2016’s summer slate was practically a killing floor cos studios were releasing mega-blockbusters week-after-week with no breathing room and, consequently, a non-stop string of OK openings followed by total collapses in the sophomore frame.  Audiences only have a finite amount of money, time, and attention; they can’t see everything even if everything is great!  (Yes, we are leaving quality off the table in this entire discussion because Box Office, and opening weekend specifically, is mostly reflective of how well the film was sold to the public.)  Nobody wins when things get this cramped, and those who were going to lose anyway get extra-shafted.


5] Mother Nature

That’s always a factor.  Just putting it out there.  Adverse or gorgeous weather means people don’t go to cinemas, that’s just common sense.

OK, thanks all for coming to my TED Talk.  Please keep all this in mind for a fortnight from now when those Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny numbers come in, good or ill.  I’m tired of repeating myself.

Table Full List cos we’re well over time.  Normal service next week.

US Box Office Results: Friday 2nd June 2023 – Sunday 4th June 2023

1] The Flash $55,100,000 NEW
2] Elemental $29,500,000 NEW
3] Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse $27,800,000 $280,382,979
4] Transformers: Rise of the Beasts $20,000,000 $100,622,183
5] The Little Mermaid $11,600,000 $253,559,129
6] The Blackening $6,000,000 NEW
7] Guardians of the Galaxy, vol. 3 $5,000,000 $344,360,355
8] The Boogeyman $3,800,000 $32,767,747
9] Fast X $2,020,000 $142,403,305
10] Asteroid City $790,000 NEW

Dropped out: The Super Mario Bros. Movie, About My Father, The Machine, Past Lives

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