ByElise Jost, writer at Creators.co
"It's a UNIX system! I know this!"
Elise Jost

This year, the Independence Day weekend box office didn't prove as fruitful as expected for all the new movie releases: while Finding Dory continued its ascension with the biggest domestic third weekend of all time for an animated movie, The Legend of Tarzan and The BFG brought in meager results. Steven Spielberg's The BFG, the second movie adaptation of Roald Dahl's popular children's novel after an animated TV film in 1989, earned $24 million on a $140 million budget, which means it's now fully relying on its overseas performance.

While The BFG wasn't exactly expected to be a massive summer success, such a flop is surprising considering the movie had all the ingredients to convince audiences. Does that mean Roald Dahl's stories are too obscure for the new generation of moviegoers, or that Spielberg's visual storytelling is not what it once was? Not necessarily: Looking at why it could possibly have failed so terribly, it seems the case of The BFG shouldn't put too much weight on the perception of Spielberg's or Dahl's potential.

What Is The BFG Actually About?

Original illustration for 'The BFG' by Quentin Blake
Original illustration for 'The BFG' by Quentin Blake

For those who haven't had the pleasure of devouring Roald Dahl's tales when they were children, The BFG is a simple story of an orphan named Sophie, who spots a giant bringing dreams to the humans by blowing a magical concoction through bedroom windows. When he realizes he's been seen, he takes Sophie with him to Giant Country, where she discovers that he lives with a bunch of not-so-friendly giants who eat children for dinner. Because that's not a pleasant thought for a little girl, she devises a plan to capture them — with the help of the Queen of England.

The BFG Earned Some Good Critics

Critics were far from unanimous on the potential of The BFG, but on Rotten Tomatoes, it still earned a respectable critic score of 71% and an audience score of 66% — not really the kind of movie you'd expect to make less than a fifth of its budget on its opening weekend.

The most praised part of the film was Mark Rylance, the British stage actor who just won an Oscar for his role in Spielberg's Bridge of Spies, as the Big Friendly Giant himself. The challenge of bringing nuance to a performance mostly relying on motion capture might seem overwhelming, but even with his distorted features, Rylance does the Giant great justice.

'The BFG' / Walt Disney Pictures
'The BFG' / Walt Disney Pictures

The special effects are also grandiose, from the soft sparkle of the dream material to the wonder-inspiring Giant Country. You'd think that a great story on paper combined to the required technical achievement would translate to the ideal visuals, but that might just be the issue with The BFG: It doesn't go much further than a pretty picture.

Was There Any Space In The Summer Schedule For The BFG?

'Finding Dory' / 'The Legend of Tarzan' / 'The BFG'
'Finding Dory' / 'The Legend of Tarzan' / 'The BFG'

Even without diving into a debate on the quality of the movie itself, it's safe to say that The BFG wasn't optimally prepared to take on the summer box office. Squished between the trailblazing Dory and The Legend of Tarzan, teenagers and families had plenty of options to enjoy Independence Day weekend. Add to that the mysterious title of The BFG, and it looks like a more explicit name could have served the movie better, especially for American audiences who aren't as familiar with Dahl's work as people are in England.

More importantly, The BFG appears like it has positioned itself at a confusing halfway point between a children's movie and an adults' one — not that a film has to be one or the other, as Pixar has proven time and again, but because it never seems to fully satisfy either generation.

The BFG Misses The Depth Of The Original Book

'The BFG' / Walt Disney Pictures
'The BFG' / Walt Disney Pictures

It doesn't give kids and teenagers the appeal of a big household name or a recognizable face and story, while it just seems too plain for grown-up moviegoers who might have been attracted by Spielberg or Rylance. As it revels in the beauty of Giant Country and takes plenty of time to deploy its stunning special effects, The BFG seems to forget the darker, grittier side of every Roald Dahl story that would have given the movie that extra depth. The child-eating giants bear names such as Bloodbottler and Fleshlumpeater, and still the movie doesn't ever get truly scary. Same goes for the loneliness of the Giant, which gives the movie a melancholic tone here and there but never really hits you.

Still, The BFG's Box Office Flop Isn't Necessarily Part Of A Trend

'The BFG' / Walt Disney Pictures
'The BFG' / Walt Disney Pictures

Considering we're all so used to Spielberg churning out the masterpieces, it's easy to start wondering if the director has "lost his touch," or if this is "the end of an era." Or we could turn to the genre of children's books adaptations, and start panicking that they've lost the appeal they've once had.

In the case of The BFG, however, the main issue of the movie is more about being unremarkable than disastrous. The adaptation didn't twist the original material beyond recognition, and this giant looks as big and friendly as he should. Spielberg is getting a similar recipe ready with Ready Player One — it's a book adaptation, and it stars Mark Rylance — and we still have plenty of reasons to be excited about it. So keep the book adaptations coming!

Have you seen The BFG? Do you think it could have been more successful?