It's been a turbulent year for the blockbuster. Sure, billion dollar bills were floating in the sky between #RogueOne, #CivilWar, #FindingDory and #Zootopia, but any studio that wasn't #Disney (with the exception of Warner Bros., whose DC and Potter universes are in good health) basically had a hard old time getting people to go see their big-budget movies.
Remember Star Trek: Beyond, Gods of Egypt, Independence Day: Resurgence, Ghostbusters, Tarzan, The Magnificent Seven? Nope? R.I.P.
Just before Christmas, the double punch of Passengers and Assassin's Creed, two movies which had once looked like potential hits, began to exude the unmistakable toxins of box office bombs. When they arrived, both were trounced not only by Rogue One, which is fair enough, but by the family-friendly musical Sing.
So, what went wrong? Let's take a deeper dive into the numbers and stories behind #Passengers and #AssassinsCreed to work out how two blockbusters with promise became nightmares soon to be consigned to the ghosts of Christmas past.
In defense of Passengers, its box office to date isn't awful. In the Wednesday-Sunday five-day period covering Christmas Day, it made $22.4m. That's not great, but it continued to rake in decent money this week, and currently has an eight-day pot of $40.6m (even so, Star Trek: Beyond, itself a flop, made more than that in three days). Its final US total should be in the $80-110m region, and while there's no data from major European markets like the UK or Germany yet to determine how Passengers will perform overseas, it can probably expect a final global total of $170-230m.
That sounds fine, except that Passengers cost $110m to make, before marketing, and would need to return at least $300m to turn a profit in theaters. The obvious problem here is that, as with Ghostbusters, Sony overspent hard on a movie which should've cost half the price. Originally, Passengers was budgeted at $90m and set to star Keanu Reeves and Reese Witherspoon, but when director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) was hired, he demanded more.
Sony also paid Jennifer Lawrence an insane $20m (to Chris Pratt's $12m), sending that original, more sensible budget into orbit. The idea was that the combined star power of Pratt and J-Law would get asses on seats, but Passengers stands as the latest in a long line of evidence that big names alone aren't enough. People didn't see Guardians of the Galaxy or #JurassicWorld because they love Chris Pratt — they parted with their dollars for films that looked fantastic in their own right.
Passengers is not fantastic. It has a turgid 41/100 on Metacritic, a just-OK 7.1 on iMDB (on par with X-Men: Apocalypse), a bad script lacking in twists (the big one revealed too close to the beginning of the film is a total stinker) and it fails to deliver on its potentially interesting concept. Putting Chris Pratt in space was not enough.
The final word: Passengers may make an OK amount of money all told, but it's proof that "star power" is overrated, and it was doomed by an intergalactic budget that should've kept its feet rooted firmly on Earth.
Estimated final loss: $70m.
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If Passengers did just alright, Assassin's Creed is a straight-up tanker right out of the gate. Over the five-day holiday, it took a fairly pathetic $17.8m at the US box office, and after eight days sits on just $28.5m. When all is said and done, expect it to reach perhaps $50-65m domestically. International is much tougher to predict, with a big opening weekend in France suggesting Creed could play well across Europe. Depending on China, final global total could be anywhere from $150-250m.
Trying to understand what went wrong with Assassin's Creed, in contrast with Passengers, requires a bit of context. Movie adaptations of video games have a long, stormy history of being, essentially, a bit shit (to put it mildly), so perhaps the odds were already stacked against this one — that said, a talented director, Justin Kurzel, reuniting with his Macbeth stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, once felt like a good omen for this film. So how did it succumb to abject failure?
At $125m, the budget was big, but not unreasonably so for a film with the potential to tap into the curiosities of both gamers and action movie fans. Once the trailers hit, though, Assassin's Creed began to look like another victim of the video game-to-movie curse which plagues Hollywood. The story is original, rather than adapted directly from any of the games in the series, and it's not exactly watertight. The protagonist, Fassbender's Callum Lynch, is also a new character, which feels vaguely idiotic considering the games have heroes with built-in name recognition. It's a bit like making an #Uncharted movie without Nathan Drake — what's the point?
And the reviews were savage. An utterly miserable 36 on Metacritic (Variety described it as "semi-coherent, overly art-directed video-game sludge") combined with 6.7 on iMDB suggests neither audiences nor critics particularly enjoyed what they were served by a creative team who seem to lack passion for the source material.
The final word: The biggest question around Assassin's Creed now is not how much money it'll lose, but whether there's any kind of future for movies based on video games. Will anybody ever make one that works, or are they all doomed to fail?
Estimated final loss: $125m.
If we've learned anything from this Christmas, then, it's that if you're going up against a Star Wars movie, you'd better have more than just a big name on the poster of your movie. Equally importantly, both of these films could still have been successful if made on a more realistic budget.
Of course, nobody will really learn any lessons from Passengers or Assassin's Creed, because Hollywood.
Were you shocked by any of 2016's bigger box office bombs, or were the omens there all along for Passengers and Assassin's Creed?