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Box Office: The Mummy, Dark Universe & When Studios Stop Caring About the Domestic Audience

Posted on the 12 June 2017 by Weminoredinfilm.com @WeMinoredInFilm

Box Office: The Mummy, Dark Universe & When Studios Stop Caring About the Domestic Audience

The Mummy is a flop.

I want so badly to be able to say that. The Mummy is a terrible, terrible movie that says quite a lot of unflattering things about the people who made it. Its failure - if indeed a $32m domestic debut for a movie woth a $125m budget can be considered a failure - would be a rejection of all that is wrong with Hollywood, hopefully serving as a wake-up call to Tom Cruise, director Alex Kurtzman ( who has seemed especially deluded on the promotional trail) and Universal and the rest of the industry:

  • Don't leap before you can even walk with your movie franchises.
  • Stop trying to mimic Marvel with your bullshit cinematic universes because you clearly suck at this.
  • Stop indulging Tom Cruise's on-going and increasingly sad mid-life crisis.
  • Stop rewarding male directors and screenwriters who keep failing upward.
  • Stop making movies according to spreadsheets and stockholder concerns.
  • Quit plucking quality actors from TV and then giving them jack shit to do in your blockbuster (sorry, Mummy's Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson and Courtney B. Vance).
  • Stop assuming you can still make it in 2017 without any good female characters.

Just. Make. Better. Movies.

Like Wonder Woman, for example. That's a good movie, third act problems and all. It's making a lot of money ($435m worldwide after 10 days), and while Mummy flopped at the domestic box office Wonder Woman soared, posting the lowest second weekend decline (-45%) in recent comic book movie history. To paraphrase X-Men: Apocalypse, Wonder Woman has come to burn down all of Hollywood, and from its ashes we'll build a better movie factory.

But that's not what's actually happening. The Mummy didn't flop. In fact, it just enjoyed the biggest worldwide opening ($174m) of Tom Cruise's career. To make matters worse, its international debut ($141m) is better than Wonder Woman's ($122m) from last weekend (although Mummy did open in more countries, 63 to WW's 55). Stateside, it might be yay for feminism, boo for sexism (and a deeply sexist movie), but worldwide it's "we still really, really like Tom Cruise." So, is currently the no. 1 movie in nearly 75% of the world.

Box Office: The Mummy, Dark Universe & When Studios Stop Caring About the Domestic Audience
And suddenly Universal's Dark Universe makes more sense:

  • Tom Cruise as [spoiler alert] The Mummy (yeah, he kills Sofia Boutella by kissing her and sucking her dry and ends the film as the new mummy because fuck that movie that's why)
  • Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (insert punchline here about his legendary short temper)
  • Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man (insert punchline here about how much we want him to be invisible these days).

What do they have in common? Oh yeah - they're all nearly washed up action stars who have squandered their star capital in the US and Canada but still kill overseas. Heck, Cruise has not one but two franchises ( Jack Reacher, Edge of Tomorrow) which have earned foreign-fueled sequels despite anemic domestic returns.

Universal threw Javier Bardem into their roster of Dark Universe actors for good measure, but with three past-their-prime A-listers in lead roles the studio's target audience is clear and it's not the US/Canada. The Dark Universe is aimed at those foreign markets which still play by the old rules of star + concept equals hit. That's how Hollywood used to do things in the 80s and 90s, and while that has fallen away over time, replaced by the age of the IP, there are corners of the world which will still support movie star-driven vehicles, although only to a point. It's not like Russell Crowe's The Water Diviner cleaned up overseas just because he was in it. However, put him in something Gladiator-esque like Robin Hood and you've got yourself an international hit.

So, Universal is trying to have the best of both worlds, building a cinematic universe around IP (i.e., the studio's classic movie monsters) but stocking it to the brim with foreign market-approved movie stars. Announcing the Dark Universe so far in advance was more about making a pitch to stock market investors who understand box office trends and less about attempting to generate any real excitement among movie fans.

Box Office: The Mummy, Dark Universe & When Studios Stop Caring About the Domestic Audience
Small, actually, big problem: the studios don't make nearly as much from foreign ticket sales as they do from domestic. It varies from movie to movie and country to country, but the general split is the studios only get a 50% cut of domestic ticket sales, 40% cut of foreign ticket sales and 25% cut of Chinese ticket sales. The rest goes to the movie theaters. So, it sounds great to say The Mummy 's Chinese debut ($52m) nearly doubled its domestic debut, but you have to remember Universal will only ever see a quarter of that money.

But you go where the audience is. Domestic return are flat and have been for years. The international market, when taken as a whole, is booming. Ergo, screw domestic, hello international.

You can't completely abandon the domestic market, though. It's still the biggest in the world (and it's not even all that close, at least not yet). Plus, it's where you've negotiated the most generous ticket sale split with theater owners. So, you have to at least get something from the domestic market, but the exact calculation of what constitutes an acceptable domestic gross versus acceptable foreign gross is changing.

And that's fine. That's just business, and I realize that if read a certain way I might be coming off as an America first type. That's not my intent. It's more that the idiots who run Hollywood are chasing after foreign audiences, and they think that means they need to dumb everything down and make everything action-heavy and language-neutral instead of working harder to craft stories with a universal appeal. That's an insult to everyone.

Now The Mummy probably won't even crack $100m domestic, not with its toxic word-of-mouth (especially damning: B- CinemaScore, 45% audience score on RT), yet Universal might move foward with this Dark Universe nonsense and plunge into the next-one-up, Bill Condon's Bride of Frankenstein (due 2/14/19) because at the end of the day we've never been the intended target for these movies. But we should all demand better.

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