Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is a box-office dud, adding to Hollywood woes

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is a box-office dud, adding to Hollywood woes

LOS ANGELES – Hollywood expected Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga to scorch the box office over the holiday weekend. Instead, the big-budget Warner Bros prequel iced it over.

Furiosa, which cost US$168 million (S$227 million) to make, not including tens of millions of dollars in marketing costs, collected an estimated US$25.6 million in the United States and Canada from May 24 night to May 26.

Box-office analysts expected the film to take in about US$5.4 million on May 27, for a holiday-weekend total of US$31 million.

That would be the worst Memorial Day weekend result in 43 years after adjusting for inflation – ever since Bustin’ Loose, a comedic drama starring late actor Richard Pryor, collected US$24 million in 1981. (Box-office records exclude 2020, when most cinemas were closed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.)

The franchise’s previous chapter, Mad Max: Fury Road, took in US$45.4 million in 2015, or roughly US$61 million in today’s dollars – and that was without the benefit of a holiday weekend.

Hollywood had high expectations for Furiosa, which Warner Bros premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. There, the movie received exceptional reviews.

On May 26, however, it was unclear whether Furiosa would manage even first place at the box office. Analysts said the poorly reviewed Garfield (Sony), which cost US$60 million to make, could inch ahead. It could also be a tie.

Sony declared victory, saying it expected Garfield, produced and financed by Alcon Entertainment, to be No. 1, with US$31.8 million in ticket sales.

“With summer holidays beginning this week, the film is well-positioned for a long theatrical run,” Sony said, adding that it had successfully relaunched the lasagna-loving character as a movie franchise.

Why did fewer moviegoers turn out for Furiosa than expected? Warner Bros declined to comment, but the film capital was rife with theories. One involved Anya Taylor-Joy, who played the title role in Furiosa.

The 28-year-old actress has been ascending for nearly a decade, gaining attention in 2015 for The Witch, an art-house horror movie, and winning awards in 2020 for playing a troubled chess prodigy in The Queen’s Gambit, a Netflix miniseries. But she had never anchored a big-budget summer movie.

Increasing the pressure, Taylor-Joy took over the role of Furiosa from Oscar-winning Charlize Theron, now 48, who helped turn Mad Max: Fury Road into a hit in 2015.

“Moviegoers do not want prequel origin stories”, where significant franchise characters are “portrayed not by the actor who originated and defined them, but by a younger, less-famous performer”, Mr Scott Mendelson, a box-office analyst who publishes a subscription newsletter, wrote on May 25.

Furiosa, directed by George Miller and co-starring Australian actor Chris Hemsworth, may have been released too soon after the similar-looking Dune: Part Two, which delivered giant ticket sales in March, some film executives said.

At the same time, they added, Furiosa may have been released too long after Fury Road, allowing the Mad Max fan base to cool.

There has also been a lack of momentum at the box office, noted Mr Paul Dergarabedian, a senior Comscore media analyst.

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Hollywood’s summer season started with The Fall Guy, which arrived to US$28 million in ticket sales in May – the lowest summer kick-off since 1995. The April box office suffered from a shortage of movies, which studios blamed on lingering fallout from union strikes in 2023.

“The current malaise shows the importance of the health of the overall marketplace in the months leading up to this all-important moviegoing season,” Mr Dergarabedian said in an e-mail.

Cinemas in the US and Canada were expected to sell about US$125 million in tickets over the weekend, down roughly 40 per cent from 2023, according to Comscore. For the year to date, ticket sales in the two countries totalled US$2.6 billion, down 22 per cent from the same period a year ago, Comscore said.

Mr Dergarabedian is an optimist, however.

“It’s not game over for theatres this summer as many have asserted,” he said, noting that sequels such as Inside Out 2, Despicable Me 4 and Deadpool & Wolverine could arrive as major hits in June and July.

If those films deliver, he said, Hollywood can salvage “the perception of the movie-theatre business as a viable and relevant part of the entertainment ecosystem”. NYTIMES

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