Box Office: Steven Spielberg's 'BFG' Equals Big Failed Gamble in U.S.

The family film bombed in its North American debut over the July 4th weekend.

Steven Spielberg and Disney's big-budget The BFG —  short for the Big Friendly Giant — could go down as a Big Failed Gamble.

At least, that is the case in North America, where it debuted to a dismal $18.6 million over the three-day Fourth of July weekend, enough for only a fourth-place finish. For the four-day frame, The BFG earned $22.3 million, a paltry number considering the movie's $140 million budget and the high-profile holiday corridor.

The BFG's fate will rely heavily on the international box office, where it has opened in only two territories so far — Australia ($2 million) and Russia ($1.9 million). The film didn't place No. 1 in either country, however. If it doesn't work offshore, partners Disney, Amblin Entertainment and Walden Media are looking at a sizable loss.

The PG film, based on Roald Dahl's beloved book of the same name about a giant (Mark Rylance) who strikes up a friendship with a young orphan girl (Ruby Barnhill), is the first movie Spielberg has directed for powerhouse Disney — and the hope was it could strike a chord like his classic E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. (Disney previously had a distribution deal with Spielberg's DreamWorks, but this was a direct production and marketing partnership.)

Spielberg also is a big fan of the Fourth of July holiday, and counted on the pic being a major family play. But that coveted demo appeared to have little interest in seeing The BFG, at least on a wide-scale basis, even though it earned an A- CinemaScore from those moviegoers who did turn up, along with solid reviews. But as the holiday weekend played out, the film was overshadowed by Disney/Pixar's own Finding Dory, which in its third weekend took in $41.9 million.

Box-office analyst Jeff Bock said Spielberg hasn't made a family film that's resonated with younger audiences since Hook 25 years ago (that movie, however, was maligned by critics).

"These days, Pixar, Minions and Disney's fairy-tale adaptations rule the box-office roost in terms of kids' fare," said Bock. "The BFG has always been a recognizable children's book, but not a classic in the U.S."

Some box-office analysts believe The BFG will ultimately top out in the $60 million range domestically. That would make it Spielberg's lowest-grossing film since the dramatic, adult-oriented Munich in 2005, and one of his lowest ever when adjusting for inflation.

Munich, which earned $47.4 million domestically and $130.4 million globally, is among the filmmaker's few major box-office misses. Spielberg's biggest bomb was 1941, released in 1979.

The BFG is Spielberg's most ambitious film in terms of budget since The Adventures of Tintin in 2011. That film topped out at $77.6 million domestically, but ultimately earned $373.9 million globally thanks to the international box office.

Spielberg has enjoyed his greatest success in recent years with such adult-skewing fare as Bridge of Spies and Lincoln.

July 4, 8 a.m. Updated with revised three-day and four-day numbers.

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