Box Office: Why Emma Watson's 'The Circle' Got Clobbered by Two Smaller Films

The high-tech indie thriller, also starring Tom Hanks, lost in a surprise upset to the Hispanic-targeted 'How to Be a Latin Lover' and Indian film 'Baahubali.'

Stardom can be a very perishable commodity at the modern box office.

Over the weekend, the thriller The Circle, starring Emma Watson as a young woman working for a nefarious high-tech company, opened to disheartening $9.3 million from 3,163 theaters.

That's in stark comparison to Watson's other movie still in the marketplace, Disney's blockbuster Beauty and the Beast, the live-action update of the 1991 animated classic that has grossed north of $1.14 billion to date globally

Watson — who rose to fame upon playing Hermoine Granger in the Harry Potter film franchise and then achieved a whole new level of success with Beast — actively promoted her new movie via her Twitter account, which has nearly 25 million followers. She also participated in a traditional media junket, including a visit to The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon late last week.

But The Circle is another reminder that star power has to be matched with the right vehicle for it to ignite. In the case of The Circle, EuropaCorp and STX Entertainment went after ticket buyers between the ages of 17 and 35, but with a Rotten Tomatoes approval rating of just 17 percent, the movie looked like another generic thriller. And in a surprise upset, despite a larger theater footprint, it lost to two movies serving very specific demographics: How to Be a Latin Lover, targeting Hispanic moviegoers, and the Indian film Baahubali 2: The Conclusion.

Watson, of course, wasn't the only big name tied to the thriller. Tom Hanks, an even bigger marquee name, also stars in The Circle, based on a Dave Eggers’ novel. Hanks is a huge fan of the author, but so far the two haven’t found box-office gold together. A Hologram for a King, also based on a book by Eggers, grossed just  $4 million in its limited U.S. run following its debut in April 2016.

“This reaffirms that star power is no guarantee of success. Not even the presence of Tom Hanks and Emma Watson could offset The Circle’s somewhat esoteric and intellectualized subject matter despite a solid marketing campaign and good release date,” says box-office analyst Paul Dergarbedian of comScore.

Adds box-office commentator Jeff Bock: “As popular as Beauty and the Beast was, it is Disney’s magic, not Emma’s, that made it work. The other thing we know — Tom Hanks and David Eggers don't mix. Even a star the magnitude of Hanks can't sell tickets for Eggers' high-brow literary tales to the multiplex masses.”

Bock says $9 million debut for The Circle isn't a total bust, though. The indie film cost a modest $18 million to produce and was acquired by EuropaCorp for $8 million. 

Meanwhile, How to be a Latin Lover did laps around The Circle with $12 million from only 1,000 locations. Opening well ahead of expectations, it marked the biggest opening to date for Lionsgate and Televisa's Pantelion Films, a label devoted to movies targeting Hispanic audiences.

The comedy stars popular Mexican actor Eugenio Derbez (Instructions Not Included) alongside Salma Hayek, Rob Lowe, Kristen Bell, Raphael Alejandro, Raquel Welch and Rob Riggle. Nearly 90 percent of ticket buyers were Hispanic, while the top-grossing theaters included multiplexes in in Orange County, Burbank and Texas.

Lionsgate made the comedy available to theaters in both English and Spanish, with Derbez and Hayek dubbing their character's voices in the Spanish version. "In the the top-grossing complexes, they could play both versions on different screens. In other locations, they did alternating shows. From what we gather, about 20 percent of the weekend grosses came from the Spanish-dubbed format," says Lionsgate distribution chief David Spitz.

"Never underestimate the power of diversity. Audiences come from all backgrounds and all walks of life and movies that reflect that world view can often capitalize on the power of an energized fanbase whether it be for Indian cinema or a international star like Eugenio Derbez," says Dergarabedian.

Baahubali 2 also bested The Circle, grossing a hefty $10.1 million from a mere 450 theaters. That's the top launch ever for an Indian film in the U.S. A run in 45 Imax venues paid off, generating $1.8 million, an Imax record for a foreign-language pic.

The top-grossing Imax theaters in North America were in Brunswick, N.J.; Livonia, Michigan; Bellevue, Washington; and Dallas, all areas where there is a large Indian population.

Baahubali 2, which also opened in India over the weekend and is a follow-up to the 2015 blockbuster Baahubali: The Beginning, puts the spotlight on the South Indian industry, which is often overshadowed by Hindi-language Bollywood. The sequel continues the story of warring royal cousins in an ancient mythical kingdom and stars Prabhas, Rana Daggubati, Tamannaah and Anushka Shetty.

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