ABC and Marvel Television's forthcoming drama series Inhumans certainly didn't boast a heroic start in its exclusive theatrical run over Labor Day weekend several weeks ahead of its television premiere.
The straight-to-series is produced in partnership with Imax and, in a groundbreaking deal, launched this weekend in 676 Imax theaters around the globe, grossing an estimated $2.6 million. That included an underwhelming $1.5 million from 393 theaters in North America. (To be clear, Inhumans is a Marvel TV show and is not connected to Marvel Studios, home of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies.)
Adding slightly more salt to the Inhumans wound, the comic book drama was beat by a special 40th anniversary release of Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which earned $2.6 million from 901 locations.
On paper, the idea of using a theatrical release to cut through the cluttered fall TV landscape is smart and bold. In reality, it didn't work for Inhumans, which stars Anson Mount and Serinda Swan. The exclusive viewing opened on par with a special digitally remastered theatrical viewing of Game of Thrones in February 2015, even though those episodes of the HBO fantasy drama had already aired. (The Imax release also came with an early look at next season's trailer as a special incentive.)
"This is a pretty ho-hum result," says box office analyst Jeff Bock of Exhibitor Relations. "I just don't think the average moviegoer knew what this was, and if they did, they certainly didn't know it was debuting in theaters before its TV debut."
The first two episodes were shot partially with Imax cameras and featured special scenes designed just for the 75-minute release. Imax was to benefit from the end-of-summer doldrums by delivering a Marvel-branded drama to fanboys who fuel Marvel Cinematic Universe releases, including this summer's Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Early buzz for Inhumans did not help the show about the royal family, including Black Bolt (Mount), the enigmatic, commanding king of the Inhumans, with a voice so powerful that his slightest whisper can destroy a city. (The show also features a 2,000-pound CGI dog named Lockjaw, pictured above.)
Sources tell THR that the eight-episode series was produced over three months in Hawaii and underwent a number of reshoots. Among them was an estimated $100,000 to fix the visual effects for the wig worn by Swan's Medusa, who has the ability to move and control her hair the way most people use their hands and fingers. (Feature director Roel Reine, who helmed both Imax episodes, noted that the first trailer for Inhumans may have been released too early, as it featured unfinished VFX, including Medusa's hair.) Meanwhile, some insiders say Lockjaw eventually disappears from the story because the production couldn't afford the continued cost to deliver the huge canine.
The Imax debut doesn't exactly offer a promising linear debut for the Inhumans when it premieres Sept. 29 on ABC as part of the network's new Friday lineup. (Marvel veteran Agents of SHIELD will move from its Tuesday home and take over the Friday 8 p.m. slot once Inhumans wraps its run.)
As for Inhumans' ABC debut, the first two episodes will be expanded and feature an 84-minute run time as a way to offer something new for diehard Marvel fans who saw it in theaters. Sources note that Imax paid to produce the first two episodes of Inhumans, which likely offset at least some of the costs.
Inhumans will launch with low expectations given its home on Fridays, though ABC is optimistic that loyal Marvel viewers will make the freshman drama a DVR hit the way Agents of SHIELD has remained a sturdy performer when factoring in delayed viewing. Agents of SHIELD, which like Inhumans is produced by Marvel and ABC Studios, underwent budget cuts and a licensing fee reduction in a bid to reduce costs. Season four averaged a 1.7 among adults 18-49 with seven days of DVR and 4.6 million total viewers.
"Marvel understands just as well as we do how loyal that SHIELD and the Marvel audience is," says Andy Kubitz, executive vp program planning and scheduling at ABC. "For the ability to move a show from one day to another, we have more confidence that that core audience — those very faithful watchers of Marvel product — will travel with it. The great thing about Friday night for these shows is it gives three days of downtime for a lot of these younger viewers to be able to catch up on it. You've got Saturday and Sunday viewing that will be able to be counted into our C3 to help us monetize it."
Inhumans is one of multiple new Marvel series coming to the small screen. Next up is Fox's X-Men take The Gifted (Oct. 2), followed by Hulu's adaptation of Runaways (Nov. 21). Still to be scheduled are Freeform drama Cloak and Dagger and comedy New Warriors (both expected in 2018) and FX's animated Deadpool. The comic book powerhouse's TV slate also includes Netflix dramas Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Defenders and The Punisher, as well as FX's Legion.