'A Wrinkle in Time': Why It Has Underperformed at the Box Office

The Disney movie opened to a disappointing $33 million in the U.S., becoming the latest high-profile kids fantasy film to struggle.

At a time when Hollywood is being criticized for its long-standing lack of being inclusive, Ava DuVernay's A Wrinkle in Time was a notable victory for diversity even before it opened in theaters. DuVernay was the first female African-American filmmaker to be given a $100 million studio film to direct, and she cast a young African-American actress, Storm Reid, as the main character, who was white in Madeleine L'Engle's beloved book.

In fact, the entire cast of the Disney event movie was proudly diverse, with Reid starring opposite Oprah Winfrey, Levi Miller, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Chris Pine.

Nevertheless, when it comes to the box office, A Wrinkle in Time didn't attract an audience that was dramatically more diverse than the audiences that showed up in recent years for other big-budget fantasy films adapted from well known YA or children's books. In contrast to the halycon days when Harry Potter ruled the box office, more recent kid-oriented movies like Steven Spielberg's The BFG and Tim Burton's Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children have struggled to attain blockbuster status.

The audience breakdown of A Wrinkle in Time — which opened to a disappointing $33.1 million domestically — wasn't significantly different from The BFG or Miss Peregrine's, which were both released in 2016.

Of those buying tickets to A Wrinkle in Time on opening weekend, 56 percent were Caucasian, followed by Hispanics (20 percent), African-Americans (17 percent), Asians (5 percent) and Native Americans/other (3 percent), according to comScore/Screen Engine.

The minority segments of Wrinkle's audience were only slightly higher than that for BFG's opening weekend. BFG, about a young girl and a big giant, drew an audience that was 52 percent Caucasian, 23 percent Hispanic, 14 percent African-American, 9 percent Asian and 3 percent Native American/other.

For Miss Peregrine's, set in a school for kids with special, magical abilities, the stats were relatively similar: 54 percent Caucasian, 19 percent Hispanic, 13 percent African-American, 8 percent Asian and 6 percent Native American/other, according to comScore.

And all three films skewed female, with A Wrinkle in Time and Miss Peregrine's tying at 57 percent, and The BFG coming in at 53 percent female. In short, they attracted younger girls and their moms. Boys and dads tended to stay away.

"Fantasy adventures — even those with baked-in brand recognition via their book-based success — often have a very tough time finding an audience once they move to the big screen, as most are not sequel-based and don't fall easily into clearly defined categorization and are greeted with the same audience reticence as videogame-based movies that also contend with similar challenges," says comScore analyst Paul Dergarabedian.

A Wrinkle in Time, which Winfrey not only starred in, but also promoted heavily in the weeks leading up to its opening, did notch a bigger gross than either Miss Peregrine's or BFG.

Spielberg's The BFG debuted to $22.7 million over the long July Fourth weekend in 2016 against a $140 million budget (Disney, Amblin and Participant partnered on the film.) Two months later, Burton's Miss Peregrine's likewise disappointed when launching to $28.9 million in North America, after costing $110 million to produce.

While it clearly moved some fans of the book — DuVernay retweeted a number of enthusiastic reactions from regular moviegoers over the course of the weekend — it appears to have been hampered by decidedly mixed reviews and a lukewarm B Cinemascore. 

In the end, Wrinkle had to settle for a second-place opening behind the fourth weekend of Disney/Marvel's history-making Black Panther, which collected $80.8 million — one of the biggest fourth weekends for any film. Black Panther has now grossed more than $561 domestically.

Black Panther clearly benefited from an outpouring of African-American moviegoers. During that movie's first weekend, African-Americans represented 37 percent of ticket-buyers.

Panther's director Ryan Coogler and Wrinkle's DuVernay, who cut their films in neighboring editing rooms, have formed a mutual admiration. And supporters of both directors bristled this weekend when in the course of normal box-office reports, it looked as if their two films were being pitted against each other.

Instead, their champions insisted, look at this precedent-setting fact: It was the first weekend anyone can remember where two films directed by African-American filmmakers took the No. 1 and No. 2 spots.

"With both films," say Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis, "you can see that diverse voices matter."

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