In early September, Warner Bros. sent an urgent note to theater owners across the country, asking them to yank posters for Geostorm that showed a gigantic tsunami wave with the tagline: “Brave the Storm.”
The dispatch came in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which caused widespread damage in Houston and other parts of Texas, and as Hurricane Irma bore down on Florida, prompting evacuations throughout the state. Not long after, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico.
It was one of many challenges facing Geostorm, the long-delayed environmental disaster pic from Skydance Media and Warners. Over the weekend, the movie got washed out in its domestic debut, grossing a dismal $13.3 million against a $120 million-plus production budget. And unless Geostorm finds rescue overseas, it could lose $50 to $100 million for co-investors Skydance, Warners and RatPac, Warner Bros.’ slate financing partner. If there’s any solace for them, it’s that the loss will be spread around.
So far, Geostorm has earned $49.6 million overseas for a soft global total of $62.9 million. But it still has a number of major markets in which to open, including China (Friday), followed by France and Italy (Nov. 1). At the moment, the movie is performing best in Asia.
“The fact that Geostorm looked like a mashup of every single disaster movie ever created is probably the culprit here,” says box-office analyst Jeff Bock of Exhibitor Relations. “And it certainly didn’t help that our country recently faced a double whammy of storms that tore through Texas, Puerto Rico and Florida.”
Starring Gerard Butler, the pic follows a satellite engineer and former space shuttle commander who heads back into space to prevent climate-controlling satellites from creating a man-made storm of epic proportions. At the same time, he and his brother learn of a plot to assassinate the president.
Geostorm, with Independence Day producer Dean Devlin making his feature directorial debut, was shot in 2014 and originally scheduled to open in March 2016, but the film’s release date was pushed back several times following poor test screenings. Veteran producer Jerry Bruckheimer was brought aboard to oversee significant reshoots in hopes of rejiggering the film. Devlin was unavailable, so Warners and Skydance were granted DGA dispensation to allow another director, Danny Cannon, to helm the new scenes in December.
Reshoots can sometimes rescue a project in trouble. For example, Paramount and Skydance brought on Damon Lindelof and Drew Goddard to rewrite the third act of 2013’s World War Z, and that movie went on to gross $540 million globally.
But, in a telling sign, Warners didn’t screen Geostorm for critics in advance of the film’s opening. In an attempt to hold back reviews, the studio then decided not to offer Thursday night screenings, a highly unusual move for a commercial event title. (Geostorm‘s current rating on Rotten Tomatoes is just 13 percent.)
On the way to its opening, Geostorm faced yet another hurdle when it was forced to recalibrate its marketing campaign in the wake of the historic string of real-life hurricanes. The studio created new television spots that minimized weather events in the film that could remind consumers of hurricanes, such as tornadoes and surging water. And it went about scrubbing the tagline “Brave the Storm” from the poster.
“We want to be sensitive to everyone who are being and have been impacted by the horrible storms, including families that may live in unaffected areas,” the studio wrote in its note to cinemas. “That said, please pull the Geostorm one-sheet currently in theaters. … We will ship new one-sheets once the campaign has been modified.”
The modified poster’s tagline was, “Control the Weather, Control the World.”
Geostorm underperformed in the Southeast, the South and Texas in its debut. “As evidenced by the extremely soft results in places hit by the hurricanes, the timing of the movie’s release was unfortunate,” says Jeff Goldstein, president of domestic distribution for Warners, which picked up Geostorm when Paramount passed on the Skydance project. “Outside the U.S., the numbers are much better.”
Geostorm represents the first co-production between Warners and Skydance, launched in 2010 by David Ellison, son of Oracle founder Larry Ellison. The younger Ellison’s Skydance immediately gained entry to the Hollywood studio system by signing a co-financing and co-production deal with Paramount and partnering on the marquee franchises Mission: Impossible and Star Trek, along with other titles. Skydance also acquired the film rights to the Terminator series and took the lead in producing Terminator: Genisys, which was released by Paramount in summer 2015.
Terminator: Genisys earned $440.6 million globally, but still failed to reboot the franchise. Ellison and Paramount are trying again, but this time with original Terminator director James Cameron, who is producing the next Terminator film, slated for release on July 26, 2019. Ellison has been secretly meeting with Cameron and helmer Tim Miller for more than a year regarding the as-yet-untitled film.
Skydance’s big box-office wins include World War Z, the Mission: Impossible films and Star Trek Into Darkness. Misses include Jack Reacher: Shadow Recruit and Life, a Sony film.
In August, several months after Jim Gianopulos took over as chairman of Paramount, Skydance renewed its deal with the studio after contemplating going elsewhere under the previous regime. They will partner on upcoming installments in the Mission: Impossible, Top Gun and World War Z franchises, as well as on Bermuda Triangle and Gemini Man, in addition to the Terminator film.