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The timing couldn’t have been worse.
On Friday, just as Alice Through the Looking Glass began playing in theaters, Johnny Depp’s wife, Amber Heard, was granted a restraining order after alleging the Alice star had assaulted her and engaged in a pattern of domestic abuse throughout their 15-month marriage. She made the claims days after filing for divorce.
The lurid news stories couldn’t have come at a less opportune time for Depp — once one of the world’s biggest movie stars — since he needs Through the Looking Glass to work.
In 2010, Alice in Wonderland earned an astounding $1.025 billion for Disney, Depp and director Tim Burton. But the box office hasn’t been kind to the actor in the years since, outside of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) and mob pic Black Mass (2015). Depp has suffered a raft of high-profile bombs, including Dark Shadows (2012), The Lone Ranger (2013), Transcendence (2014) and Mortdecai (2015).
Heading into Memorial Day weekend, Alice Through the Looking Glass was tracking to open to $60 million or more (one service even had it at $79 million) in North America — a respectable showing, even if it wouldn’t come close to matching Alice in Wonderland‘s $116 million start over Memorial Day.
But now the family-friendly pic has to contend with Depp’s personal drama, in addition to withering reviews.
By Friday evening, it was clear from early grosses that Through the Looking Glass would have trouble clearing $40 million. Box-office observers attributed the movie’s weak performance on opening day more to bad notices rather than to the headlines surrounding Depp, but said that if estimates kept falling off throughout the weekend, it indeed meant the news about the actor was starting to have a chilling effect.
And the estimates have continued to fall.
As it stands now, Through the Looking Glass is bombing with a four-day opening of $34.2 million, according to Monday estimates (that’s less than the $35 million estimated on Sunday).
“These allegations, if true, pose a serious threat to the box-office longevity of Johnny Depp. Obviously time heals all wounds, but this is certainly having a toll on Depp and Alice,” says analyst Jeff Bock. “‘Alice in Blunderland‘ is more like it.”
Disney won’t comment on Depp, but didn’t try to spin the numbers.
“It’s disappointing. The domestic opening is wildly less than what every tracking service had us at,” says Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis. “We’re in the tentpole business. More often than not, they turn out to be huge successes. We’ll continue to take those big bets. In this instance, it didn’t turn out as we hoped.”
Disney and other Hollywood studios tracking box-office grosses expected Alice 2 to see a Friday-to-Saturday uptick, in line with other family-friendly films. Instead, it was down 6 percent. The first Alice was up by nearly 9 percent on its first Saturday. Maleficent (2014) saw a 6 percent gain; Cinderella (2015), up 18 percent.
So far, Alice 2 isn’t appealing to as many families as other Disney live-action adaptations. According to the studio, families made up 32 percent of ticket-buyers over its debut weekend, compared to 66 percent for Cinderella, 45 percent for Maleficent and 66 percent for last month’s The Jungle Book (it’s certainly true that the trippy Alice in Wonderland property may have more adult fans).
According to exit poll service CinemaScore, 35 percent of ticket buyers cited Depp as a reason for showing up, compared to 50 percent in 2010.
Alice 2 sees Depp once again star as the Mad Hatter, while Mia Wasikowska reprises her role as Alice. Burton, however, didn’t return to direct the new pic; instead James Bobin, who helmed the Muppets franchise for Disney, took over directing duties. The film cost $170 million to produce.
Alice Through the Looking Glass isn’t Disney’s only investment in Depp. Over Memorial Day 2017, Disney will release Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. The previous film in the franchise, On Stranger Tides, took in a stellar $1.045 billion globally, but earned less in the U.S. than the first two installments.
“If I’m Disney and Alice Through the Looking Glass is a flop,” says one analyst, “I’m probably a little nervous about Pirates 5.”
Overseas, Alice 2‘s debut was mixed with $65 million from 72 percent of the marketplace. China, where it placed No. 1, led with a strong $27.1 million. The tentpole also did well in Latin America, but struggled in some key European countries, including the U.K. ($3.2 million).
May 30, 9 a.m. Updated with revised grosses.
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