Universal isn’t having a very merry year-end holiday at the box office, save for The Grinch.
Robert Zemeckis’ Welcome to Marwen, starring Steve Carell, got wiped out over the weekend in its domestic box office debut with a scant $2.4 million from 1,191 cinemas, tying with Johnny Knoxville’s Action Point (Paramount) to mark the worst opening of 2018 for a major Hollywood studio release.
The dramedy is expected to fade fast and will lose $50 million for Universal, DreamWorks and other partners on the film, according to box office experts. They will essentially forfeit the money they invested in the production budget of Marwen, which cost about $49 million before marketing, according to sources. Universal insiders, however, put the budget at around $40 million.
Marwen follows the disastrous opening of the Peter Jackson-produced Mortal Engines the previous weekend. That big-budget pic will lose $125 million or even more for Universal and MRC, who co-financed the film. MRC has the larger share after Universal partnered on its half with Legendary and China’s Perfect World. (MRC is a division of Valence Media, which also owns The Hollywood Reporter.).
Heading into the weekend, Welcome to Marwen was tracking to post a three-day launch of $7 million to $9 million. The pic — heavily promoting that it was from the same director who helmed Forrest Gump — had hoped to serve as an alternative to more commercial tentpole fare, such as Aquaman, Bumblebee and Mary Poppins Returns.
Instead, moviegoers entirely rejected Marwen, which is based on the real-life story of artist Mark Hogancamp, who was savagely beat by five white supremacists after telling them he liked to wear women’s high-heeled shoes. Suffering from a brain injury and amnesia, Hogancamp, played by Carell, creates a miniature World War II village where his tiny counterpart is a hero battling Nazis. Leslie Mann, Diane Kruger, Merritt Wever, Janelle Monaee and Eiza Gonzalez co-star.
Marwen arguably needed generally good reviews to succeed with adults. Instead, it ended up with a 25 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, and it only received a B- CinemaScore from audiences.
Universal and Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks are 50-50 partners on Marwen. (As with Mortal Engines, part of Universal’s financial stake was covered by Perfect World, its slate financing partner.)
While its final releases of 2018 may be a wash, Universal otherwise enjoyed a solid year. Its slate was led by Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom with $1.3 billion in global ticket sales. The Grinch has also made plenty of green since its opening in November, earning $253.2 million domestically and $422.5 million globally to date.
Marwen will likely mark the lowest-grossing film directed by Zemeckis since his first two films decades ago. In addition to Forrest Gump, his long career includes the Back to the Future franchise, Romancing the Stone, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Castaway and The Polar Express, in which he employed the same performance-capture techniques that are seen in Marwen.
Zemeckis’ The Walk (2015) topped out at $10.1 million in the U.S., but made $51 million internationally. Marwen, however, isn’t expected to be much of a draw offshore.
Welcome to Marwen also holds the distinction of being Carell’s worst nationwide opening domestically.
In terms of other dismal bows in 2018, Amazon and Dan Fogelman’s Life Itself launched to $2.1 million from 2,609 theaters before ending up at $5.9 million.