Box Office: How 'Pan' Turned Into an Epic Flop

Pan Still 3 - H 2015
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Pan Still 3 - H 2015

The $150 million Peter Pan origins story opened to a paltry $15.5 million in North America and $20.5 million overseas.

Early on in Pan, a young Peter Pan asks "where's the bacon" when being served a watery bowl of gruel at an orphanage in World War II London.

Little did British director Joe Wright and Warner Bros. know how prophetic the question would become.

Over the weekend, the ambitious Peter Pan origin story bombed at the North American box office, grossing a paltry $15.5 million despite a $150 million production budget and a friendly PG rating. Pan, from Warner Bros., Berlanti Productions and co-financing partner RatPac-Dune Entertainment, could lose more than $100 million unless the live-action movie does huge business overseas, a tough proposition. And plans for a sequel are seriously jeopardized.

The film took in $20.5 million this weekend internationally from 52 markets, representing 40 percent of the foreign marketplace and putting its early global total at a worrisome $40.6 million (it opened in Australia two weekends ago). One hope is China, where Pan rolls out Oct. 22. So far, it is doing best in Latin America, while struggling in Europe.

Wright's grand plan for his trip to Neverland didn't pan out. The lucrative family audience rejected the live-action film, starring Hugh Jackman, Rooney Mara, Garrett Hedlund, newcomer Levi Miller and plenty of special effects. It's another blow for the leadership at at Warners, which has suffered a string of misses this year, including pricey titles Jupiter Ascending and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

The studio declined comment on Pan's performance, but one Warners executive said, "It came in so much lighter than anything we could have predicted. The movie failed to bring in an audience of any size."

Only 23 percent of Pan's audience was under the age of 18. By way of comparison, 44 percent of ticket buyers going to see Disney's live-action Cinderella earlier this year were under the age of 18.

Females, and especially younger females, fueled hits like Cinderella and Disney's Maleficent. Femmes made up 77 percent of Cinderella's audience on opening weekend and 60 percent of Maleficent ticket buyers. This demo were less keen to see Pan, making up 55 percent of the audience.

Leading up to its release, Pan was ravaged by critics. Some reviewers described it as a sort of Indiana Jones meets Avatar, with Jackman's Blackbeard compared to the villain in Mad Max: Fury Road. And Wright's decision to have Blackbeard and his gang of pirates sing Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was heavily debated. Pan is the first studio tentpole directed by Wright, known for speciality fare like Atonement and Pride and Prejudice.

"Reboots are always tricky," said box-office analyst Phil Contrino. "There's always the risk that fans of a property won't be in tune with the new vision and that seems to be what has happened here."

Adds a rival studio executive, "Pan is neither fish nor fowl. It's trying to be too many things."

The film also sparked controversy when Wright chose Mara, instead of a Native American actress, to play Tiger Lily, prompting a petition urging Warner Bros. to stop casting white actors as people of color.

"Tough reviews, a change of release date and other factors conspired to create this opening weekend performance. Certainly, while the origin story concept in and of itself is not a bad thing, audiences may have had trouble grasping the concept of the film," said Paul Dergarabedian of Rentrak. "The silver lining may come in the international theatrical marketplace  and of course down the road on home video where curious audiences may want to check out the film and have additional in-home content for their kids."

Pan was originally set to open this past July, but a worried Warners delayed its release to fall, presumably a quieter corridor. The movie had tested poorly, and the studio wanted to do reshoots. But that plan didn't quite work out.

Dergarabedian and Contrino cite competition from holdovers The Martian and Hotel Transylvania 2 as another reason Pan got destroyed. Over the weekend, 10 percent of The Martian's audience was under the age of 18, proof that families are turning out to see the space epic, starring Matt Damon. And Hotel Transylvania 2 is a natural draw for younger kids.

For Hotel Transylvania 2 to beat Pan in its third weekend, both domestically and internationally, is a stinging blow.

"Following the huge success of Hotel Transylvania 2 wasn't an easy task," says Contrino. "And it definitely stole away some of the momentum Pan might have had."