Box Office: 'Passengers' Fights to Break Even Amid Stiff Competition

Jaimie Trueblood/Columbia Pictures

Insiders say the space epic's launch date may have "led to audience fragmentation" as the Jennifer Lawrence-Chris Pratt starrer, budgeted at $125 million to $130 million, still looks to cash in globally.

Like its doomed protagonists, Passengers doesn’t seem like it will get a happy ending at the box office. The decade-in-development project has been watched closely because Sony Pictures chief Tom Rothman made it his first big-budget greenlight in 2015 and he hoped it would save a down year at the studio. Rothman thought he had a good bet in casting Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt — arguably Hollywood’s hottest young stars — in a two-hander romance set aboard a transport ship hurtling through the galaxies. He agreed to a gross budget of $156 million, including a $20 million fee for Lawrence, and hired director Morten Tyldum, fresh off his Oscar nomination for The Imitation Game.

Passengers still may break even, but many observers believe it is a disappointment considering such recent star-driven space epics as Gravity, Interstellar and The Martian topped $600 million worldwide. By contrast, Passengers, which cost $125 million to $130 million after rebates, plus a major marketing spend, had earned $269.6 million worldwide as of Jan. 22 ($94.5 million domestic and $175.1 million overseas). Box-office experts now believe the film will top out between $300 million and $310 million globally after largely being rejected by critics (though it did score two Oscar nominations, for score and production design). “Passengers has posted relatively solid numbers but when balanced against these three comparable films, it seems to have come up short,” says Paul Dergarabedian of comScore.

A Sony spokesperson maintains Passengers will be “nicely profitable around the globe, demonstrating that there’s still a worldwide audience for original films.” But that may not translate to profits for some of Sony’s partners on the film. Village Roadshow and China’s Dalian Wanda Group likely will sustain a slight loss after recouping about 95 percent of their investment, say sources. Passengers’ performance in China is especially disappointing considering the promotional might of Wanda. The film opened to a muted $17 million and has grossed $33.5 million to date.

Dergarabedian and other insiders question whether Passengers, which opened Dec. 21 in the U.S. amid heavy competition, would have been served better by a different launch date: “Opening six weeks after the release of the acclaimed Arrival,” he notes, “a week after the debut of the outer space action stylings of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and four days before the limited release of real-life space race drama Hidden Figures may have led to audience fragmentation.”

This story first appeared in the Feb. 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.