Box Office's Bleak Fall: Why 'Inferno' Flamed Out, and Four Other Hard Lessons Learned

Inferno 7 - Tom Hanks Felicity Jones - Still - H - 2016
Sony Pictures

Domestic box-office revenue for September and October was down nearly 10 percent from the same period in 2015 after a number of titles — including 'Inferno,' 'Deepwater Horizon' and 'Bridget Jones's Baby' — couldn't deliver.

It's been a chilly fall at the multiplex.

North American box-office revenue was down 10 percent over last year between post-Labor Day and Oct. 31 after a number of titles got iced or didn't fully deliver domestically. The saving grace: Year-to-date revenue is still running ahead of 2015's by 3.4 percent.

Ron Howard's Inferno, the third installment in the Da Vinci Code series, is the latest blow. The movie, starring Tom Hanks, bombed in the U.S. over Halloween weekend with $14.9 million. (The season isn't a total loss for Hanks, who also starred in Sully, fall's top domestic earner with $122.4 million). Bridget Jones's Baby was another bust with U.S. moviegoers, topping out at $24 million domestically. The female-skewing film was saved by the U.K. and other foreign markets, where it has grossed $149.3 million. Likewise, Inferno has been rescued offshore, grossing north of $132 million in its first three weeks.

One title that has fared miserably everywhere is Pete Berg's big-budget Deepwater Horizon. The disaster adventure, costing a net $120 million to make, has grossed just $100.6 million worldwide.

Analysts still believe the domestic box office has a fighting chance of matching or narrowly besting 2015's record $11.2 billion, pointing to upcoming event films like Doctor Strange and Trolls, both of which open Friday. Harry Potter spinoff Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Nov. 17), Moana (Nov. 23), Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Dec. 16) and Passengers (Dec. 21) are slated through the end of the year.

But a bruising September and October has forced Hollywood to face up to some hard lessons:

Don’t make sequels that aren’t relevant!
"No one seemed to ask for or want many of these sequels, so this summer's so-called sequelitis virus unfortunately carried into the fall season," says box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian of comScore, pointing to Inferno, Bridget Jones's Baby and Blair Witch, all of which opened many years after their previous installments. "Sequels are suddenly the Rodney Dangerfield of the film business. They can’t get no respect."

The big exception? Tyler Perry and Lionsgate's comedy-horror spoof Boo! A Madea Halloween, which pulled off a surprise Halloween upset, grossing $17.2 million in its second weekend, easily trumping Inferno and re-energizing the Madea franchise. (Granted, it hasn't been that long since the last Madea film opened in 2012.) One top Hollywood executive says Boo! is working because Perry made the story relevant by placing the popular character amid the mayhem of Halloween.

It remains to be seen whether Hollywood can bring the same relevancy to a slew of remakes and reboots in development — such as the just-announced Rambo project — or already set for release, including next year's xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, Kong: Skull Island, Jumanji, The Mummy and Blade Runner 2049, to name a few.

There are too many movies targeting older men.
"You certainly can’t say it was 'No Country for Old Men' at the multiplex as films like The Magnificent Seven, The Accountant, Deepwater Horizon, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back and Snowden had varying degrees of success this fall while eschewing any attempt to attract younger and less testosterone-driven audiences," Dergarabedian also observes.

Magnificent Seven has earned the most domestically with $91.2 million. But it had the least competition for male eyeballs when it opened Sept. 23. Men became a precious commodity when Deepwater Horizon rolled out Sept. 30, followed by Ben Affleck's The Accountant on Oct. 14 and Never Go Back on Oct. 21. The Accountant has outgrossed the Jack Reacher follow-up in the U.S. to date, with $61.3 million versus the Tom Cruise movie's $39.8 million. Yet neither has yet to match the $66 million earned domestically by The Girl on the Train, which became the season's lone female-fueled offering after the failed Bridget Jones sequel.

"Male star power did not manage to power box-office success for the overall season," Dergarabedian continues. "Though individually Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Ben Affleck, Tom Cruise, Tyler Perry and Kevin Hart fueled one of the most star-driven fall seasons ever, we are down nearly 10 percent for the period."

Where was the all-audience movie?
In 2013, Gravity made history by proving that a big-event film can launch in October. The pic grossed $274.1 million domestically and a record $724 million worldwide. Last year, The Martian also dared to launch in October, earning $630 million globally, including $228 million in North America. Inferno had ambitions of appealing to all audiences — hence the casting of Felicity Jones opposite Hanks — but instead played to a decidedly older crowd.

There was a dearth of family films and animation.
Even though kids had gone back to school, Hotel Transylvania 2 was a September sensation last year, grossing $169.7 million domestically. A month later, Goosebumps earned a solid $81 million. This year, there was only one animated offering in September and October, Storks, which topped out at $68.3 million after skewing very young. Tim Burton's often-dark fantasy adventure Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children made a play for families, but is a dark fantasy adventure (to date, the movie has grossed $80 million domestically).

Comedy remains in real trouble.
Just ask Zach Galifianakis, who starred in two fall ensemble comedies: Relativity's Masterminds and Fox's Keeping Up With the Joneses. Also starring Isla Fisher, Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot, the latter pic opened to $5.5 million over the Oct. 21-23 weekend, one of the worst starts of all time for a movie rolling out in more than 3,000 theaters. The performance of the two films continues a troubling trend that has caused many Hollywood studios to press the pause button on the number of comedies they make.

"Other than Boo! and stand-up concert film Kevin Hart: What Now?, the select few other comedies fell flatter than pumpkin pie this fall and offered little relief from the preponderance of serious or intense fare that permeated the marketplace," says Dergarabedian. "Overall, this fall fell short because the joy and enthusiasm just did not seem to be there on the part of an audience that appeared to be more than slightly disinterested in what Hollywood served up on the big screen. Thankfully, a very solid-looking holiday lineup looks to erase the sins of the fall film flounder."