'Charlie's Angels' and When to Put an Expiration Date on Old IP

'Terminator: Dark Fate' and 'Doctor Sleep,' both films that were billed as sequels to movies that opened decades ago, also bombed in recent weeks.

Days after Sony's Charlie's Angels reboot fell to earth with a mere $8.4 million opening at the U.S. box office, industry experts are trying to figure out just where to point the finger of blame. And more important, how much weight does aging intellectual property carry these days when it comes to reboots of classic franchises?

The debate comes as Charlie's Angels — released 16 years after Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle debuted to $37 million in June 2003 — became the third consecutive franchise reboot attempt to bomb this month. It follows the dismal $14.1 million opening of Warner Bros' Doctor Sleep, a sequel to 1980's The Shining, and the $29 million opening of Paramount and Skydance's pricey Terminator: Dark Fate, the sixth installment in the franchise but billed as a direct sequel to James Cameron's 1991 hit Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

The underwhelming performances of the three films has exacerbated Hollywood's IP conundrum: In an era when Disney franchises and reboots dominate the box office and original movies are often seen as too risky for theatrical release, how far into its vaults should a studio reach to fill its annual slate?

"The time-honored tradition of the reboot has been pressure-tested over the past three weekends, with three films earning a resounding 'meh' from audiences who were clearly not seeking out the characters nor the type of onscreen situations that made their predecessors big enough hits to warrant venturing back into the vaults," says Paul Dergarabedian, a box office analyst at Comscore. "Today's audiences are very wary of the resurrecting of non-original IP sometimes a decade or more after the original films made their mark."

To be sure, there are revivals that have felt fresh enough to earn a resounding yes from audiences in recent years. These include Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park franchise revived by 2015's Jurassic World, starring Chris Pratt, and its 2018 sequel, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (both have grossed more than $1 billion worldwide); and 2017's Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, with Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart, grossing $962 million worldwide (Jumanji: The Next Level debuts Dec. 13 from Sony). And then there's this decade's Star Wars reboot, with a new trilogy that continues the Skywalker story — 2015's Force Awakens grossed more than $2 billion worldwide, while 2017's The Last Jedi grossed $1.3 billion worldwide.

These films all rebooted franchises after a two-decade hiatus and played to all audiences, young and old. The same goes for Disney's The Lion King and Aladdin, two 2019 remakes of the classic 1994 and 1992 animated films, respectively, as both earned north of $1 billion at the global box office.

Conversely, Charlie's Angels Terminator: Dark Fate and Doctor Sleep all failed to attract moviegoers over the age of 35 in a major way, and particularly those 45 and older. Those demos should be a natural audience for all three titles.

Charlie's Angels, directed by Elizabeth Banks and starring Kirsten Stewart, Naomi Scott and Ella Balinska, also had trouble luring younger females — its target audience — in enough numbers. The two previous versions — 2000's Charlie's Angels and 2003's Full Throttle — starred Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu. All the film adaptations of Charlie's Angels are loosely based on the premise and characters found in the ABC television series that debuted in 1976. Before this year's movie reboot, ABC also attempted to resurrect the TV show in 2011, but the series was canceled after scathing reviews.

For Banks' iteration, young people just didn’t seem to care about the property or the actresses.

"The fatal flaw in the Charlie’s Angels reboot was that Sony didn’t correctly calculate the demand, or seemingly understand what made the original films work. Simply stated: it was star power," says Jeff Bock of Exhibitor Relations. "Kristen Stewart has proven she isn’t a big box office draw and she certainly doesn’t have star power, or charisma, like the Angels that came before. That’s not to say she isn’t a talented actress, but she and her cohorts don't have that 'it' factor that Barrymore, Diaz and Liu radiated."

Sony had known for several months that social media chatter was lagging, prompting the studio to trim its marketing spend in recent weeks. Charlie's Angels, which cost roughly $50 million to produce before marketing, is also off to a dismal start overseas, where it opened to $21 million last weekend.

Paramount and Skydance, along with other partners, are facing much steeper losses over Terminator: Dark Fate, which has earned a paltry $244 million globally against a budget of about $185 million, despite bringing back franchise stars Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Warner Bros. will likely also face losses due to the comatose returns so far for Doctor Sleep ($54 million worldwide), which picked up The Shining story some four decades after the events in Stanley Kubrick's film and stars Ewan McGregor as an adult Danny Torrance. 

"As entertaining as Doctor Sleep was, it had none of the grandeur or restraint or buildup of The Shining. It looks like a TV movie most of the time," Bock says. “And acts like one. I sort of wonder if the filmmakers taking on these sequels and reboots have a true sense of not only the history of filmmaking, but the dynamic tapestry and specific artisanship involved."

Earlier this year, Sony's reboot of Men in Black International — which replaced franchise stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones with Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson — also faltered with $253 million at the global box office. The original movies — 1997's Men in Black ($589 million worldwide), 2002's Men in Black II ($445 million worldwide) and 2012's Men in Black 3 ($624 million worldwide) — capitalized on Smith’s global star power.

Sony is counting on its Jumanji sequel, which will bring back Johnson and Hart, to serve as a course correction. The studio also has Greta Gerwig's Little Woman, based on a well-known piece of literary IP, which debuts at Christmas and stars Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, Timothée Chalamet, Florence Pugh, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep.

And 2020 is also stacked with new installments in long-dormant franchises, including Sony's Bad Boys for Life (Jan. 17) that reunites stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence; MGM's No Time to Die (April 3), the 25th installment of the James Bond franchise; and Paramount-Skydance's Top Gun: Maverick (June 26), with Tom Cruise back in the cockpit. Sony will also resurrect Ghostbusters after its 2016 miss, but this time with Jason Reitman at the helm and original franchise stars Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver and Annie Potts reprising their roles from the original two 1980s films that were directed by Ivan Reitman.

"There is a dangerous game afoot where Hollywood feels beholden to IP. And more often than not, it’s a creative shackle instead of an incentive," says Bock. "I suppose that’s the issue with all these IP failures and misfires — they looked forced and the studios want them to exist more than the audiences do. And that’s a major problem."