'Downsizing' Box Office a Rare Miss for Alexander Payne

DOWNSIZING Still_4_embed - Publicity - EMBED 2017
George Kraychyk/Paramount Pictures

Anything from the real world had to be exactly 14 times bigger than normal, including this yellow rose. "We put velvet on the top to give it depth," says production designer Stefania Cella.

The satricial comedy is also the latest miss for actor Matt Damon following director George Clooney's 'Suburbicon.'

Acclaimed filmmaker Alexander Payne and Paramount may have bet big on Downsizing, but the movie is doing miniature-like business at the year-end holiday box office.

If the R-rated satirical comedy doesn't make a miraculous recovery, it will mark the first major miss of Payne's career, whose past films include prestige titles Nebraska, The Descendants, Sideways, About Schmidt and Election.

Downsizing is also the third movie in a row starring Matt Damon that's disappointed in North America after 2017 titles Suburbicon, directed by Damon's longtime collaborator, George Clooney, and The Great Wall. Prior to that, Damon turned out box-office hits Jason Bourne (2016) and The Martian (2015).

Downsizing, costing $70 million to make — by far the biggest budget Payne has worked with — opened to an estimated $4.9 million over the weekend from 2,668 theaters for a four-day debut of $7.3 million through Christmas Day, slightly better than Sunday estimates.

Paramount is hoping that adults will begin turning out in force once Christmas is over, but a C CinemaScore could ding word of mouth. Nor does it help that critics are sharply divided over the film, which sports a 51 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, the lowest of any film Payne has directed.

The dramedy, which opened the 2017 Venice Film Festival, stars Damon as an ordinary Midwestern man who agrees to be shrunk to five inches tall in order to live like a king. Hong Chau — who has earned a Golden Globe nom for performance — Christoph Waltz and Kristen Wiig co-star. The movie skewed notably older, with 60 percent of ticket buyers over the age of 30.

Downsizing is the first film from Payne to open nationwide versus launching in select theaters and slowly expanding. The Descendants (2011) is his top-grossing film with $177.2 million in global tickets sales against a $20 million budget. 

"Alexander Payne is one of the most acclaimed directors working today, and his movies definitely fit into a very unique category and often defy characterization, but that can also make them a challenge to market and also for general audiences, difficult to embrace," says box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian of comScore.

"Matt Damon also starred in Suburbicon at the end of October, and that may have caused some confusion among potential moviegoers," he continues. "And let's face it, there's a very, very crowded movie marketplace with almost too many options that are fragmenting the available moviegoing audience who are scattered in all directions at the multiplex."

The previous regime at Paramount gave the greenlight to Downsizing in fall 2015; ditto for Suburbicon.

Suburbicon fared even worse than Downsizing, opening to $2.8 million from 2,046 theaters over the Oct. 27-29 weekend after getting slapped with a D- CinemaScore. Clooney's film quickly disappeared from theaters, topping out at $5.8 million.

In terms of The Great Wall, Damon's other 2017 film, the expensive epic bombed in the U.S. with $45.1 million but took in $354.6 million globally, thanks in large part to grossing $170.9 million in China.

Damon, 47, recently told THR that he is keen to make Warner Bros.' Robert K. Kennedy biopic, a passion project for the actor. He'll next be in theaters in Warner Bros.' female-led Ocean's 8 (June 8).

Dec. 25, 7:30 a.m. Updated with revised grosses.