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Not even The Boss — aka Bruce Springsteen — could rescue Warner Bros. from a horrible summer.
Over the Aug. 16-18 weekend, New Line’s Blinded by the Light — a coming-of-age tale inspired by Springsteen’s music — bombed in its nationwide debut, earning a mere $4 million at the box office. The film opened just one week after fellow New Line/Warner Bros. release The Kitchen, a female-fronted mob pic starring Melissa McCarthy and Tiffany Haddish, went up in flames with a $5.5 million debut, further dousing the studio’s reputation for owning the summer box office.
Both films follow forgettable numbers for Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures’ June tentpole Godzilla: King of Monsters, New Line’s Shaft and MGM’s The Sun Is Also a Star.
The Ryan Reynolds-starring Detective Pikachu is the studio’s biggest summer win to date, with $423 million in global ticket sales (Legendary is likewise a partner on that film). Godzilla: King of Monsters currently rests at $386 million, well behind the $530 million earned globally by Godzilla in the summer of 2014, not adjusted for inflation.
New Line’s Annabelle Comes Home has been a summer hit with $220.5 million in global ticket sales, despite earning less than most other titles in the horror franchise. The last installment, Annabelle Creation, grossed $305.4 million.
Warners once ruled the summer season, before Disney began to dominate. Two years ago at this time, the studio topped the summer market share chart in North America. This time around, Warners is fourth for the season, behind Disney, Sony and Universal, according to Comscore. (For the full year, however, Warners is third behind Disney and Universal.)
And summer 2018 was touch-and-go for Warners. That is, until Crazy Rich Asians and The Meg ignited the August box office.
Fast-forward to this August, when The Kitchen and Blinded by the Light ranked among the worst openings ever for major studio releases.
Directed by Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham), Blinded by the Light is a coming-of-age tale about a British teen born to Pakistani immigrants whose life changes when he falls in love with Springsteen’s music. Newcomer Viveik Kalra stars. In an unusual move, New Line acquired Blinded by the Light out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival at a price tag of $15 million or more. The studio label isn’t generally in the business of making festival acquisitions.
“These kinds of movies are more difficult than ever before. It’s alarming what is theater-worthy and what isn’t in the eyes of the consumer,” says Warners distribution chief Jeff Goldstein. “The gap between the have and have-nots has never been bigger.”
While Warner Bros. film studio chief Toby Emmerich can’t be happy about the summer, he can take solace in delivering recent hits Aquaman, Shazam! and A Star Is Born.
Studio insiders say that while The Kitchen is certain to land in the red, Blinded by the Light‘s losses will be minimal (the latter is already being referred to internally as a “noble failure”). And it’s hardly alone in not working — a slew of adult-skewing, original titles have failed this summer, including Richard Linklater’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette, which opened to $3.4 million over the Aug. 16-18 weekend.
Warners’ film studio is counting on a strong fall and winter to turn its fortunes around, beginning with It Chapter 2 on Sept. 6 (early tracking shows the sequel launching with at least $100 million domestically).
Todd Phillips’ The Joker, set to hit theaters Oct. 4, is another priority. The edgy superhero pic, starring Joaquin Phoenix, is making its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in hopes of being a player in the awards race. Other high-profile titles on the studio’s year-end calendar include Doctor Sleep (Nov. 8).
“As for Warner Bros., every studio’s ups and downs are slate dependent, and each has had their great years and not such great years, solid corridors and dismal ones. The unpredictability and volatility of the box office is something that no studio is immune to, that’s for sure.” says Paul Dergarabedian of Comscore.
“The great news is that WB has It Chapter 2, which is poised to be a monster at the box office and Joker, which is one of the most anticipated movies on the calendar and a potential awards season contender among other films on their slate.”
Aug. 19, 8:30 a.m. A previous version of this story included an incorrect gross for Annabelle Comes Home. THR regrets the error.
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