‘Argylle’ Won’t Do Much to Break the Current Box Office Slump

After two weeks of no major film releases, movie theaters are in great need of a fresh hit to break the late-winter box office drought. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Universal/Apple’s “Argylle” will be that big hit.

Tracking for Matthew Vaughn’s spy thriller is projecting an opening weekend of $18 million, half of the $36.2 million opening that Vaughn’s 2014 film “Kingsman: The Secret Service” earned.

For most legacy studio productions, that would be a bust. But Apple is playing by different rules.

Flush with cash from non-entertainment revenue streams, the Silicon Valley tech giant has built a strategy of spending big bucks on original films from big name filmmakers — Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” and Ridley Scott’s “Napoleon,” for example — and signing deals with legacy studios to theatrically distribute the film with a full window.

So far, the numbers haven’t been huge. “Killers,” which carried a $200 million-plus budget, grossed just $156 million at the global box office, while “Napoleon,” which carried a similar price tag, only did slightly better with $218.3 million grossed worldwide.

What makes it even harder to gauge whether Apple is getting a return on investment is their decision to keep streaming subscriber numbers for Apple TV+ under wraps. With “Killers of the Flower Moon” hitting streaming in the wake of its Best Picture Oscar nomination, this would be the time where Apple would hope to reap the benefits of releasing a film in theaters to elevate audience awareness, but it will be difficult to discern whether that goal is successful.

“I have no idea if this is actually working for Apple, but as long as they’re willing to spend, nobody’s going to complain,” one exec for a legacy studio told TheWrap earlier this month. “It’s a good deal for the studios they sign distribution deals with, the filmmakers who make the movies they want to make, and the theaters who get more programming.”

So far, tracking suggests that “Argylle” hasn’t gained a big foothold with audiences despite months of marketing highlighting the film’s quirky approach to the spy genre. The film stars Bryce Dallas Howard as the author of a successful series of spy novels about a fictional agent named Argylle — or at least she thinks he’s fictional. It turns out that Argylle is real, and her novels have predicted the future for an underground network of spies that eye the author as a high-priority target.

But critics aren’t impressed by “Argylle,” giving the film mostly negative reviews with a 34% Rotten Tomatoes score. Barring a significant deviation in opinion among opening night audiences, “Argylle” now faces a potential future where these reviews start a chain of poor word-of-mouth that stifles its chances to leg out through February. While Universal faces little risk on this distribution-only title, poor word-of-mouth will certainly harm Apple’s efforts to grow its streaming base through the cinema.

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