‘Furiosa’ and ‘Garfield’ Won’t Save Theaters From a Bleak Memorial Day Weekend Box Office

This year’s batch of Memorial Day weekend films, led by Warner Bros.’ “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” and Sony’s “The Garfield Movie,” may realize a solid return on investment for their studios. But it is highly unlikely they will save theaters from what is set to be the worst Memorial Day weekend box office in a quarter century.

Memorial Day weekend has historically served as the launch pad for some of the biggest summer hits in box office history, the most recent being Paramount’s record-breaking “Top Gun: Maverick” in 2022 which had a $160.5 million four-day domestic start. Last year, Disney’s remake of “The Little Mermaid” led the charts with a $118.8 million extended launch in North America.

“Furiosa,” George Miller’s fiery prequel to the 2015 Oscar winner “Mad Max: Fury Road,” isn’t going to get anywhere near that. While it is projected to be the No. 1 film this weekend, pre-release tracking has the movie earning a four-day start in the low $40 million range. “The Garfield Movie,” based on Jim Davis’ classic comic strip, is projected for a $30-35 million four-day start.

The last time the No.1 film on Memorial Day weekend opened in the $40 million range was in 2015 with Brad Bird’s live-action Disney film “Tomorrowland” earning $42.5 million over four days. That was a poor start that led to the $190 million film flopping with $209 million grossed worldwide.

At the time, the overall gross for the weekend of $194 million was considered a down year for the May box office, but it could have been much worse had it not been for the fact that all the other films in the top five grossed more than $25 million that weekend. 20th Century Fox’s remake of “Poltergeist” was No. 5 on the charts with a $26.7 million opening, while Nos. 2-4 were filled in by substantial holdover results for “Fury Road,” “Pitch Perfect 2,” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron”

Beyond “Furiosa” and “Garfield,” no other film this weekend is likely to top $25 million over four days, including the third weekend of “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.” Without a “Little Mermaid”-level opening to make up for that lack of holdover support, theaters are facing the worst Memorial Day weekend the box office has seen since 1999, when “Star Wars: Episode I” deadlifted the box office to $142.5 million before inflation. (This excludes the pandemic years of 2020-21 when many theaters were closed for several months.)

Such a fate would cap off a May box office that is currently running 20% behind the pace set in May 2023 and is on track to be the lowest monthly domestic gross recorded in May outside the pandemic since at least 2006, when overall grosses reached $782 million.

Fittingly, 2006 was also the last non-pandemic year before 2024 that a Marvel film was not on the May release slate. Disney moved the Marvel Studios film “Deadpool & Wolverine” from the first weekend of May to July 26 due to production delays caused by last year’s double strike, and theaters have been left missing the boost in moviegoer turnout that the franchise has historically brought amid a wider drop in theatrical output due to the work stoppage.

Will “Furiosa” bring the “Fury”?

While the overall outlook for theaters is stormy, Warner Bros. doesn’t necessarily need “Furiosa” to crack the top 10 Memorial Day opening list for it to be a success. In fact, an opening that meets projections would be only slightly lower than the opening of “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which now is part of the cinematic canon but was a mild box office success when it came out in 2015.

Produced on a $150 million budget and released the weekend before Memorial Day, “Fury Road” opened to $45.4 million in North America before inflation. With Monday included, that start increases to $50.7 million. The film went on to gross $153.6 million domestic and $379.4 million worldwide.

"Furiosa" (Warner Bros.)
“Furiosa” (Warner Bros.)

Considering that “Furiosa” does not have any of the main cast of its predecessor — Anya Taylor-Joy and Chris Hemsworth take the place of Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy on the marquee — a $40 million extended start is in line with how a “Fury Road” prequel would perform at the box office.

So far, reception for “Furiosa” has been strong after its Cannes premiere, and it holds an 86% Rotten Tomatoes score. Social media buzz from audiences who attended advance fan screenings has also been positive and could help increase walk-up traffic this weekend.

While that’s all reason for optimism for Warner Bros., it’s little comfort for theaters now staring down the barrel of another holiday weekend performing far worse than it should.

Can “Garfield” and “IF” coexist?

Another question for Memorial Day weekend is whether Paramount’s “IF” will be able to build off its word-of-mouth while competing for family audiences with “The Garfield Movie.”

Animated by DNEG on a reported $60 million budget financed by Alcon Entertainment, “The Garfield Movie” should be an easy box office win for Sony Pictures. It has already grossed $49 million overseas with half of its international markets and the U.S. still to come.

“Garfield” also has the advantage of being the first animated movie in theaters since “Kung Fu Panda 4,” something that should attract parents with younger kids looking to get out of the house. Critics have been mixed on the film — it has a 46% Rotten Tomatoes score — but as was the case with “IF,” it’s the audience reception that matters more.

For “IF,” Memorial Day weekend will be key to determining whether the film can turn a significant profit against its $110 million budget after it opened to a rather soft $33.7 million. The good news for the movie is that it received strong audience scores and played to a rather diverse audience.

According to CinemaScore, the opening weekend audience for “IF” was 56% families and 44% general audiences. Ethnic demos were 48% white, 30% Latino, 12% Black and 4% Asian, and the splits on gender and over-and-under 25 years old were close to 50/50.

The best-case scenario for “IF” is that “Garfield” gets a larger share of its opening weekend crowd from parents with younger kids, leaving “IF” with some space to continue playing to other audience sectors. The strong reception across various demographics could allow word-of-mouth to spread farther, giving it longer legs into early June.

Long legs for “IF” will also be a welcome sign for non-IP-based family films, which have had a harder time finding a foothold theatrically than films with characters that kids and parents recognize right away.

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