After ‘Furiosa’ Misfires, When Will Summer Movie Season Rebound?

This weekend, the box office looked more like a Wasteland than the fruitful Green Place of Many Mothers.

“Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” underperformed in its box office debut with $25.6 million between Friday and Sunday and an estimated $31 million through Memorial Day on Monday. Instead of ruling the box office as expected, it’s in a shockingly close race for first place with Sony’s animated “The Garfield Movie,” which collected $24.8 million over the weekend and an estimated $31 million through the four days. Neither could salvage the holiday weekend, which is the worst it’s been in nearly three decades.

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It wasn’t just domestic audiences that failed to show up for “Furiosa.” The fifth entry in director George Miller’s post-apocalyptic series, starring Anya Taylor-Joy and Chris Hemsworth, is stalling at the international box office with $33.3 million from 75 territories, bringing its worldwide tally to $58.9 million. It’s a tough start given the film cost $168 million to produce, not including a splashy global press tour with a stop at Cannes Film Festival.

“This is a weak opening in spite of outstanding reviews and a good audience score,” says David A. Gross of movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research.

Part of the problem is that prequels seldom do as well as direct sequels, especially when they don’t have stars from the original — just ask “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” Even last November’s “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” which became a hit with $337 million against a $100 million budget, didn’t come anywhere close to the original “Hunger Games” saga without Jennifer Lawerence as the Girl on Fire. However, Lionsgate spent less on “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” compared to its predecessors, so the prequel managed to become financially successful. In the case of “Furiosa,” Warner Bros. didn’t appear to consider this and cut back on spending, so the dystopian adventure has a high bar to clear in terms of profitability.

“‘Furiosa’ is even more fan-heavy than projections indicated,” says Shawn Robbin, founder of Box Office Theory. “It reaffirms that prequels with recast characters are tough sells to casual audiences.”

And although 2015’s “Mad Max: Fury Road,” starring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, has been hailed as one of the greatest action movies, it wasn’t exactly a box office sensation. That film opened with $45 million and became a modest hit with $380 million against a similarly big budget. It wasn’t even among the 20-highest-grossing movies of 2015. “Mad Max,” a 45-year-old franchise, is beloved among cinephiles but hasn’t entirely resonated with mainstream audiences. So, despite a female protagonist in “Furiosa,” the prequel didn’t meaningfully expand beyond its core demographic of older male moviegoers.

“With action elements with appeal to younger moviegoers, it will be interesting to see after the dust settles a bit if ‘Furiosa’ can attract a broader audience,” says Paul Dergarabedian, a senior Comscore analyst.

None of this bodes well for popcorn season, which will almost certainly fall short of the $4 billion benchmark. This year was the first in many without a Marvel movie to usher in summer, and none of May’s would-be blockbusters — including Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt’s action-comedy “The Fall Guy,” director John Krasinski’s family-friendly “IF” and “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” — could offset the absence of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Audiences have been indifferent to most of those new movies, even though most have been well-reviewed.

There are plenty of films on the calendar through August that could galvanize the moviegoing masses, including franchise sequels like “Deadpool & Wolverine,” “Despicable Me 4” and “Inside Out 2,” as well as spinoffs and new stories such as “Twisters,” “A Quiet Place: Day One” and Kevin Costner’s “Horizon: An America Saga.”

“Summer is off to a slower start than expected, [but] the next two months can pick up the pace,” says Robbins.

It’s time for blockbuster season to put the pedal to the metal.

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