In the knowledge that Terminator: Salvation has ‘only’ taken in $71m at the US Box Office, having cost over $200m to make and market, prognosticators are rushing to pronounce the Terminator franchise as dead. The facts don’t look good – so far it has earned less than the previous franchise killer (the disappointing-in-so-many-ways Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines), it is reviewing badly, and it got its ass handed to it by a Ben Stiller family comedy. This is surely bad news for Warner Brothers, the studio that produced the other $200m ‘dud’ of the year, Watchmen – but does it really signal the end for everyone’s favourite time-traveling robotic assassin?
There are two contexts to look at that figure. The first is within the context of the franchise itself. The recent cancellation of the very well-received second season of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles on television seems to suggest that public interest in the machines has sharply declined since the days that Terminator 2 broke box office records. One must also keep in mind that this is a franchise where the hey-day was nearly twenty years ago, so that it remains alive at all is minor miracle. Most of the kids who will be going to cinemas would have maybe seen the first two movies on DVD, but wouldn’t have experienced the hype around their release. Plus there’s the rating – the fanbase that is foaming at the mouth for a Terminator film want a ‘hard’ film, aggressive and violent. They don’t want a PG-13 rated film. Of course this works both ways – with box office analysts blaming Watchmen’s unimpressive haul on a rating that was too hard to let the kids in to see it, but Watchmen was marketed as a hip new cool property, whereas all the advertising I have seen for Salvation seem to sell it as a ‘retro’ action film. Indeed, even the more favourable reviews recognise the film as “Reagan-era science fiction”. The cold hard truth is that it could never have one against Night at the Museum 2, which was a family film opening on a family holiday. I was just surprised the total box office takings were so low. Is the American public suffering box office fatigue?
So, what’s the prognosis? I don’t think it’s dead. Franchises with this much traction hibernate, they don’t die. I estimate it’ll be a good five, six years before we see a film. I would also expect to see a cheaper film, one which reboots the franchise. Movies that underperform in franchises rarely get direct sequels. That might be a good thing, given McG’s rather… interesting idea for a follow-up. Though I wouldn’t mind a Robert Patrick cameo.
I do think that the fact that this is the second time this year that Warner Brothers has been embarrassed may change a few things. Sure, the studio will make its money back with Harry Potter. Still, I doubt they wanted Gran Torino to be their biggest hit of the year this far in. I do imagine that we’ll see movie budgets go down, though I have been expecting that a while. Movies like this are always gambles – for every Dark Knight or Harry Potter there’s a Speed Racer, a Watchmen or a Terminator: Salavation. I’ve always respected Warner Brothers as the most adventurous and risk-taking studio, but I think they may realise that they need to start controlling expectations at the box office. Since most films are measured by their budgets, that would seem the logical way to do it. Indeed, you could make a case for Watchmen actually being a success, if it wasn’t for the studio’s hefty price tag.
In conclusion, I don’t think that Salvation will make a loss overall. Even with the international revenue going to Columbia Tristar, I see the DVD doing well with lots of old fans who didn’t bother to go the cinema. I do think that the fixation with opening numbers (which are more and more important in a world where movies have a shorter-and-shorter screen life) will see the costs cut and riskier projects getting less money. Though this disappoints me, I think I can live with it.
Filed under: Movies Tagged: | box office, Gran Torino, harry potter, Movies, Night at the Museum 2, Night the Museum, Sarah Connor Chronicles, summer, terminator, terminator 2, terminator 3, terminator: salvation, Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles, Warner Brothers, watchmen