Why Brendan Fraser's Dudley Do-Right Failed At The Box Office

Brendan Fraser's ongoing Brenaissance (sorry) continues as the once-reclusive star re-emerges into the spotlight. Much of Hollywood's newly rediscovered love for Fraser stems from his Oscar-nominated turn in Darren Aronofsky's "The Whale," but he's also got the benefit of '90s nostalgia and just being a charming guy working in his favor. That effortless charm was put to good use back in the '90s when Fraser was handed starring role after starring role. From his breakthrough in 1992's "Encino Man," which established his ongoing penchant for playing "naif characters," to 1997's "George of The Jungle," and his biggest hit "The Mummy," Fraser had a gentle and endearing demeanor that proved popular with audiences of all ages. Sometimes.

Other times, it didn't work that way. "George of The Jungle" proved a hit for Disney in '97, bringing in $105 million at the box office on a $55 million budget. Two years later Universal would also try adapting characters from legendary animation producer Jay Ward to disastrous effect. 1999's "Dudley Do-Right" probably looked like it would work on paper. Fraser would once again be playing a mild-mannered lead completely out of his depth as a Canadian Mounty. He was paired with his "Blast From The Past" director Hugh Wilson — a partnership which worked on that particular project, and which /Film's own Ariel Fisher considers, "one of Brendan Fraser's finest movies." What's more, the Dudley Do-Right character had long since established his cultural cache back in the 60s as part of the beloved "Rocky and Bullwinkle Show." What could go wrong?

Well, as it turns out, everything. "Dudley Do-Right" was critically panned and only brought in a devastating $9.8 million at the box office on a budget of $22 million. But why? How? It had it all, right? Allow me to explain...

It wasn't very good and Universal knew it

This may sound harsh but the best way to understand why "Dudley Do-RIght" failed at the box office is to watch it. It's just not great. Fraser delivers his gentle charm as the, "lonely defender of justice and fair play," but that's about all the film has going for it. Alfred Molina as the villainous Snidely Whiplash is just kind of going uncomfortably through the motions of playing a generic old-timey villain and it's pretty awkward to see the esteemed stage star giving it his best and failing.

Otherwise, the film is a bizarre mish-mash of slapstick comedy and odd cultural references with some excruciating scenes that border on downright offensive. There's some attempts at depicting an indigenous tribe's festival which are pretty questionable. Oh, and Eric Idle plays an Eastern spiritual guide at one point in what I think is supposed to be a parody of Mr. Miyagi from the "Karate Kid" movies?

Basically, it just wasn't very good. And once Universal saw the completed cut, they knew they'd messed up. Cinemascore, which polls audiences around the US on opening night, reported a dismal C+ score, which ... yeah. Anything below a B+ is usually bad news, so this was just further evidence that the film was doomed. Critics were relentless in their panning of "Dudley Do-Right," too, with reviews claiming it to be everything from "dreck" to a "waste of celluloid." None of which exactly helps a film's box office draw. It's no wonder that Universal sent their dud of a movie straight to video in other countries.

The wrong time

Even before scores and reviews rolled in, Universal knew they'd got a dud on their hands. They had planned to release "Dudley Do-Right" alongside the May 1999 opening of the "Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls" ride at Universal Studios, Orlando. But the studio eventually released their other Fraser-starring effort, "The Mummy" around the time their theme park attraction debuted, which proved to be a shrewd tactic. "The Mummy" was a hit, bringing in $416 million, and Universal's theme park ride debuted without the negative press of its movie equivalent hampering the launch.

Meanwhile, "Dudley Do-Right" was given a dreaded end-of-Summer "dumping ground" release of August 27 alongside such memorable hits as "The 13th Warrior," and "The Muse." It made $3,955,335 opening weekend. Considering there was little buzz for the film, alongside negative reviews, and the fact that, y'know, it wasn't good, that isn't all that surprising.

Back in the summer of '99, then-Universal chief Stacey Snider told the LA Times: "We're getting smarter about budgeting, which is allowing us to take more chances." With three big hits that year ("The Mummy," "Notting Hill," and "American Pie"), the studio probably was willing to take some chances, but the $22 million they gave to Wilson proved to be a risk not worth taking. The big movies of that year were nothing like the farcical slapstick of "Dudley Do-Right." Alongside those three big Universal hits, audiences turned out for "The Blair Witch Project," "The Sixth Sense," "Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace," and "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" — all of which seemed to indicate that adults were the ones showing up for movies in 1999. And "Dudley Do-Right," as Roger Ebert opined, only had a chance of working for, "viewers below a certain age (9?)"

Fraser isn't the most reliable star

Brendan Fraser might be witnessing a Matthew McConaughey-style revival of late, but despite what the current wave of praise might have you believe, he wasn't exactly a consistently beloved star back in the day, despite his sincerity and gentle allure. In fact, his box office record is pretty erratic. His biggest hits have been the Mummy movies and "George of The Jungle," but otherwise things have been rocky. Fraser's best films often weren't commercial successes, and his best dramatic work has mostly been when he isn't the lead, or isn't the only star.

With that in mind, Universal seemingly banked on Fraser when that wasn't necessarily the best move. Likely spurred on by the success of Disney's "George of The Jungle," the studio was hoping for a repeat of that 1997 outing, especially considering "Dudley Do-Right" was similarly based on a Jay Ward creation and Fraser would be portraying a similarly bumbling character, clearly incapable of living up to the demands of his title. Universal even highlighted their own aspirations to match the success of "George of The Jungle" with the trailer for their movie, which opens by pointing out that it comes from, "the creator of 'George of the Jungle,' and the star of 'George of the Jungle,' and the acclaimed director who saw 'George of the Jungle'" Alas, that barely amusing joke wasn't enough to kick the hype machine into gear, and with Fraser unable to save "Dudley Do-Right" from itself, the movie was doomed to fail.

At least Fraser made up for it all with his incredible, horrifying backstory for Dudley, which involved the character witnessing his mother's murder at the hands of his father before swearing to "do right" for the rest of his life.