Renfield's Box Office Is Off To A Disappointing Start Against Super Mario Bros.

Oscar-winner Nicolas Cage is starring in his first studio movie in over a decade with the release of Universal Pictures' "Renfield." What's more, the film sees Cage playing the iconic role of Dracula in director Chris McKay's unique take on literature's most beloved bloodsucker. While the movie has much going for it on paper, including a great cast led by Nicholas Hoult and Awkwafina, its financial fate looks a little grim, as the early box office returns have not been great.

It's early, but according to Variety, "Renfield" took in just $900,000 in Thursday night preview screenings. That sets it up for a $10 million (give or take) domestic debut. Competition is certainly going to be an issue as "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" is going to easily top the charts in its second weekend following its record-shattering $377 million global opening. But McKay's latest also comes with a $65 million budget, which isn't helping its case any. With a budget of that size, Universal likely needs it to make $150 million worldwide — very conservatively — to call it a win.

Hoult stars as Dracula's loyal servant in the film who, after centuries of servitude, is ready to see if there's a life outside of serving his vampiric boss. Critics have been a bit mixed on Universal's horror/comedy take on the classic monster, with the film sitting at 62% on Rotten Tomatoes (although the audience score is at a solid 82%). Still, it's got an uphill battle to fight and the road ahead looks increasingly rough.

Super Mario Bros. is easily going to win the day

As mentioned, "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" is easily going to win the weekend, as it's expected to take in $55 million on the low-end in its second frame, with $70 million not out of the question. While a drop of close to 60% from its extremely high $146 million opening weekend is expected, this crowd-pleasing, family-friendly animated flick has blown past industry expectations up to this point, so there's no reason to think it can't over-perform in its second weekend as well.

What's interesting to note is that the adaptation of Nintendo's classic video game series was produced by Illumination, the studio behind the "Minions" films. Yet, it's Universal handling distribution. That being the case, the studio is sort of getting in its own way on some level by releasing "Renfield" so soon after "Super Mario." Then again, the hope was probably that Chris McKay's R-rated horror/comedy would manage to thrive as counter-programming. And, on a different weekend, that might very well have happened.

Unfortunately, this weekend is extra crowded in that department as "The Pope's Exorcist" is also hitting theaters (read our review here). With another seasoned Oscar-winner at its center in the form of Russell Crowe, Sony's latest horror offering is also giving genre movie fans a potentially appealing option. In the end, that could prove to be the bigger issue for "Renfield." It's really more like Nic Cage's Dracula vs. Russell Crowe's Pope-appointed exorcist, as opposed to Dracula vs. Mario.

The Pope's Exorcist might be the real problem

In Thursday previews, director Julius Avery's "The Pope's Exorcist" pulled in $850,000, which also sets it up for an opening weekend in the neighborhood of $10 million. That means that it will be nipping at the heels of "Renfield" the whole way. It's entirely possible that both of these movies will end up cannibalizing one another's audience to some degree, as horror lovers will have a choice to make. Sony's latest, however, has the edge here from a business perspective, as it carries a much smaller $18 million budget. It has also already pulled in $12 million overseas, setting it up for a successful run.

As 2022 and the early months of 2023 have demonstrated repeatedly, horror is one of the hottest things at the box office right now. "The Black Phone," "Smile," "Barbarian," "Scream" (and "Scream VI"), and "M3GAN," among others, have all done exceedingly well with audiences of late. The key, however, in most of those cases was that the budgets were kept relatively low. Expensive horror is always a risk.

It's all relative, though, as is always the case in the movie business. Both of these movies can end up making the exact same amount of money, but because Universal spent a lot more on "Renfield," it is going to have a more difficult time breaking even. The potential saving grace is the fact that Chris McKay's film is rolling out in quite a few international markets throughout the rest of April and well into May. Depending on how overseas audiences respond, that could save "Renfield" from suffering a tragic fate, financially speaking.