The Northman And Massive Talent Made For A Discouraging Weekend At The Box Office

There are no two ways about it really: It was a no good, very bad weekend at the box office. As someone who is entrenched in movies both professionally and personally, as I love them dearly, one complaint I see frequently is people saying Hollywood doesn't have original ideas and doesn't make original movies. Yet when original movies do come about, what often happens is that people ignore them, they don't make enough money, and studios are dissuaded from making more of them. 

That being the case, it was a downright bummer that both "The Northman" and "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent" debuted to different levels of disappointment at the box office this weekend, losing out to DreamWorks' "The Bad Guys," which is a non-franchise movie, but still fits firmly in the box office comfort zone of animated movies aimed at younger audiences. Frankly, that's just the tip of the iceberg of an overall discouraging weekend as it relates to the future of cinema on the big screen.

The Northman got away from itself

There was a lot of excitement in certain circles when it was revealed that Robert Eggers, the director behind "The Witch" and "The Lighthouse," was going big with his next film; a Viking epic with an A-list cast that, in the end, came with a $90 million price tag (before marketing). That proved to be its undoing as "The Northman" took in a mere $12 million according when it opened domestically this weekend, according to Box Office Mojo. No denying that is an utter catastrophe for Focus Features and Regency, the studios behind this one. What's worse is that its international rollout has also been quiet and it currently sits at just $11.5 million from around 14 other markets around the world. A $23.5 million global start is a very bad number for a movie this expensive.

While "The Northman" earned a great deal of critical praise, it wasn't designed to be a crowd-pleaser like "Gladiator" or any other blockbuster historical epic you'd like to compare it to. It's far artsier and, quite frankly, slow compared to other mass-appeal entertainment cut from a similar cloth. While I will always wag my finger at people who complain about a lack of originality and then fail to show up when the time comes, I absolutely blame the people writing the checks for letting this one get out of hand — especially when "The Green Knight" was able to do so much with a mere $15 million budget last year.

The overall problem here is that studios now have reason to pause before giving a truckload of cash to an original blockbuster-level idea. The movie business is a business, and if the business doesn't make sense, studios can't necessarily be blamed for playing it safe. So yeah, this is both a shame in the moment and a bummer on a longer timeline.

Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a blow for big-screen comedy

Moving on to the weekend's other big bummer, Nicolas Cage's meta action-comedy "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent" debuted to just $7.1 million domestically against a $30 million budget. Is that nearly as disastrous as what happened to "The Northman?" No it is not. Does it help to explain why studios aren't making mid-budget comedies right now and are instead selling stuff like "The Lovebirds" and "The Man From Toronto" to Netflix? Absolutely. This is, for some of the same (as well as a few different reasons), another disappointment.

Perhaps the biggest bummer here is that this is one of the most prominent releases Cage has had in a very long time, and he has been having something of a career renaissance in recent years. Plus, "Massive Talent" has debuted to rave reviews from both critics and audiences alike, and the budget was not at all unreasonable either. There is no real reason this film should not have found its audience, though I suspect it will over time. Unfortunately, that doesn't change the fact that this needed to make sense from a dollars and cents point of view in order for Lionsgate to feel confident investing in similar projects down the line.

More bad news all around

Here's the thing: I have no problem with a family-friendly flick like "The Bad Guys" taking the box office crown. It's a well-reviewed animated flick from a great studio (DreamWorks) and these types of movies tend to do well. My issue is that, even though it's an "original" film, animated family flicks have a decent built-in audience often even in the worst of cases. Moreover, this movie taking in $24 million on its opening weekend isn't a big enough number to proclaim that it's a savior of the cinematic experience or anything like that. It's just kind of a win that the industry will move on from in no time flat, while original movies the industry could use more of are left in the dust.

Meanwhile, "Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore" fell off a cliff, taking in just $14 million in its second frame, falling to third place behind "Sonic 2." Yes, its global total is at $280 million because international audiences are showing up to some degree, but it's still not even going to match "The Crimes of Grindelwald" (which itself was a relative disappointment for the "Harry Potter" franchise). Now, one of the world's biggest franchises is on uncertain footing and has an uphill battle to get back to relevancy. Again, more bad news for the overall scope of the box office.

A couple of other last little blows to the moral come in the form of "Morbius" and "Ambulance." While I make no apologies for the film itself, Sony's "Morbius" has continued to fall hard and, in its fourth weekend, took in just $2.2 million, falling all the way to number nine on the chart. It's made $156 million worldwide and is fading very fast — a brutal result for any superhero film. Last, but certainly not least, Michael Bay's "Ambulance," one of the best-reviewed movies of his career, took in just $1.8 million in its third weekend, now sitting at $46.6 million worldwide against a $40 million budget.

I have not much by way of positive spin here. I have no rose-colored glasses. This was a pretty rough weekend all around for the industry and we can only hope the wounds will be licked and this is merely a speed bump, rather than a glimpse of more to come.