Why Will Smith's Gemini Man Bombed

Will Smith remains one of the most famous people on the planet nearly 30 years after he first became a gigantic movie star in the mid-'90s with a run that included all-time hits like "Independence Day" and "Men In Black." But every career, even the very best of them, has some misfires. For Smith, arguably one of his biggest misfires (from a financial standpoint anyway) came in 2019 with the ambitious action flick "Gemini Man." The idea was to have it be a Will Smith vs. Will Smith action throwback, with de-aging technology used to make the actor fight a younger version of himself on screen. It was an idea that had been kicking around for some time, as this movie was in development for ages. The combination of the right star, the right time, the right technology, and the right filmmaker, Ang Lee, was finally all aligned. Unfortunately, the combination of ingredients did not prove to be a recipe for success.

So, what went wrong? How is it that this Oscar-winning director, one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, an intriguing premise, and an incredible supporting cast added up to financial failure in the end? How did all of this make for a big box office bomb? We're going to do our best to go over the numbers and information to answer that very question.

Going over the numbers

Before going into what went wrong, it's best to go over the numbers to understand what exactly we're looking at in discussing the relative (key word moving forward) failure of "Gemini Man." Arriving in theaters on October 11, 2019, the film debuted with a relatively soft $23 million on opening weekend, which set it up for a kind of rough run. It finished with a mere $48.5 million domestically to go along with a far better $124.9 million from international markets for a $173.4 million global total. Of note, it carried a reported $138 million production budget that does not account for marketing.

The other thing to keep in mind here is that it was going up directly against "Joker" in its second weekend, with that film serving as a gigantic box office surprise and going on to earn more than $1 billion worldwide. "The Addams Family," which ultimately got a sequel, also opened that same weekend, meaning that Smith's non-franchise action outing was going up against a family-friendly animated film and a breakout comic book movie starring Joaquin Phoenix in a role that ultimately went on to win him the Best Actor Oscar. Needless to say, competition is the first and arguably most important factor to take into consideration here. The likes of "It: Chapter Two," "Hustlers," and "Downton Abbey" also finished in the top 10 that weekend. All of these big hits served as hurdles that "Gemini Man" needed to clear.

Were reviews an issue?

One thing that many people might immediately point to when it comes to this movie is the critical response. Yes, it is true that "Gemini Man" sits at a mere 26% approval rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. That can, in some cases, be an issue. Critics here didn't much care for Lee's experiments with high frame rates that resulted in a technologically advanced but kind of by-the-books '90s throwback action film. Be that as it may, the audience score sits at a very respectable 83% and that, in many ways, is far more important.

It's worth remembering that "Venom" was trashed by critics but general audiences responded kindly to it and turned it into one of the biggest hits of 2018 overall. There are plenty of other examples of critics and general audiences simply disagreeing when it comes to a film, with "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" serving as another example from 2019. That having been said, it would be tough to pin this disappointment on critical response alone. While it may have been a factor, other evidence suggests it wasn't the biggest factor.

Will Smith's movie star status

Another thing worth taking into account is the nature of Will Smith as a movie star and what that has meant in recent years. It is unquestionable that Smith is still an A-list star with global recognition who has generated nearly $7 billion at the box office during his long career. He's also had gigantic hits in the last handful of years with the likes of "Aladdin" ($1.04 billion), ranking as his biggest movie to date, as well as "Suicide Squad" ($745 million), and "Bad Boys for Life" ($424 million). The big, common thread more recently, though, is that the movies Smith has helped to turn into hits are often attached to pre-existing franchises.

Films not attached to franchises such as "Spies in Disguise" ($165 million), "Collateral Beauty" ($85 million), and "Concussion" ($50 million) have had a more difficult time finding an audience. This is less of a Will Smith problem and probably more of an industry-at-large problem. Especially in the wake of the pandemic, audiences are far more choosy about what they choose to see in theaters and, more often than not, those choices end up being franchise blockbusters or horror films. Even acclaimed movies such as "Concussion" struggle to break through the noise beyond that. "King Richard" is a tough comparison to make because it was released on HBO Max on the same day it hit theaters, which undoubtedly hurt its box office potential.

The main thing to look at is the fact that "Gemini Man" falls into the non-franchise camp and the evidence suggests that those movies are always going to have a much harder time breaking through in a meaningful way with general moviegoers.

The real problem was the budget

In looking at the big picture, one thing stands out when it comes to "Gemini Man" and that is the hefty production budget. That $138 million price tag puts this firmly into big blockbuster territory. That's, more or less, what a big superhero movie costs to make. Granted, it's not uncommon these days for big movies to get closer to $200 million in terms of their budgets but those are the biggest of the big franchise tentpoles. Paramount Pictures betting that big on Smith with this movie was a gigantic gamble and, as we can see, it's one that didn't pay off.

When it comes to hits in Hollywood, it's all relative. "Gemini Man" made $173 million during its run at the box office. Yet, a movie like "Hustlers" (which we mentioned earlier) can be considered a huge hit while taking in $157 million worldwide because it carried a mere $20 million production budget. It always boils down to return on investment. If a studio invests nearly $140 million into a movie (before marketing), the returns have to be massive to justify the expense. In the end, in the world we live in now, it was tough to expect that a Will Smith action movie, inventive though it may have been, could manage to justify that expense.