5 Reasons ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ Tanked at Box Office

The story that inspired “Moby Dick” was a tough sell, Chris Hemsworth isn’t Gregory Peck and “Star Wars” didn’t help

The whale tale “In the Heart of the Sea” didn’t make much of a splash in its debut at the box office this weekend, opening second to “The Hunger Games” finale with just $11 million.

That’s not the sort of number you expect to see for a movie with a $100 million production budget, and certainly not one from Oscar-winning director Ron Howard and star Chris Hemsworth. Distributor Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow would have liked to have seen more from the story of the whaling ship that inspired Herman Melville’s classic novel “Moby Dick.”

Instead, it will be the third big-budget misfire this year for the studio after the fairy tale reboot “Pan” and the space opera “Jupiter Ascending.”

Here are a few reasons “In the Heart of the Sea” took on water in its box office debut:

The Force: Opening one week ahead of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which could well post the biggest opening in the history of the North American box office, was never going to be easy. Warner Bros. shifted the release date from March to this weekend back in January, thinking the film had a better shot at an awards run than major commercial success, but that Oscar heat never materialized. Now the studio can only hope to find an audience as counter-programming to “Star Wars” over the next weeks. But there is a lot of adult fare in the marketplace right now, so finding its footing won’t be easy for “In the Heart of the Sea,” which received a “B+” CinemaScore but has just a 43 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

It Was Hard to Market: The story of the Essex, the whaling ship that inspired Herman Melville’s classic novel “Moby Dick,” was difficult movie to market. A tiny ship confronting a huge whale on a vast sea is a story of grand scale and scope but doesn’t translate easily to snappy enticements, either visually or in catchphrases. A female somewhere in the ad materials might have helped the film, which played older (68 percent over 35) and male (54 percent).

Passion’s Not In Fashion: The sea saga probably wouldn’t have been made without the involvement of Howard, for whom “In the Heart of the Sea” was a passion project. The cast went the extra mile too, enduring a very difficult and challenging shoot for just over union scale. But passion projects like Angelina Jolie‘s “By the Sea,” Andy and Lana Wachowski‘s “Jupiter Ascending,” Salma Hayek‘s “Kahlil Gibran‘s The Prophet” and Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof‘s “Tomorrowland” have struggled this year.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” was one as well, and has been a hit for Warner Bros., but George Miller‘s road riot was a sequel (albeit 30 years after the original) and that helped. Give Howard and all involved credit for trying something different, however. “In the face of a lack of originality, swinging for the fences is to be commended in the always-play-it-safe, cookie-cutter world of mainstream movies,” said Rentrak media analyst Paul Dergarabedian.

No Score For Thor: It’s always hard to measure up when you take on a classic tale. Gregory Peck was the star of the 1956 film adaptation of Herman Melville’s novel “Moby Dick,” which was directed by John Huston from a screenplay he wrote with Ray Bradbury. Hemsworth at this point is no Gregory Peck and, with the exception of “Snow White and the Huntsman,” has yet to break out in a film in which he isn’t playing Thor in a Marvel movie. Without the thunder god’s hammer, Hemsworth has proven very mortal at the box office.

Howard’s No Longer a Lock: An Oscar winner for “A Beautiful Mind,” the director of hits “The Da Vinci Code,” “Apollo 13” and “Ransom” has struggled at the box office lately. This will likely be the fourth of his past five movies — on the heels of “Frost/Nixon,” “The Dilemma” and “Rush” — to be a money loser. That should turn around next year with the release of “Inferno,” an adaptation of the popular Dan Brown novel starring Tom Hanks.

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