"Battleship" may have hit the box office shoals, but it's no "John Carter."
Universal's big-budget sea saga loosely based on a children's board-game — with some invading aliens thrown in — docked with a thud at the domestic box office this weekend, taking in just $25.3 million. That's less than half of what "The Avengers" did, in its third week.
Industry analysts had the sea epic making upwards of anywhere from $30 million to $40 million over the weekend. The studio, which had sought to lower expectations for "Battleship" going into the weekend, expected better from a film it once had franchise hopes for.
"It's a disappointment" Universal's domestic distribution chief Nikki Rocco told TheWrap Sunday, "but it's not a disaster."
By the time marketing and distribution costs are factored in, there is no doubt Universal will wind up in the red on the film, but a studio exec said off the record that it's not a bloodbath.
Also read: How 'Battleship' Enlisted the Navy
And Universal's parent Comcast won't be writing off a $200 million loss, as Disney did with "John Carter," which had a production budget conservatively estimated at $250 million and has grossed $272 million worldwide, just $72 million in the U.S.
That's primarily because "Battleship," which had a production budget of $209 million, has already taken in more than $226 million overseas. The bulk of that was amassed in the five weeks preceding its U.S. bow, so Universal's unusual strategy of opening the film so early in foreign territories worked in the sense of building a financial cushion.
In terms of buoying the domestic debut, plainly not so much.
"Battleship" stars Taylor Kitsch (as did "John Carter) and Rihanna, but Universal marketing failed to connect with younger audiences, who would be oblivious to the board game connection. About 55 percent of those who saw the film were over 30 years of age.
It remains to be seen whether the underwhelming bow has delivered a broadside to future board game-based films. "Battleship" is the first movie based on a board game since "Clue" in 1985, but more are on the way. Universal has scaled back the budget on "Ouija" but still plans a 2013 release. "Risk" and "Candyland" projects are in development at Sony.
Ironically, "Battleship" puts the U.S. Navy front and center and wears its patriotism proudly. So why then did it play better overseas than in the United States?
The answer, Rocco suggests, has to do more with superheroes than the red, white and blue.
"It's 'The Avengers,'" she said, referring to the Disney hit which three-peated as box office champ with a $55 million weekend, "and it's not just our film. When is the last time you saw a Johnny Depp movie open like that?"
She referred to "Dark Shadows," the Warner Bros. Depp-Tim Burton collaboration that last weej bowed to just $28.8 million, while the Marvel superhero saga was doing more than $100 million — in its second week.