On the surface “The BFG” has more in its favor than most movies: An award-winning director with a time-tested box office track record; solid reviews; and the backing of the seemingly unstoppable Disney — by far the most successful studio of this year so far.
But this weekend’s grosses for the adaptation of the Roald Dahl book are extremely modest for a movie that cost an estimated $140 million to produce.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, “The BFG” has made only $12 million so far and is expected to end the long holiday weekend with less than $20 million domestically.
The live action film stars Oscar winner Mark Rylance as the motion-captured CG “big friendly giant,” who is on a mission to save humans from other man-eating giants. It played well when it debuted at Cannes Film Festival and continued on with positive marks from critics into its opening, also with a CinemaScore of A-, which indicates enthusiasm among moviegoers.
So what went wrong?
1. Spielberg isn’t as safe a bet as he used to be.
While he did serve as executive producer on one of last year’s biggest hits, Universal’s “Jurassic World,” Spielberg hasn’t had a “Jaws” or “E.T.”-level hit as a director in several years. His last attempt at a PG-rated family-friendly winner was the animated “Adventures of Tintin,” which only made $77 million domestically (earning most of its grosses abroad, with $296.4 million overseas). It opened about as weakly as “The BFG,” over the Christmas holiday in 2011, with a two-day weekend take of $17.7 million. As Spielberg has concentrated more on prestige films, like “Lincoln” — which did really well at the box office — and “Bridge of Spies” (for which Rylance won his Oscar), 2008’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” is that last popcorn flick he directed that made serious bank at the box office: $786.6 million worldwide. He’s signed on to do another Indie movie, due out in the summer of 2019 — a smart move.
2. Roald Dahl is no J.K. Rowling.
The well-respected children’s author published “The BFG” in 1982. And while Dahl’s book won awards and was a favorite among teachers, he did not have anywhere close to the following of Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series, which was still being published when the movies were being released in the first decade of the 2000s.
3. What is a BFG? Is it NSFW?
Seeing as awareness about the book among modern families is relativly low, the acronym title is majorly confusing.
4. There are no stars.
Imagine if Will Ferrell or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson played the giant. Not to discredit Rylance’s award-winning acting chops, but the film would have likely received a boost from a big name.
5. The price tag was pretty steep.
Less a reason it didn’t do well at the box office, but given that Dahl’s books don’t guarantee the built-in movie audience that Rowling’s books did, coupled with the fact that Rylance is not a box office draw, $140 million budget is a risky proposition, even in spite of Spielberg’s involvement.
6. The giant looks more scary than friendly.
Those huge ears, beady eyes and a wrinkled face — the film’s main character had to overcome its appearance to win over family audiences. Clearly the “adoryble” baby Dory is more of a draw for modern audiences, which remains No. 1 at the box office in its third weekend in theaters.
7. It suffered from bad timing.
Perhaps Disney thought Dory fever would have died down in time to clear some runway for “The BFG.” Or maybe the distributor wedged it into the slot because it was one of the bigger gambles in a year stuffed to the gills with pricey tentpoles, including “Zootopia,” “The Jungle Book,” “Captain America: Civil War,” “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” “Finding Dory,” “Pete’s Dragon,” “Doctor Strange,” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” Say that five times quickly.