Paramount and David Ellison’s Skydance have a lot riding on “Terminator: Dark Fate,” the latest reboot of the famed sci-fi franchise which hits theaters Friday. The $185 million film, which marks the repairing of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton for the first time since “T2: Judgment Day” 28 years ago, is currently projected to gross a modest $35-40 million domestically from 4,000-plus screens.
If the film overperforms and opens to $45 million, it would have the highest raw opening for any “Terminator” film, beating the $44 million opening of the 2003 film “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.” “T2: Judgment Day” still remains the biggest box office hit in the series with $520 million in worldwide ticket sales in 1991 — but on a leaner $102 million budget.
More alarming, Paramount and Skydance are coming off a big failed gamble with “Gemini Man,” a $140 million sci-fi film that tried to drum up interest through Will Smith, Ang Lee and CGI de-aging technology. But the film has only grossed $43 million domestically and $148 million worldwide through three weekends in theaters. The only silver lining is that Paramount will not take a huge financial hit as it co-financed the movie with Skydance and other partners.
Paramount also shares the cost on “Terminator: Dark Fate,” which is co-produced by Skydance, James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment — marking Cameron’s first involvement on a “Terminator” film since “T2” — China’s Tencent Pictures and 20th Century Fox. Tencent will handle distribution in China while Fox, who made the “Terminator” deal before the Disney acquisition, will distribute in all other foreign territories.
The studio has worked hard marketing the film as a direct sequel to “Judgment Day,” ignoring the three sequels that have come since then following Sarah Connor’s attempts to prevent Skynet’s nuclear holocaust proved futile. Cameron’s involvement as producer has been emphasized, and while Arnold Schwarzenegger, the longtime face of “Terminator,” remains a major presence in trailers and TV spots, the top draw this time around is Linda Hamilton, returning after 28 years to play Sarah Connor as an aging but still-formidable defender of humanity.
At a time when films like “Captain Marvel” and “Wonder Woman” are cashing in big on the increasing demand to see women in action roles, the transition of Schwarzenegger to special attraction and Hamilton to main star is a sign that Paramount is adjusting how it sells “Terminator” to audiences. When Cameron made the first two “Terminator” films, they were designed with Sarah as the true protagonist. Returning the film to those roots with Sarah mentoring a new female protagonist could help draw more women into theaters as well as the traditional male-heavy action audience.
“Terminator: Dark Fate” sees Sarah Connor team up with a cybernetically-enhanced guardian from the future named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) to protect a woman named Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes). While Sarah prevented Skynet’s rise, a new computer threat has taken its place as the future destroyer of civilization, and now Dani must be protected from a Terminator assassin (Gabriel Luna) with the help, once again, of a T-800 (Schwarzenegger). Tim Miller directed the film from a screenplay by David S. Goyer, Billy Ray and Justin Rhodes. The film currently has a 68% score on Rotten Tomatoes.
All other films this weekend are projected to open to $10 million or less. Warner Bros.’ “Motherless Brooklyn,” which premiered in Toronto to mixed reviews, is projected for a $5-9 million opening against a $26 million budget. Written, directed by, and starring Edward Norton, the film has a 64% Rotten Tomatoes score.
Focus Features will release “Harriet,” which stars Cynthia Erivo as famed Underground Railroad liberator Harriet Tubman. Also starring Leslie Odom Jr. and Janelle Monae with Kasi Lemmons as director, the film is projected for a $7.5-9 million opening from 2,000-plus theaters and has a 68% Rotten Tomatoes score.
Finally, there is the Entertainment Studios’ animated film “Arctic Dogs,” which stars Jeremy Renner, Heidi Klum, James Franco and Anjelica Huston as a group of animals on a mission to stop a devious plan to melt the Arctic. The film is projected for a $6-8 million opening and currently does not have a Rotten Tomatoes score.