Elizabeth Banks’ film is the third big-screen franchise reboot to misfire this month
Another weekend, another box office flop. This past weekend, Sony’s “Charlie’s Angels” fizzled out in theaters with just $8.35 million grossed domestically against a reported $48 million budget, becoming the third film in as many weeks to tank in theaters.
At a time when there’s a stronger than ever push for women to be represented both in front of and behind the camera, Sony made the decision to bring “Charlie’s Angels” back to theaters for the first time in 16 years. Elizabeth Banks, who found box office success as director of “Pitch Perfect 2,” signed on to both direct and star as the Angels’ new Bosley. Kristen Stewart, having spent her post-“Twilight” career mostly on the indie scene, returned to mainstream films alongside Ella Balinska and Naomi Scott in the lead roles.
With pre-weekend tracking not exceeding $20 million, “Charlie’s Angels” wasn’t expected to be a major hit, but not even its target female demographic showed up. Here’s why we think that happened.
1. Reboots are slumping
“Charlie’s Angels” is the latest in a series of attempts by major studios to revive major IP from a past generation, only to fail to generate any interest beyond a very small following.
Just this month, Paramount, Skydance, 20th Century Fox and Tencent took a big loss on the theatrical release of “Terminator: Dark Fate” — a $185 million reboot of the sci-fi franchise that first launched in 1984 and that has seen two other unsuccessful big-screen reboots since 2009. And earlier this month, Warner Bros.’ “The Shining” sequel “Doctor Sleep” dozed to a dismal $14 million opening despite critical praise and a modest $50 million budget.
“Charlie’s Angels” is a different film from the past two weekends’ box office flops, but they are all trying to appeal to nostalgia for projects that came out more than 25 years ago. The problem is that it has been so long since those original titles came out that younger moviegoers are not as familiar or as attached to them as older audiences, diminishing their ability to generate strong moviegoer turnout.
2. Mixed reviews put off potential moviegoers
With a smaller marketing campaign, “Charlie’s Angels” needed strong reviews to fuel widespread interest. Critical praise is no guarantee of box office success — just ask recent disappointment “Doctor Sleep” — but strong reviews could have built awareness among female moviegoers.
Instead, a 59% Rotten Tomatoes score sank the film’s hopes, and even many of the the positive reviews were not exactly glowing. The best praise was reserved for Stewart’s humorous performance and Banks’ moves to modernize the male gaze-oriented tone of the original “Charlie’s Angels” with a more feminist aura that gives the Angels more agency.
But even then, that girl power focus didn’t work with all critics, who also faulted the action scenes and the by-the-numbers plot. “The film is stuffed with noble intentions, starting with an early montage of anonymous girls and young women doing kickass things,” wrote Inkoo Kang in a review for Slate. “But Banks’ vision of women-empowerment heaven plays more like a checklist of topics from the feminist discourse of the past few years than a coherent movie, let alone a crowd-pleasing one.”
3. Girl Power alone isn’t enough
The phrase “get woke, go broke” has been thrown around recently following the demise of films like “Terminator: Dark Fate,” but it’s not necessarily true. Films like “Captain Marvel,” “Wonder Woman” and “Mad Max: Fury Road” have shown that audiences can respond to films with a strong feminist message — that just can’t be the only draw.
As Kang’s review suggested, a film that uses “girl power” as its core draw may not interest potential moviegoers if the marketing doesn’t also show that the film offers something else unique or compelling. Take “Frozen,” a film that has earned praise for its boldfaced message of female empowerment and sisterhood, but also had a fresh story and memorable songs as well. It’s safe to say that all of those things are major reasons why “Frozen II” is expected to open to over $100 million this coming weekend.
“Charlie’s Angels”‘ feminist take may have been a paradigm shift for the franchise, but movies can’t sell tickets on well-intentioned messages alone.
4. No star power
McG’s two “Charlie’s Angels” films in 2000 and 2003 may have had stereotypes that Banks’ film sought to avoid, but there’s no denying they had star power. Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu were at the top of their popularity in the early 2000s, and original songs written for the film by Destiny’s Child and Pink helped raise the film’s awareness.
This iteration of “Angels” had none of this. While Kristen Stewart became a box office draw with the “Twilight” franchise, she’s shrugged off commercial projects and spent the seven years since that blockbuster series ended winning over critics with indies like “Clouds of Sils Maria.” Co-star Naomi Scott has only started to make a name for herself in films like “Power Rangers” and the “Aladdin” remake, and Ella Balinska hasn’t yet become a recognizable name outside of England.
5. Whose Angels?
If 2019 audiences were too unfamiliar with “Terminator” to turn out for “Dark Fate,” the situation is even worse for “Charlie’s Angels” — and there was little sign that younger generations were clamoring for the series’ return.
With the exception of a short-lived TV reboot in 2011 that only lasted eight episodes, “Charlie’s Angels” has been left untouched in the 16 years since it was last in theaters, making it even more obscure project for audiences under 25. With no big names that teens could recognize, “Charlie’s Angels” likely felt too obscure to gain traction with Generation Z.
For what it’s worth, Banks doesn’t seem to be fazed by the disappointing box office returns for her film. She implored people to show support for her film in a pre-release interview with the Herald Sun, saying that “If this movie doesn’t make money it reinforces a stereotype in Hollywood that men don’t go see women do action movies.”
But in a tweet posted Monday, she shrugged off how the weekend played out and noted that she’s still proud of a film that gave her a chance to have total control over a mainstream film in a way that women, until recently, haven’t had a chance to have.
“Well, if you’re going to have a flop, make sure your name is on it at least 4x,” she quipped, noting her credits as director, writer, producer, and star on the film. “I’m proud of ‘Charlie’s Angels’ and happy it’s in the world.”