Paramount Pictures’ latest release, “Sherlock Gnomes,” fell flat with a $10.6 million opening against a $59 million budget. Critics panned the sequel to 2011’s “Gnomeo and Juliet,” while audiences gave the film a B+ on CinemaScore, a below average mark considering that most family animated films receive an A or A- from opening night audiences
This is the latest disappointment for distributor Paramount Pictures, which struggled to find a hit over the past few years under its late former CEO Brad Grey and has seen its annual studio market share plummet as a result. Grey had been ousted as head of the studio shortly before his death in May during a power struggle with the family of Viacom owner Sumner Redstone.
The Melrose studio was sitting high in 2010 and 2011, grossing over $1.9 billion in back-to-back years. But after losing Marvel Studios properties to Disney, Paramount has only exceeded $1 billion in North America just once in the past six years, finishing no better than sixth among all studios since 2012.
The studio’s last unqualified success came in November 2016 with its Oscar-nominated sci-fi film “Arrival,” a $47 million film that grossed $203 million worldwide. But 2017 was littered with bombs and underperformers, leading to the studio’s worst annual domestic total since the turn of the century with $534.3 million and a 4.8 percent market share.
Among the flops were the live-action adaptation of “Ghost in the Shell,” which only made $169 million worldwide against a $110 million production budget before marketing costs, and Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing,” which got bad reviews from critics and audiences alike and finished in the red — grossing $52.8 million against a $68 million budget.
Other films underperformed domestically and needed foreign revenue to make a profit. “Baywatch,” for example, contributed to the lowest Memorial Day weekend revenue in nearly 20 years and grossed just $58 million domestically against a $69 million budget. However, the film did make nearly $120 million overseas. “xXx: The Return of Xander Cage,” an $85 million action film, only grossed $48.8 million domestically, but made $301 million overseas, including $164 million in China.
And the studio’s biggest tentpole franchise, “Transformers,” is in big trouble after its latest installment, “The Last Knight.” The reported budget for the blockbuster was a whopping $217 million, but the film only made $130 million domestically and $605.4 million worldwide. That’s by far the lowest total for any “Transformers” sequel, with the domestic total representing a 47 percent drop from that made by the series’ 2014 installment, “Age of Extinction.” With two more “Transformers” films in the works and a spinoff, “Bumblebee,” slated for release this holiday season, this isn’t good news for what was once one of Hollywood’s most profitable and critic-proof franchises.
Along with these flops that were greenlit in the final years of his run, Brad Grey’s Paramount also took a risk with avant-garde, auteur-driven films that weren’t exactly crowd pleasers but were hits with critics. That led to “Arrival,” but it also led to Paramount’s last release before “Sherlock Gnomes” — “Annihilation,” a sci-fi horror film that has yet to make back its $40 million budget with a $31.4 million cume.
“Annihilation” was praised as a remarkable follow-up for “Ex Machina” director Alex Garland, with a cast that reflects the demand for diverse Hollywood roles — Natalie Portman plays the leader of a team of female scientists on a deadly mission with supporting performances from Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tessa Thompson. But audiences didn’t like the film’s enigmatic tone and ambiguous ending, giving it a C on CinemaScore.
In some respects, “Annihilation” is similar to another risky Paramount release, Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!,” which grossed $44.5 million worldwide against a $30 million production budget. While “Annihilation” doesn’t go to the nightmarish, taboo-breaking depths that “mother!” does, both films are ambitiously made by directors with a unique style that challenges audiences and wows critics — at least a smattering of them in the case of “mother!”
As the final films of the Brad Grey era are released, Paramount will try to right the ship under their new CEO and former 20th Century Fox head, Jim Gianopulos. The studio is still building its slate under his leadership, with planned releases including the “Cloverfield” spinoff “Overlord” this Halloween and a 2019 slate that includes a remake of “Top Gun,” a sixth “Terminator” film, a seventh “Transformers” film, and film adaptations of the ’90s kids’ TV series “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” and the video game series “Sonic the Hedgehog.”
Paramount also says that it is planning to have more films with diverse casts and crews in the future. A spokesperson for the studio told TheWrap last month that it intends to hire more female directors for its projects, something that Gianopulos wanted to make a priority under his leadership.
In the short term, Paramount will look to the “Mission: Impossible” series to bring better summer numbers than “Transformers: The Last Knight” did. The sixth installment of the spy series, “Fallout,” will be released in late July, three years after its predecessor, “Rogue Nation,” made $682 million worldwide and $195 million domestic.